Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said he has ambitious plans for his first 100 days in office as the city emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, but he doesn't expect City Hall to accomplish what needs to be done on its own.
Kelly, the 54-year-old Chattanooga business owner elected last week to succeed Andy Berke as mayor, said Tuesday he wants to do more to work with the churches, foundations and other nonprofits to address the city's challenges and take advantage of its opportunities.
"What is truly extraordinary here is that our nonprofit and foundation community is really the most influential sector in Chattanooga, and we're lucky for that," Kelly said during the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce Business Expo on Tuesday. "We have this emphasis on strategic planning that a lot of communities don't have and it keeps us from blowing around in the wind a lot more."
Unlike Nashville and Memphis, where the business or government sector is most influential, Chattanooga is unique in the strength of its nonprofit and philanthropic role in community issues, Kelly said. The new mayor, who has served on more than a half dozen nonprofit boards and previously chaired the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, said he wants City Hall to do more to work with other community groups similar to how former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker did when he was Chattanooga mayor from 2001 to 2005.
During a forum with Kelly on Tuesday, Corker said he tried to build coalitions with nonprofits and other government agencies "which we felt like was more durable over the long haul" than just bringing a City Hall perspective to a problem.
Corker, a former commercial real estate builder and investor before being elected mayor and later to the Senate, helped start Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises in 1986 and worked as mayor with local donors to raise $120 million to fund Chattanooga's 21st century waterfront plan, which expanded the Tennessee Aquarium and the Hunter Museum of Art and redeveloped the downtown waterfront.
"There are so many great organizations in our community and they just want to know what their role is," Corker said. "They want someone to create the vision for them."
As mayor, Kelly said he wants to follow the example of Corker and be like an orchestra leader.
"I want to help get everyone tuned up, working together and playing together," Kelly told Corker. "My administration very frankly will be very much modeled after you in the sense that it will be very, very collaborative."
Kelly said he is eager to work with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce to sell Chattanooga to prospective visitors, businesses and workers.
"If the chamber needs me, I will be on an airplane tomorrow to sell our city," Kelly said.
The new mayor said he has already made "plenty of phone calls" to faith and nonprofit community leaders to leverage their strength "to get things done in a more durable way."
"If you don't work with the community, then it becomes just another program that ends up blowing away in the wind," Kelly said.
Kelly, who helped start a number of businesses in his career, said he wants to be a "public entrepreneur," governing not on caution but on possibility.
Kelly said he did not run for mayor to try to ascend to another higher office, so he will dedicate all of his resources to being mayor and not necessarily worrying about how his policies might be perceived in running for another office later.
"I think the people of Chattanooga appreciate the fact that you do not plan to lead with caution," Corker told Kelly. "You are going to be laying it all out there."
Kelly said he plans to be more engaged as a manager at City Hall than what other recent mayors have been. Although he had only six days from election day until he took office last week, Kelly said his chief of staff, Brent Goldberg, previously worked at City Hall and had been working on a potential transition while Kelly was still campaigning to win the job.
The new mayor also has kept several top aides to Berke, including Maura Sullivan, formerly chief operating officer for the mayor; Jermaine Freeman, previously deputy chief of staff for Berke, and Brooke Satterfield, who served as special projects manager under Berke.
"Continuity is hugely important," Kelly said. "I'm going to meet daily with my staff and weekly with the county mayor. We're going to get a lot done."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at (423) 757-6340.