Roy Exum: Let The VRI R.I.P.

Monday, January 29, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

When Chattanooga’s City Council unanimously agreed not to vote on the Father-to-the-Fatherless program in the Mayor’s Violence Reduction Initiative last week, it was hardly what it appeared. The City Council knows better than the rest of us that the mentoring program for children is wonderful. But the City Council must first and foremost be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.

The fact the two-year $600,000 contract has been expired since November speaks volumes about the F2F (lack of) leadership but the real reason the City Council balked was because allegedly a fat 80 percent of the budget was for salaries. That works out to about $260,000 per year and, trust me, there is nobody from here to Cincinnati who can rationalize such foolishness.

Council member Jerry Mitchell was right when he decried a lack of communication between the F2F and the City Council but he was further on point when he hinted the entire Initiative should get a full-body scan. Mayor Berke should be applauded for leading the charge but the VRI has not performed as well as it should and a lot of money has been dumped into it with poor yield.

It’s much like the elegant lady told the bartender at a local hotel after she took a delicate but forceful pull off her tall drink last Saturday night: “Excuse me, sugah, but I can’t seem to taste the gin.”

Jerry feels exactly as I do. The VRI needs to involve the community, not some “consultant” from very far away. From where I sit the city should form a strong coalition that would include the police department, the Sheriff’s office (remember, they run the jail), the public, the clergy and – for heaven’s sake – our Department of Education. Add any other group with “skin in the game” but what you will find is there are no better experts than we’ve already got.

When the VRI began some guy from up north came down here with charts and graphs and all the other tricks in a carpetbagger’s satchel. But I’ll bet you any amount you want me to hold there is no way he knows more about us than we do. Let’s use common sense for a change.

The first step is for Mayor Berke to sit down with the county’s Mayor, Jim Coppinger, and for those two to get in tandem. The dumbest thing about the City of Chattanooga and the County of Hamilton is that they treat each other like separate planets. We, The taxpayers, could save untold millions with some type of metro government. We could finance an entirely new school building easily each year with what we’d save in government costs.

Don’t get me started on that. Chattanooga has the best fire department in a couple of states but if there is a fire outside the city limits, those boys are told they can’t “roll” in an alarm. I’m talking that’s brazen nuts! For the city to stiff Erlanger after that hospital alone treated 147 people who were shot inside its city limits in 2017 in unpardonable. If you’ve got a pencil, let’s figure an average shooting bills out about $25,000 and none of the victims have insurance.

Because the schools are under the umbrella of the county, our school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies. But under the city’s VRI, the guys with the most hands-on knowledge aren’t included in the conversation. Virtually every gang member goes to the city’s public schools. Hello?

Under a coalition format, you could seat every player in the game at the table. If our Juvenile Court Clerk, Gary Behler, could sit in a room with like-minded people who are tired of violence, do you even suspect that would be better that the hodge-podge we have now?

Face it, every Southern city has violence problems. None of them are the same. There is no one-size-fits-all. Memphis, Birmingham, Nashville and Atlanta are huge metropolitan areas but as the smaller cities try to cope with gangs and drugs and a stunning proportion of black-on-black shootings, every horizon is different.

There is a profound need for children – both boys and girls – to be mentored. But the far greater challenge is a fluid and constant improving method to contain the violence that the city of Chattanooga is known for on this very day.

The Father-to-the-Fatherless debacle should “rest-in-peace” and dig the grave double-wide so we can toss in a very tired VRI that ran hard but never won a race. Yes, people can boast our shooting incidents were down in 2017 when compared to 2016 … hip! hip! hooray! – but the better honesty is when you go from 159 in ’16 to only 11 less in ’17, you ain’t saved as much as a roll of gauze in rising medical costs.

A coalition, with teeth, is where we ought to be going and the only way it will work is to involve the city and the county agencies working to get … yes, one terrific community. Ours.

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

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“A single leaf working alone provides no shade.” -- Chuck Page

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“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” -- African Proverb

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“Individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean.” – Unknown

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“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan

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