After weeks of debate surrounding defunding or divesting from the Chattanooga Police Department, the City Council voted Tuesday to take no further action on the matter, despite continued pressure from citizens.
Following a disagreement about whether the council should consider proposed amendments and resolutions brought forward by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the items were briefly discussed in the council's budget and finance committee on Tuesday afternoon.
Instead of hearing the individual budget amendment suggestions and other policy changes individually, the council spoke broadly about the amendments and focused on the number of opportunities the public had to comment on the budget before protests began in late May, and before June 29, when the proposed amendments came to the council, after the budget passed.
"The way that we do our budgets here in Chattanooga is really based on public input. And it's, it is a different way of doing budgeting," Chief Operating Officer Maura Sullivan said.
She said planning for the budget that passed in June began in November.
"We don't just look at the budget line item by line item, department by department, and then only look at it from that department's perspective," she said. "We encourage the public members of the public departments and agencies to come forward with ideas to make the city better around the value sections of the budget."
The council largely echoed the sentiment that there had been time for citizens to express concerns before the protests began and the budget passed, so the suggestions were not appropriate for the budget that took effect July 1.
"We've had a great deal of discussion and input, and I know even more in our own communities," committee chairwoman Carol Berz said before asking council members whether they wanted to take it any further.
"Eight of us voted to fund the Chattanooga Police Department nearly $70 million back in June," council Chair Chip Henderson said before moving to go no further with the proposals. "Personally, I see that as a contractual agreement. A promise, if you will, that, that we made to the men and women of the CPD to provide them $70 million for them to do their job."
Councilman Anthony Byrd, along with Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, voted against the motion. They argued that in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, revisiting the requests presented by the Democratic Socialists to benefit Chattanoogans may be appropriate, even if it's not about changes to police.
"So when I look at the issues that's going on, and I look at our budget, it does make me wonder, like, do we go back and talk about these things or at least have a discussion," Byrd said, citing housing, food and other financial needs of citizens, many of whom are without work during the pandemic. "It's good to take a deeper dive and look into it."
But the council voted 6-2 to end consideration of the proposals.
Demonstrators across the nation have been calling for police reforms — and a shift of resources to social programs — since the May 25 death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in May. In Chattanooga, the protests have been led by groups including the Democratic Socialists, who condemned Tuesday's council decision.
"The Chattanooga Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is disappointed by the Chattanooga City Council and condemns today's 6-2 vote to indefinitely table our proposals to allocate $4.5 million dollars to community development and augmenting public resources," the statement read.
"Our city government continues to fail to meet the challenges of this nationally historic moment. We sincerely believe that public funds would be better spent on affordable housing, transportation and early education than on the weapons and tools of mass repression and incarceration," it continued. "Thousands of Chattanoogans have attended months of protests to demand just these things since the death of George Floyd on May 25."
During Tuesday night's council meeting, many members of the public, most of whom have been vocal in support of the amendments and or represent the Democratic Socialists group, criticized the council for the decision, consistently accusing the city of ignoring community input.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or email@example.com or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.
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