Question: A very different looking Chattanooga City Council will convene next week. What should be the first order of business for the new city council?
Drew Johnson, Editor of the Free Press opinion page at the Chattanooga Times Free Press
Editor of the Free Press opinion page
As a result of two retirements and the defeat of every single incumbent councilmember who faced opposition, seven of the City Council’s nine seats will be filled with new members on Monday.
Recent city elections made it clear that Chattanooga voters wanted a do-over; an opportunity to start from scratch.
The new city council should follow the voters’ lead by stripping down the city’s bloated $209 million budget and starting over. Most of the recently elected councilmembers ran on platforms that called for prioritizing spending, eliminating duplicate programs, trimming waste, cutting unnecessary agencies, privatizing insolvent city-owned facilities and streamlining government in general.
In the long term, Chattanooga’s biggest problem isn’t crime (which is at its lowest levels in years), it’s the city’s comparatively high property tax rate. If Chattanooga’s new policymakers continue in the tax and spend tradition of its former ones, the city’s tax burden will become so onerous that many residents will realize that moving just on the other side of the city limits could save their families thousands of dollars a year. The result of taxpayers — especially affluent ones — fleeing the city would be disastrous.
The new city council — and the new mayor — can go far to avoid a future of depopulation and stagnation in Chattanooga by making wise decisions the coming weeks. All that’s needed is to determine what the city government should be doing and what it shouldn’t, then properly fund the necessary functions and leave the rest to individuals, businesses and nonprofits. The result would be a vibrant city with a growing tax base and a bright future.
District 1 councilman-elect
The new City Council will need to hit the ground running because our plate will be full of important decisions that need to be made in the first 90 days.
The first order of business will be housekeeping, including chair, vice-chair and committee chair appointments.
Together, we will have an opportunity to blend the new mayor’s vision with the new Council’s vision. We can and must accomplish this by prioritizing budget items, which will then drive city operations.
I am looking for the elimination and restructuring of some departments. We need a leaner and more efficient city government to better meet the needs of our communities and businesses. We also need to address some unanswered questions relative to Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority in order to determine its direction going forward.
I am confident the new Council is up to the challenges that lie ahead.
District 2 councilman-elect
The first order of business for the new City Council should be to fulfill the promise that most of the candidates made to the voters, making the business of government more open to the public. Chattanooga became a great city by involving its citizens in the decision-making process. We must return to that way of governing.
We promised more transparency and we should begin by using technology to give the people access to the decisions the Council is making. One relatively simple way to give more access would be streaming over the Internet our committee meetings, where most of the debates on issues, resolutions and ordinances take place. Many of the cities our size around us are already doing this.
On major directions and decisions such as the Clean Water Authority, more public meetings need to be held, at times that people can attend, to get the taxpayers input and approval before enacting. It is time to have a city government of the people, by the people, for the people. We can have that by working openly together.
District 3 councilman-elect
Initially, I would like to see the City Council focus its efforts on addressing the public safety needs of our community and making needed infrastructure investments, which will help grow our economy, create more jobs and improve our quality of life.
In order to accomplish this goal, the City Council will need to take a very hard look at the budget and make determinations of what city services and projects are absolutely needed to serve the essential needs of all taxpayers.
District 7 councilman-elect
We must first be concerned about crime. No one who lives in Chattanooga should be afraid to be in their own home. The solutions we develop over the coming months, in cooperation with the new mayor’s office, will address the root causes of crime.
To create a safer community, there must be real opportunities for employment and positive activities for adults and children. Those jobs need to be living-wage, not minimum wage. They must pay enough to support a family. Recreation facilities should be a center of community life, especially in impoverished or underserved areas. We should offer real options to keep children occupied with positive activities. Sports isn’t the only answer; sometimes it’s art, music, educational programs, etc.
Many people in Chattanooga would love to volunteer their time to make a difference in a child’s life. I want to create more opportunities for them to do that. Our city will be much stronger overall as a result.