Just over two months ago, Andy Berke took office as mayor of Chattanooga after some rocky weeks of being a candidate long on pledges with words like "outcomes" and short on discussion of what he would actually do.
Frankly, Berke is still giving Chattanoogans some short shrift on details. As pundits have said about our president, he seems to have a defective "schmooze" gene.
But in the past week Berke has passed at least one "outcome" test, and seems to be well on his way to scoring with a couple more.
Weekend before last, Berke wrote a sternly worded letter to shame out-of-town landlord PK Management for letting the 241 residents of Patten Towers sleep on cots for a week when it seemed quite clear the burned-out and bubble-gummed electrical system in the 100-plus year old Patten Towers would not allow for the quick and safe rehabitation of the Section 8 renters.
Berke shamed the company into putting the refugees — who had little more than the clothes on their backs — into hotels around town.
And city and fire inspectors chronicled what had to be years of maintenance problems. That list of "outcomes" eventually will be the framework of improvement.
But there's more.
Berke is looking good on a second front, as well. While we may have a talk-shy mayor, he doesn't seem to be letting much grass grow under his pledge to tackle a budding youth crime and gang problem — and his effort is prevention-based as well as law-enforcement friendly.
Last week, Berke announced former Howard School Principal Paul Smith will become the city's public safety coordinator — a new position that will largely be a one-man coordination outfit to replace the gang task force. Smith's job will be to implement programs aimed at preventing youth and gang crime — especially shootings.
Instead of looking just to the law enforcement community, Berke decided to take a page, and worker, from an academically struggling school with a predominantly minority population — a school that has brought its graduation rate up from 50.9 percent in 2008 to 68.8 percent in 2010 and 80.2 percent in 2012.
Under Smith, who always dressed in a suit and tie, Howard's dress code was enforced and programs were recruited. Smith made sweeping speeches to the student body and laid out expectations of excellence. Expulsions and suspensions plummeted.
"Paul has experience in working throughout our community ... bringing the community into his school, working with the administration to ensure that Howard got the proper resources, coordinating with the state when Howard went to the Achievement School District and making sure that the staff functioned at a high level," Berke said Friday. "Those skills translate well to the complex web of challenges that you face when trying to change our crime situation in Chattanooga."
As of Friday, this year there have been 53 shootings in Chattanooga with 60 victims killed or injured. Of those hurt or killed, 17 were 19 or younger. At the same time last year, there had been 41 shootings with 46 victims.
"I will say on a personal level that the shootings bother me greatly," Berke said, as he announced Smith's appointment. "To me, the impact on the community from every shooting is tremendous. People don't feel safe in their homes. They don't like to walk the streets. It makes for an unhealthy neighborhood."
Here, here. It's a good beginning, Mayor.
But we hope you also will soon tap your "dialogue" button with the community.
Yes, actions speak louder than words, but a few words can sometimes go a long way.
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