My Road to Metro Council

Someone once asked me if it was my dream and a goal to be a Metro Council representative when I left Japan. The answer is no. I never imagined I would be your Metro Council representative.

I was born in Tokyo, Japan. I am an only child raised by a single mother. I spent my early childhood in my mother’s hometown about 80 miles north from Tokyo, climbing trees, running around in rice fields, and playing by the river. I grew up supported by caring adults who watched over me while my mother was at work.

I attended public schools in Japan. My mother wanted to make sure that I did not have any disadvantages being raised by a single mother and made me study extra hard. I was always at the top of my class and nominated for class president each year. English was a mandatory subject starting in middle school; it was one of my favorite subjects.

Me and my mom in traditional Japanese attireMe and my mom in traditional Japanese attire

 

After graduating from the Japanese Public School System, I worked in an accounting department at a women’s apparel company in charge of daily sales report, accounts payable and receivable, inventory and P&L (Profit and Loss Statement).

Eventually, I found my calling in the hospitality industry. I became the youngest female General Manager of a popular restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo; at that time promoting females to a managerial position was not a common practice. In 1989, the company sent me to Atlanta to open up a new business there. I was in charge of every single aspect of opening the business from the ground up, such as the location search, leasing contract, obtaining business license, renovating the interior, hiring of local staff, purchasing and inventory, payrolls and P&L and obtaining visas for the Japanese staff.

After the business closed, I moved to Cincinnati and worked as the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager at Omni Netherland Hotel, then moved to Nashville in 1994. I worked at a restaurant, F. Scott's, for a short period of time, then moved on to became a corporate interpreter and bilingual recruiter until 2000.  After getting married, I became a full-time caregiver for my mother-in-law who suffered from early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

To offer a bit of a different perspective on my personal life after arriving in Nashville, I will share a Blog Post written in March 2018 by a District 23 resident, Sheri Sellmeyer, for Nashville4All. 

Volunteer Community Advocacy

One of my first forays into speaking at public hearings was in June 2009 at the Metro Planning Commission; I was speaking in opposition to LED signs in residential neighborhoods.  Residents from over 30 different neighborhoods across Nashville spoke in opposition at the public hearing, after which the vote was deferred.  After the meeting, I contacted the Planning staff to discuss more about the LED sign ordinance. Months later, a revised bill, sponsored by former Council Members Charlie Tygard and Jim Gotto, was brought before MPC. However, myself and other neighborhood leaders had also prepared our own LED sign bill that specifically prohibited LED signage in residentially zoned neighborhoods; we had asked neighborhood friendly council members to sponsor it.  Although both of these bills were withdrawn, the existing code stood firm in not allowing LED signs in residentially zoned neighborhoods.  That still holds true today.

Mina Johnson speaking at the June 11, 2009 MPC in opposition
to LED signage in residentially zoned neighborhoods

In October and November 2009, I attended and observed the Planning Commission Executive Committee session updating their rules and procedures. As an observer, I was unable to speak during the committee meeting. However, I was able to share my opinion regarding the public hearing process via e-mail. A common theme at Metro Planning Commission public hearings back then was, " I found out about this development a week ago." I pointed out the existing notification system was literally set up to notify people only a week prior to the public hearing, while development applications were submitted six weeks prior. I believed a large portion of frustration could be eliminated by changing the notification process, not only the area to be notified, but rather the timing to be notified. They all agreed the public should be notified as early as possible, and charged the director Rick Bernhardt with coming up with some available electronic options such as posting on their website, e-mail notification, e-mail update sign-up, etc.

In February 2011, Metro Planning Department rolled out the “Development Tracker” website. This became an invaluable tool for neighborhoods.  This tracking system is still being used today.

Metro Nashville Development Tracker 

In 2011, I spoke twice at Metro Council public hearings.  In July 2011, then Councilman Mike Jameson was sponsoring a bill that would have permitted home businesses to allow customers/clients to come to a residential property.  I do not believe a residential neighborhood should have commercial type businesses where customers/clients are allowed to visit.  The same night as the public hearing, the Council actually voted to disapprove this bill – something that is rarely done at second reading.   

