The Chattanooga City Council has renamed East Brainerd's Heritage Park in honor of three-term former District 4 councilman Jack Benson.
In early December, former Chattanooga mayor Ron Littlefield and a host of Benson's family and friends asked the council to rename it Jack Benson Heritage Park in time for the second anniversary of Benson's death on Jan. 15. Thirteen former council members, including Littlefield, signed a petition supporting the park's renaming.
Benson, in conjunction with the Friends of East Brainerd, championed the opening of the 22-acre park, located at 1428 Jenkins Road, in 2003. He supported key park amenities, including the renovation of the antebellum-style Heritage House, the construction of a gazebo and the creation of an off-leash dog park.
On Tuesday evening, the council voted 8-0 in favor of the measure, with District 4 Councilman Larry Grohn abstaining.
"To name it for him is, to me, the most appropriate thing that the council could do tonight," Littlefield said after the vote, describing the park as Benson's "baby, his sweetheart."
Grohn asked the council to delay the vote until supporters of the name change could meet with the Friends of East Brainerd on Jan. 19.
"There's been no effort by this group to meet the Friends of East Brainerd or any other group in the neighborhood," Grohn said, citing a split within the district based on emails he presented to council members earlier in the day. "It's unfortunate that the proponents for this decided not to meet with the community."
Councilman Yusuf Hakeem recommended those opposed to the name change should review Benson's history and the park's background.
"Unfortunately, we as citizens sometimes have a short memory as to the good people do," Hakeem said.
"This issue has become a popularity contest which, I believe, will damage the legacy of Jack Benson," Grohn said in an email to fellow council members last week.
Before the meeting, Grohn denied claims he had a vendetta against Benson, who he defeated in a runoff election for the District 4 council seat in 2013.
Hakeem questioned the last-minute call to delay the vote, calling it a disservice to the East Brainerd community to do so.
"I guess if there's a split, there needs to be a vote," Hakeem said.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.