Chattanooga: Council bans minors from Coolidge Park at set times

Chattanooga: Council bans minors from Coolidge Park at set times

March 30th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

The Tennessee River at Coolidge Park. Staff File Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

NEW COOLIDGE PARK RULES

* No one under the age of 18 is allowed to use the park between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

* Must be under the supervision of a parent, legal guardian or adult 21 and over.

* Effective immediately.

Source: City of Chattanooga

Children not accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or adult over the age of 21 are now banned from going to Coolidge Park during certain hours of the night.

The Chattanooga City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday night to ban minors from going into the park without supervision from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., effective immediately.

"We need to send a message to the parents, not the children," Mayor Ron Littlefield told council members just minutes before their vote.

Councilmen Russell Gilbert and AndraƩ McGary voted against the ordinance on its second and final reading. Both councilmen said there were problems all over the city, just not at one park. They said the ordinance should be expanded throughout the city.

"What is good enough for Coolidge Park is good enough for everyone," McGary said.

Council members debated the resolution last week with some saying it should be citywide. The city attorney's office tweaked the language of the ordinance over the week putting in specific times and expanding the language of who would be allowed to supervise minors.

Littlefield also addressed another concern of council members: where the children would be placed once police pick them up and try to locate their parents. Littlefield said the city was in the midst of renovating the South Chattanooga Recreation Center on 40th Street to become a juvenile detention facility.

He said the cost would be around $5,000 to $6,000 for the renovations.

Littlefield said the city was working on the facility "right now."

"We could conceivably have it working by this weekend, but certainly next weekend," he said.

One question raised by Councilwoman Deborah Scott was legal liability concerning constitutional rights.

City Attorney Mike McMahan acknowledged there could be issues. He said any law that affects people's "right to assembly" could be challenged. But he said such things as specific times on when they could and could not assemble, as well as police officers using their own discretion could limit such a lawsuit.

"We're trying to be careful," he said.

During the council's Legal and Legislative Committee, Councilman Peter Murphy asked Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd if the ordinance would be an "adequate tool" to deal with the problem and if the changes made any difference to police enforcement.

"It's still the same tool that's necessary," Dodd replied.

Councilwoman Sally Robinson also asked if that meant children using the park for such things as photos for graduation or prom could be picked up and taken to the juvenile detention facility.

"There is some officer's discretion," Dodd said.

POLL: Will a curfew for minors deter you from visiting Coolidge Park?