                        July 5, 2011 Metro Council Meeting 

My second public hearing appearance in November 2011, had to do with LED signage in residential neighborhoods.  Former Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr. sponsored a bill to rezone a small portion of RS property to SP for the sole purpose of installing a LED sign.  This would have set an unalterable precedent under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  Again, along with some other neighborhood leaders, we opposed this bill.  It was deferred indefinitely that night, and later withdrawn August 18, 2015.

                                                                                      November 1, 2011 Metro Council Meeting
                                                           

In 2013, I spoke at the Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing, again on the subject of LED signage.  This time it had to do with a request to convert a static billboard to LED and move it 300 feet.  The original billboard was located at Belle Meade Plaza, near White Bridge Road.  This billboard had already been torn down in anticipation of a new LED billboard in a different location.  I, along with former District 34 Councilwoman Lynn Williams and Anne Carr from the Whitland neighborhood, spoke in opposition to this request.  We were victorious, probably because the original billboard had already been removed.  Today most people do not know that a proposed huge LED billboard, that would have towered above Belle Meade Plaza, was prevented by three women who took the time to speak at a BZA meeting.

Mina Johnson, Lynn Williams and Anne Carr 
speaking before the July 25, 2013 BZA public hearing

 

AMP Citizens Advisory Committee

During the controversial transit plan known as “the AMP”, I was appointed by Mayor Karl Dean to serve on the AMP Citizens Advisory Committee, a 24-member committee to help facilitate a two-way conversation with the project team and the neighborhoods most greatly impacted by this project. Nashville Scene listed my credentials as “Community Volunteer and West Nashville resident.”  In the end, the majority of committee members could not recommend the proposed design.  My closing statement was, “I have more questions than answers after six months of our committee’s work.” In October 2014, Mayor Dean announced he would not seek further funding for the project.  The final “nail” for the AMP came in February 2015, when the city announced plans to cease work on the project.

Mina Johnson, a member of the AMP Citizen Advisory Committee
with other committee members during a July 29, 2014 meeting

 

Nashville Next

During the three-year process of updating Nashville’s General Plan, Nashville Next, I served on the Nashville Next Community Engagement Committee.  This committee was used as advisors in how to reach all members of the Nashville community, including hard-to-reach constituents.  We also reviewed community meeting reports, made recommendations as needed and participated in actual community meetings and online engagement.

             March 2015 - Mina working with other committee members. 

      Mina participating in a Nashville Next community meeting.

My 2015 Campaign

Although it may appear that I had been putting myself on the front lines and had been speaking on behalf of the community, I never imagined I would became a council member during my community advocacy work. Someone once asked me if I was into politics; I responded all I wanted was to get things done. The person said that’s what is called politics, and you are very good at it.

In the summer of 2013, former District 23 Council Member Emily Evans, who would be term limited and leave office, encouraged me to run to fill her seat. My initial reaction was no way. As the end of 2014 approached, I realized none of our community advocacy leaders were coming forward to fill her seat. I started wondering who would carry our voice, and if the person wanting to fill her seat would know as much as we knew about our neighborhoods. Finally, it hit me, I may have to step up if no one else would. I reached out to several people, including Councilwoman Evans, to ask if they truly thought I should step up.  The response was an overwhelming YES.  So, in early 2015, I filed my paperwork with the Metro Election Commission.  My “hat” was officially in the ring.

It turned out, the 2015 election for District 23 became quite memorable. One candidate forgot to turn in his qualifying petition paper on time and became a write-in candidate. Another candidate thought it was unfair for one write-in candidate to participate in the Belle Meade City candidates’ forum, so he too became an official write-in candidate. All in all, I picked up four opponents.

Throughout my past community involvement, I had a good grasp of what to expect in being a council member, its role and responsibilities. However, being a candidate is a whole new story. During the campaign, I was often asked why I decided to be a candidate.  My answer was that I was not interested in being a candidate, but I was interested in continuing to do what I had been doing for years – speaking up and speaking out for our neighborhoods.

