Chattanooga plans to proceed with UTC equity study

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Chattanooga City Council Member Demetrus Coonrod speaks to the audience during an event June 8. Coonrod suggested the city request an equity study, and the council plans to move forward with the project.

Chattanooga officials intend to move forward with an equity study that would highlight existing disparities in the city and provide recommendations for closing socioeconomic gaps.

Council Member Demetrus Coonrod, of Eastdale, suggested the study during a meeting in August. It would be completed by Marcus Mauldin, a professor of public policy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The work would cost $19,809, according to Council Chair Raquetta Dotley, of East Lake.

Members opted to proceed with the proposal during their strategic planning meeting Tuesday, adding they would like to see specific action steps. They asked Mauldin to come back in a couple of weeks with more details.

A written proposal provided to the council says the study would take about three months and would result in a final research report and presentation. The project would provide insights on the existing state of education, employment, housing, health care, food security and the criminal justice system in Chattanooga. Mauldin would also develop policy recommendations and strategies as well as provide the estimated cost of those steps.

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Coonrod, who was not at the 2 p.m. strategic planning meeting Tuesday, said in a phone call she would like to see Mauldin come back with powerful tools for promoting fairness, justice and equality.

"We keep having these studies done, and no policy recommendations are given in those studies," she said. "We need to pull the Band-Aid off these disparities -- not just talk about them ... but really reveal what it is, the root cause, and do someting about it."

Coonrod doesn't think the study should have a racial lens, she said.

"What we're seeing today is that everyone is being affected," she said. "If you are poor ... you're affected by being in a food apartheid, you're affected by payday loans saturating your community, you're affected by dilapidated homes."

Council Member Carol Berz, of Brainerd Hills, said equity is a broad umbrella. She wants the research to zero-in with specificity on certain topics, such as health care, age and gender, adding she would like to see the design of the study and its targeted areas.

Council Member Isiah Hester, of Washington Hills, said Mayor Tim Kelly is aiming to narrow gaps between the white and Black communities in the city.

"I raise this question to all: What is it that most successful cities in the South have that we lack?" he said during the meeting. "An historically Black school."

He hopes the study can assess how the city can bring a satellite of a historically Black college or university to Chattanooga.

"I think that would help us bridge the income gap," Hester said.

Council Member Darrin Ledford, of East Brainerd, said he wants the report to outline specific policy deficiencies and potential action items.

"I want something I can put in a toolbox and start thinking about," Ledford told his colleagues. "This is my second term, and I've been through study after study after study ... I think we know a lot. I want to know how to make it better."

The City Council makes innumerable decisions per week, said Vice Chair Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, and she's hopeful the report can offer a framework for city leaders as they make decisions about all kinds of topics, including stormwater and animal control.

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"That would be so useful, and I think it would be -- potentially if it works well -- a legacy for future councils," Hill said during the meeting.

When it was presented to them last month, council members asked how the proposal would align with other assessments completed in the past, pointing to the Urban League's State of Black Chattanooga and a disparity study completed under the administration of former Mayor Andy Berke.

"Some of the studies include recommendations, but they're pretty broad and not necessarily Chattanooga-specific," Mauldin said in an interview, speaking generally about prior studies. "We're going to be making these policy recommendations as well as strategies to implement because I think that's some of the things that are missing sometimes."

Contact David Floyd at or 423-757-6249.