WTS: John Wales, Franklin city council

What are the top three issues facing the city? How would you address them?

We have to address the Interstate 65/State Road 44 corridor. Hopefully can find retailers to give residents more choices and bring more jobs to the area. Must keep up with infrastructure improvements. Upgrades to the infrastructure in Franklin hasn’t been a burden to the taxpayers. Also need to focus on transparency. When he was elected to the Franklin school board, there were a lot of executive sessions and private meetings by the school board. Residents have every right to know what is going on.

Would you support any tax increase? If legislators give local government the option to adopt new taxes, what taxes would you support and why?

First inclination is to always say no, but first have to look at what the tax is for. There are no new taxes that he would support now but would have to look at anything that could improve the city.

What is a conflict of interest for a city council member? What is a conflict of interest for someone you appoint? How would you avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of one?

A conflict of interest is if someone, their family or a friend could benefit over a decision. Have to be open and honest about relationships you have. For example, his wife is the Franklin Township trustee, so if a decision came up regarding the township, would abstain. Anyone appointed to a board should be held to the same standard as elected officials. In a small community, you have a bigger chance for a conflict, but transparency is the key.

Is it city government’s job to do more than just provide roads and police and fire protection? Is it the government’s job to improve the quality of life so that the city can attract new residents and businesses and become home to the top managers from those businesses? How does city government do this? What is your role?

City government becomes the face of a community. Elected and appointed officials have to raise the bar. Current administration is doing a good job. City has to be more than just infrastructure. Franklin is a hidden gem, and we need to share that with others. Start with parks, expanding trails. For its size, Franklin has more miles of trails than other similar-sized cities. Need to look at Interstate 65/State Road 44 corridor, which is where visitors come in, and we need to make sure we’re promoting what we have here.

What will you do to attract new business, industry and higher-paying jobs to Franklin?

We can’t just sit back and wait for a company to come here. We have to aggressively go out and look. We should be calling companies, offering to send information, DVDs and emails about Franklin, that this is the place they need to be. We need to look at big companies but also the small companies who could bring in bigger companies. Need to keep a balance between big and small business and keep Franklin’s charm.

Where should the city focus its economic growth and why?

Primary focus is Interstate 65/State Road 44 corridor right now, but not just that. Need to continue looking at all areas of Franklin. Need to build smart and keep the balance between small town business and new opportunities.

Are you in favor of giving grants, leases and cash incentives or buying buildings for companies in order to entice them to locate in the city? Why or why not? How would you hold them accountable for the investment and job creation they promise?

It is an option but shouldn’t be automatic. Need to know if it will bring a certain amount of jobs with a certain income. Have to be open to it and looking at those opportunities. Need to find and bring them in. Incentives, grants and leases should be a tool but shouldn’t be for everyone. Need to have airtight contracts to keep businesses accountable.

The city has spent money from its tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts on road projects, incentives to new businesses and the Franklin Development Corp., which has funded grants and loans to business and homeowners. How do you believe TIF money should be spent? Has the city been appropriately spending that money?

TIF money should be spent with great caution. Infrastructure improvements are a good investment of TIF money. City has been spending TIF money well. Was on the Franklin Development Corp. board and had some concerns with the money that was given out. Have to keep a closer eye on that.

City officials are discussing a plan to borrow $15 million, which would be paid back with tax dollars, in order to keep some of the city’s TIF districts around for a few more years. Do you agree with this plan? Why or why not?

We would have to look at that plan more in depth to see if that makes sense. If we bring the plan to taxpayers and it makes sense, then we should feel comfortable going forward. But if they don’t see the logic, then we shouldn’t push the plan through. If it makes more money in the long run, it may make sense.

Taxpayer money has mostly funded the Franklin Development Corp. since 2008, and officials have been indicating they could ask for more. Should the city continue to provide money for that agency? How can you as a council member have any say over how that money is spent once it is handed over?

Doesn’t think that the Franklin Development Corp. should be given more money for operating costs. The Franklin Development Corp. could eventually go away, and the city can handle some projects through the redevelopment commission. The mayor, the redevelopment commission, city council and the economic development commission all appoint members, and have to have discussions. When he was appointed, he kept in contact with the mayor and would ask for his thoughts on projects.

Is revitalization of downtown Franklin a top priority? Why? Should taxpayer dollars be used? What do you propose be done?

