What do the three men running for mayor in Chattanooga’s elections today need to learn from the last few mayors?
I voted for Ron Littlefield eight years ago. He’s been a lifelong bureaucrat, so we expected him to run his administration fairly well. Nothing much happened during his first term, so it seemed he was indeed running a capable administration, if not getting as much done for Chattanooga’s homeless as he might have liked.
Four years ago he had a longshot opponent whose name and issues I forget. I didn’t vote in that election. I didn’t see any reason to try to put Littlefield out, and he didn’t need my help to win.
Littlefield stormwater oops
In his second term, it turned out the city wanted a hefty tax increase. And the sewers couldn’t handle stormwater, so the EPA demanded expensive fixes. The mayor hadn’t run on a tax increase and a sewer fee increase. If these had surprised him, he was less competent than I’d thought. If he knew about them and didn’t consult the voters, he was sneaky. He wanted another $200 per year out of my pocket? At least let him ask up front.
And the mayor wanted to annex into the city some pieces of land whose owners didn’t want into the city with city taxes. He hadn’t run on annexation either.
Some Chattanoogans organized a petition to hold an election to recall the mayor. They got enough signatures under some laws — more signatures, I think, than he had gotten votes — but instead of facing the voters on the issues he’d sprung on us after his re-election, Mayor Littlefield’s lawyers appealed to technicalities (signatures weren’t dated right) and to state law (more signatures required), and prevented a recall election.
Corker’s two-way step
Bob Corker, the previous mayor, a businessman, seems to have run his administration well enough, except that he hadn’t made much progress fixing the sewers to head off the problems that bubbled up later. Corker’s big program was to turn McCallie Avenue and M.L. King/Bailey Avenue (its name changes in mid-town) from one-way streets into two-way, at a cost of around F$2 million. He had not run on this; he sprang it on us after the election. A petition was organized to put the change to a vote. Like Littlefield, Corker evaded a vote, showing the same nasty arrogance.
And lying. One argument for two-way was the claim that minor cross streets between McCallie and Bailey were busy because of one-way. That’s nonsense. For years I lived between McCallie and Bailey, taking one to work and the other home. The cross streets were dead as a doornail. One-way worked fine. The only dent I ever got on those streets happened after the switch to two-way. McCallie one-way was easier to jaywalk than two-way. So Corker wasted a couple million dollars on an arrogant surprise. (I’m not saying it’d be worth another two million to change back, unless Sen. Corker, a rich man, were to offer the city the money and the traffic engineers approved.)
Before that came Jon Kinsey, another businessman. Having been elected, he decided the city should take over the water company that pipes water to Chattanooga homes. Like Littlefield and Corker, he sprang an arrogant surprise on the people. The water company fought off the takeover bid.
The city should let other water companies compete inside the city limits, rather than using law to create a monopoly to make one company rich; but let the city stick to policing — and get out of businesses. Kinsey lasted one term.
Self-restraint under Mayor Roberts
Gene Roberts was mayor before Kinsey. The thing I remember from his administration is that one or two of his budgets actually spent fewer dollars than he’d spent the year before. How many politicians can claim that? The twice I met him — once in church and once in a parking lot — he showed me courtesy beyond the call of duty. His Feb. 7 editorial obituary in the Chattanooga Times Free Press mentions some impressive things from his four terms (though he didn’t fix the sewers to EPA standards).
So what for our next mayor? Look for things the city doesn’t need to be doing, such as Memorial Auditorium, and stop doing them. (Sell it.) Look for monopolies the city is propping up, such as the Tennessee-American Water Co., and open the door for competition. (Ask the Institute for Justice, which came here to strike down Tennessee’s funeral-home coffin monopoly, for help in this matter.) If Tennessee props up monopolies, as by regulating barbers or cabbies or refusing cost-saving vouchers to those who leave the expensive public schools, ask Tennessee to change or to let Chattanooga be an “enterprise zone” with fewer regulations.
Sir, tell us what you plan to do
Messrs. Berke, Satterfield, Heathington: Do you have any signature projects you’d like to do, such as two-way or annexation? Tell us before the election; otherwise you have no mandate to do them. Do you see any big problems heading for Chattanooga, such as the sewer fee increase? If so, tell us now and tell us how you plan to deal with them. We hire you to make zillions of little decisions, but will you put big obvious things such as two-way on the ballot for us to give you orders?
Andy Berke has chosen to run as a pig in a poke, offering so few statistics that even his friends at the Chattanooga Times sounded nervous. I’m going with Guy Satterfield for mayor and the Free Press endorsements (Andrae McGary in my district.)
— Andrew Lohr offers tutoring at chattanooga.universitytutor.