The 2015 Belle Meade candidates’ Forum

After the initial filing and the realization that I was actually going to run for Metro Council, I discovered all the things involved in running a campaign; setting up a campaign’s email and web site; canvassing neighborhoods; designing mail pieces, scheduling meet and greet events; participating in public forums; and last, but certainly not least, fundraising. Although Election Day seemed a long time away, the reality was there was almost too much to accomplish before the August 6, 2015 Election Day. 

I was so fortunate to have good friends and fellow community activists offer to help; they all jumped in and quickly became my volunteer campaign team. Although we had been active on the issues pertaining to our neighborhoods, none of us knew how to run a campaign. We asked many questions to former and current council members on how to campaign. They all said the same thing, raise money and knock on doors. It sounded simple enough. However, it did not take too long to find out it is easier said than done.

I found fundraising to be rather challenging. Even though my campaign team were all volunteers, I discovered I needed professional help with the mail pieces, yard signs and campaign materials. With the help of friends and neighbors, I was able to raise almost enough to cover campaign costs. On the other hand, door knocking was quite enjoyable regardless of the hot summer heat and walking up long hilly driveways. I will never forget that people thanked me for running and offered cold water. How amazing was that!

On Election night after the polls closed and the votes counted, I had received the most votes (2,162), but not enough for an outright victory of 50% plus one needed.  I was in a runoff!  The runoff election was scheduled for September 10, 2015.  So, five more weeks of campaigning by doing everything we had been doing, but in a much shorter period of time. 

On the night of September 10, as my campaign team gathered to watch the runoff election results, we were upbeat.  In the end, we had good reason; I won each of the four voting precincts in District 23 to become the next District 23 Metro Council Member.

Victory Party - September 10, 2015

                        09/21/15 -Mina Johnson officially being sworn in
by Chancellor Carol McCoy at the historic Hermitage Hotel
Site of the final battle to pass the 19th Amendment

My Four Years in Council 

During the last four years, my Metro Government experience has intensified.  Although I had over 15 years of community volunteer experience, understanding the “nitty gritty” of the mechanics of exactly how Metro Government works, was a little shocking.  Actually, being an elected official is somewhat overwhelming in many ways. I had appeared before the Metro Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Metro Council many times representing myself and my own views. Now I was representing all constituents in District 23.  It was, and still is, very important for me to listen to my constituents and decide the best outcome for the district I had been elected to represent and for Nashville as a whole.

My campaign vision included priorities of protecting neighborhoods from over development and requiring more transparency and accountability; two areas I truly believed I could impact.  Many candidates will say while campaigning that they will solve big problems.  Solving big problems is important, and Metro Council members do vote on solutions.  However, for some issues, Metro Council has very little input and authority. For example, many people may think Metro Council has some oversight or authority over the Metro Public School System since Council approves the school budget as a part of the Mayor’s budget. However, under the Metro Charter, only the Board of Education has the final say with what happens in the school system, including teachers’ pay. The Metro budget provides funding to MNPS, but the Board of Education is the only entity that can decide how it is spent. 

Another issue where Metro Council has little input is Metro’s operating budget.  Budgetary issues cannot be solved by a single Council member, no matter a Council member’s financial background or knowledge managing big budgets.  Reality is that the mayor submits an annual operating budget; the only Council member that really has any input is the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.  All forty members of the Council may suggest amending the chair’s budget; but, it will have to be adopted by 21 votes. Even then, the Mayor holds the veto power, and Council must vote on three separate days and adopt it by a 2/3 vote of the Council body prior to June 30th to overturn the veto.

So, what can a single Council member accomplish?  Any ordinance or resolution submitted by a Council member requires 21 yes votes to be approved. Collaboration and consensus are key to accomplishing any goal. The majority of votes that Council members cast has to do with zoning.  Understanding the nuances of zoning is critical.  For more detailed information about zoning, please see my blog Zoning in District 23 - Why Zoning Matters and What I am Doing to Protect Neighborhoods in District 23.

