Greeson: Looking into a ranking that says Chattanooga among worst-run cities in U.S.

Greeson: Looking into a ranking that says Chattanooga among worst-run cities in U.S.

July 12th, 2018 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns

Jay Greeson

Jay Greeson

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

It was a newspaper story about the size of a social media post, yet the "Chattanooga named one of the worst-run cities in America" short became an online monster at timesfreepress.com.

Yes, there's the intrigue of best and worst. Sure, it had our beloved Chattanooga in the headline. A bunch of us were in — like catfish to chicken liver — quicker than we could click the mouse.

The rankings were surprising for sure. After all, we're the bestest of all best places to live. The outdoor magazines think we're the bee's knees.

But those are click-based votes online.

This survey was done by WalletHub.com, and while you can quibble with the method, the math is clear-cut.

"The entire survey is quantitative," Jill Gonzalez told Press Row on ESPN 105.1 the Zone on Tuesday afternoon.

Gonzalez is one of the chief analysts for WalletHub, which offers a variety of services but lists its primary goal on its website as, "to provide you with the tools and information you need to make the best financial decisions."

The surveys and the rankings fall into the free website's desire to allow users to search, compare and review rankings and reviews of things ranging from the best soccer cities to the best sports towns to, obviously, their view on the worst-run cities in America.

For the most part, I'm pretty sure that most of us think Chattanooga is pretty swell. Better than most, in fact. So how did we get an F-minus-minus-minus in government management? (And gang, considering we were 143 out of the 150 U.S. cities graded, an F-minus-minus-minus may be kind of high.)

"Comparing the quality to the cost, in some areas Chattanooga did pretty good," Gonzalez said. "There were a couple of key areas, compared to the budget, and that's where things obviously slipped. [Things like] long-term debt per capita, and when you look at things like safety and violent crime."

Besides our eye-popping rank was the dreary company we keep, according to the numbers. We are one spot ahead of Flint, Michigan, which ranked dead last in employment and, because of the categories, actually did not lose points for having the worst drinking water in the country.

Those unemployment stats — something that Chattanooga has been blessed in for the last decade or so (thanks to VW) — allowed Gonzalez to offer an interesting take on the stagnation of the middle class and below in our fair town.

"The percentage of the homeless in recent years has crept up and the underemployment rate — not so much the unemployment rate, which shows people who have jobs but who are not really getting by — has also crept up," Gonzalez said.

Well said, Julie. There are jobs and there is growth in our town, but the questions of upward mobility and economic advancement are warranted. Beyond the auto industry and a sprinkling of start-up ventures, there has to be a cautionary tale about pinning a large part of our economic future to tourism.

Sure, it's been a springboard to now, but it leaves a lot of college grads waiting tables and wondering how many folks want to return to downtown to see the penguins at the Tennessee Aquarium, watch the Lookouts or ride the Chattanooga Ducks.

But employment was only one of the categories that offered insight into our faults. The other criteria Gonzalez and WalletHub looked at were how much each city spends per capita, and 35 outcomes in each city, including financial stability, education, health, safety, the economy and infrastructure and pollution.

In the statistical rankings for the categories, Chattanooga was much closer to the middle than the bottom, ranking 118th in the five main composites that included education (Chattanooga was 40th, and yes, I was surprised by a ranking that lofty), financial stability (102nd), health (110th), safety (127th), economy (80th) and infrastructure and pollution (56th).

Where our rankings dropped a list-plummeting anchor was spending per capita, and that leads us to a whole lot of recent budget discussion from City Hall. Chattanooga was ranked 118 in its category scores and 143 out of 150 in its per capita spending on those issues.

While the Hamilton County budget is more than four times larger, county officials are dealing with a budget of more than $700 million (63 percent pledged to schools and the sheriff). Yes, the city funds the police department, but more resources dedicated to safety from our city leaders would be a start, since we continue to lag in that category.

As for the rest of the city budget? Well, elected leaders get to debate among Blue Rhinos, fancy-pants bridge lights, the Miller Park overhaul and pothole repairs.

Maybe next year's WalletHub survey — and Gonzalez said it will be done again next year — will add "Money spent on bike lanes" as one of its criteria.

That's in our wheelhouse, folks.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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