Sohn: For Chattanooga council, vote for Jenny Hill and Isiah Hester

Staff Photo by C.B. Schmelter / A bottle of hand sanitizer sits next to a voting partition at Mountain Creek Church of Christ on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Each of Chattanooga's nine council members represent thousands of residents in hundreds of neighborhoods sprawled across our city's 144.6 square miles.

Votes in all nine of our council districts are vital because even while Chattanooga has a strong mayor form of government, we've seen over the years that our city council has plenty of sway - sometimes helpful and sometimes not.

This year, seven of our nine districts had competitive races with only two incumbents, Chip Henderson and Carol Berz, being unopposed. In March, the re-elections of four others - Ken Smith, Darrin Ledford, Anthony Byrd and Demetrus Coonrod - give the council a solid quorum of experience. One newcomer, District 7's Raquetta Dotley, was elected outright.

Come Tuesday, voters have an opportunity to choose two more newcomers.

In District 2, Hamilton County Board of Education Member Jenny Hill and business owner Thomas Lee are competing for the seat of retiring Councilman Jerry Mitchell.

And in District 5, Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Dennis Clark is vying against pastor and businessman Isiah Hester to replace Councilman Russell Gilbert, who was defeated in the general mayoral election.

Here are our endorsements.

District 2, Jenny Hill

photo Jenny Hill is a candidate for City Council, District 2.

Jenny Hill, 42, has been and is a very good school board member. We're sure she also will make a very good council member.

Initially, we gave our endorsement to a third candidate in this district. We said we were put off by Hill's insistence that if she won the council seat she would continue to hold on to her school board seat. We said we thought the city - and the school board - deserve more than divided public servant attention, especially in these trying times.

But our first pick came in third, and given that, we now believe Hill is the right person to represent City District 2's North Chattanooga and Riverview residents on the council - as well as residents of school board District 6 (ranging from Lookout Valley and St. Elmo to Red Bank).

We're convinced that she can juggle it all - along with her 19-year-old small business, Papercut Interactive, and her long list of volunteer and non-profit leadership positions - at least until her school board term ends in 2022.

Clearly she already is juggling a lot, and she seems quite capable at it.

Her opponent, businessman Thomas Lee, 56, says he is most interested in making the city government "more responsive" to citizens. As owner of Sockwell, which manufactures socks locally, Lee says he wants to make sure the city "treats its citizens like customers" and be more transparent.

We think that's yesterday catchy campaign slogan. No, most of us don't want the city to treat us as a customer. We want our city leaders to understand that they work for us and we hire them to be leaders - not clerks. We expect them to make streets and police and bus lines and affordable housing work. Really work.

Hill says she can do that - even on the city's biggest issues.

"For the last decade, my community service and then elected leadership has been distinguished by a commitment to having necessary - sometimes difficult - conversations about the cracks that exist in our community and doing the hard work to fix them," she recently told The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

If elected, she plans to establish an advisory committee of District 2's neighborhood association leaders so they can hear each other's concerns and give her input. She would promote infrastructure investment, not just for roads but also WiFi hot spots and multimodal transportation, while ensuring our taxes are spent responsibly.

District 5, Isiah Hester

photo Staff file Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press. Then-County Commission candidate Isiah Hester discusses why he is running for office during a candidate editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in March 2014.

This will be the third time we've endorsed Isiah Hester, a pastor and businessman who is running against Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Dennis Clark to replace Councilman Russell Gilbert, who was defeated in the general mayoral election.

The first time, we endorsed Hester's unsuccessful 2014 bid for a county commission seat. The second time was in February for this council seat when there were five candidates running. Now we endorse him again. Three times should tell you something.

The district includes Bonny Oaks, Dalewood, Lake Hills and parts of the Eastgate, Kingspoint and Woodmore communities. Both Hester and entrepreneur Clark are passionate about equity and opportunity. And both have strong civic and neighborhood volunteer histories.

We like that, but we especially like the social and environmental advocacy that Hester brings, specifically his support of more living-wage jobs, improved early childhood education, expanded green spaces and a renewed focus on clean, reliable drinking water. We also like his integrity.

"Most folks will tell you I'm trustworthy, I'm honest and I listen to them," Hester told The Times and voters. "I am not in the race for self-interest. My special interest will be the interest of District 5."

He will strive to create more equitable opportunities for community members by promoting greater access to child care, higher wages for city employees and providing small business development support.

"I will create a blue-ribbon merchant committee so that folks can get engaged and understand the economic progress in our district," he said.

Also in his first 100 days, Hester pledges to create a food insecurity task force made up of community members, local leaders and experts to address the issue of the closing of Walmart Neighborhood Market and form a plan to address the void. He also plans to perform a personal survey of stormwater runoff and flooding in the district, prioritize the areas most affected and work with the city's Department of Public Works to plan improvements.