Chattanooga, Hamilton County mayors talk almost daily

Chattanooga, Hamilton County mayors talk almost daily

June 4th, 2013 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

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Mayor Andy Berke

The mayors of Chattanooga and Hamilton County talk to each other nearly every day, but one topic is off the table.

"We don't talk about consolidation," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who has been in office for two months.

City and county public officials have disagreed over the last several years about consolidation of some services, annexation and the end of a 40-year-old sales tax agreement between the two.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said issues such as economic development are a priority for both mayors, and regular communication between the two leaders is critical.

"There's not a day that goes by that we don't talk," he said.

But he would not comment on whether that's different than when he talked with former Mayor Ron Littlefield.

County commissioners have suggested that communication with Berke's predecessor was spotty.

Coppinger said he and Berke are moving forward.

"I don't want to talk about the past," he said.

Berke said most of his discussions with Coppinger center on economic development and planning. Recently, those conversations have included the displacement of Patten Towers residents after an electrical fire at the landmark downtown apartment building.

County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he's been impressed so far with the conservative positions on saving taxpayer money that Berke and Chattanooga City Council members have taken.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

"I think they're in line with the commission," he said.

Henry said both the commission and council must work together since some districts represented by both bodies overlap and they share similar issues such as safety and education.

He is still open to discussion about consolidation of some services, an issue that Littlefield unsuccessfully pushed.

Carol Berz, who is one of only two council members who served during the Littlefield administration, acknowledged previous rifts between the commission and council. But on an individual basis, she never saw much animosity, she said.

"Personally, the relationship has always been good," she said.

City Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said there is plenty of opportunity for the two elected bodies to work together.

"I think there's the makings of a better relationship," he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.