Starnes, Scott exchange barbs

Starnes, Scott exchange barbs

September 27th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower and Matt Wilson in Blogsmetrochatt

Attorney Gary Starnes, who represents Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation, accused City Council members Tuesday night of not having read 1,018 pages of annexation information released by the city that morning.

"You were at the Courthouse Friday when Chancellor Frank Brown ordered the city of Chattanooga, after we filed an open records lawsuit, to produce records that should have been produced in the first place," he said at Tuesday's council meeting. "You, and the rest of you should have looked at (the records) and probably haven't."

Mr. Starnes then asked the council for a show of hands of who had reviewed the records. Council Chairman Jack Benson told Mr. Starnes his request was out of order, but asserted the council had studied them.

Later in the meeting, Councilwoman Deborah Scott said she took annexation very seriously and had spent several weeks reviewing figures and researching.

"I personally take exception to the fact that you think you know what I might have read and might not have read, because you couldn't have a clue," she said. "I think you owe me an apology and possibly some other members of this council because you are completely false, at least in my respect."

Mr. Starnes answered, "I don't think so, Ms. Scott. If I said anything that was false, I'd be glad to apologize. Your personal attack is not worthy of being a city councilwoman. I don't appreciate it."

The audience reacted with an "ooh."

Mr. Benson again told Mr. Starnes he was out of order.

METRO GOVERNMENT hinted at

Mayor Ron Littlefield and Councilwoman Sally Robinson spoke at a brown-bag luncheon Wednesday at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library about the city's plans for annexation.

Ms. Robinson talked about how time and time again over the last several weeks during budget hearings questions were asked about how the city was spending its money compared to the county, especially in jointly-supported agencies like the library.

She said there are too many duplication of services.

"I think the way we are governing Hamilton County is very inefficient," Mrs. Robinson said.

Mr. Littlefield talked about how the county and city established the sales tax agreement in 1966 that formulated a plan on how money would be spent on jointly-funded agencies.

He mentioned the idea of metro government and how it has been defeated in the past. Mr. Littlefield said the recent annexations could lead to more talk on the subject.

"It starts the communication on shared services," he said.

officials explain water fee increase

As residents dealt with high floodwaters Tuesday, Chattanooga Public Works Department officials argued that a water quality fee increase of more than 600 percent would help avoid such flooding.

Public Works Deputy Administrator Lee Norris told the City Council's Public Works Committee that residents have stated they'd be willing to pay for better stormwater runoff.

He said city officials received 270 calls regarding flooding between Sept. 18 and Sept. 22.

With council approval, the annual water quality fee will increase from about $24 per year for most homes to $163.20 per year over a five-year period.

Councilman Peter Murphy said people will "be screaming holy heck" over the increase.

But Mr. Norris said the city is trying to avoid fines from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which have tasked the city with improving its water quality program.

CUTTING positions

With Tuesday's passage of the city budget, Chattanooga's Parks and Recreation Department will scale back hours at its recreation centers, which will also mean the loss of 5 or 6 positions, said Director Larry Zehnder.

"We would look at placing (those employees) in other departments where openings came up," Mr. Zehnder said.

The centers, which were open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, will now be open from 12:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Mr. Zehnder said some groups who met at the centers during the morning hours will have to find new meeting places or meet during operating hours.

council says no to beer

A proposal to allow community grocery store owners the chance to get a permit to sell beer failed at Tuesday night's council meeting.

The council voted 4-3 on the proposed ordinance, which meant it did not get the five votes needed to pass.

The proposal would have allowed restricted beer sales within C5 zones, where they are not currently allowed.

Councilman Russell Gilbert argued that allowing store owners to obtain the permit would allow local businesses to stay open, but other council members said allowing the permit would go against the original zoning.