Drew's Views

Drew's Views

May 3rd, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Jack Berghel, a member of the local Village Volkswagen cycling team, and T.J. Killelea, a collegiate cyclist, ride by the Market Street Bridge.

Photo by Jay Bailey /Times Free Press.

HEADLINE: Cost may sink Chattanooga boat dock proposal

THE RECAP: A discussion of a resolution to build four boat docks on the south side of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga was pulled from the City Council agenda after the mayor's office and city council members expressed concern about the project's cost. The boat docks, which could contain as many as 44 slips, would require $8.8 million in city money on top of a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

DREW'S VIEW: Council member Ken Smith, chairman of the Public Works Committee, hit the nail on the head when he publicly doubted the economic development return from the dock project, noting, "The only time I see boats down there is during festivals."

The boat docks are a bad business model that won't make money for the city. The dock proposal is unpopular, too. In an online poll on the Times Free Press website, opponents of the dock project outweighed supporters by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.

If building boat docks on the riverfront was a viable idea, a private developer would do it. In the past, city leaders would happily waste taxpayers' hard-earned money on bad ideas that weren't economically logical (a marina, a bicycle rental scheme, a hotel, a cable and Internet company, a private plane storage and maintenance facility, and a certain blue rhino all come to mind). Hopefully the restraint and thoughtfulness being shown by Mayor Andy Berke and the members of the new Chattanooga City Council is a sign that our current city leaders aren't as enthusiastic about frittering away tax dollars on projects that simply aren't a priority for our city as the leaders of the past.


HEADLINE: EPB's Harold DePriest honored as Chattanooga's top boss

THE RECAP: EPB President and CEO Harold DePreist has been selected as the Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year. DePriest, who has headed EPB since 1996, will receive the award during a July 5 luncheon.

DREW'S VIEW: What, on the surface, seems like a feel-good story involving recognizing a longtime fixture in the Chattanooga community also smacks of insider favoritism and conflicts of interest upon further review.

One of the organizations that helps select the Manager of the Year award is the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. Not only has Harold DePriest served on the Chamber's executive committee in the past, but Diana Bullock, one of his top lieutenants at EPB, is the Chamber's current board chair.

EPB also gave the Chamber $424,000 in handouts between 2010 and 2012, and is expected to pour thousands more in the Chamber's coffers this year. Of course, every dollar that EPB gives to the Chamber is a dollar it snagged from the pockets of EPB electric customers.

To make matters worse, DePriest serves on the board of River City, another outfit that has a hand in selecting the Manager of the Year.

Is DePriest deserving of the award? His service to the community is inspiring and undeniable. His open-door policy with EPB employees has certainly contributed to improving the morale there (the inflated salaries that he has given many EPB workers have helped, as well). But under DePriest, electricity rates have jumped (both to the TVA and EPB are to blame for that). DePriest also championed and oversaw the construction of EPB's overhyped and, as of yet, underwhelming, Smart Grid infrastructure. The Smart Grid, which cost taxpayer and electric customers more than half a billion dollars, including interest, has failed to deliver on grandiose promises of economic development and electricity savings.

Even if DePriest is the most deserving person ever to receive the Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year award, he shouldn't win it. That's because giving the award to someone who has been so involved in -- and even funded -- the organizations behind the prize gives the impression that the award is subject to cronyism, or, worse, that it's for sale. Of course, that would be nothing new in Chattanooga.


HEADLINE: League of Bicyclists ranks Tennessee No. 2 in Southeast

THE RECAP: The League of American Bicyclists released its rankings Wednesday of the states friendliest toward cycling. In the Southeast, Tennessee is No. 2 and Georgia is third, behind Virginia. The league bases its rankings on infrastructure, bicycle education programs and state laws that promote rider safety.

DREW'S VIEW: That's good news for people here in Chattanooga since, between the VW layoffs, the price of gas, the high property taxes and the slow economic recovery, it seems like a bike might be the only option for a lot of us before long.

"Drew's views" is a weekly roundup of Free Press opinions about topics that appeared recently in the Times Free Press. Follow Drew Johnson on Twitter: @Drews_Views.