City Council Mulling Possible Meeting Room Renovations To Deal With Safety Concerns

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - by Joseph Dycus

The Chattanooga City Council’s assembly room may look a little different by the new year. During the strategic planning meeting, the council mulled some possible renovations of their customary meeting place at the quarters behind City Hall at Lindsay and 10th. However, some council members do not want to move so fast.

One of the issues the council has with the current arrangement is the location of the clerk. As it stands, the clerk sits close to the dais, and in close vicinity to the regular citizens. Because of this, a renovation costing over $100,000 has been considered.

Councilwoman Carol Berz pointed out that these renovations had never been discussed by the council itself, saying, “I realized we’d never had a discussion about any of this. I ask that we take a breather, and figure out how much is going on.”

Councilman Erskine Ogelsby replied by telling her, “We were talking about ways to make it safer, obviously council has to approve things. So this is a good time to have this conversation and see if we want to move forward with it.”

Justin Holland, administrator for the department of public works, was on hand to discuss this possible renovation. He said to the council, “We’d talked about some concerns with safety for the clerk with their back to the audience. We talked about ways we could make that interaction with the clerk a little bit better.”

He said one possible idea would be to create a wall of sorts in between the clerk and the audience. Mr. Holland also said the back row of seats could be removed, creating a wider walkway, and thus funneling “traffic” away from the front of the room where the clerk sits.

When Councilman Russell Gilbert asked about a possible time frame, Mr. Holland said, “The time frame we gave our contractor was very tight, which was Christmas to the new year season. This affects the cost.”

Councilman Darrin Ledford wanted to know if there was any way for the council to see plans or schematics of this proposed renovation, so the council could make revisions and suggestions to the contractor.

“We presented a first draft, just to get a budget,” said Mr. Holland, “And yes, that would be appropriate. I have the current draft, and it’s very detailed,” saying he could supply each council member with the draft.

After Councilman Chip Henderson suggested the clerk simply be moved to a different spot, rather than such drastic renovations, Councilwoman Berz interjected. She reiterated her previous statement, saying the council had not yet even discussed this beforehand, and wondered why there was such a rush to get this done.

“First of all, there has never been any council discussion about it for any approval of whatever money we have left,” said Councilwoman Berz, “It seemed like it got fast-tracked before we got any input on it. We are perhaps wiping out money for whatever we might want to do.”

As she alluded to, the funds for this renovation would come out of the council’s own budget. Councilman Henderson echoed Councilwoman Berz’s opinion, and suggested a solution to the council’s monetary issue.

“I think it needs to be looked at as a construction project, and not something out of our budget,” said the councilman, “If we’re going to make changes, we need to look at it and think it out. I don’t think we need to try to rush this out by Christmas.”

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