A resident is seeking a restraining order against the city of Chattanooga, alleging that the City Council's first vote on the budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1 was taken illegally.
According to the filing on Friday by Courtenay Cholovich, the council violated the state requirements involving adequate public notice for government meetings.
While Cholovich said the public was properly informed under state law of last week's council meeting itself, she argued that by approving an amended budget — one that had been proposed Monday by Mayor Andy Berke and changed by the council on Tuesday — adequate notice was not given. The amended budget passed 8-1 on the first of two required votes.
Berke's amendments came in response to demonstrators against police brutality, who have been marching in the streets of Chattanooga to protest the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. He transferred less than $2 million from the police department to social programs, an amount protesters say is inadequate.
"I would like to clarify that while this petition is filed under my name, this was done as a matter of expediency and not a reflection of a personal vendetta against council on my part," Cholovich said by email Monday.
"At its heart, this petition is not even about the proposed FY21 budget or which side of the argument we as individual Chattanooga residents stand on. Rather, this petition seeks to hold City Council accountable to the laws by which it is ordained to function and to demonstrate with its actions the appropriate respect due to its constituency and the privilege of being in its service."
The budget is set to go before the council for the second vote on Tuesday.
In response to Cholovich's request, Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton on Monday set a hearing is set for Tuesday afternoon — just hours before the final vote — to weigh the legality of the council's first vote.
Under state law, action taken at a meeting without proper public notice can be nullified.
Cholovich, who also condemns the council's limitation of public comments during the same meeting as hundreds of residents sought to speak in support of defunding the police, said the filings are about the fundamental rights of citizens interacting with their elected officials.
"This petition is relevant to every citizen of the city of Chattanooga. Regardless of your point of view on the issues, it is your right to be heard," Cholovich said. "It is your right to feel secure in trusting that your elected representatives have your best interests at heart and that they are operating ethically within the confines of their legally-prescribed powers."
Under state law, the city is required to pass an operational budget by the end of June, before the new fiscal year begins July 1. If the first vote is nullified, the city could be forced to redo the vote and have a second vote, potentially forcing a continuation budget.
Cholovich said she has collected more than 200 signatures and is pursuing more support for a petition to the Chattanooga Board of Ethics about the meeting.
"No matter the outcome of this hearing, City Council must know that they are being watched and that they are being held accountable by their constituents, who will not stand idly by and be silenced," she said. "Council members are replaceable; our city's integrity is indispensable."
Neither City Attorney Phil Noblett nor council Chairman Chip Henderson responded to requests for comment.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.
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