Chattanooga City Council rejects Violence Reduction Initiative youth plan

The entrance to the Chattanooga City Hall is seen in this staff file photo taken from a third floor window of the City Hall Annex.

The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday killed a plan to refocus Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative on mentoring and services for youth.

Mayor Andy Berke's administration had asked the council to approve a two-year, $600,000 contract with Father to the Fatherless. That local nonprofit is already the social services provider for the VRI, but the new contract would have shifted attention and resources away from adults and toward helping younger teens stay out of gangs and trouble.

At least some council members, though, had favorable feelings toward another nonprofit that had bid for the contract, A Better Tomorrow, and its director, Richard Bennett. He was in the audience last week when Police Chief David Roddy and Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers explained the proposal to council members.

Council members Russell Gilbert and Carol Berz had a lot of questions about the proposal, with Berz asking about credentialing for the people who would be working with the youth. Russell was critical of the current contract and provider, saying he'd asked for reports on the program's effectiveness and outcomes but hadn't been provided any information.

On Tuesday, Bennett spoke when supporters of both programs gave comments to the council, saying he had more than 30 years' experience working in schools and on the street to steer young men on the right path. His organization, he said, is "moving and impacting lives every day."

Several others spoke up for Father to the Fatherless. Orchard Knob Middle School Principal Tiffany Earvin said 30 troubled students who received consistent mentorship in the program had fewer referrals and suspensions, and all passed on to the ninth grade.

"You want to look at data? Come see me. I can get you all the data you'll need," Earvin told council members.

The public comment period came at the front of the council meeting, but the vote was near the end of the agenda. When it came up, Deputy Chief of Staff Kerry Hayes asked the council to defer for a week so the administration could keep working to answer council members' questions.

Councilman Anthony Byrd made a motion to defer, but there was no second.

Then Chairman Jerry Mitchell asked if there was a motion to vote on the resolution. No council member made a motion, and the resolution failed.

Asked for comment after the meeting, Rogers said in an emailed statement that the multi-systemic therapy model used in the program, which provides a range of support and services from mentoring to mental health counseling and more, had been proven effective across the country.

"We were looking forward to working with the Chattanooga Police Department and our community partners to use this approach to help at-risk youth at the most crucial and dangerous time in their lives. We hope that these important services will be made available to Chattanooga families in the future," Rogers said.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.