published Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Andy Berke should uphold transparency he touts

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    Andy Berke is running for Chattanooga mayor.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
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FACEBOOK FEEDBACK

Comments generated by Sunday's Times Free Press story about property holdings by Andy Berke's family.

Mr. Andy Berke can't be held responsible for other people's actions even if they are his family. ...

— Laure Tatum Pearman


I don't think this is newsworthy. Most every successful family owns property.

— Cody D. Works


Personally, I like throwback Mountain Dews. I am unsure about a throwback mayor. After all the work done in Chattanooga to clean (things) up, he certainly looks like a step backward.

— James Berry


It is, and can be, a conflict of interest. He may not hold the deeds to all those properties but he has a personal stake in them through inheritance through his father. That does make it a direct conflict of interest. Furthermore, rundown, dilapidated property and buildings attract the criminal element.

— Patricia Trotter Martin


I think Mr. Berke will be a good mayor. ... While he may not be responsible for his family's choices as everyone is quick to point out, as mayor, he will absolutely have the power to do something about it. ... I'd like to know if he pledges to do that.

— Jeffry Belk

I think Mr. Berke will be a good mayor. I also believe this article is about political dirt-digging. While he may not be responsible for his family's choices as everyone is quick to point out, as mayor, he will absolutely have the power to do something about it ... enforce city codes making his family and every slumlord property owner in the city clean up their messes. I'd like to know if he pledges to do that.

— Jeffry Belk

It's time for city mayoral candidate Andy Berke to put his big-boy pants on and stop hiding behind canned political rhetoric. Nothing points that up better than news stories of trashed vacant lots owned by his father and uncle.

Instead of being specific about ways to help Chattanooga grow, and even pointing to those properties, now Berke is playing defense with an egg on his face. The handlers telling Berke he has nothing to lose by keeping his ideas close to the vest are advising him badly.

Vague, I'm-gonna-make-it-better-with-my-bullet-points promises worked for naive Chattanooga when Jon Kinsey and Bob Corker ran for mayor, but they're like throwing gasoline on a fire in this age of instant online information and distrust of all things wealthy and connected.

There is nothing wrong with improving poor parts of the city. Like it or not, it usually is the real estate interests of people wealthy enough to seek opportunity that drive growth. (These are often the same folks who have enough political clout to seek infrastructure improvements on streets and alleys near their investment properties.)

Do the Berke family holdings look and smell bad to us little people? Sure.

Do they give tea party whiners a new tune? Sure.

Do they have proven potential for eventually opening up a new day of commerce (and taxes, too) on a now-worthless set of properties and at the same time clean up a blight that only encourages gangs and crime. Absolutely.

Does anyone remember what the riverfront behind the old Kirkman High School used to look like?

Does anyone remember what Southside used to look like?

Does anyone remember what Villages at Alton Park used to look like (and sound like with bullets flying) when it was the Spencer J. McCallie Homes?

If you're a Chattanooga newcomer, the answer is that all of those areas looked much like Glass Street does now.

Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker was one of the largest property owners in the city when he ran for the office, though many of his holdings consisted of office buildings and many were leased to government agencies such as the IRS.

He put the properties into a blind trust -- though it's fair to say he knew whether he owned the Osborne Center or not. Technically there was no conflict of interest for him as long as the city didn't lease space in those buildings, and it didn't.

When he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, he was forced to sell those holdings because he did lease some of the space to federal agencies such as the IRS. He sold 36 office buildings and more than 250 acres of undeveloped property to businessman Henry Luken to avoid violating Senate rules on conflict of interest.

But Berke's naysayers -- and Chattanooga conspiracy theorists -- can't have it both ways. You can't say the rich ignore the poor and middle-class and then say the rich can't help the poor and middle-class by putting their own investment money in poor and mediocre properties.

As for the smear on Andy Berke?

Well, Mr. Berke, you can't have it both ways either. You should have gotten in front of this first.

Instead of having a no-specifics campaign, perhaps you should have said the city needs to take on gangs and crime and blight, and I can use the example of some properties owned by my father and his brother bought years ago with a vision toward improvements. Together with public money for streetscapes, sidewalks and public art, those investments can bring the city a new tomorrow ...

Instead, Berke's official statement, made by email, was even more distancing: "As mayor," Berke would "ensure that there is a conflicts of interest policy for the mayor and also for other government employees. ... Citizens should trust that decisions are being made in their best interests, and we will work to ensure that there is not even the appearance of impropriety."

