New Chattanooga City Council already rallying around issues

New Chattanooga City Council already rallying around issues

March 25th, 2013 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

Chris Anderson, District 7 candidate for Chattanooga City Commission, answers questions during a meeting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Chip Henderson

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

The newly elected members of the Chattanooga City Council already have begun talking about the No. 1 issue they face when they are sworn in April 15.

"The big-ticket item right now is, of course, crime," said Councilman-elect Chip Henderson.

The new council will have at least six new faces -- seven if challenger Larry Grohn beats Councilman Jack Benson in the District 4 runoff. It will have one woman instead of four, and if Grohn wins, three self-proclaimed conservatives.

They'll have a full agenda, from the spike in crime that police announced last week to the budget that Mayor-elect Andy Berke will propose in May.

The new council members say they see no problems working together because political affiliations go out the door when conducting city business.

"I don't think there's a Democrat or Republican way to patrol a neighborhood," said Councilman-elect Chris Anderson.

But politics isn't entirely absent. A few weeks ago at a Hamilton County Republican event, Councilman-elect Ken Smith introduced Grohn to the audience. Video of the event was posted on YouTube.

"We need him," Smith said. "I need him. Chip Henderson [then a District 2 council candidate, now councilman-elect] needs him."

Smith and Henderson are self-proclaimed Republicans.

But Smith said Friday he did not see political conflicts occurring.

"I don't see any reason for issues," he said.

Councilwoman Carol Berz, one of two returning members and now the only woman, said the group will focus on most of the same things as in the past: public safety, economic development, infrastructure and planning.

These are all basic functions the city performs, she said -- nonpartisan.

"The job and the responsibility is bigger than the person," she said.

The council will be tackling a budget that this year ran $210 million, up $30 million from three years ago. It will handle road repairs and building, keep moving on a $200 million sewer system fix and consider a wave of recent shootings.

New council members have said roads also are a top priority. But all agree they don't want to raise taxes and want to look for consolidation of services or cuts to help save money.

Still, it may be into the new fiscal year before the council gets a good handle on the budget, said Councilman-elect Moses Freeman.

"I don't know how much of an impact we could have on this year's budget," he said. "I'd bet we don't have much impact."

Councilman-elect Jerry Mitchell said he wants the budget to stay as flat as possible, and he thinks the new council members will work together to get it done. In the end, city business -- not political ideology -- is the most important thing, he said.

"I'm aware of who is a Republican and who is a Democrat," he said. "I think we'll work well together."