The Chattanooga City Council passed Mayor Andy Berke's amended 2021 budget on the first of two required votes on Tuesday, despite calls to delay the action amid cries for divestment from the police.
The alternative budget introduced by Berke on Monday moves the Family Justice Center from the police department to a new Office of Community Resilience, which will oversee social work, recidivism reduction programs and other community interventions that do not require a uniformed police officer in response to recent activism. That transfer did not meet activists' calls for defunding the department.
"We have been dealing with a lot of stuff, between COVID-19 and the George Floyd horrible situation that has spurred an incredible amount of conversation. And I look so forward again to leading on this, and I think that [Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy] is the person to help us and I think this council stands to do so," Councilman Darrin Ledford said. "I know our country is hurting and our city is at unrest...destruction, revenge, abolishment of our police department is not an option, or a reasonable solution. The outcome is chaos."
Despite Councilman Anthony Byrd trying to delay consideration of the budget for one week to allow further community input, the council ultimately gave it initial approval with an 8-1 vote and will take it up for final consideration next week.
In a second controversial decision, the council unanimously decided to cut public comment to two minutes per speaker, down from three, and to put a one hour cap on total comment time, citing time spent hearing comments in a 7.5 hour meeting last week.
Council members said they were offended by postings on social media suggesting last week's extensive roster of public speakers amounted to a violent group sex act against the council — and inviting activists to participate again this week.
The council declined to have a repeat of the long night of public comment. About 30 of the 209 people signed up to speak were allowed to do so.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Neal Pinkston was recognized at his request for over six minutes, or the length of at least three citizen comments, while he defended police investigatory practices to the council before the vote was taken.
The decision to limit public comment was not well received.
Many speakers criticized the decision to limit individual and overall comment time in the name of an offensive meme.
"It's like something out of a dystopian authoritarian nightmare. How are you going to limit us to one hour," Alex Starling said, criticizing the time limit. "And then you, you sit there and you scoff at us, we're out there in the streets, screaming our lungs out for some fairness ... and you sit there and scoff at us, your police officers are there laughing at us. And we're heartbroken in the streets."
Chairman Chip Henderson reprimanded speaker Danny Freeman, who called for divestment from the Chattanooga Police Department last week, for his language, cutting into and ultimately ending his time.
"I see council members complaining about not being able to go to bed on time and having to sit here and listen to us rattle on for seven hours or whatever and it's pretty disgusting to see you limit the time we have to speak to one hour," Freeman said. "I have been losing a lot of sleep the past couple of weeks as well, I know it's uncomfortable, but people are dying right now. They're getting brutalized by the CPD and they don't file complaints because they'd have to go sit down in front of the same cops who beat the s—- out of them in their own neighborhoods."
Henderson asked him to "keep [his] language acceptable, please."
"I'm sorry that all of this makes you so uncomfortable, that a PornHub meme made by a single person in the community and circled around on social media has upset you, but to clamp down on your constituents because you're offended is not an excuse," Freeman said. "It's ridiculous gas-lighting to come in here and say that you have to cut down on our time because you were offended...grow the f—- up."
Henderson then had the clerk remove Freeman from the meeting and had the vice chairman note that he had violated the no "obscene or vulgar" language rule read before public comments.
One resident, Ben Francis, spoke in defense of the police.
"I just want to express my support for the police for everything that they do," he said. "I've seen the way that they've been treated during this scene this...My father was a police [officer]. My family is in the force. I have tremendous respect for everything and applaud them for everything they do."
Francis also thanked council members for their vote and handling of the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned around 8:30 p.m., or about five hours sooner than last week's meeting.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.