Citizens don't trust. It's a shame, but true, that Chattanooga has to be so small it can't think beyond the hide-and-seek of political baloney.

But it's also a shame Chattanoogans seem to have so little access into Berke's head: except through the window of his father's and uncles' investments made in the 1970s. Investment four decades ago would hardly seem to have been made with an eye toward today's new beginnings on Glass Street or Andy Berke's mayoral aspirations.

Berke has less than two weeks before the Choo Choo city election to get his train back on the tracks and in the station.

And voters still have time to put their reasoning caps on.

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joetheplumber said...

We need a slumlord as mayor, hell look at this slum we call home...

February 26, 2013 at 12:24 a.m.
nucanuck said...

There is a game rich people play with vacant property in run-down neighborhoods. Because the purchase price and taxes are uaually quite low, one can buy and hold a lot of "junk" property and hopefully some day a development will come along that needs your property to make the deal work. The rich owner won't sell for a reasonable price and eventually gets a big payoff for a small lot.

The downside for the city is that the owner has no incentive to spend even a dime to clean or maintain the property. Everybody (neighbors, the city, and the tax base) loses EXCEPT the property owner. We all want to protect property owner's rights, but in these circumstances, we shouldn't. There should be fines for derelict property that incentivise owners to maintain their property at a high level. If they don't like it, they can either sell or give the property away.

Give the property away? Who would do that? Well, I did. My grandmother bought a back-tax property in Alton Park for a few hundred dollars. First my father then I inheirited the lot. I tried to give it to a neighborhood church, they declined. I tried to give it to Habitat for Humanity, they declined.

One day a TV reporter called me while preparing a story on slum property owners. I told him that I was a reluctant owner and asked if he would accept the property for free. He stumbled a bit and said "well yeah". I said, it's yours and hung up the phone. Within two hours I had had a quit claim deed prepared, signed, recorded, and delivered to the new owner at his place of employment. True story.

Andy Berke needs to turn this negative story into a positive by pushing his own family and set new goals to eliminate urban blight. Recalcitrant slum property owners need their collective booties kicked even when it's your own family.

February 26, 2013 at 1:03 a.m.
MyGen said...

This paper assisted electing Chuck Fleishman to Congress in the exact same way Andy Berke is walking into the mayor's office. If you've got money, talking points and handlers to cover your tracks, you're the winner. The pattern is set for our government in this area.

February 26, 2013 at 6:33 a.m.
aae1049 said...

When a property is purchased for back taxes, there is an expectation and mandated building codes that the new owner will remedy the property code violations.

When you purchase property, you purchase the liability. Contrary to some posts on this thread, there is not an property investment model that exempts any land owner from codes. A person or entity cannot purchase property and just leave as is, to do so, is by definition a slum lord.

February 26, 2013 at 8:01 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Occuopy wanna grab one of these properties?

February 26, 2013 at 9:01 a.m.
nucanuck said...

aae1049,

Yes, property ownership comes with responsibility and adherence to codes, BUT those codes are weak and selectively enforced. The Berke property on Glass Street is not an anomoly.

I cleaned my property about once a year and it would look just as bad within a month. That's why I tried so hard to not be the owner.

Holding urban vacant lots (or vacant buildings) should be subject to careful city council review. Urban blight is a communicable desease fed by speculators/absentee owners who only hope to strike it lucky. There has to be a way to disincentivise long-term speculation that often causes real community damage.

February 26, 2013 at 9:19 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

joetheplumber said... We need a slumlord as mayor, hell look at this slum we call home

How is Andy Berke a slum lord when he doesn't even personally own the property? If one of your family members owns or runs a drug house or brothel, does that make you personally liable and responsible?

The city of Detroit threateded a business owner with legal action after he spent 20K cleaning up an abandoned, trashed empty lot and turning it into a small landscaped park.

Keep talking you're scoring points for your opponents.

February 26, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.
jesse said...

Tirna,maybe it's more about a lack of candor and evasiveness than the ownership of the prop!

BTW: this seems to be the only topic you post on AND you just showed up! Kinda got me wonderin who you work for!

February 26, 2013 at 11:09 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Tirna, no one is calling Andy a slum lord, but this is about habitual behavior within his immediate family...something he has long known about. The public can and should expect Andy to take a position on urban blight and its causes since this issue has surfaced now.

