The city of Chattanooga has a strong-mayor, weak-council form of government. That said, we hope Chattanooga's next mayor forges a closer, stronger collaborative partnership with the council.
The new mayor will deal with a nine-member council with a minimum of three and a maximum of seven new members. We suspect it will be three, four at the most. Two members of the council, Chip Henderson in District 1 and Carol Berz in District 6, are running unopposed.
In the contested races, for which Election Day is March 2 and early voting is underway, the Free Press page recommends:
DISTRICT 2: Three spirited candidates, each with reasonable sounding plans, would like to succeed Jerry Mitchell and take the seat that represents the North Chattanooga/ Rivermont/Stuart Heights area. We believe the best of the three is Thomas Lee.
Lee is a small business owner whose company sells products made in America, most of which are manufactured in the Chattanooga area. As the nation emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, having such an individual on the city council will be an asset in the city's ability to offer assistance to other small businesses struggling to stay alive.
He is opposed by Hamilton County Board of Education member and small business owner Jenny Hill and engineering director Tim Gorman, the father of 2020 3rd District U.S. House Democratic candidate Meg Gorman.
Although we supported Hill for her 2018 school board seat, she has said if she were to win the city council seat she would retain her post on the school board. Though both jobs are considered part-time, we don't feel anyone can give two such highly responsible jobs — not to mention their regular job — the attention they need.
Lee seems conversant on all issues with which the city deals and suggests he will promote "sound development guidelines" for city neighborhoods. That is particularly important in his district, which has seen — to our thinking — irresponsible growth over the last-decade-plus with houses shoehorned onto tiny lots and hillsides without enough regard to the existing neighborhoods and the infrastructure in place.
He also senses the importance of a role for the city to play in a quality education through the county school system and the creation of new, and the improvement of existing, programs to increase workforce readiness, which will be vital in creating a stronger middle class.
DISTRICT 3: Ken Smith is seeking his third term in representing the Hixson area, and we believe his steady service merits our endorsement. He is opposed by Rachael Torrence, a self-proclaimed libertarian who opposes the county's mask mandate and opposed the closing of businesses last spring to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Smith says he has accomplished all he told Hixson residents he would when he ran initially in 2013, but he says he wants to do more. Among other things, he pushed the senior tax freeze in 2017, helped secure the scheduled building of a $1.5 million conference center at Greenway Farm, partnered to create a new canoe launch on North Chickamauga Creek, collaborated to secure a new playground and greenspace in Murray Hills, assisted in ramping up a record amount of allocated paving dollars in his district, and sought to help harness state and federal funds to continue repairs on crumbling Lake Resort Drive.
DISTRICT 4: Darrin Ledford, an entrepreneur and businessman, is seeking his second term representing the East Brainerd area. We support his bid. Importantly, he also sits on the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, where he says he attempts to balance economic growth and development with issues and concerns of residents. For instance, he says he has insisted on zoning conditions on almost every new development to mitigate traffic problems.
His opponent, Bill Lloyd, president of Signal Centers, has lived in the city for four years and says the district deserves better communication and crisis management from its representative.
DISTRICT 5: Three-term Councilman Russell Gilbert is giving up what was likely a safe seat in this district, which covers parts of the Brainerd and Highway 58 areas, to run for mayor. Five candidates are vying to replace him, and we believe the best prepared of those is Dennis Clark. We have been impressed with him in the past, and supported him in two previous bids for office, but Clark is an enigma. In one of his two previous races, he touted conservative ideas, but his ideas since have been all over the place and lately tended to be more radical. We're not sure who he is. And his recent outsized reaction at a policeman who was tasked with removing or rearranging one of his campaign signs because it was obscuring traffic gave us great pause.
Yet, we're not sure the other earnest candidates in the race, Isiah Hester, Alan "A.J." Holman Sr., Leanne M. Jones and Cynthia G. Stanley-Cash, have Clark's familiarity with politics and governing. And we don't see much of a difference in the views of any of the five. They all support a $15 minimum wage for city workers and all make similar statements about racial equity.
With some hesitancy, we support Clark but suggest the constituents of District 5 very carefully examine the policies and positions of each of the candidates, talk to their neighbors and learn all they can before casting their votes.
DISTRICT 7: Just as in District 6, Councilman Erskine Oglesby is giving up what may have been a safe seat to run for mayor. We greatly admire Oglesby and wish he had run for council again. The two candidates seeking to replace him are Raquetta Dotley, a nonprofit director and church administrator, and Ken Hays, the chief of staff for former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey and former head of the city's Enterprise Center.
Though Dotley has well thought out plans for her district and for the city, we feel Hays — especially because of his familiarity with the workings of government and how things get done — is the right pick for the district. In his various roles over the past 25 years, he has helped secure a new recreation center serving the Alton Park and St. Elmo areas, helped push for the start of Battle and Brown academies, helped found the Mainx24 community block party and helped create the Tech Goes Home digital literacy program.
With Hays on the council, he will be well-placed to assist the city's new mayor in achieving the goals he and others have of more affordable housing, the need for the city to play a role in public education from preschool to workforce training, and ensuring the city's progress is shared by everyone.
DISTRICT 8: Anthony Byrd is running for a second term on the council, and we support his bid for re-election in the downtown, Highland Park and East Lake areas. Open and outgoing, he was a surprise winner in 2017 but quickly got up to speed on how to represent his constituents and work with other council members. Like us, he believes the mayor and council should be closer partners.
He is opposed by D'Andre Anderson, a 21-year-old communications and volunteer coordinator of the Equity Alliance, and activist Marie Mott. We like Anderson's energy but are not sure he is ready to take a position in elected government. Mott, by virtue of her actions at council meetings and in protests around the city, has not shown she could be a cooperative partner in city government.
DISTRICT 9: We supported Demetrus Coonrod in her first bid for city council four years ago and don't see a reason she shouldn't be re-elected. We have opposed her on occasion and cheered her on occasion but believe she has the backs of her East Chattanooga and Eastdale constituents.
With a diverse district, she understands how development must be balanced with strengthening neighborhoods already in place. She also is clear that the COVID-19 vaccine should be promoted and that recovery from the global pandemic will require supporting small businesses and training those who have lost jobs for new employment.
She is opposed by former Hamilton County Election Commissioner and TVA employee Kelvin Scott.