A conservative member of Chattanooga City Council is running for mayor in a field whose contestants are not yet known.
Larry Grohn is an evangelical Christian and has been active in local Tea Party events and presentations. He opposed live-in partner benefits pushed by the gay supporters on the council and was active among activists who voted to overturn the ordinance.
At a press conference Tuesday on the steps of City Hall, Mr. Grohn stands amid a lake of signs held by 17 supporters on the rising steps behind him.
The rule of Mayor Andy Berke, a well connected liberal Democratic, has lacked accountability to the city corporation’s residents and taxpayers, he says.
— Aloofness at City Hall. “It’s very difficult for anyone to have a meeting with the administration,” he says, promising to be more accessible.
— The violence reduction initiative, or VRI, “is considered by most citizens *** as a failure,” he says. It promised to make the city safer, “but bullets are still flying, people are still dying in many sections of our sections people are living in fear. We need to change this. Can we change it? Absolutely! *** We believe in better for our city.”
In an interview he says he would like the city to have a better relationship with the district attorney and that law enforcement agencies would do better to have more trust among themselves.
A VRI program in Commerce City, Colo, where he taught for 10 years, succeeded by putting 40 gang members in prison using RICO, the federal racketeering and corrupt organizations act, Mr. Grohn says.
— Free market stagnation at city core. Mr. Grohn attacks the “lack of affordable housing” and limited opportunity. He sees “no sustainable effort over several administrations that address this problem. *** We must address the decline of the urban core around the downtown area of Chattanooga. If all of our citizens are not able to enjoy the prosperity that is currently available in this city, we are not doing our job as citizens. This issue can and will be addressed — and why? Because I believe — and you believe — in better.”
Implied in his comments are positive city government action rather than a retreat from existing forms of state and city intervention in the free market.
— Potholes. Mayor Berke and the council have done much for roads, but not enough, Mr. Grohn says. His first budget would have $5 million “to at least maintain our street infrastructure,” that being a level of spending he says had been recommended years ago by city engineers as a minimal level.
Question on ‘surplus oppression’? ‘We were wrong’
David Tulis: “The police department is an executive agency that responds to and serves the mayor. If it weren’t for the mayor, the executive branch, it wouldn’t necessarily exist. You could say, ‘we are abolishing the police department.’ That would be in you authority as the chief executive of the city. In light of the Hanson Melvin case last week where there was an accusation made under false statement by an officer, no probable cause in the arrest; the case was dismissed with prejudice Friday [by Judge Don Poole] — that suggests a kind of surplus oppression by that organization. Do you view it that way, or are police good people trying to make it safer — or is something oppressive about things such as that against that black man, Hanson Melvin?
Larry Grohn: “I am tremendously supportive of our firefighters and our police department. I think they’re out there doing the best job they are able to right now under this administration. Do we have outliers that take place? Absolutely. Does our police department need to be held accountable for all situations like this? Absolutely.
“But we need to have all the facts before us, also. In this particular case, we were wrong. And corrective actions have and will continue to be made when we have officers that step out of line.”
$1 billion in debt okay?
I ask about the debt level of the city corporation, approaching $1 billion while the net worth of the city is $3 billion.
“That level is not out of kilter. We are limited by law on how much we can borrow. Of course, as we continue to have development and build up our economic base within the city limits, that limit can rise. But it is an issue we need to address. We retire about $15 [million] to $16 million of debt a year.
“Is the (sewer) consent decree and the $250 million we’re having to pay for that an issue?” Mr. Grohn says. “Yes. But we have a AAA bond rating that lowered our service of that debt to $160 million. So we’re in much better shape than a whole bunch of municipalities in the South.”
— David Tulis says he is the blogger with the city’s biggest pen — writing at Nooganomics.com and hosting a morning talk show on AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.