February 26, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

Actually, jesse, this is not the only topic I've posted on. I work for no one. The 1000000 question is who do you and your gang work for? It seems you all always show up in groups basically saying the same thing, just different wordings. All that finger pointing and nastiness come across as small minded and an effort to divert attention away from who you support. Which only serve to reveal your and your candidate lack of candor.

Actually, until all the nastiness and finger pointing I'd not even made up my mind who I would vote for. Now, I know who. The one(s) who've stayed away from speaking ill of who they're running against.

You, know, jesse. There use to be this black guy that showed up to run in most every election some say he was being paid to draw black voters away from the candidate they were most likely to vote for. I forget his name, but it'll come back to me. Don't know if he's still alive or not. Last anyone heard, rumor had it he was running from the law for something. Heathington makes one wonder if he's being used as that fellas replacement?

February 26, 2013 at 11:30 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

nucanuck said... Tirna, no one is calling Andy a slum lord, but this is about habitual behavior within his immediate family...something he has long known about. The public can and should expect Andy to take a position on urban blight and its causes since this issue has surfaced now.

I have family I'm not even close to, although we share the same bloodline and family tree. That doesn't make me responsible for their actions, nor them for mine.

As for blight, where does personal responsibility come into play on the side of the tenants? Why are they not held responsibile for trashing where they live? These are not children, they are adults! Adults who should be and are capable of setting good examples for their young.

I use to own rental property and finally had to sell it all, because no matter how often I made repairs and landscaped the yards, the renters would tear up electrical wirings, break doors, trash the yards, break windows, punch holes in walls. The rent I was taking in didn't even cover a fraction of the cost I was spending out trying to keep the properties up.

I'd give out gifts and bonuses. Send cards with money on holidays. I never evicted anyone struggling to pay their rent, knowing they had small children. There were times i'd go months and months without even collecting rent from someone I knew had lost their job, or was off work due to an illness.

I ask again, where does personal responsibility come into play on the tenants part?

February 26, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.
nucanuck said...

trina, Andy, as a politician, can't escape the behavior of his own family. They have chosen to buy and hold derelict property that is a blight on the city Andy hopes to run. He may bear no direct responsibility, but he cannot escape the issue by ignoring it.

I too, owned lower rent property. Rents were always paid and the property was always clean and attractive. I set high expectations and those that didn't comply were pushed out quickly. It's all about management. My tenants took personal responsibility because that was the only way they could stay. I also re-invested in the property constantly to show that I cared. Everybody won!

I suggest that you start thinking about solutions instead of excuses.

February 26, 2013 at 12:33 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

nucanuck said... trina, Andy, as a politician, can't escape the behavior of his own family. They have chosen to buy and hold derelict property that is a blight on the city Andy hopes to run. He may bear no direct responsibility, but he cannot escape the issue by ignoring it.

There's no proof Berke is trying to escape anything. Just proof that his opponents are trying to use this against him to gain votes. Otherwise, they'd have come out swinging long before now, a city election cycle. It's clear from the way Berkes opponents supporters have come out swinging that things must not be going too well for them. Otherwise, why try bringing up all the dirt at this late date?

February 26, 2013 at 12:39 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

TrinaNOG said: “As for blight, where does personal responsibility come into play on the side of the tenants? Why are they not held responsibile for trashing where they live? These are not children, they are adults! Adults who should be and are capable of setting good examples for their young.”

I believe the “blight” issue is related to the condition of the Burke family's vacant lots, which means there are no tenants to blame. As I understand it, the issues involving the apartments are different. They’re related to gangs, violence, and drug related criminal activities.

Personally, I would have thought that a group of personal injury lawyers would be among the first to understand why gangs, violence, and drug related criminal activities threatens the health, safety and peace of the other residents. As landlords, the Burkes have the right to evict.

February 26, 2013 at 12:49 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

I believe the “blight” issue is related to the condition of the Burke family's vacant lots, which means there are no tenants to blame. As I understand it, the issues involving the apartments are different. They’re related to gangs, violence, and drug related criminal activities.

It's not a misunderstanding on my part, mountainl. Both the lots and apartments have all been lumped in together by Berkes opponents using the issue to attack him and gain support for who they support.

The lots can be easily cleaned up, but if they're trashed only seconds later, which will likely happen, after the cleaners move on, then it's still the responsiblity of the people throwing the trash out. Whether it's trashing and tearing up where people lieve or throwing trash out onto empty privately owned lots.

How many other privately owned lots are regularly trashed. Berke can put up cameras, and that may very well be a good suggestion. We might be surprised who's throwing the bulk of the trash onto his lots. Maybe even supporters of his opponents.

