The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday set a public hearing for the council resolution to establish a controversial Business Improvement District and unanimously approved the 2020 city budget.
Mayor Andy Berke's nearly $270 million 2020 budget, which emphasizes roadwork and homelessness initiatives in the city, was approved for the second time unanimously and finalized at Tuesday's meeting.
Not everything went that smoothly.
With six council members in favor, one abstaining and two opposed, a public hearing for the reintroduced council resolution to form the highly debated Business Improvement District was set for July 30, with a first reading to take place on July 23.
As with previous meetings when the district has been discussed, public comments got unruly as members of the audience spoke out and fought council members on the restrictions to public comment that only allow members of the public to speak for three minutes, twice in 30 days time, not more than once in the same day and only on items not on that meeting's agenda.
Blake Wright, an investor in a business within the area of the proposed district who recently filed an ethics complaint against the city regarding it, tried to speak about business improvement districts as a whole, and was told her comments violated the public comment rules, which limit comments to non-agenda items.
Wright and Chairman Erskine Oglesby, of District 7, who sponsored the Business Improvement District resolution and was named in Wright's ethics complaint, went back and forth over whether the rule applied until Wright left the podium, adding that Oglesby was "silencing [her] voice."
Another community member followed Wright, imploring that the council be clearer about rules for public comment.
"You're going to have to start explaining things to [those speaking at public meetings]," Rick Carpenter said. "One thing I'd like to have the city attorney do is get a definition ready and let us know what dictionary you're operating out of these meanings vary widely."
Edward Hewitt, Wright's fiance, came to the podium in her defense, arguing that the rule restricting comment to non-agenda items was not previously stated, adding that the city attorney had pulled the comment out of nowhere during the argument.
Before public comments began, Oglesby mentioned twice that the section was for non-agenda items.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.