After taking the Chattanooga City Council District 4 seat in the March 7 elections, Darrin Ledford is hoping the appointment will give him a chance to advocate for reasonable solutions to some of the area's toughest problems.
A newcomer to the council, Ledford, who owns a printing and graphic design company, decided to run after former District 4 representative Larry Grohn announced his candidacy for mayor.
"Chattanooga is very special to me. It's not only my home; it is my whole life," said Ledford, a longtime resident who accumulated 95 percent of the votes in District 4's unopposed race. "If I've ever loved anything so much — [after] God [and] my family — it would be this city. And that is why I'm doing this."
During his nearly 20 years of work with clients through his company, ImageWorks, Ledford said he has learned the value of honesty and compromise, and he intends to approach the issues facing the city using those same problem-solving techniques while understanding that not everyone will get everything they want.
The first problem Ledford is hoping to address is road maintenance throughout the city — especially in the East Hamilton area.
According to the latest market studies, East Hamilton is slated to receive 32 percent of the coming housing demand through 2026, equating to hundreds of additional families in the area. And much of that growth will be felt by drivers on major arteries like Gunbarrel and East Brainerd roads, Ledford said.
"Our infrastructure and our roads need serious attention, and we need it now," he said.
As part of the council, Ledford hopes to help raise the city-wide road maintenance budget from the current $2.93 million to the $5 million recommended by previous studies.
The second issue Ledford wants to address is a stormwater regulation he says is limiting development in the East Hamilton area.
The regulation, adopted in 2014, requires developers designing sites larger than 1 acre within the South Chickamauga Creek watershed to retain the first 1.6 inches of rainfall on the property to prevent it from carrying pollutants into the creek and, ultimately, the Tennessee River.
However, state guidelines set by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the United States Environmental Protection Agency only call for a 1-inch retention, and Ledford has been among the many locals who say the additional 0.6 inch has already turned business away from the area.
Since the regulation came into effect, only one single-family permit has been obtained for development in the watershed, he noted, adding that if the regulations are not loosened, the city stands to lose a lot of money to the county as those developers take their business elsewhere.
"We have to do that to be able to hold the line on property taxes," he said. "We just have to."
With the mayor's administration meeting with the Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga and local developers about the issue, Ledford said he has heard some encouraging conversations that indicate relief from the 1.6 regulation may be coming soon, and he hopes to be a part of that ongoing dialogue.
From his place on the council, Ledford also hopes to tackle gang violence, which he says has not only touched the inner city, but also bled into his district.
"We have got to reduce the number of shootings in this city," he said. "We have got to seriously look at what's working and what's not working."
Ledford plans to encourage council members to take an honest look at Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative to identify what has and hasn't been effective. The initiative, implemented in 2014, was expected to curb gang-related shootings in the city, but the majority of its targeted offenders have avoided long sentences and significant jail time, the Times Free Press reported.
Ledford believes the first step to progress would be acknowledging the initiative's weak points.
"I, for one, would love the opportunity as a city councilman to be part of that solution," he said.
Above all, Ledford said he hopes to bring a different spirit to the council, drawing on the attitude of cooperation he's used in negotiations with other organizations while working with his company.
"I'm going to make a prediction that you're going to see a very encouraged, active council. I think you're going to see a council that's more engaged than it was the last four years," he said. "I'm very excited about going forward."