Chattanoogans voted to approve two charter amendments Tuesday, reinforcing the city's police advisory board and allowing county, state and federal government employees to run for elected office in the city.
About 77% of more than 65,000 Chattanoogans who voted on the first amendment voted in favor of adding the city's citizen policy advisory committee to the charter.
"By putting it in the charter, it means that no matter who the mayor is or who the chief of police becomes, it is mandated in our charter that we have to have our police oversight committee," Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said Wednesday.
Coonrod, a sponsor and advocate for the police board and charter amendment, said Wednesday that the approval of the ordinance shows how seriously Chattanoogans take public safety reform.
"I think it's a step in the right direction toward introducing legislation and policy that shows we're really thinking of what public safety means, and it's not just policing," Coonrod said. "It's very encouraging that people are willing and that people are able to vote to have their voices heard."
The nine-member board was formed in 2019 after a series of allegations of police brutality and misconduct, including rape, sexual battery and the filmed beating of a 37-year-old man during an arrest in March 2018.
While its formation was approved unanimously among the current council, Coonrod said the charter amendment was necessary to safeguard its existence under future mayoral administrations and councils.
"I chose to introduce it because I thought about the transition of administrations. When city elections come in 2021, we'll have a new mayor, new council members, possibly," she said. "And with the mayor, they can appoint staff that they choose to work in their cabinet, and that includes the chief of police."
Still, Coonrod wants to see further police oversight authority for the board and council, with the help of the state.
"Now, it isn't perfect. And it's not 100% how I'd like it to be, but I wanted to make sure that the voices of our community were heard through creating the oversight committee," she said. "There's a lot of work to do, and we're willing to continue to do that work. And we're working with our state legislatures and our Senate to, you know, work around the legislation that they have in place that often overrides what the council has to say."
Chattanoogans also passed an amendment to the charter's home rule restrictions which allow county, state and federal government employees to run for city elected office.
"For example, a county employee could run for the City Council without having to quit his/her job. Additionally, voting 'for' the amendment would prohibit any public employee from soliciting contributions for political purposes on their jobs, interfering with any election or nominations, providing promises of benefits for political activity due to a government job or engaging in any political activity which interferes with state business as set out in the Little Hatch Act," city Director of Communications Richel Albright said Wednesday. "Also. any candidate and/or elected official cannot use their employment within the county, state, or federal government for campaign advertising or activities."
Around 85% of the 65,555 Chattanoogans who voted on this amendment voted in favor of the change.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.