Then there's the argument about how much money Berke has raised. That doesn't impress me. I've seen only about one or two of his commercials, and that was only in passing. The other candidates could have put forth just as much or more effort to raise money themselves. Look at the presidential election. even President Obama is said to have gained a large sum of his campaign funding by contacting potential supporters asking for as little as a $3.00 donation, or whatever they could spare.

I've gotten to know some of the individuals behind the atempts to draw voters away from Berke. I can honestly say, they have no interests or concerns in those people {hey're usual reference} and their plight. They're products of that same crowd who, years ago, wanted to round up all the poor, homeless, housing project dwellers and have the police dump them all across the state line. Once the election is over, and if they get their way, they'll openly reverse back to that goal. They just changed strategy. After all, as one put it, You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.

February 26, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.
nucanuck said...

Berke is almost certainly going to win the election by a wide margin...that is not the issue. This is an opportunity for Berke to respond in a positive way to an issue that affects all municipalities...urban blight. So far he has said almost nothing.

February 26, 2013 at 2:29 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

nucanuck said... Berke is almost certainly going to win the election by a wide margin...that is not the issue. This is an opportunity for Berke to respond in a positive way to an issue that affects all municipalities...urban blight. So far he has said almost nothing.

The issue is the seemingly calculated timing is disturbing. That's what bothers many. Blaming Berke for the blight problem, even on his family owned property, is like blaming one single person for the crime problem, such as gangs, drugs and other ills.

It took a collective effort to bring things to this dire point, and unfortunately far too many lives have already been forever altered, but it will take a collective effort for positive change, and not all this negative rhetoric.

Was gang manufactured, like terrorism is now believed, in order to justify the gentrification of targeted neighborhoods? Both, the words gangs and gentrification seems to have shown up on the scene back in the 1980s near simutaneously. This is the questions the African-American community should have been asking and looking into over 30 years ago. It didn't take long for Muslim organizations in NY to stumble upon and expose the truth. That is, young troubled men were being set up by using informants, supplied, then busted for being terrorists.

1. Who's guiding and controlling African-American destiny and why?

2. Why, over hundreds of years later, they're still allowing it to happen?

You'd think after all this time, they'd at least have a clue when history is trying to repeat itself.

The more others come in on the pretense of fixin' all your ills, the more you lose control of your own destiny.

February 26, 2013 at 3:02 p.m.
aae1049 said...

TirnaNOG You just started your TFP commenting on February 11, 2013, and are so disconnected from the facts, and extraordinaryly defensive about your boy, Berke. I think you are a unskilled campaign worker.

Throwing rocks at long term poster Jesse, go back to HQ and get your minimum wage pay for Berke, who lacks substance on any issue,and who is certain to implant the Wilson Air buddies, Jim Hall, and the TIF taxes for their program in city hall.

February 26, 2013 at 6:09 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

aae1049, believe me, I understand in your limited world everything must come with an angle, an agenda, a fee, dishonesty and lies. However, there actually are decent and honorable people out there. Decent and honorable people who have values, integrity and a sense of right and wrong. Obviously, you're not one of them.

No, I neither work for, campaign for Berke or any candidate. Unlike you, I'm my own person. One who is capable of thinking and making decisions of my own free will and without influence.

As I've already said, for me the subject over.

February 26, 2013 at 7:53 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Yes, I can see after an attempt at a dissertation on Berke, you are done.

February 26, 2013 at 9:57 p.m.
timbo said...

TirnaNOG... How much do you make working for the Berke campaign? Isn't it a little strange that you just "showed up" on this page all of a sudden, defending Berke to anyone that points out his flaws.

You should ask for a raise..or maybe they'll give you a piece of that property that is "urban blight."

There might be "Decent and honorable people who have values, integrity and a sense of right and wrong" but Andy Berke and 99.9% of politicians are not one of them. As far as you go, either you are mentally ill, delusional, naive, or work for the Berke campaign.

Some of us know what is going on in this town. We have known for years. It doesn't matter what the cheerleaders and apologists say. It doesn't matter how many times you people call us conspiracy nuts or question our motives. This is obvious to anyone who pays attention and doesn't have an agenda.

Conspiracies happen very frequently. Just go down to the courthouse and you will see just how common they are. Coincidence however is rare. When coincidence happens over and over, it means there is some kind of conspiracy.

You have no free will because you have either been fooled by this bunch or are working for them. It is that simple.

February 27, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.
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