Downtown Chattanooga Alliance Getting Ambassadors Into Action; Some Assessments Not Paid, Leaving Group With Projected Shortfall

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 - by Joseph Dycus

The Downtown Chattanooga Alliance has big plans for its ambassadors for the rest of the year. Executive director Steve Brookes laid out what he expects from the ambassadors for the former “Business Improvement District” during his Wednesday presentation.

“We really want to make sure that we have ambassadors out in key areas where foot traffic is, so that people looking for advice or recommendations know what to do next, like where to park their car.”

He said that COVID-19 has disrupted their plans, and forced the DCA to alter them to cope with the new reality. He said there is a “visible” difference in regards to the cleanliness of the streets post-COVID. Mr. Brookes also spoke about some of the other tasks ambassadors will have in the district.

“We want to let the folks working in the buildings know we are here,” he said. “And at a lot of times of the day, if they would like someone to accompany them to the parking lot, then we can have them do it.”

Mr. Brookes also provided an update on Block by Block. He said the info-cart is on the way, which is a “stationary piece of equipment” which will have brochures and other pieces of information contained in it. An ambassador will man this cart, and will be there to help people.

Mr. Brookes also brought up the DCA’s plan for providing social services. With a large homeless population in the downtown area, ambassadors will need to interact with that population on a regular basis.

“I need those relationships and we need to work with people who are experiencing homelessness, mental health problems, and addiction,” Mr. Brookes said. “So when the day comes and they are ready and want to take their first step, we can help them.”

Board member Gordon Stalans also gave the DCA board a brief overview of the district’s current finances. He said through the end of June, the DCA has collect around $770,000, and is still owed $140,000 in assessments.

“All of those property owners have been contacted,” Mr. Stalans said. “I know some of those did come in July, I just don’t know the total yet, and we’ll keep our eye on that and keep working that number.”

Mr. Stalans said that leaves the DCA $90,000 short of the budget. The DCA is also working with local company EPB on a sponsorship of some form, which would take the place of a donation given by EPB in the past.

“I’m trying to see what they need for us to do something of use for marketing,” Mr. Brookes said. He said Mr. Stalans is waiting for an invoice before moving forward.

Also, members of the board voted to act in accordance with the Tennessee Open Records Act during their Wednesday meeting. Chairman Steve Hunt proposed this after being given legal advice from a local law firm. 

“I reached out to Rachel Ruiz at Miller and Martin, and she has corresponded with the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office on our behalf,” said Mr. Hunt. “So she wanted to ask whether or not the Alliance is included as a line item on the city of Chattanooga’s annual report to the state.”

Mr. Hunt said the Alliance counts as a “discreetly presented component of the city of Chattanooga” because the City Council has to review and ultimately approve the DCA’s budget every year. While the CDA is technically separate organizations, the elected officials are still accountable for them.

Because of this, Mr. Hunt said the DCA has been advised to follow the Tennessee Open Records Act. He also said the DCA has been advised that if the organization found itself in a conflict with a person or entity on the Act, then a court would probably say the DCA is the “functional equivalent of a government entity.”

“For the reasons that I’ve just given and the reasons she explained, I would like to entertain a motion that the DCA adhere to the requirements of the Tennessee Open Records Act,” he said.

Board member Donald O’Connor said he supported the DCA adhering to the Open Records Act regardless of whether or not the organization is legally obligated to.

“I would like to remake the motion I made at the end of last month’s meeting,” O’Connor said.  “Whether or not we are required to follow the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, that we make it our policy to follow this Act.”

Chairman Hunt did point out that even if the DCA now adheres to the Open Records Act, there are still documents and records that do not need to be known by the public.

“The correspondence with our legal counsel is exempt from public inspection during open process,” Mr. Hunt said. “I would like to remind the group that any texts or personal messages or personal emails that are BID related are often misunderstood to not apply to the open records act, when they do indeed apply.”

 

 

 


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