To meet my pledge to Preserve and Protect our Neighborhoods, my first bill was to cancel an outdated development plan that would have allowed ridge top development to create 900 multi-housing units on 245 acres; I replaced it with the Nashville Highland Specific Plan that would allow development up to 360 units on a limited 14 acres, keeping more than 200 acres as open and natural space.

Nashville Highlands Specific Plan - 200 acres preserved.  

My next bill cancelled another outdated development plan at the end of Rodney Drive that would have allowed 600 multi-housing units on 123 acres; I replaced it with the Nandi Hill Specific Plan that would allow development up to 128 multi-family units or assisted living when and if the property owner decides to proceed. Currently there is no plan to develop the hill, and I helped the property owner to obtain a Greenbelt tax classification. In addition, I have co-sponsored bills to eliminate short-term rentals from residentially zoned properties. You can read my newsletter about STR-Short Term Rental Ordinance sent in January, 2018, as well as my blog on Short Term Rentals - Why I Am Trying To Improve Regulations And Protect Neighborhoods

                 Nandi Hill Specific Plan - reduced from 600 units to 128.                 

To meet my pledge for more Transparency and Accountability, I have co-sponsored several bills to reform the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) process.  As a member of the Rules and Confirmations Committee, one of the first actions we took was to afford accountability for all Metro Council committees by requiring a quorum of committee members before any vote is taken.  To ensure more transparency, I also sponsored the bill that put Charter Amendment 1 on the August 1 ballot.  This Amendment requires more transparency regarding Nashville’s annual operating budget by requiring performance and efficiency measurements for departments, boards, commissions and agencies.  In addition, it requires the mayor to submit more detailed information about Nashville’s debt.

To meet my pledge for Efficient Communication, I have e-mailed out over 60 newsletters and conducted 33 Districtwide community meetings along with numerous other smaller neighborhood meetings.  For every rezoning request brought to me over the last four years, I have averaged 8 combined community and neighborhood meetings before any development plans or zone requests were finalized.  In addition, I have answered countless emails and telephone calls. Although I admit I have missed responding to a few e-mails in a timely manner, I have been accessible when my constituents needed me for my assistance. 

Some of the projects accomplished in District 23 during my first term include:

Davidson Road sidewalk project - Phase I between Hillwood High School and H. G. Hill Middle School has been completed! The sidewalk project from Hillwood High School to Harding Pike has been in the Capital Improvement Budget for more than 12 years, but was never funded prior to 2015. It took persistence on my part to convince the Public Works sidewalk project team that my constituents needed this sidewalk to be built for many reasons. Phase II is currently underway. It will resume as soon as all the easement agreements are finalized.

Sidewalk Plan on Davidson Road in front of HG Hill Middle and Hillwood High Schools.

Ongoing discussions to keep the West Meade Elementary school in our district– The West Meade Elementary School classroom addition and renovation plan has been in the Capital Improvement Budget Request for over 10 years.  At a January 2018 meeting, MNPS surprised us by revealing three options for the school.  One option would remove the elementary school from District 23.  I am working hard to make sure an elementary school remains in our district.  I held several community meetings and urged residents to respond to the school survey. I have been lobbying MNPS to rezone school clusters so the residents of Hillwood and West Meade will have options to send children to a neighborhood elementary school instead of in the opposite direction of their neighborhoods.  You can read more about Westmeade Elementary School plans in my January, 2018 newsletter.

 

Traffic calming effort – Speeding in our neighborhood streets was one of the top complaints I heard during my first term. I conducted the first districtwide traffic calming meeting in May 2016, as well as requesting the West Police Precinct for aid, whenever available, for many streets of District 23 to monitor and reduce speeding in our neighborhoods. Earlier this year, Bresslyn Road was approved as one of Metro Public Works traffic calming projects. The community meeting was held on June 1st and several ideas were shared by Public Works Traffic Calming manager Derek Hagerty. We will pick it up later to decide which recommendations to adopt after the runoff election.

           

Traffic calming proposal on Bresslyn Rd.     

Historical marker project for District 23 – Metro Council allocated funding to install historical markers in each Council district. I worked with the Metro Historical Commission on the first historical marker project in our district. It was my honor to recognize Hillwood Estates and the Hill family for their enormous contribution to our community.

