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Mayor Andy Berke talks earlier this month about plans to clean up the former R.L. Stowe Mills site in Lupton City.
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Mayor Andy Berke speaks to a large crowd answering questions Monday night at the first of two forums. The National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Chattanooga Chapter, INC. sponsored the forum at the Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church on N. Moore Road in Brainerd.
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Peak Performance

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Making 2016 the best Berke year yet

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Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke says opponent Larry Grohn is mistaking an employee's school homework for damning evidence of Berke's wider ambitions.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Grohn passed out copies of documents he said show Berke's "major focus" in recent months has been Nashville and Washington, D.C., rather than the city he is hoping to govern for a second term.

He said the papers were detailed plans for Berke in anticipation of either a federal appointment under President Hillary Clinton or a 2018 gubernatorial run.

"Chattanooga is Andy Berke's third choice of where he wants to be," Grohn said in a printed statement. "Based upon his personal calendars, to even the casual observer, the facts show Andy Berke does not want to be in Chattanooga at all.

"The last four years of the Berke Administration have been a PR campaign to promote Andy Berke for his gubernatorial run. What Chattanooga needs now more than ever is a mayor who is focused on Chattanooga and issues facing all the people," Grohn said.

The charge set Berke chuckling Thursday afternoon, saying Grohn was misinterpreting documents created by Chief of Staff Stacy Richardson as part of her studies for a master's degree in public administration.

Richardson said Thursday evening she is getting her master's through the University of Southern California and "Peak Performance" was a class assignment while the Berke 2016 calendar was for the re-election.

"This is one of the best laughs we've gotten in the last year," Berke said after meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board Thursday.

The first presentation, "Making 2016 the Best Berke Year Yet," is a month-by-month calendar of state and nationwide travel aimed at building a "statewide brand" and raising campaign cash. For example, a "key event" on the February 2016 page was "PAC FR WT 25K GOAL," or raising $25,000 from political action committees.

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Mayoral candidate Larry Grohn speaks to a large crowd answering questions Monday night at the first of two forums. The National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Chattanooga Chapter, INC. sponsored the forum at the Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church on N. Moore Road in Brainerd.

Grohn sees that as Berke "gearing up to make his governor's run." Berke said it's the plan for his re-election campaign. And what Grohn characterized as "key visits out of state" to Washington and Salt Lake City listed in the plan, Berke said were trips to the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting and an early childhood education conference.

The second document, "Reaching Peak Performance," deals with plans to hire and train staff and resolve problems and complaints at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Grohn said it "details a plan of action during the first 200 days of a presumed appointment" to the USDA had Clinton not lost to Republican Donald Trump.

Well, it does, the mayor said, but not for him. He said the "Peak Performance" document was a class assignment in which Richardson was to assume she herself had been appointed to the federal agency.

Grohn didn't say where he got the documents. Berke's campaign manager, Tyler Yount, said Richardson posted them publicly on the Prezi webinar site so she could access them and present in class.

He noted that Berke's name did not appear a single time in either document.

Berke said Grohn's misinterpretation was good for a laugh.

"We appreciate the opportunity to have a little bit of humor in the middle of the campaign," he said. At the same time, he added, "This desperate attempt at a negative attack is what's wrong with politics."

Former City Councilman David Crockett and architectural consultant Chris Long are also seeking the mayor's seat. The election is March 7.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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