Newly elected City Council member Raquetta Dotley’s early life in Chattanooga included living in the Boone-Hysinger, later Harriet Tubman, housing project off Roanoke Avenue in East Chattanooga.
But in just a few years, she has gone from being part of a family in slight need to someone who is ready to help lead.
On March 2, she edged Ken Hays, the former chief of staff under Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey and former CEO of The Enterprise Center, to win the open District 7 seat that had been vacated when former Councilman Erskine Oglesby decided to make an unsuccessful bid for mayor.
Despite the fact she has not quite reached age 40 and is holding elected public office for the first time, she has admittedly been preparing for such a position for a long time through community volunteer work and even attending City Council meetings.
And she already has plenty of ideas in mind to help her district and city now that she is in office.
“I want to see more diverse development….so we can all grow together,” she said, citing such needs as affordable housing, good infrastructure, thriving businesses, and equity and inclusion.
“I want to see the resources split out more evenly.”
Ms. Dotley represents a district that many consider the most diverse of the nine areas that each elect a City Council representative. District 7 includes South Chattanooga, the East Lake area, St. Elmo, such areas as Jefferson Heights off Main Street and such upper scale riverfront residential areas as Cameron Harbor and Battery Place.
“As far as ethnicity, you have everything, and socio-economical as well, and you have a wide range of views and a wide range of people and a wide range of needs in a small space,” she said.
The diversity was made evident even in the campaign by the two candidates, as she is black and Mr. Hays is white.
Ms. Dotley works as well as lives in her district, and she grew up not far from there either. But while living her early years in the now-razed housing project in the eastern part of Chattanooga where the sun rises first, she always had an equally sunny outlook.
Her mother, Cheryle Thomas, has worked for 35 years at what is now the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant and serves as a union stewardess there. Ms. Dotley also thought she might like to be a State Farm insurance agent like someone whose name caught her eye, and maybe live in a nice condominium. And that kept her dreaming at a young age while attending Mary Ann Garber and Orchard Knob elementaries, as well as Orchard Knob Middle School.
“I never viewed my life as something bad,” she said.
Not long before graduating from Brainerd High in 2000, though, she had resigned herself to finding a typical job after high school. But it was her Brainerd guidance/college counselor, a Ms. Delk, who set her on the path that eventually led to being elected to the City Council. In an encouraging manner, Ms. Delk told her she could do better than that and that she needed to go to college.
“My family had always worked, and I didn’t plan to go to college,” Ms. Dotley said. “But she had me fill out some college applications and I got accepted. I got a scholarship to UTC, and I said that I will give it a try. And it was one of the best things I could have done.”
After UTC, she was able to find work in – yes – the insurance field as she had once dreamed. But soon she began to realize that maybe her life calling was in life assurance instead of insurance.
“The job didn’t align with my best self,” she said in reflection.
She instead felt a calling to do more ministerial work, a calling that led to working at Westside Missionary Baptist Church just south of West 38th Street and also going to Temple Baptist Seminary that was formerly part of Tennessee Temple.
She has been a youth minister there and today serves as church administrator and also oversees the church’s Net Resource Foundation, which focuses on mentoring and community building in South Chattanooga. One of the church/community projects she has been involved in recently has been efforts to turn a small space by the church into a park/garden with volunteer help.
Ms. Dotley also early on helped volunteer with the group Servant Leadership Christian Fellowship, which was involved in such work as encouraging people to vote through a “souls to the polls” program.
She helped do a candidates forum with them and realized she loved planning and doing organizing work with civic groups. She later became the social action leader for her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, and also became active with such other groups as the Voters Coalition and Equity Alliance.
She had definitely found her niche and calling by being busy and involved in volunteer work. She also helped Ann Jones Pierre in a 2018 unsuccessful school board race.
“She was so helpful,” she said of Ms. Pierre.
That and regularly attending City Council meetings led her to make the decision to run this year for City Council. After learning incumbent Oglesby was on board after he was making his plans to run for mayor, she vigorously began campaigning.
As most who campaign hard for office will admit, the work can be quite grueling, whether one wins or loses.
“Campaigning is very difficult,” she said. “You should be knocking on every door and calling as many people as you can. But knowing I had the community’s support made it easier for me.”
She added that she was greatly aided by the help of key campaign team members Al Douglas, Karley Dodson and Akil Lloyd, among others.
From her previous experience helping with the Pierre campaign and her civic volunteer work, she realized it is always important for a candidate to have a footprint in the community and that people you serve should know who you are.
On March 2, she enjoyed the fruits of her labor with a 1,333-to-1,037 victory over the also-popular Mr. Hays.
Now that she has been elected, she has been busily – but enjoyably – serving, she said. She goes to sometimes three City Council meetings on Tuesday, tries to continue working with her church by compartmentalizing her time, and communicates with constituents.
She said that when she has gotten an email or call from someone, she tries to be able to give them pertinent information, and not a standard line that she will check and get back to them.
“You don’t need to know everything, but you need to know a little about everything,” she said.
What she is also aware of is that she has found her place in the world trying to be civically involved in community service for good.
“I strive to be the best person I can be and be the best servant to God I can be and serve God’s people,” she said.