City jobs on the line over weatherization failure

City jobs on the line over weatherization failure

June 9th, 2010 by Chris Carroll in Politics Local

At least six city employees could be fired after state officials wrested a federal stimulus program away from the Chattanooga Department of Human Services.

The $3.6 million weatherization program, which provides energy-saving rehabilitation to homes, was transferred Tuesday night to Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, a nonprofit housing organization partially funded by the city.

A major reason for the change was the city department's "lack of urgency" to meet goals, according to Lisa Elam, director of Adult and Family Services contracts for the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

Under federal guidelines, the department was charged with weatherizing 118 homes by December 2009 but completed only 23. By March 31, employees had finished only 83 homes, records show.

Several city employees now find their jobs on the line, but one said the real problem sits inside the mayor's office.

"We needed more people, and it fell on deaf ears," said the worker, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. "If you only send two players out during a football game, how are you expected to beat a whole team?"

But Mayor Ron Littlefield's spokesman, Richard Beeland, said the department "knew exactly where they needed to be and weren't even close," referring to the two state benchmarks. He said all the workers associated with the program could lose their jobs.

"We're evaluating the program to determine exactly what the problem was and take the corrective actions necessary," Mr. Beeland said.

He refused to elaborate on how the mayor will measure performance, saying the procedure "consists of a lot of different things."

Several people protested the switch to Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise during a public hearing Tuesday, and Chattanooga resident Shirley Deakins referred to the nonprofit organization as "that devil CNE."

Six Chattanooga City Council members then vouched for CNE before Council Chairman Manny Rico cut the hearing short as a woman attempted to speak in the back of the room.

"That'll be all here," Mr. Rico said.

Protesters spilled into the hallway to confront the mayor's spokesman and Ms. Elam.

"I appreciate your comments," Ms. Elam repeatedly said to the angry throng gathered around her.

Mr. Beeland said there was no evidence of discrimination or fraud brought against CNE, so the transfer will occur as planned.

Those still waiting for house repairs will have their documents sent to CNE, he said.

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