Chattanooga City Council may ask UTC to complete social equity study

Staff Photo by Olivia Ross  / Council Member Demetrus Coonrod speaks during a Chattanooga City Council meeting in 2022.
Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Council Member Demetrus Coonrod speaks during a Chattanooga City Council meeting in 2022.

Although some members had questions about how it would coincide with similar, past efforts, the Chattanooga City Council is contemplating a social and economic equity study that would assess disparities within the city.

Council Member Demetrus Coonrod, of Eastdale, initially proposed the study during a strategic planning meeting early this month, noting it would allow officials to understand and act on the gaps that have been present in the community for decades.

"We continue to talk about these same disparities ... and nothing ever gets resolved or introduced," she said during that strategic planning meeting. "Our communities are suffering. It's not just the Black community."

It would be completed by staff at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and on Tuesday, the council heard a presentation from Marcus Mauldin, an associate professor of political science and public service. It could be a four- to six-month project, Mauldin said. The cost would be a little over $19,000, he estimated, which would come out of the council's budget.

"Part of this is based on the idea, at least anecdotally, that the benefits of growth in this city, from a community and economic development standpoint, does not reach everybody in the same way," Mauldin told the council about the proposal. "Especially as it relates economic outcomes, educational outcomes, health care outcomes. ... What we want to do is kind of present a broad idea of what that looks like in the city as well as provide any policy recommendations that could go along with it."

Coonrod, who was absent Tuesday, brought the idea to Mauldin back in April, he said. The approach would be data-driven, Mauldin said, but there may also be opportunities for community input.

Council Member Chip Henderson, of Lookout Valley, asked staff how that project would coincide with the One Chattanooga plan, a broad strategic effort Mayor Tim Kelly announced in 2022 that aims to close gaps in early learning, housing, infrastructure, public health and other areas.

Interim Chief of Staff Jermaine Freeman responded he can't speak to whether it does tie into that strategy because the administration has not been involved in drafting the proposal.

"That concerns me a little bit," Henderson said. "I'm just curious about how this study would interact with One Chattanooga."

Council Member Carol Berz, of Brainerd Hills, said she's not against the proposal, but she also had questions about how it meshed with other, past assessments, like the Urban League's State of Black Chattanooga and a disparity study completed under the administration of former Mayor Andy Berke.

"Does there seem to be some redundancy, or should you all be involved in this?" she asked Freeman. "The issue is there's a lack of equity -- we all know that. Should we not be spending our time and energy on remediating that based on what we already know?"

The disparity study continues to be a "guiding policy document" for Kelly's administration, which has "a tremendous amount of respect" for the Urban League, Freeman said.

"This has been something the administration has been hands off of," Freeman said, referring to Coonrod's proposal. "If the council wanted to pursue this, that's up to the council. At the same time, it's not necessarily a bad idea for this to be done in collaboration with our Department of Equity and Community Engagement."

Vice Chair Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, said the study would compliment prior work done by the Urban League.

"Councilwoman Coonrod made a very strong case for the fact that this could give us some different information and help us think more proactively about the policies and potential legislation we bring in the coming months after we get this report back," she said.

Council Chair Raquetta Dotley, of East Lake, also supported the proposal, noting it could help the council craft legislation that is equitable for all the city's residents.

"We do have a One Chattanooga plan, but we're the policy-making body," Dotley said during the meeting. "In order for us to continue to pass legislation and create policies, it's going to be great for us to have an equity framework for our policy making. ... It's not just about Black Chattanooga. It is about Chattanooga, period."

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

  photo  Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Council Chair Raquetta Dotley listens to speakers during a City Council meeting on Tuesday.
 
 


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