The March 5 Chattanooga city elections concluded with one unsettled question, "Who will represent District 4 on the new City Council?"
Since none of the five men vying for the seat managed to collect the majority of the votes cast on election day, the two candidates with the most votes, Larry Grohn and Jack Benson, are squaring off in an April 9 runoff election. Early voting is under way.
Before the election, the Times Free Press opinion staff interviewed each of the District 4 candidates. Of the five candidates, Larry Grohn -- a retired high school teacher with a clear vision for a safer, more fiscally responsible, more business-friendly Chattanooga -- was the most impressive in our view. Twelve-year City Council incumbent Jack Benson was, by far, the least.
Grohn's platform addresses Chattanooga's most pressing issues -- crime, economic development, spending and the wastewater consent decree -- intelligently and responsibly.
As a City Council member, Grohn hopes to save tax dollars by streamlining departments and letting unnecessary positions go unfilled. With some of the money saved, he plans to fully staff the police department and put more police officers on the streets.
Grohn would be a principled, energetic, thoughtful and trustworthy addition to the Chattanooga City Council. The Free Press wholeheartedly endorses Grohn to District 4 voters.
As we noted in a previous Free Press editorial, Grohn's opponent, Benson, has always been a tax-and-spend, big-government politician who traded in Chattanooga's shameful tradition of cronyism.
During his time as a commissioner, Benson has been a rubber stamp for big government and wild increases in spending. When asked if there were places in the city budget that could be cut, Benson told the Free Press, "I always see places where we could cut." But, after naming a litany of city departments and coming up with no examples of excess spending, he recanted, saying, "I don't know of anything that could be cut." Benson even went so far as to call city-owned golf courses and performance venues "basic necessities."
Benson's unwillingness to spend taxpayers' hard-earned dollars reasonably and responsibly helped lead to two property tax increases during his tenure on the commission, both of which he voted for.
Critics claim that Benson's votes often reflect the desires of his largest donors, namely individuals associated with CBL and Ken DeFoor Properties. Benson only heightened that belief by his outspoken, but poorly reasoned, opposition to the Chattanooga Village project that CBL fought tooth and nail.
Besides being a poor steward of tax dollars and, some claim, a shill for certain businesses, several of his opponents during the March 5 race claimed the 83-year-old Benson fails to adequately represent his constituents.
When asked to address concerns that he was ill-prepared for council meetings, a reoccurring criticism in the run-up to the March 5 election, Benson admitted that he believes he shouldn't be "tied up" with handling his city council duties if city staff can do them.
Even though Benson received about 50 more votes than Grohn on March 5, Grohn should defeat Benson in the runoff. That's because supporters of all four challengers had one goal in mind: Getting the Benson off the city council. As a result, it's reasonable to assume most of the people who supported Ryan King, Scott McColpin and Tom Tomisek on March 5 will vote for Grohn -- and against Benson -- in the runoff.
Benson's likely defeat could mean an end to good ol' boy, donor-influenced, smoke-filled back-room-type of politicians who have run, and often ruined, Chattanooga for decades.
If that occurs, all Chattanoogans will owe a debt of gratitude to Larry Grohn and the District 4 voters.