Brainerd residents chew over ideas with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Brainerd residents chew over ideas with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

July 17th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke chats with other diners at the Armando's Restaurant on Tuesday on Lee Highway, where the mayor held "Burgers With Berke," the first of what he plans will be a monthly lunch with the public at a local restaurant. Seated with the mayor are, from left, Ashley Boaz, Lonnie Boaz, Melvin Downs and James Mooreland, right.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

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DeDe Johnson sat on the edge of a booth bouncing her son on her knee, hoping to get a chance to talk with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

Johnson, a Brainerd resident who works for Health Connect, said she wanted to talk with Berke about how she can reach out to the city through at-risk youth programs she helps organize at her job.

"I just wanted a chance to meet him and let him know the type of services we offer and see if we could be any type of assistance in the community," she said.

Locals in the Brainerd community packed Armando's, a popular burger joint, Tuesday to speak with Berke about concerns ranging from burglaries in their neighborhoods to more concrete ways the city can support the poor and elderly.

The lunch-time meeting dubbed "Burgers with Berke" will become a monthly ritual in which the mayor will pick a restaurant in each of the city's nine districts to visit, said city spokeswoman Lacie Stone.

Berke spoke briefly to the audience about getting to know the public's concerns. Then his staff went from table to table asking locals what was on their mind.

"The best ideas come from listening to people. If I can go out to where they are to make it more convenient for them to talk to me, that's the main goal of today," Berke said.

Asked about ideas he had heard so far, Berke said he had just started greeting guests and he proceeded to talk to locals at each table. Berke shook hands, but didn't sit down.

Chief Policy Officer Stacy Richardson said the staff heard concerns about brush pickup and questions about education and their kids' futures. And the mayor's staff plans to follow up with each request and look further into residents' ideas, she said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.