Business Improvement District ethics complaint against Berke, Oglesby discussed at Chattanooga City Council agenda meeting

Business Improvement District ethics complaint against Berke, Oglesby discussed at Chattanooga City Council agenda meeting

June 25th, 2019 in Local Regional News

Chattanooga City Councilman Erskine Oglesby speaks during a press conference at EPB prior to a tour of Miller Park Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Photo by Erin O. Smith /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke encourages the crowd. Cempa Community Care and Hospice of Chattanooga hosted the Third Neighborhood Workout Jam Session at Miller Park on May 13, 2019.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke encourages the crowd. Cempa...

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

A citizen of Chattanooga filed a complaint against the city last week, alleging that Mayor Andy Berke and Council Chairman Erskine Oglesby were in violation of the city ethics policy for their conduct related to the proposed Business Improvement District.

The complaint filed by Blake Wright (who goes by Blake Blamalam) — an investor in Elea Blake Cosmetics, which is within the area of the proposed district — says Berke and Oglesby should not have a hand in the formation of the district because they are both board members of the nonprofit River City Company that originally introduced the district to the council.

"My main concern is right now with the Business Improvement District being discussed and, what I would call pushed through, I think it lacks actually representation of democracy," Wright said, citing social media posts by Berke and the reintroduction of a resolution to form the district by Oglesby. "I think it's a representation of special interests, specifically for River City."

In the complaint, Wright says that the men's "fiduciary obligations" to River City violate the city code, but City Attorney Phil Noblett said at a City Council agenda meeting Tuesday that he and outside council have deemed that neither Oglesby or Berke, who has no voting authority on the issue, have any employment or financial interest in River City.

"There was a request by our office for outside council to be involved so that there was not an appearance of impropriety making decisions on a body that I represent all the time," Noblett said of hiring Sam Elliot with Gearhiser Peters Elliot & Cannon, PLLC, to look into the matter. "The provisions of the city code are very clear that any complaint of an ethical violation has to be based upon some sort of financial interest that must be received by a member of the body. That is not the case in connection with this matter based upon our investigation."

A 6-month moratorium on electric scooters in downtown Chattanooga proposed by Councilman Ken Smith also was discussed and set to be voted on at next week's council meeting during a hearing by the Public Works and Transportation Committee on Tuesday. According to Smith, a recent death related to scooters and subsequent push by Nashville Mayor David Briley make the issue "hit close to home" and necessitate taking the time to decide about the fate of scooters in Chattanooga.

During the same hearing, a proposed interlocal agreement to initiate a study on the impact of merging the city and county sewer services was placed on the agenda for the July 9 council meeting. Sponsored by Vice Chairman Chip Henderson, the resolution would prompt a consultant study on the environmental and financial impact of combining city sewer services with the WWTA.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.