Chattanooga City Council OKs $20,000 equity study in 7-2 vote

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / The Chattanooga City Council meets April 25.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / The Chattanooga City Council meets April 25.

Chattanooga will spend $20,000 on a social and economic equity study that will aim to provide officials with a roadmap for addressing inequities in areas like education, health care, food security and the criminal justice system.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved an agreement with Marcus Mauldin, associate professor of public policy and administration at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, to complete the study. The vote was 7-2. Council Members Chip Henderson, of Lookout Valley, and Ken Smith, of Hixson, voted against the measure.

The cost would be up to $19,809, including $11,573 for senior personnel, $3,935 for fringe benefits, and $2,500 for materials and supplies.

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The deadline to complete the study had been Feb. 29, but the council opted to extend it to March 31. The study will provide insights on the current state of equity in the Chattanooga community by analyzing existing data and offer a set of policy recommendations, according to a proposal submitted by Mauldin.

Mauldin will provide a progress report during the study, a final research report and a presentation of his findings.

Vice Chair Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, amended the resolution to add an item to the scope of work: Providing the City Council with a framework to use for evaluating upcoming policies and programs.

"The most important thing that this equity work can do for me as a city councilwoman is to deliver me a tool for evaluating future policy and future programs to ensure that I can approach that with an equity lens," Hill said in a phone call.

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In a phone call, Henderson said the city has a history of funding studies that don't result in any action. When the council recently recruited UTC to conduct research on short-term vacation rentals, that was for a specific piece of legislation, he said. Henderson said he typically votes against studies.

Mayor Tim Kelly also already has a strategy focused on closing socioeconomic gaps in the city, Henderson said, referring to the One Chattanooga plan.

"I don't see that we need two or three plans out there on the table," he said.

Smith said studies that result in policy recommendations as opposed to legislative action are more the responsibility of the administration.

"It may also be redundant to the mayor's One Chattanooga plan, and he's the one that would likely take any actions from a study like this," Smith said in a text message.

Smith added he prefers to have the council engage in external research when it relates to a specific legislative matter, citing research into short-term vacation rentals.

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