Jenny Hill and Thomas Lee, both business owners with big ideas, are vying to represent District 2 on the Chattanooga City Council.
Neither candidate was able to win a majority of the votes in the March 2 election with a third candidate still in the race. So now top candidates Hill and Lee will face off in an April 13 runoff election to fill the seat being vacated by Councilman Jerry Mitchell.
But what are the differences between the candidates, their promises and their policies?
Hill, a mother of two, nonprofit leader, business owner and school board member, said she's the most qualified for the role because of her community service and business chops.
As owner of Papercut Interactive, a 19-year-old marketing company, Hill said she and Lee are both qualified as businesspeople, but that her experience goes a step further.
"I have been a business leader in our community engaged with economic development conversations. And, I've been working with some of many of the companies that make up the fabric of Chattanooga," Hill said Friday. "But in addition to being a business leader. I am also a community leader."
Hill's work in the community includes serving as a volunteer and board chairwoman of Metropolitan Ministries, a Hamilton County Board of Education member, a board member and leader of the policy committee at Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, vice president of programming for the North Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce Council, and as a participant of the Harvard Young American Leaders program.
These experiences, she said, have given her invaluable, hands-on experience and education in the city's biggest issues.
"I've been volunteering my time to work on things like homelessness, generational poverty, public education, racial inequality, housing affordability and higher wage jobs. This is what I've been volunteering my time for for the last decade. And that is a huge differentiator in this race," Hill said.
Through that decade of community service, she not only established herself as a leader in the community, but also trained herself to address the toughest problems facing the city and District 2, she said.
"For the last decade, my community service and then elected leadership has been distinguished by a commitment to having necessary — sometimes difficult — conversations about the cracks that exist in our community and doing the hard work to fix them," she said. "We have physical cracks in our city, in our roads and in our water systems. But we also have metaphorical cracks and that's something that I am well aware of.
"I have continually sought to partner with other community leaders with other local groups with people who have life experiences different than my own to tackle some of our most seemingly intractable challenges."
If elected, she says she will continue to learn and have the necessary conversations to give every voice a seat at the table.
"I'm known for doing my homework, for asking thoughtful and often different questions than other elected leaders ask," she said. "Also, as an elected leader, people can expect for me to be approachable and involved.
"I listen to everyone. I welcome input from all stakeholders and I seek out that same input if people aren't coming to me," she said, noting her plan to establish an advisory committee of District 2's neighborhood association leaders so that they can hear each other's concerns and give her input.
"I don't head into issues with a preconceived solution. I want to find solutions that work best for everybody."
On her website, Hill lists her top priorities as:
— Creating a shared vision. Hill says she will advocate for the interests of District 2 and ensure your taxes are spent in a fiscally responsible manner.
— Strong infrastructure. Hill says she will promote infrastructure investment including roads, wastewater management, Wi-Fi hotspots and multimodal transportation.
— Good paying jobs.Hill says she will work to transform the city's economy by focusing economic development efforts on supporting small businesses, bringing good paying jobs to Chattanooga, and improving adult technical education programs.
— Thriving neighborhoods. Hill says she will elevate the voices of our neighborhoods and encourage private and public investment to ensure they can deliver stability and prosperity.
— Quality, abundant early childhood care and education. Hill says she is committed to creating more quality early childcare seats for children citywide.
— Safe community. Hill says she will ensure first responders are fairly compensated for their work and commit to continuous improvement of services.
Lee said he believes that he would make the best representative for District 2 because of his business savvy and goals of reforming access and transparency across city government.
"I have run a string of successful businesses. I've been involved in a range of industries. Everything from making products to selling services. And I've got a successful business I created here in Chattanooga 13 years ago," he said of his company Sockwell, which manufactures socks locally.
"And I look at some of what goes on at the city council and I feel like more business experience on the council, in terms of setting agendas and getting things done, would certainly be to the benefit of the city," he said. "I've lived here for 28 years and seen a tremendous amount of improvement in the quality of life and Chattanooga over that time period. But I feel like, in the last several years, we're sort of stalling out a little bit.
"I think we need a renewed sense of vigor about what's going on in this city and I think it's important for us to sit down and have some serious discussions about what our priorities need to be."
Lee said in order to address any number of other issues, the city has to lay a better groundwork by clarifying decision making processes and resources for citizens.
"One of the things that I care a lot about is having a city government that is responsive to the needs of the citizens. There is an almost universal feeling from the folks that I've talked to, as I've been out knocking on doors in District 2, that we need a much more responsive and transparent operation of city government," he said. "They want to understand how the priorities are set, how the decisions are made."
"But more importantly, they also want to feel like they're being treated by city government as if they were a customer, with the idea being that the city recognizes that it exists, purely to provide services for the citizens."
To do that, Lee said he wants to not only hold himself accountable and make himself accessible with a public cellphone number and regular communication with citizens, but he wants to reform the city's overall practices of interacting with constituents.
"What I'm talking about is not really just a matter of Thomas Lee being more available as the representative of District 2," he said. "What I'm talking about is more broadly having a city government oriented around making the activities that they perform more accessible to the citizens, with clear guidelines on how that interaction is going to occur with much more openness."
Specifically, Lee wants to make sure that citizens have direct access to different departments and a clear understanding of which departments oversee which projects, rather than most interactions coming through the city's 311 call center, which handles all non-medical emergency city services and traffic citations.
"Under the current arrangement, the city has sort of blocked most access to city departments, with the exception of the 311 line," he said, recalling a time when you could access individual departments' phone numbers in the phone book. "If you needed to get in touch with someone at Parks and Recreation because you wanted to find out what the hours of your local community center were, you could just dial it up and a human answered the phone."
In an effort to return to that sense of access, he said he would push for the city to make department names and responsibilities clearer and their phone numbers more attainable on the city's website.
"The city government does not exist for its own benefit; it exists purely to take care of what the citizens need," Lee said. "I think the citizens deserve a voice at the table and setting the priorities and I feel like that as a business person who has brought myriad groups of people together in search of finding solutions to problems and creating plans to get things done that my experience would serve me exceedingly well and serve the citizens of District 2 as well."
Lee's website lists the following as his priorities:
— Economic development. Lee says he will work to attract new businesses to the city, promote the growth of small businesses and create and support programs to make the Chattanooga workforce employment ready.
— Infrastructure and services. Lee says he will focus on improving District 2 roads and ensuring adequate funding for proper maintenance of all city infrastructure including roads, sewers, and bridges, and will keep streets, parks, schools and neighborhoods safe and clean.
— Public safety and community. Lee says he will develop sound development guidelines that protect neighborhoods, ensure a safer Chattanooga for all citizens through well-funded police and fire departments, create and support programs to bolster families in need, and support civic life and education.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.