  
Dedication of the Hillwood Estates historical marker

Being instrumental for the City of Belle Meade – as the District 23 Council member, I am not directly responsible for nor required to interact with the residents of the City of Belle Meade since it has its own government; yet they are also my constituents. I thought the best way for me to represent the residents of the City of Belle Meade was to establish a great rapport with the Belle Meade City Commissioners. I attended Belle Meade City Commission meetings regularly to learn about their issues and shared updates in Metro Government that might affect the City of Belle Meade. I was able to connect the Belle Meade City manager with Nashville Electric Service when they were having difficulty with the installation of the License Plate Reader Cameras on the NES poles. Also, after Tennessee State legislators passed a bill to repeal the Hall income tax in 2017, the City of Belle Meade started searching for ways to fill the gap in their city budget. I sponsored Resolution RS2018-1473 to update the inter-governmental agreement to bring more revenue to the City of Belle Meade to fill the loss of the Hall income tax.

The Hillwood Boulevard Bridge’s renovation was completed in August 2019.  This year-long project as part of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Public Highway Bridge System is co-owned by the City of Nashville and the City of Belle Meade.  Prior to the construction, I contacted representative John Ray Clemmons, various project team leaders within Metro Public Works, and the City of Belle Meade to be sure all agencies and project teams were coordinating to minimize negative impact and inconvenience to the neighbors. The completion of the project came ahead of schedule, and the opening of the renovated bridge was welcomed by all.

Renovated Hillwood Bridge

These are just a few examples of my involvements in the past four years.

As your District 23 Metro Councilmember, I have served on the Rules, Confirmations and Public Elections Committee, the Planning, Zoning and Historical Committee, and the Public Works Committee, as well as Continuum of Care Homelessness Planning Council. Throughout my first term, I have worked with other Council members to mandate more transparency for certain Metro areas that have been, or at least given an appearance of, operating under an opaque system.  With each rezone request, I have worked to ensure it was a good fit for the surrounding neighborhood. During the past two years, I have been working with MNPS and the administration to ensure the high school property is retained for the best use for our community. You can read the details on my blog How the West Nashville Community Plan Will Help Save the Hillwood High School Property. I believe my record shows I have successfully accomplished each of my priorities. 

Four Years Later

It is hard to believe it has been four years since my last election. It has been my honor and privilege to represent District 23. There is still more work to be done, and I am committed to serving the residents of this district to the best of my ability.  I have detailed my pledge, containing nine areas, on my web page, https://www.minaforcouncil.com/minaspledge, with my top priorities being to preserve and protect our wonderful residential neighborhoods, keep Hillwood High School property for the best use for our community and install transparency and accountability in Metro Government. 

My campaign team is hard at work donating their time and energy by canvassing door to door in sweltering 95+ degree temperatures, placing yard signs, making phone calls, writing post cards, helping with meet and greet events, working the polls during early voting and election day and generally just being there for whatever needs to be done.  My all volunteer campaign team includes neighborhood leaders within District 23, as well as outside, millennials who are getting involved for the first time and neighborhood residents who believe in my leadership.  Most of my volunteers have been on my campaign team since the last election.  I am so proud and grateful that I don’t have any paid staff on my campaign team, just neighbors and friends devoting their time for my campaign.  

I believe my last four years of Council experience and past nearly 20 years of community advocacy provide the right experience, the right skills and the right knowledge to navigate Metro Government.  I am not afraid to ask the tough questions and call for better transparency and accountability.  I have always been able to work with residents and city leaders toward common goals and unity through balancing fiscal responsibility and sound judgment.  

Nashville is at a crossroads. We must make sure neighborhood voices are heard.  I know I can be a loud voice for neighborhoods; I have been doing that for almost 20 years.  I have more to accomplish for the residents of District 23. I do appreciate your vote and support in allowing me to continue my journey on the Metro Council road, and the honor to once again represent you for the next four years. Early voting has already started and runs through September 7.  The runoff Election Day is September 12. VOTE Mina For Council, https://www.minaforcouncil.com  

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