As a young adult, Brentwood City Commissioner Regina Smithson moved around a lot, traveling to and working in states like Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama within the span of a few years. Moving wherever opportunity took her, Smithson said she enjoyed the lifestyle.
It was shortly after meeting her late husband and moving to Brentwood in 1982, however, that Smithson finally found a city she wanted to plant roots in. Describing Brentwood as "one of the most desirable place to live" in the country, Smithson said her re-election bid was centered around the theme of "staying on track" and keeping Brentwood on its current trajectory.
Smithson, who has previously served two terms as mayor and vice mayor, was first voted to the City Commission in 1993. Smithson had also previously served on the city's Planning Commission, Historic Commission, Environmental Advisory Board, Sister City Board and the Park Board.
Smithson owns a Brentwood-based financial services company known as Smithson & Associates Inc., which she started with her husband decades earlier, and is now run by her daughter and son-in-law.
Smithson has three children and 11 grandchildren, all of whom attended or are attending Brentwood High School.
"Stay on track"
When asked what was her main motivation in running for an eighth term as City Commissioner, Smithson said it was a matter of staying the course during 'very changing times' by maintaining policies that have made the city what it is today.
"What motivated me the most [to run for re-election] is [that] I did not want drastic changes in Brentwood," Smithson said.
"All the things that we've accomplished, if we could just stay on track in this very changing time and keep Brentwood the way it's going, that's the best thing I could do not only for my kids, but for generations to come."
When asked what she considered to be the largest challenge facing the city, Smithson circled back to her point of 'staying on track,' arguing that nearly any challenge could be overcome by maintaining zoning that allows for generous space between residential and commercial developments.
"We are a very desirable community, and so they're so many people wanting to move to Brentwood or this area of Tennessee," Smithson said.
"I see other places in and around Brentwood that have overbuilt; that affects the school systems, quality of life, even the need for more taxes. So if we can keep Brentwood going in the direction we're going and building according to the zoning we have, it'll be Brentwood for a long time."
When asked how she might respond to a future proposition proposing increased housing density, Smithson said she "would fight it to the end."
27 years of service; then and now
Save for City Commissioner Anne Dunn, Smithson has served on the City Commission for the longest period of time - 27 years to be exact.
While stressing that Brentwood's accomplishments over the past 30 years were not hers to take credit for alone, Smithson highlighted the increasingly positive changes the city has seen for the past three decades as a sign of effective leadership.
"When I got on the [City Commission], there were 81 acres of park land - we have 1,090 right now," Smithson said.
"When I got on the [commission], we had $600,000 in our general fund, and that would mean that that's all we had if a big emergency came along - we'd be in trouble. Now we have $43 million. In 27 years, we've never had an increase in property taxes."
In 1993, Brentwood also had an A bond rating, leaving it in the upper medium grade of bond ratings. Today, Brentwood has a triple A bond rating, ensuring the city receives the lowest-possible interest rates on bonds.
Economic development and greenspace
Even when asked about how she might encourage economic development in the city, Smithson circled back to her theme of 'staying the course,' noting that the vision of the city as imagined by its founders still holds true today.
"The founders of Brentwood had really thought out the way [the city] should be with business [being] on the north and the south - in the center is the bedroom communities," Smithson said.
"We've kept it like that, and that's important to us because the way it is, the bedroom community doesn't have businesses scattered all in it."
In terms of granting incentives to businesses such as tax abatements to spark economic growth, Smithson voiced her strong opposition to tax giveaways to businesses and corporations, arguing that selective handouts would be unfair to taxpaying citizens.
"Tax abatements, we've turned down so many; I don't believe in it," Smithson said.
"Brentwood is so desirable to be in and the taxpayers have paid their money, why would we give tax abatements? You want to be in Brentwood, you pay the same as everybody else here, fair is fair."
Maintaining a strong proportion of greenspace to development was another key component of Smithson's continued vision for Brentwood. When asked if increasing park and greenspace in the city would continue to be a part of her agenda, Smithson answered "absolutely."
Investing in the community
Smithson spoke highly of extra investment into community staples such as schools, youth groups and otherwise.
The city of Brentwood is one of the few cities in the state that donates funds directly to its schools, along with community organizations such as the senior center, YMCA, Brentwood Blaze youth football program and the Brentwood Ball Club.
To date, Brentwood has donated just over $6 million to Brentwood schools, something the city has done for at least 27 years.
"If you have quality schools and you have things that you're able to help the school with, that helps the property values and the city - we're the only city in Tennessee that does it," Smithson said.
"We really feel like that money is going back to the taxpayer's benefit. That helps the city in the long run; we're hitting just about every age group, some sports groups. If we ever got in a pinch, we would not be able to do it, but fortunately, we're very financially aware of where the money should go, what we use our taxpayer money on that benefits them."
Smithson's pitch to voters
Ultimately, Smithson's pitch to voters was one of 'staying on track.' Her case for an eighth term was one of consistency, arguing that if voters would like to see Brentwood continue on its current trajectory, then her 27 years of experience would make her the person to vote for.
"Having lived here with kids in school, working with the schools and running a business, I have what I consider the different areas of life that I have knowledge in," Smithson said.
"I have experience in raising a family here, being part of government, and working with the schools, and I feel that experience has helped Brentwood become what it is. I'm not saying I did it by myself, I'm saying a team of people that I worked with has brought Brentwood to where it is today.
"I don't want to lose it, and I'm willing to work for the voters and the residents. I never wanted another position, I never wanted to go to the state level - it's not a stepping stone for me. My main goal was to work with Brentwood so that for years and years to come, it would be one of the most desirable places to live, and I think to this point, I've helped accomplish that."
Smithson is one of four candidates vying for three seats on the City Commission, and is running against incumbents Mark Gorman and Rhea Little, as well as political newcomer Gina Gunn. The three candidates who receive the most votes will go on to become acting city commissioners.
The voter registration deadline was April 5; click here to check if you're already registered to vote. Early voting will take place between April 14-29, with election day landing on Tuesday, May 4.