Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Marcellus Barnes Sr., pastor at Grace Pointe Church, sits during the feet washing ceremony as part of a gathering of Chattanooga clergy on June 16, 2020, in Miller Park to speak out against racism in America. He is a signatory to the letter to council.

A group of 30 local clergy have signed on to a letter saying the Chattanooga City Council failed to represent those who elected them and that members of the council are choosing to be "complicit with a system that has historically sought to diminish Black lives."

The outrage from faith leaders comes after the council voted 8-1 last week to approve the city's budget despite the calls of protesters to delay the vote for more discussion about how money was allocated. During the same meeting, public comment was cut off after one hour when around 30 of the more than 200 people signed up had spoken.

"As faith leaders, we encourage our young people to be involved, to be a part of the civic process and to make their voices heard," the clergy wrote. "In its last meeting, the City Council chose to communicate the opposite — that their voices are not valuable to you. That message was heard loud and clear."

The budget requires a second council vote for final approval, which is scheduled for Tuesday's meeting.

The budget includes some changes, including Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's new Office of Community Resilience, which will include the Family Justice Center and some social work previously housed in the police department. The new office is budgeted to use about $1 million. The funding for the office represents less than 0.5% of the city's budget in 2020.


Call to City Council letter


Protesters called the proposed reforms and the lack of divestment from the police "insulting" after weeks of protests and calls to defund local law enforcement. Some Chattanooga clergy have also voiced support for divesting from police.

In the letter released Monday, the group of local faith leaders said the council chose to be on the wrong side of history. The elected officials are letting images of riots and looting from across the country overshadow the demands of largely peaceful protesters in Chattanooga, the clergy said.

"[The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther] King called riots 'the language of the unheard.' Last week, the Chattanooga City Council decided to also let the petitions of those respectfully engaging the political process go unheard. In refusing to listen to the very reasonable request from Chattanoogans to table the budget for a week, the council opted to simultaneously put Dr. King's assertion to the test and disappoint its constituents," the letter said.

This week, a citizen filed a complaint to get a restraining order against the city of Chattanooga, alleging the city failed to provide adequate public notice for the meeting in which the amended budget was first passed.

A hearing for the case is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the second vote on the budget.

In the past week, along with addressing elected officials, local clergy have spoken out about the "silence and complicity" of white Christians in allowing racism to continue in America.

The group of Black clergy who wrote the letter will hold a press conference about their concerns on the steps of City Hall at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday before the scheduled council meeting.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.