Billboards challenge mayor over gangs

Billboards challenge mayor over gangs

March 23rd, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

A billboard on Highway 153 addresses Mayor Ron Littlefield and the issue of gang violence in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area. The International Brotherhood of Police Officers launched a billboard criticizing Mayor Littlefield. Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press

An electronic billboard on state Highway 153 flashes: "Mayor Littlefield is too busy fighting police to pay attention to gang violence. And the gangs couldn't be happier."

Several ads rotate, and then another ad pops up: "Chattanoogans take gang violence SERIOUSLY. Too bad the mayor doesn't. Mayor Littlefield: step up or step aside."

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 673 bought space on two electronic billboards, which went up Monday afternoon, according to Phil Grubb, president of the police union.

Grubb said the billboard attack is a part of a campaign the union is launching to express disapproval of recent decisions made by Mayor Ron Littlefield and Chattanooga City Council.

"A lot of people don't realize how much these acts from the mayor have attacked us and hurt our ability to serve citizens," Grubb said.

Repeated calls, texts and emails attempting to reach Littlefield and the mayor's spokesman, Richard Beeland, went unanswered Tuesday evening.

City Councilman Jack Benson said he doesn't believe the council's measures have impaired officers.

"We've got to respect what our officers do, but we've also got to respect what taxpayers are able to pay for these services," Benson said.

The union has a growing list of grievances with the mayor and City Council, including the city's decision to cut officers' post-employment benefits and restructuring of the department's overtime policy, Grubb said. The union also was rankled with the recent decision to charge police to take cars home out of city limits.

Benson said these decisions were made out of a need to trim the city's strained budget.

"[Police] do have a grievance, but not in comparison to the private sector," Benson said. "Everyone's feeling tough cuts in this economy.

Grubb said police are also upset about discussions that officers' pension plans may be cut.

"I can't express how mad the officers are about all this," Grubb said. "It's all we can do to keep them from storming City Hall with pitchforks and torches."

Grubb said the union decided to connect its message to gang violence because that's one of the key struggles local law enforcement is facing.

"That's the big problem right now, the gang problem. And it's not just a problem in Coolidge Park, it's all over the city," said Grubb, referring to the fight and gunfire that broke out in the park Saturday night where 300 teens gathered. The incident resulted in the mayor supporting a new ordinance requiring minors to be accompanied by adults in the park.

Grubb said this is just the beginning of the union's campaign to demand change. He said the IBPO 673 will do "whatever it takes" to make its voices heard. He said more billboards would be showing up on roads over the next several weeks.