published Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Roberts: Sales tax squabbles prove we need metro government


by Dalton Roberts

If anyone needs the object lesson, the current squabbling and paralysis between our city and county governments should be enough to convince even the most skeptical that we need a unified government.

Each time the city and county have established a charter commission to draft a merging of the governments, I have supported it — going back to the first one many years before I was elected. Some of the proposed charters were better than others, but even the worst one would be much better than what we have now with two governing bodies that waste a lot of their energy fussing.

During the last campaign preceding the vote on the charter, I pointed out that much of the energy we could use in going forward was being wasted in unnecessary debates between the city and county. A city official said he thought the city and county got along pretty well. It highly amused me because much of my energy was going into little silly spasms with the city.

For every major disagreement like the current bantering over the sales tax agreement, there are a dozen little spats going on at any given time.

Imagine you are the city or county mayor charged with responsibility of moving forward in jobs and services and knowing every day that much of your time and energy was being spent in childish little playground spats. It is extremely frustrating, but the bigger problem is it actually limits your available time and energy for substantial work on our common needs.

Think how much better off we would be right now if mayors Ron Littlefield and Jim Coppinger had been meeting all the time they have been jousting — meeting to determine what our common needs are and agreeing on what each government will do to reach them. We would certainly be going in the right direction. And we would be traveling with a lot less animosity.

The most amusing angle is that the very thing most people hate the most about government is the thing that is stopping unified government. I am talking about bureaucracy and self-serving politicians.

It’s the bureaucrats and elected people who defeat it every time. The bureaucrats fear losing their jobs in the merger — a legitimate fear but it is blown out of all proportion in their minds. You definitely could reduce your work force but it would be done over time in an orderly way. You definitely could make it with fewer elected people, but isn’t that what the people want — a reduction in the size of government? You would realize a savings of almost $200,000 by eliminating one of the mayors!

In America today, people look down on politicians, but here we have a chance to reduce the number of politicians and we don’t take advantage of it. Sometimes I think people just love all of our little spats and side shows and are willing to give up progress for it.

In the last vote on unified government, Chattanooga Commissioner Paul Clark agreed to support it. I went over to his office one day and a group of his employees were in a side room putting together “STOP METRO” signs. I said, “I thought you were for metro.” He said, “I am, but my people are not.”

There, in a nutshell, is the reason we do not have unified government.

Contact Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.

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Stewwie said...

[Think how much better off we would be right now if mayors Ron Littlefield and Jim Coppinger had been meeting all the time they have been jousting — meeting to determine what our common needs are and agreeing on what each government will do to reach them.]

I believe that Mr. Coppinger has said on numerous occasions that he wanted to sit down with Mr. Littlefield to discuss the "common needs" as related to the sales tax agreement. However, Mr. Littlefield simply blew off Mr. Coppinger because Coppinger didn't agree that the sales tax agreement should expire.

[The most amusing angle is that the very thing most people hate the most about government is the thing that is stopping unified government. I am talking about bureaucracy and self-serving politicians.]

You are correct in that last sentence since Mr. Littlefield is most concerned with his legacy as mayor. He has said that he wants to go out as the last mayor of the city of Chattanooga, implying that the metro government will be in place by the time he leaves. Could he be any more self-serving given that the majority of the residents in both the city and county do NOT want a metro government?

The solution to the problems mentioned in the article, ironically, is to REDUCE the size of the city of Chattanooga, not expand it nor create a metro government. However, it appears that Mr. Littlefield will continue pursuing an agenda that the people don't want or need.

May 31, 2011 at 5:59 p.m.
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