Chattanooga councilwoman says city has failed at making diverse appointments

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod speaks on on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, at the Kingdom Center.

Chattanooga has failed to appoint and hire people of color to helm its boards and other government positions, City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod alleged Tuesday evening.

Coonrod, of Ridgeside, alleged at Tuesday's council meeting that the city has continuously put white men in positions of power while minorities that better represent the community have been left in the dark.

She made the comments before joining the rest of the council to appoint Adam Veron, a white male, to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

"I am concerned about not having adequate representation that represents our community, and this board clearly shows this is not representative or reflective of our county or our city," she said.

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Coonrod, who emphasized the importance of the planning commission, noted that it does not have one Black individual to represent the city and county.

Not once has the council during her tenure appointed a Black person to a position the individual had not already held, she added.

She also questioned whether Mayor Tim Kelly was aware of the lack of representation.

Chris Anderson, the city's administrator of innovation of delivery and performance, conceded that the commission does lack diversity and the city "needs to do better."

"I share that concern with you, and the mayor certainly does," Anderson said. "And that's also true about a number of our boards that we're concerned about beyond the planning commission."

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After the holidays, Anderson said, the city will roll out an initiative to bring in more candidates. However, he added, the list of applicants for such positions are almost all white males.

Councilman Anthony Byrd, of Orchard Knob, said diversity itself isn't an issue despite the fact that at face value it may seem that way.

"To the brothers and sisters that live in Chattanooga, we have to get them more involved in government. And unfortunately, a lot of African Americans don't trust government," he said.

Councilwoman Carol Berz, a Brainerd Hills resident who was not present for Coonrod's comments, added that she doesn't see diversity as a prominent issue when looking at city staff.

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"If you look at the various staff, if anything - right now, I don't see it. I see African Americans, I see women," Berz told the Times Free Press after the meeting.

As it happens, the council's strategic planning meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday has on its agenda a presentation will be made outlining the demographics of the city's board and committees, Councilwoman Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, told Coonrod in response to her comments.

Contact Logan Hullinger by phone at 814-319-5158 or via email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.