If there is no apocalypse within the next two months, the city of Chattanooga will most probably elect Andy Berke as its next mayor. He will join Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger in doing what is right and best for the most wonderful community I could ever imagine. But as the first minutes of a New Year begin, I hope that in 2013 we can all join hands to be better. The time has come for us – all together – to move forward because, in the last year, we did not.
My strongest hope in 2013 is that we will consolidate our city and our county in much the same way that has proven so successful in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville. I know people in those three cities are really stupid but I don’t care if you call it “home rule” or “the C word (consolidation)” or whatever.
The best thing that could happen to all of us is to ride in the same boat. I want no one to lose a job or take a decrease in pay but enough with our petty rivalries and foolishness!
Oh, I know that’s a big and tough pill to swallow. There are feisty politicians who desperately want to save their jobs. There are the racists who are intent in their prejudice towards our inner city, and there are the naysayers, who rise up as “The Legion of Miserable” against anything in order to drag someone bearing any bold idea back down to their level.
But I can easily see where our community could consolidate so many services and therefore save many millions of dollars. Never has the crush for money been as earnest as it is today for our Human Services, the various organizations who serve our needy, and our schools – lordy! –it has gotten to the point where if we don’t serve at least two free meals a day we have children in our city who will go hungry (and it is not their fault!)
Further, it is absolutely shameful and beyond comprehension that our county woefully underfunds our Level 1 trauma center – Erlanger – and that the city of Chattanooga gives nary a dime in the face of – what? – one “uninsured” shooting per week. Hamilton County gives $1.5 million in funds to Erlanger but elsewhere around the state general hospitals are commonly funded at 20 times that amount. Our hospital desperately needs money – Chattanooga’s indigents are soaking it dry!
What are we thinking! I am assured that the Hamilton County delegation of our state legislators will finally forge a new hospital authority within the next two months, which I pray will resurrect Erlanger, but locally our elected officials – and perhaps for sound reason given recent leadership – have neglected the most important medical center we have for emergencies and common healthcare alike. And don’t get me started on the glaring needs at Children’s Hospital – the only resource for any child we have for 100 miles.
It is common knowledge that the chief of the Chattanooga Police Department, a wonderful guy named Bobby Dodd, and the sheriff of Hamilton County, my close friend Jim Hammond, have a rift so ridiculous our top two law-enforcement leaders don’t speak to one another. I adore them both but it is time somebody puts on a steel-toed boot and we end such utter nonsense. I’m talking about a kickin’ this week because we, the public, are not being best served as a result.
Think about it; law enforcement is crucial and, with today’s stream of wackos, it has never been so imperative. The Chattanooga Police Department – right now – is the best and most able force in Chattanooga’s history but we treat them like swine. They are underpaid, underfunded and under-appreciated, yet they tireless plug along, doing a magnificent job until hopefully soon a strong somebody takes notice and gets our police what they need and deserve.
Our sheriff’s department is a gemstone. What Jim Hammond has done to enliven it and better his officers is unbelievable but now he’s talking about being forced to park patrol cars in order to feed a badly-overcrowded jail? Please, this is imperative stuff! We need a greater presence on county roads if anything – just check the obits for car crashes, tragic accidents and the other horrors of our daily lives.
Put me in charge of the money we would save with “home rule.” Our police officers, our nurses and our teachers – all who are forced to put up with the very worst citizenry we can offer – would be high on my list of things we need to fix in a hurry. But one thing we can do immediately is snuff out any jealousies or even greater problems that may exist between our city and county public servants.
Magnify the city-versus-county squabbles that take place every day like grade-school bullies on a playground. If you’ll just think about law enforcement in our community like this: if we took all of our city and county investigators, our analysts, both staffs and two entirely different technological systems and merged them into one, our new arm of law enforcement would have more strength and savvy that the two that today can barely hang on.
Let’s do the same things with our streets department – duh, it doesn’t take an Einstein. How about parks and recreation? What are we thinking! I am still very bitter over an apartment fire in East Ridge and the fact that two city of Chattanooga battalions of splendid firefighters were less than two miles away in two different directions but neither rolled. What, there is an insurance clause that prohibits it? Fire the underwriter tomorrow! Last year there were times when we were proven idiots!
So let’s make this the year “we” – all of us – get better. We’ll never be the best – that’s reserved for when you die – but every day we can get better. I am looking directly at County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who has been magnificent so far, to now grab the bull by the horns. I don’t know Andy Berke, but I pray he has a vision and determination to put city over self when he takes office. I also pray that a new gathering of County Commissioners and City Council persons will finally cry in a collective way, “Enough!”
We’ll never become “the dream city” as long as we allow the nightmares we had in 2012. We must do better every day. And we must do it together.