An area teacher told a standing-room-only crowd gathered Monday night at Avondale Recreation Center that neighborhoods in East Chattanooga are losing a generation.
An ex-convict argued they're actually at risk of losing three -- babies, teens and the young adults raising them all.
Meanwhile, elected officials bickered about the meeting that sparked the residents' discussion.
East Lake Academy teacher Cary Garrett said all of those, including representatives of 10 neighborhoods, had a "dog in the fight" in stopping delinquency and gang-related behavior.
"We're going to lose a whole generation if we haven't already," Garrett said.
Then Marlin Borngne, who works at Chattanooga State Community College, stood up and said the stakes were higher.
"We're not losing one generation, it's going to be three," Borngne said, after saying he learned the hard way after bad choices cost him years with his son. "The children need trades. They need something to do."
County Commissioner Warren Mackey called the meeting, originally slated to address what he described as a widespread rumor that the city planned to close four neighborhood recreation centers and open one super center.
"I heard enough to where it came to me to go ahead and accept the challenge of having an open conversation," Mackey said. "When citizens say to us that they want transparency, they want to know what's going on."
Across town, city leaders lashed out at Mackey during the City Council's committee meetings. Dan Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ron Littlefield, was asked if the city had responded to allegations that recreation centers were closing.
"Our chairwoman [Councilwoman Pam Ladd] responded to Mr. Mackey and told him he should not be saying those things because they aren't true," Johnson said.
Councilman Russell Gilbert, chairman of the parks and recreation committee, said he talked to Mackey personally.
"I called him and told him I had not heard anything about any recreation centers closing," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said Mackey first sent out a communitywide email saying the city would close the centers and later followed up with a second community-wide email saying the city was "backing down."
"That's not true," Gilbert said.
Chattanooga Director of Recreation Greta Hayes attended Tuesday night's meeting to stamp out rumors that the city would close any neighborhood centers and explained the hours and services provided in them. A 1999 study proposed consolidating four centers, including Avondale and Glenwood, but the city never acted on it, she said.
"There's been no action on taken on that in 12 years," she said. "To do a consolidation, you have to have resources to build a super center."
Some who attended the rec center meeting said the facilities need longer hours, more programs. Others said parents should take responsibility for their children. Many said the people present should become part of the solution and engage with neighborhood youth.
A father of four, James Ford Sr. stood quietly in the back with his wife and two of his children during the meeting.
"I can count two shootings that I know the people who got killed in the last two months," Avondale resident Ford said after the meeting. "I want my children to have the best opportunities they can."