Mayor Andy Berke gives a state of the city speech in which he largely overlooks the economic devastation caused by his and Gov. Bill Lee’s emergency decrees and focusing on the charity and empathy of its residents.
Mayor Berke gives his talk from the studios of WTCI, the taxpayer-subsidized TV station off Bonny Oaks Drive. It is delivered online, absent the annual hoopla, warm crowds and hobnobbing that mark such past events at the Trade Center.
“A mask changes how we look, but we can’t let it change how we see each other,” he says.
Passing over the particulars of the past two months, as it were, Mr. Berke offers what he intends to be a unifying and consoling presentation esteeming the people in Chattanooga and urging them to look past the city’s shrunken fortunes, shuttered businesses and widespread cascading defaults radiating outward into the U.S. economy.
“A hundred and ninety-five Tennesseans *** are now dead” from CV-19, he says. “Thirteen of those lived in our county. Many more are in our hospitals now. And while I applaud the Hamilton County Health Department and their partners for expanding testing, we still have not yet tested even 2 percent of Tennesseans.”
Tennessee has 6.829 milion people and Chattanooga 180,557. The panic over CV-19 seems daily to be an overreaction, given its slight damage into the health of the people.
Large gatherings ‘paused,’ no citations
Mr. Berke suggests that residents support his ban on city life, religion, society and business. He says, mildly, as if not wanting to take credit, “We have paused large gatherings” and that because the people comply gladly with his orders during the CV-19 crisis, “no one in this city has been cited for violating any order of this office, or that of the governor. Chattanoogans know what is right. You always have. *** Across our country, and in our city, Americans are suffering. As we build back, let’s set our aspirations to our noblest purpose.”
Mr. Berke implies limits in law don’t apply because CV-19 is an extraordinary event that cannot be dealt with from within the frame of constitutional government. Rather, ad hoc, by will, he and Gov. Lee impose themselves upon the people.
We are all building this airplane as we fly it. That means taking extraordinary action for these extraordinary circumstances.
And for that, this office has come under some criticism. That’s well and good, but I tell you this: No mayor of any city, and certainly no mayor of this city, should ever apologize for doing what is right by the people of his city.
I welcome everyone, elected or otherwise, Republican or Democrat, who wants to help bind up our wounds. But I will not wait, I will not equivocate, and I will not stop fighting for the people of Chattanooga.
The office of the Mayor exists to protect the health and safety of our city, and the only way I know to discharge my duties faithfully is to put the health and safety of our citizens first. I have done so to the best of my abilities, and I will do so without reservation for as long as our charter grants me that sacred obligation.
Ruined lives, empty checking accounts
Mayor Berke does not have the integrity to deal with the most important criticisms in this speech. Those rebukes are from defenders of the free market, personal liberty, constitutional government and self-determination under the rule of law.
Mayor Berke and the governor, breathing together “to discharge [their] duties faithfully,” have abused Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 68-1-102, power to quarantine. They have directed police power not upon the sick specifically, but upon the healthy generally. This is a reversal of law, a disobedience to its black letters and its intent as laid out by the people in their general assembly.
The people’s rights are overturned in their name, for “the health and safety of our citizens first,” as the mayor says. His acts show he believes there is no limit upon what he can do for the benefit of the people.
Under claim of state necessity, he strangles their rights and places them under house arrest. The quarantine statute requires that whatever Gov. Lee does (via his health commissioner) to fight spread of a disease, he act “with the least inconvenience to commerce and travel,” a duty the two “leaders” ignore.
Mayor Berke can, by personal authority, violate the constitutional guarantees of free assembly and religious conscience. He can violate the ban on martial law, Article 1, section 25, that “dispose of the persons, liberties or property of the citizen.” These are promises in the bill of rights that he and Gov. Lee, together, abrogate in bringing economic depression on all sides, “from Lookout Valley to Shepherd, from Alton Park to Hixson, and everything in between,” to quote Mr. Berke, the loss of livelihood among hundreds of thousands of people.
