Our pick for Chattanooga mayor: Guy Satterfield

Our pick for Chattanooga mayor: Guy Satterfield

February 17th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Guy Satterfield

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

The race to decide Chattanooga's next mayor has looked, at times, more like a coronation than an election. While it's true that Andy Berke has raised a tremendous amount of money and receives overwhelming attention from the media, he is not the best person for the job. Guy Satterfield is.

The Free Press strongly endorses Satterfield to become the next mayor of Chattanooga.

Satterfield has four decades of public works experience in Chattanooga, including 33 years of service at the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant. His extensive knowledge of sewer and wastewater infrastructure prepares him better than anyone to tackle Chattanooga's most pressing challenge: repairing the city's flawed sewer system in response to the $250 million consent decree slapped on Chattanooga by the federal government.

Satterfield also plans to take on crime, confront government waste and corruption, make the city budget more taxpayer-friendly and improve Chattanooga's business climate.

According to Satterfield, "The city does not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem." It's hard to argue the point. During Mayor Ron Littlefield's eight years in office, the city's annual general fund budget has exploded from $150 million to nearly $210 million - a rise of 39 percent, during a time when inflation increased just 17 percent.

No candidate has been more detailed at pointing out ways to trim wasteful city spending and streamline departments that could be operated more efficiently and effectively than Satterfield. Specifically, he plans to return the discredited Education, Arts and Culture Department to the oversight of the Parks and Recreation Department. Satterfield also proposes leasing the Memorial Auditorium and Tivoli Theatre to private operators, saving city taxpayers hundreds of thousands annually.

Satterfield vows to eliminate Littlefield's unproductive Office of Multicultural Affairs, and trim unnecessary positions in the mayor's office, including the deputy mayor.

Satterfield says the city's police department "has been gutted" in recent years. In order to meet the city's law enforcement needs, he proposes to grow the police force by working to draw more qualified people into the police academy. He also plans to deal with high turnover in the department by improving morale among police through making good on pay increases that were promised, but never awarded.

Perhaps the most appealing plank of Satterfield's impressive platform is his pledge not to raise property taxes. Satterfield makes it clear that the city government already has more than enough money to do everything it should be doing and does not need to take additional money from struggling taxpayers.

Satterfield's promise to not increase property taxes as mayor is in stark contrast to Andy Berke's stance on taxes. In an editorial board interview with the Times Free Press Berke said tax increases are on the table.

After being criticized for failing to provide details about his platform and specifics about his goals if elected mayor, the Free Press expected Berke to address a number of policy issues during the endorsement interview. Shockingly, he refused.

Berke spoke of "goals" for the city, but failed to outline them. He claimed to have a "comprehensive crime policy," but wouldn't go into specifics. Platitudes about "accountability," "priorities" and "vision" poured from Berke's mouth, but they were accompanied by no actual ideas to back them up.

Perhaps Berke is hiding his plans for Chattanooga until after the election in the belief that if he told voters what he actually hopes to accomplish, most would never vote for him. Maybe he plans to become mayor, then leverage the post into a higher office - following in the footsteps of Bob Corker, Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam - and has failed to consider the needs of the city and is ill-equipped to develop policies to address them. Whatever the case, Berke's evasiveness about what he would do as mayor is unnerving.

Until Berke is willing to present his goals and outline plans to accomplish those objectives, he is simply not someone that any Chattanoogan should be comfortable electing as mayor.

Berke is bright. He has experience. But he is not the best candidate - and he would not make the best mayor. Guy Satterfield, with his responsible platform of specific, attainable ambitions for Chattanooga should be elected on March 5 to lead our city.