published Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

A good beginning, mayor: Actions speak louder than words, but words don't hurt

 Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and newly appointed Public Safety Coordinator Paul David Smith speak about the new position while at Hope For The Inner City in East Chattanooga on Friday. Smith, the former Howard High School principal, has just been appointed to lead the city's anti-gang/crime efforts.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and newly appointed Public Safety Coordinator Paul David Smith speak about the new position while at Hope For The Inner City in East Chattanooga on Friday. Smith, the former Howard High School principal, has just been appointed to lead the city's anti-gang/crime efforts.
Photo by Dan Henry.

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.

Attaboy, mayor.

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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potcat said...

Oh dear God, the editor who will NOT tolerate descrimination in any form has done it again in less than a week.

Refugees, sarcaism noted. To bad its not true!

You really need to get some facts straight and get off the emotional rollercoaster before shooting off descriminating editorials "Teabillies," still waiting on an explanation on that untrue piece of hogwash or better yet an apology and correction from you and Bennett are in order. You two must have worked each other into a tizzy. Why did'nt you go after the one who drew the cartoon? All Coffee Countians are turds eh, talk about descrimination.

June 11, 2013 at 9:13 a.m.
potcat said...

Discrimination, reading about Kamala Harris in Vanity Fair and came across the word several times and occured to me that i spelled it wrong in my rant about Sohn.

I get fired up when i think about "Teabillies", The Wink and the discrimination heaped upon Coffee County.

June 11, 2013 at 11:24 a.m.
klifnotes said...

The situation at Howard didn't improve due to anyone person, but were due to a collective attitude change by staff and changing the entire environment on how the students were treated. You can't run schools like prisons and jails and expect children to thrive. For several years that's what has happened at many minority schools in Chattanooga as well as around the nation. Over the top punishment and discipline for minor and non-existing infractions. The change came about because someone(s) finally grew a brain.

They ran the schools as if they were prepping the children to become prisoners rather than prepping them for college and beyond.

There was a time at Howard where students were being suspended for wearing a wrong colored shirt on a certain day. Or a female student could be suspended because the hem off her skirt didn't meet the length requirement from hem to knee. Stupid! Stupid! Stuff one would think educational professionals would know better than to practice without the others having to warn them of the consequences.

June 11, 2013 at 11:36 a.m.
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