Revitalization has been ongoing. In the downtown, there is little that hasn’t been touched, but now we need to broaden into the other neighborhoods, since not everyone comes downtown. Franklin is more than just this square. If a private startup company couldn’t get a loan from a bank, we shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars. But redoing sidewalks or infrastructure is a good use of taxpayers’ money. We need to help Discover Downtown Franklin host more events. That would be a good use of taxpayer dollars so we can have larger events. The best way to bring in business is to provide a customer base. If we bring 10,000 people downtown, businesses will want to come to the area to serve them.

Housing development around Franklin has been sluggish since the recession. What problems, if any, does this pose? And what should be done about it?

At one point, we had such a boom that we couldn’t keep up. The recession wasn’t a good thing, but at least we could take a breath, and now we can be more structured with new subdivisions. At one point, we were approving every subdivision coming in, when really that wasn’t the best choice. We need to be more selective with what is coming in now.

Franklin has few high-end homes that company executives are likely to move into. Is this a problem for the city? And what should be done about it?

The city can’t go out and build mansions and hope that people buy them. We have to entice businesses to come here, then that housing will be built here. Company executives may want to invest in a historic home, of which we have a wealth.

The Franklin Redevelopment Commission approved spending $500,000 in tax dollars on laptops for Franklin schools. Do you agree with this decision? Why or why not? Should the city and school district partner on future projects?

Absolutely agree with it. Was very vocal on that campaign, as a former school board member and a resident. Anything we can do to better prepare students and improve the community is good. Was some tension at the time but firmly supports it. Seen nothing but positive effects from that. Should partner together in the future.

What is the state of the city’s infrastructure system — roads, sewers, drainage? What projects are needed? And how would you pay for them?

Infrastructure system is vastly improving. Have been more infrastructure projects in the last three years since the economy has been more robust. Sidewalks are a big concern. As they start to erode, that is a safety issue. City has done well with spending its taxes in an intelligent manner.

Drainage projects have been a key discussion lately, with the city creating a more than $40 million stormwater plan. How should the city prioritize which projects should be done first? And how should larger projects, such as a new water detention basin, be paid for?

When prioritizing, you have to look at need and cost. If we’re able to streamline costs, we should focus on completing two or three projects at once so it will cost less. The mayor has done a good job of budgeting the city’s money over the last three years. Able to do a lot of projects without adding costs for the taxpayer.

Do you think parking downtown is an issue? What should be done about it?

Is an issue that has been discussed and addressed. The deal the city previously made with the county that reserves parking spaces for county employees may not have been the best for Franklin. Need to find out how to make parking available. If we have more events downtown, and don’t have anywhere to park, that is an issue. Doesn’t think city needs a parking garage but needs more data before we can decide what needs to be done.

The city helped pay for a new shell building, which was filled by a business about a year later. Should the city be involved in future similar projects?

This had a happy ending but at the time was a little nervous about who would move in. Is cautiously optimistic but would make sure that we watch how often we do it and how much we spend.

The city has been working on developing new trails and planning for future trail projects. Where do you think more trails are needed? And how should they be paid for?

Paying for them is simple: grants. State, federal, private grants are available, and the parks department has been doing well with getting them. Dream is to connect the high school and Knollwood. We have the land for almost everything, and it is something we want to accomplish.

The city got multiple complaints from businesses and residents during work on Main Street downtown. Now, projects are getting ready to begin on Jefferson Street. What did the city learn from the first experience? And what is being done differently?

Always going to have growing pains with construction. Downtown small businesses can’t take a month off. One specific issue last time was workers parking in spots that should have been left open for businesses when we have these big parking lots. We need to help businesses, and it is important that the businesses are open during construction. With Jefferson Street, we need to talk to contractors to minimize impacts on traffic during rush hour.

The area around the Interstate 65 exit is an area Franklin wants to develop. What is your vision for the area around the interstate?

That is the gateway to Franklin, what brings outsiders to Franklin. We have a lot to offer that people don’t always notice. We need nicer hotels that people want to come and stay in. A Great Wolf Lodge or aquatic hotel would be great. We need to highlight events that we have going on here in the parks, Franklin College and local schools. Once we provide hotel options, we could bring more people. We have three Olympic-sized pools here and could really tap into that market. Would love to see more retail options, including restaurants and a natural foods marketplace. That area is virtually untapped, and we need to have a clear-cut plan.