On March 5, Chattanooga voters will select a new mayor and nine City Council members from among 28 candidates. Beginning tomorrow, the Free Press editorial page will devote five days to endorsing candidates for each of these offices -- culminating with our endorsement for mayor on Sunday.
While some newspaper editorial pages have chosen to shy away from endorsements in recent years, it remains the policy of the Free Press to endorse candidates that best reflect the page's long-standing commitment to free market, limited government principles.
Over the past two weeks, representatives of both the Times and Free Press pages spoke with 27 of the 28 candidates whose names will appear on the March 5 ballot. We gave each candidate half an hour to explain their positions and answer questions.
During the interviews, it became clear that several concerns are common among almost all candidates. Candidates almost universally promise to address Chattanooga's perceived crime problem, for example. Most agree that our city's police officers should be paid more -- and there should be more of them.
There is a majority, but not unanimous, view that Chattanooga's property taxes are high enough and city leaders should work to prioritize spending, rather than push for tax hikes.
When asked what services could be reduced, eliminated or run more efficiently to save tax dollars, a number of candidates recommended selling the heavily taxpayer subsidized Memorial Auditorium and merging the Department of Education, Arts & Culture back into Parks and Recreation, as it was before Mayor Ron Littlefield turned the bureaucracy into its own agency.
Almost all candidates agree there are opportunities to consolidate certain services that are performed both by the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County and save both the city and the county money. Parks and recreation, and the building inspection and business licensing process were commonly mentioned as services ripe for consolidation.
Our endorsements are based on such questions as, who best reflects the Free Press' desire for an open, more transparent government, who will be the best steward of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars and who understands that Chattanoogans are often best served when government does less, not more.
The greatest goal of an editorial page is to generate public debate and encourage civic involvement. Nothing does that quite like endorsing candidates for office. As long as that's the case, the Free Press page will continue endorsing great candidates.