With no re-election campaign looming, now is the best time for him to tackle the idea of combining some city and county services, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says.
"Right now, we're in a position where I think we can put politics aside and get on with it," he said Tuesday during an interview in his office.
Chattanooga and Hamilton County departments have worked together recently in areas such as public works and 911 consolidation, he said, so it may be time to push the envelope a little and try even more. The city and county's public works departments worked well together starting last year to clear the site where Volkswagen will build its assembly plant, he said.
The mayor started his second term in office Monday and cannot run again due to term limits. He said the issue of consolidation didn't come up during the campaign because "the best time to engage the public when you're starting on a four-year term is right at the beginning of that term."
The mayor said his proposal to "extend the reach of urban services," which he unveiled Monday in his inauguration speech, was meant as a conversation starter among local officials and the public.
"I'm in this with my eyes wide open," he said. "I'm not expecting universal approval."
He said he had no discussions about consolidation with City Council members or the Hamilton County Commission before his speech. But Mr. Littlefield and County Mayor Claude Ramsey each said they have spoken over the past few years about the possibility of combining some services. Both mayors characterized those discussions as general, not about specific departments or agencies.
"I think we're going to look at all of it," Mr. Ramsey said over the phone from Germany, where he was working on economic development prospects. "What we need to do is see how many things we can put together and how effective that could be."
The county mayor said officials should look at areas where local governments can save on costs and also at places where services for the public can be made more efficient.
One example, he said, is in tax collections. Now, the city treasurer collects city property taxes and the county trustee collects property taxes for the county and several municipalities. Putting those responsibilities all under the county trustee would give citizens one place to make their all tax payments, Mr. Ramsey said.
The county mayor's term ends next year. He does not have a term limit and could run for re-election.
Mr. Littlefield said he didn't necessarily want to bring consultants into the process. But he did say students in the public administration program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of Tennessee's Metropolitan Technical Advisory Service and young Chattanooga residents should be at the table.
"When we try to impose on people the solutions we already have in our minds, they frequently aren't accepted," he said. "They have to bubble up from the public in general."