City Council hears plans for Coolidge Park

City Council hears plans for Coolidge Park

March 23rd, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd told council members Tuesday that he has no place to put children who could break a new rule by being at Coolidge Park after hours without adult supervision.

And he told the council he needed any help.

"If you can help where to put these kids, I need it," he said. "Because I'm not getting any."

The City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday night on first reading of a new ordinance that would require any child under the age of 18 to be accompanied by an adult at Coolidge Park. Councilman AndraƩ McGary voted no.

But more questions remained than were answered as the council debated how to change the law and just how far it should go.

Dodd said officials at the juvenile detention center questioned whether the facility has enough room for the children caught in the park after hours.

Council members also had questions Tuesday about whether the ordinance should be limited to just Coolidge Park where a shooting occurred Saturday night during the scene of a 300-person flash mob. The incident comes just a year after another incident at the popular riverfront green space left five people wounded.

"I really have a problem with what we're doing right now," Councilman Russell Gilbert said. "If we're going to do it, do it for all areas, not just here."

Councilwoman Carol Berz agreed, saying what is drafted for Coolidge Park could be a model for the rest of the city's green spaces and there are "implications" about just picking one area.

"I think you have to be careful of anything that smacks of class legislation," she said.

The council members have one more week to redraw the ordinance into a more suitable format they could vote on and approve.

Most council members agreed Tuesday they would like to know logistics of where the children would be kept while the police are looking for parents. They also wondered if they could expand the ordinance beyond Coolidge Park and also if there could be changes within the ordinance and signs requiring "parental or a legal guardian" supervising rather than adult.

Berz said an 18-year-old could say a youth was in their supervision under the law as written.

Dodd said afterward the city was looking at changing the sign and the ordinance.

Councilman Peter Murphy asked Dodd if he wanted the ordinance expanded.

"If this is a tool you need, I'm going to give it to you," Murphy said. "If this is a tool you need elsewhere, I'm going to give it to you."

Dodd said he would welcome anything that helps deter violence in the city.

"If we can do it in every park in the city, that's fine by me," he said.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Chattanooga City Council will have one more week to redraft a city ordinance limiting minors from being in Coolidge Park without adult supervision. The council will vote on the second reading of the ordinance 6 p.m. Tuesday at the City Council building on Lindsay Street.