Mayor-elect Tim Kelly says economic development and investing in early childhood education are two points of emphasis for his administration over the next four years. Mr. Kelly, on the day after his election runoff victory, said he has spoken to most of the City Council members and people within the city, and said investing in preschool education is an “easy sale.”
“The science is crystal-clear, right?,” the former auto dealer said in a Wednesday afternoon interview.
“By the time a child is six years old, their brain is wired and he or she will be on a path that you can change, but it’s more difficult to change after that.”
He linked economic development with education, saying that bringing in high-paying jobs is essential. However, he said that unless Chattanooga’s education system is improved, those high-paying jobs will go to people from out-of-town.
“That’s where education comes in, because if we don’t have a fully functional education system, which has been the case in the past, employers have no choice but to look elsewhere,” Mr. Kelly said. “So I look forward to working with Dr. Johnson and continuing the push to excellence in the K-12 system.”
The mayor-elect said he is not looking to downsize city government, but said he wants his administration to become more streamlined. He said that currently, the city government works in such a way that is convenient for the city government, and not the taxpayers.
“One guiding principle is that we may be looking at a director of special events, where if stakeholders engage with the city, they should be able to get everything they need from one department, rather than being shuttled from department to department,” Mr. Kelly said.
He also said that his administration will emphasize neighborhood development, and stated that several neighborhoods have been “sorely neglected.” He said his administration will focus on building infrastructure within those neighborhoods and building up business there.
The mayor-elect spoke about his administration’s plan for addressing racial inequity, and said it is a complex issue. He believes investing in education leads to economic development, which can fight against this issue.
“We’re looking forward to implementing the findings of the disparity study,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’re speaking with a consultant to come in and help us with that right away, so we can ramp it up ASAP.”
Mr. Kelly said he and County Mayor Jim Coppinger have a “very good” relationship, and that the two will work closely with one another over the next four years. He said he believes Chattanooga can “simulate the benefits of metro government” if the city and county work together.
He said both he and Mayor Coppinger are focused on addressing homelessness in Chattanooga. He said one planned solution is to convert city-owned property into affordable housing, and to use federal aid to assist in addressing homelessness as well.
“The city and the county will be getting a big chunk of federal aid, and I’ve already spoken to Commissioner Tim Boyd and Mayor Coppinger,” Mr. Kelly said. “I think we have some great opportunities there.”
In addition to his amicable relationship with the county mayor, Mr. Kelly said he and police chief David Roddy are on good terms. He said the two are “on the same page and philosophically aligned.” Mr. Kelly also said one of his main goals is restoring trust between the community and the police department, and what he called “decriminalizing poverty.”
“I don’t want to be locking people up for reasons that are fundamentally economic and not criminal,” Mr. Kelly said. “So it’s making sure the city doesn’t have perverse incentives to increase revenue by criminalizing people and ruining their lives for things like unpaid parking tickets. It’s a lot to unpack here.”
Mr. Kelly said his administration is planning on having a third party non-profit act as a an entity that can keep track of his administration’s progress over the next four years.
“We’ll keep track of our own metrics over time, and I’m a huge fan of another thing called the Boston Indicator’s project,” Mr. Kelly said. “I look forward to talking to our non-profit community about the possibility of reconstituting something along those lines, so we have a third-party and disinterested and apolitical entity that cannot be spun, who can keep track of our progress over time.”