Hamilton County Commission amends grant funding for anti-violence group

Staff File Photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga activist Ladarius Price speaks during a Community Action Walk in the Westside on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A group aiming to mentor and safeguard Hamilton County's youth and steer them away from violence will receive a scaled-back grant after a contentious debate and vote by members of the Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday.

The commission voted 8-1 to offer the Light House Collective $100,000 in a one-year grant.

The resolution initially would have given the group $300,000 over a three-year period, but it was amended because some commissioners believed it would be better to scale back the commitment so they could monitor the collective's work before deciding on any sort of extension.

Commissioner Greg Martin, R-Hixson, was the lone dissenting vote.

"I think the message [we're sending] to nonprofits is to come down, the county commission's got an open checkbook, and if you can present a case, they very well may approve it," Martin said.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga group seeks funding to mentor youth and curb violence)

The grant money will come from the funds the county received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and will be managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.

The collective also plans to seek funding from the Chattanooga City Council and other entities, said LaDarius Price, one of the collective's founders.

Commissioners made it clear that they were in complete support of the collective's mission. However, Commissioner Tim Boyd, R-Chattanooga, proposed cutting the funding down to $50,000 and having the city match that amount.

Boyd echoed Martin's concerns about the grant creating a precedent that would lead to an influx of funding requests, but Price said reducing the funding would hamper the group's ability to help the county's youth.

Price added that the collective would have no issue being as transparent as possible in reporting to the commission about the work being done and how the money is being used.

Upon further discussion, Boyd agreed to an amendment to offer $100,000 to the collective and then revisit the matter after one year to see if members would extend the funding.

The resolution requires the Light House Collective and the Community Foundation to report to the commissioners about their ongoing work every four months.

Martin voted for the amendment, saying that he knew the resolution would pass in a final vote but wanted to ensure the amendment to decrease the commitment to $100,000 for one year had enough votes to be adopted.

Democratic Commissioners Warren Mackey of Lake Vista, Katherlyn Geter of Ridgeside and David Sharpe of Chattanooga, voted against the amendment. Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy-Daisy, also voted against the amendment.

"I don't want to send the message that we're not going to commit to your program - that we're going to piecemeal you," Fairbanks said.

photo Staff File Photo / Hamilton County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks.

Geter said the amendment was redundant because the initial resolution already required the collective and the Community Foundation to submit reports to the commission every four months. In addition, the resolution could be altered down the road if problems were to arise.

She also emphasized that the commission wouldn't be investing in the individuals running the collective, but rather the community itself.

"It has nothing to do with these gentlemen who are presenting the proposal," Geter said. "The impact is out there. It's out there. And at the end of the day, when we shut the lights off in this chamber and each of us in this chamber go to our respective homes, what about the kids?"

(READ MORE: Chattanooga mayor lays out four-year plan with focus on infrastructure, more)

Price said the collective's priority is reaching the youth at a young age to guide them down the right path and prevent them from creating a future that involves violent crime.

To accomplish this, therapy, yoga and mindfulness training would be included in the group's services, Price said. The group also would address spiritual and physical health.

"As I stated, people here do a whole lot of talking," Price said. "We plan on and will continue to do a whole lot of action. Because that's what we're about."

The collective's work comes amid an increase in violent crime in Chattanooga, and as the county spends tens of thousands of dollars daily to maintain jails that house those who are guilty of those crimes.

The county spends at least $120,000 daily to operate the county's jails, Mackey has said.

Contact Logan Hullinger by phone at 814-319-5158 or via email at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.