He gives no sketch as to the outworkings of his orders — no bringing forth the jobless, the insolvent, the locked-at-home feuding couple unable to make the latest Amex bill, the loss of consort between public school teacher and pupil. His speech suggests the status quo ante (prior to CV-19), with only a marginal accounting for his mortmain — his dead hand — upon the people’s estates.
Mayor Berke admits the fruit of executive government. There is “tremendous financial hardship,” an “angel of death” stalking a nursing home patient, Chattanoogans “living on the edge [who] cannot pay their rent” and constituents “desperate for aid. *** Across our country, and in our city, Americans are suffering.”
Mr. Berke overlooks the gravity of the fruit of executive government, guided by national pols and medical models pressed by special interests through media and press. It does not square with the broad reality of economic ruin highlighted today at the Time Free Press, in the story on Page 1 placed over a report about his speech.
The temptation to do so is great. A quarantine of the entire public differs from quake damage or storm wreckage of the kind that struck eastern Chattanooga 18 days ago. Devastation of this sort envisioned in the state law’s emergency statute at Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 58-2-107, emergency management powers of the governor. A police cordon of the wind-hit Brainerd area is proper use of police power in a civil emergency; roadblocks against thousands of businesses and churches are not. A flu outbreak such as CV-19 does not trigger such powers, no matter many times per minute presidential advisers contradict themselves, as Mr. Berke avers they do.
Neutron bomb theory of law
Mayor Berke suggests he is deceived by the result of his and Gov. Lee’s acts. Buildings on Market and Broad are standing. Roads are in order. Stoplights work. Power lines stand erect in long rows. Sidewalks are tidy. Trailer parks are intact. Bans on church, travel and commerce are a neutron bomb — it explodes, killing all life and habitation in a city while leaving the structures standing. A special weapon for a special people.
Obedience to law requires each person be addressed individually, not as part of an undifferentiated plastic mass. One is faced with state power either as a regulated party or as one criminally accused.
Due process rights attach to the individual in a judicial setting; no man or woman can be ordered about as by a military or police command, apart from due process. Mayor Berke’s personal manner and rhetorically stirring of affection are fake; he refuses to uphold the law that requires a truly personal connection between the state and a citizen within its border, a truly individual address.
The dumb question each citizen should ask is this: Do your executive orders comply with the Tennessee constitution?
If Mayor Berke says “Yes,” our rights are unmolested, and we can ignore your orders as our lives require. If he says, “No,” they don’t comply with the constitution, we can ignore the orders. They are not voidable merely, but void. Nullities.
Mayor Berke and Gov. Lee cannot have it both ways. Either they have rescinded the law by their edicts, and their orders are mere suggestions, unenforceable. Or they have acted in respect of the supreme laws, and their orders are only upon those exercising state privileges, licenses and permits — and not upon the private citizen in his liberty, with the people free to ignore them without peril.
These officials pretend that they are lawful government, and that nothing has changed as to the peace and tranquility of the people.
Mayor Berke uses the word “locked” 11 times in his speech — usually in reference to locked doors.
Overwhelmingly, Chattanoogans know that our city isn’t in the storm or behind the locked door, but in the still, small ways we are embracing one another. But embracing one another right now means keeping our physical distance and putting health first. That is what is best for Chattanoogans; it is also what is best for business. Workers must feel confident that going back to their jobs will not threaten theirs or their families’ health.
Consumers will only return to restaurants, shops, and other establishments if they know it is safe to do so. I know many of us feel like the doors may remain locked forever.
Mr. Berke’s speech is very well crafted and artfully written. He is a man not troubled with deep empathy or feeling, it appears, but a technocrat, highly trained, good at stimulating empathy in others and simulating it in himself. His speech is finely, finely tuned, full of synthesis, rejecting of the antithesis that state law and the constitution — and Christianity — require.
His approachable manner and seemingly personal appeal are a fraud. Berke is a seducer and a hypocrite. He acts by design, not by mistake. He operates with culpable knowledge (mens rea) and direct intent. He won’t apologize, won’t go back, won’t change course, won’t make it right, won’t compensate the people for government’s lawless takings.
The locked doors in his state of the city speech have not been locked from inside the foyer, but from the porch.