Growing, engaging, supporting and connecting Knox County
Larsen Jay believes in fostering connectivity and unity. Known as the founder of Random Acts of Flowers and the man who brought the ice rink back to Market Square, Jay is a business and family man who works with and engages in all regions of Knox County. His commitment is to ensure all citizens feel heard and engaged in the success and growth of their communities.
You have strong connections in nearly every region in Knox County, don’t you?
I have lived or worked in most parts of Knox County. Between my business experience, education, and community service in the regions of our county, I have developed a sense of what is important in different parts of it. Neighborhood perspectives are different so having a broad sense of the community as a whole has shaped who I am as an elected leader. It’s the reason I found a calling in serving as an at-large member of the County Commission representing all of Knox County. I think about those real big picture issues and how they impact our county as a whole.
What did you know the first time you ran versus now?
When I first ran to be a commissioner, I had a general sense of community-wide issues, opportunities, and challenges. But what I didn’t know is that although being a commissioner is a part-time job, it comes with full-time responsibilities. And while I prepared for almost 18 months through research, attending meetings, talking to department heads, and learning the role, once you become a commissioner, the vast amount of info that you must comprehend, process, and engage with—from land use and education to financial management and community relations—is so much more than anyone tells you. There’s so much behind every issue. But I appreciated that because it helped me better understand the complexities of every problem and the issues that were important to my neighbors. As a result, I feel primed to take on another four years.
How do you go about engaging with your constituents?
I make it a real point to be available, attentive, and responsive. I set up a direct constituent website, which I keep updated regularly. I do a monthly newsletter about the work that I do as their representative. I don’t try to tackle every issue and I don’t report on what I don’t attend, but I try to give a digestible update to my constituents—which is more than 480,000 people—about what I did on their behalf and the issues that I’m learning about or that are coming up. I also stay on top of social media communication. I just try to do everything I can to be accessible. When the phone call comes, I answer and we talk through issues, even if we disagree. When the events come, I attend and do a lot of listening. People don’t always need the answer, but they definitely need to know that their representative is hearing them, that they’re working out in the community, and actively working on their behalf.
Why is public service so important to you?
I think constituents see a genuine care and concern from me to be helpful in the community. When they see stories in my newsletter, they say, ‘Hey, he was over here helping this group try to figure out how to tackle this issue. I have that issue, too,’ and now they have people they can identify with that have similar challenges or opportunities. There are so many similarities between our neighborhoods, as diverse as they are. There are common threads of trying to make the community better or to improve a situation, that it gives me an opportunity to engage on a genuine level.
You champion education in our community, don’t you?
There’s no greater investment than education, period, in every way, shape or form. So, I’m proud of being part of fully funding all of our school budgets and pushing for three new elementary schools that were old and dilapidated. I also directly support school principals by dedicating 100 percent of my discretionary funds as commissioner.
You’re also working on mental health awareness, too?
I’ve been getting more involved with the understanding of mental health needs in our community and trying to be an advocate for the mental health court that I hope will to come to fruition. But I’ve also been engaging with the medical community on mental health services and have been working on creating an annual mental health report that brings more awareness to those needs.
I hear you’re working on improving Beaver Creek and a new project in the Northshore area?
Two big projects I’ve been working on include cleaning up Beaver Creek and installing new pedestrian safety access on Northshore Drive. Beaver Creek is a 44-mile navigable water way that is in the entire watershed of the northern part of Knox County. We are working to clean it up and really care for it to reduce flooding, improve water quality, and open recreation. This is so important because it connects five unique communities—Halls, Powell, Karns, Hardin Valley, and Solway—with a common vision. In Northshore, I’m working to invest in new greenways and safe access along the Concord Road to Choto Road corridor so everyone in this dense area can safely get to parks and trails without having to fear for their lives when crossing a busy road. I have not doubt both of these projects are worthy investments that will save lives and improve everyone’s quality of life.
You have made a large effort to build a relationship with local law enforcement. Why?
I often go out on ride-a-longs with either our Sheriff’s Office deputies or Knoxville Police officers to better understand their work and challenges. It’s important to support our officers as they advocate for improved pay and protection reforms. And I’ve worked to better understand and engage with what is probably the biggest issue that everyone thinks about, which is public safety and its improvement across our community.
If elected, what are your priorities for the next four years?
The biggest thing is helping everyone understand that we are a fast-growing community and that is a good thing, not a bad thing. There are people moving here every day. Businesses are thriving. The community is growing. And that has unique challenges, but also unique opportunities. A lot of times people fight change. But I’m someone that embraces it and looks for the opportunities that change provides. I don’t want us to be known as the Scruffy Little City anymore; we have a real opportunity to be a world-class community that has a tremendous quality of life with an innovative and hard-working economic engine within any number of our industries. This is a wonderful place to live, and I want everyone to know about it.
Why focus your efforts on helping the county grow?
The pandemic has shown us all that life is not just about work, wealth and achievement. It’s also about taking care of ourselves and living the lives we want to live. And I think we have a unique opportunity to embrace the changes happening and figure out a way to shape our community to be the most attractive place in the country to live. I want us to get out of the awkward teenage years and stop looking over our shoulder at other regional cities. I want us to emerge as a place where we all feel, ‘This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is where we’re heading. And boy, don’t you want to live here!?’ It doesn’t come without challenges, but we couldn’t be in a better spot right now for a bright future ahead.
Learn more about Larsen Jay at www.LarsenJay.com.
POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT – Paid for by Larsen Jay for Knox County Commission. Kirk Huddleston, Treasurer.