Mayor Andy Berke calls on Chattanoogans to 'build the city we want together'

Mayor Andy Berke calls on Chattanoogans to 'build the city we want together'

April 18th, 2017 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Mayor Andy Berke addresses the crowd Monday, April 17, 2017 after he and Chattanooga City Council members took the oath of office during a ceremony at the Tivoli.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

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“The real Chattanooga is the Chattanooga we build together.”
Mayor Andy Berke

Mayor Andy Berke called on all Chattanoogans to help build the city's future during his second inauguration Monday.

"The real Chattanooga is the Chattanooga we build together," Berke said after he and the city council members had taken their oaths of office.

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Over the last four years in office, Berke said, he has learned that the government doesn't really build the city, despite the riverfront, highways, parks, fire halls, police stations and libraries. City building happens with families, businesses, nonprofit agencies and places of faith, he said.

"It's not the job of the mayor to build a city," Berke said. "It is, however, the job of a mayor to make sure we have the best chance to build the city we want together. The city we love isn't built by government. We build it."

Berke said the first step Chattanooga should take is to build upon its successes, including more jobs and higher wages, an energetic, tech-savvy Innovation District, tourism development and manufacturing growth.

However, the city still must "tackle the essential challenges that remain," he said.

Those include providing educational opportunities for every child, turning the tide against violent crime and creating an economy that doesn't leave families struggling to get ahead, Berke said.

His solutions tied into long-standing hallmarks of the Berke administration: a push for expanding early learning opportunities, giving the police department the tools and technology to do a "very, very difficult job" and creating avenues for people to acquire necessary job skills through internet connectivity, online courses and training spaces.

"We cannot succeed as a community with extraordinary wealth at one extreme and deep poverty at the other," Berke said to long applause.

When it comes to crime, it is not enough to rely solely on the police to remove the "too many guns [that] are in the hands of too many who wish to do harm," he said.

"We must do more," Berke said. "As citizens, as brother and sisters, we should together build a culture that respects life, is inclusive and welcoming in our community and breeds opportunity rather than despair. We must be sure the clenched fist of the law does not supplant the open hand to our communities."

Berke's message aligned well with the inaugural invocation given by Roderick Ware, senior pastor of New Monumental Baptist Church.

Ware prayed the mayor and council would have "the courage to fight the evils and ills of our society" and to have "concern for all people, concern for those who have been looked over and those who have been left out."

Berke did not mention that the city soon faces the challenge of selecting a new police chief.

Less than two weeks ago, police Chief Fred Fletcher announced he would retire in July, at the end of his three-year contract. During his tenure, he drove the department toward community policing, which values relationships over arrest numbers. Fletcher cited personal reasons for leaving.

City Councilman Chip Henderson has consistently praised Fletcher's work.

"He's become the standard by which I think all chiefs will be judged, and it's certainly been a privilege and an honor to have Chief Fletcher for three years here in Chattanooga," Henderson said shortly after Fletcher's announcement. "He will be sorely missed."

Berke also recognized the "boundless energy" of the city's employees and took time to acknowledge the dedication and service of the past and the new city council.

"It's been an honor to work alongside a city council that is dedicated to growing our city," Berke said. "I have no doubts this city council will be as good as any city could ask for. Each of [the members] has stepped up for an often thankless job because they want to make sure their neighbors are better off. I admire each of them."

Council-wise, Mayor Berke has a larger stable of veterans in place than he did when he took office four years ago. In 2013, only Carol Berz and Russell Gilbert remained of the 2009 council crop, with long-serving Yusuf Hakeem returning after a short time away from the body. Berz and Gilbert still serve today, joined by 2013 council alumni Henderson, Jerry Mitchell and Ken Smith.

Four new council members will help shape the body's decisions during Berke's second term: Anthony Byrd, Demetrus Coonrod, Darrin Ledford and Erskine Oglesby. While the 2017 council overhaul falls short of the seven new faces brought to the dais in 2013, the change still represents almost half the nine-member body.

After the inaugural event, Oglesby said he believed the council had a great new team in place and, with the mayor, it would move Chattanooga forward.

"I don't see nothing but great things ahead for District 7 and the City of Chattanooga," Oglesby said.

Berz, who is co-chairwoman of the Mayor's Council for Women with Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, used her swearing-in to highlight women's leadership.

"As chair for the Mayor's Council for Women, we did something very different this year with a totally female-run campaign," she said, introducing seven women who handled her campaign. "I've gained some wonderful sisters."

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger spent a little time with Chattanooga's new set of elected officials after the ceremony and told them to reach out to him if they needed him, underscoring the city's integral relationship with the county.

The new council make-up is younger and has more black voices than it did previously. Two of those voices — Byrd and Coonrod — bring firsthand knowledge of the local justice system to the table. Byrd spent at least 20 years working for the Hamilton County Courthouse, and Coonrod has overcome the challenge of her ex-convict past to serve leadership roles in her community and the county's Democratic Party.

In March, Democratic Party leader Terry Lee credited Coonrod and Byrd with especially strong community engagement, generating a number of first-time voters for the city election.

Smith, whose district includes Hixson, introduced a subtle change in the new council dynamic when he quietly announced the possibility of seeking the mayor's seat in 2021. He did it in plain sight with a sticker on the front page of the Times Free Press on March 7, the day of the Chattanooga municipal election. The front of the sticker said "Ken — City Council," while the back said "2021 — Chattanooga."

"I'm beginning to meet with business and community leaders as well as residents to build a coalition of support as I explore the opportunity to run for mayor in 2021," Smith has said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.


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