published Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Chattanooga City Council members say there's little they can do about Bessie Smith Strut

by Cliff Hightower

Do you agree with the decision to move the Bessie Smith Strut?

Despite protests about the relocation of the Bessie Smith Strut, most City Council members said Monday there is nothing they can do about the decision.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said the whole issue is "out of their jurisdiction." Council Manny Rico said the matter is "out of their hands."

A group of businessmen, community leaders and vendors is expected to ask the City Council tonight to do something about Mayor Ron Littlefield's decision to move the Strut from M.L. King Boulevard to the riverfront.

The group "will be folks who have a vested interest in the Bessie Smith Strut and an interest in the MLK neighborhood," said the Rev. Jeffrey Wilson, pastor of New United Missionary Baptist Church and a Hamilton County Board of Education member. "I think there will be a good number."

Littlefield, citing safety concerns about the Strut, announced last week that he asked Riverbend festival organizers to put the event on at the riverfront.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said last week the decision is an administrative one that falls under the powers of the mayor.

Councilman Peter Murphy said the only power the council has is the power over the budget.

"The council can decide to defund something," he said. "We don't like what you're doing so we're going to take the money away. I don't know what we can defund to change this decision."

Councilwoman Deborah Scott said she appreciates both sides of the issue: a concern over public safety and concern over business owners along M.L. King Boulevard worrying about losing money if the Strut moves.

Councilman Andraé McGary, who represents the district where the Strut has been held for 31 years, said he is getting a lot of feedback from the community.

"What I am getting is, 'Can the council reverse this decision?'" he said. "That's my question."

He said there could be some options but declined to discuss them Monday.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for the mayor, said Littlefield would not be at the meeting and instead would be in Nashville, speaking with Tennessee legislators about gang laws.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at or 423-757-6480. Follow him at or hightowerTFP.

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