Chattanooga government does not reflect the city's diversity, new data show

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / The Chattanooga Municipal Building and Chattanooga City Hall is seen downtown on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff photo by Doug Strickland / The Chattanooga Municipal Building and Chattanooga City Hall is seen downtown on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

New data from the city of Chattanooga reveals large gender and racial disparities in portions of local government tasked with making key decisions on how the city grows, develops and functions.

Chris Anderson, the city's administrator of innovation delivery and performance, said the city "is not where we want to be" as he presented a demographic makeup of its 39 boards and commissions that serve as advisory bodies to the Chattanooga government during a Tuesday committee meeting of the city council.

Examples of the city's boards and commissions, which are comprised of volunteers who are appointed to their roles, include the Regional Planning Commission, Electric Power Board and the Beer and Wrecker Board.

The majority - 53% - of Chattanoogans are women, and 34% of city boards and commission members are women, according to Anderson's presentation.

Although Chattanooga is 31% African American, 19% of those who serve on the city's various boards are African American and 1% of board and commission members are Hispanic despite representing 9% of Chattanooga's population.

Meanwhile, white people account for 77% of the city's board and commission members, which exceeds the 60% they represent in the city's overall population.

"We're in a situation where we have these boards that don't really reflect the community that they serve, and by an extension of that, they don't reflect what people look like and what people identify with who come before them to be heard," Anderson told council members.

The presentation came a week after City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod criticized the city for continuously placing white men in positions of power while minorities that better represent the area are left out.

Coonrod did not speak publicly during the meeting and declined to comment for this story.

Anderson said his office has been working to gather better demographic information about the city's boards and commissions in an effort to address the longstanding lack of diversity since May, after Mayor Tim Kelly took office in April.

Historically, the city has done a poor job tracking demographic data of its boards and commissions, Anderson said. Demographic data was not always captured when people applied for those roles, and although the city is actively working to correct the issue, 24% of board and commission gender makeup and 31% racial makeup remains unknown.

As a result, he said board and commission staff have been trained on how to properly update that information and maintain an accurate database, and the city now has an internal dashboard to track performance.

Anderson said he believes getting more applicants from underrepresented sectors of the population will have the greatest impact. In January 2022, council members will be provided more information and communication for them to distribute across their districts with a goal of getting a bigger, more diverse applicant pool.

Councilwoman Jenny Hill, who heads the education and innovation committee where the presentation was given, said she hopes the council can "chip away at this imbalance" by focusing on the issue and using the data - which is also now tracked publicly on the city's boards and commissions web page - as a resource when looking to make appointments.

"Often, I find this to be true, that people want to be asked in person to serve. And as a woman, I know that often women don't run for office because nobody asked them to run," Hill said. "So we have a really important responsibility and opportunity as council people to ask people who maybe haven't been asked in the past to participate in their government."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.