Aloyse Brown criticizes Hamilton County government for a backlog of school maintenance. In her next breath, she criticizes a county budget that raised taxes. If Ms. Brown attended the same community forums I did, she would know that the budget changes were made, in no small part, to address spending on physical needs at Hamilton County schools.
Ms. Brown’s gambit strikes me as being too clever by half. Advocating for transparency need not subvert the normal workings of representative government. I am not aware of any circumvention of the normal budgeting and deliberative process when the county approved new funding. Surely Ms. Brown is not advocating for a New England-style process that has led so many communities to bloated budgets, analysis paralysis, and excessive government indebtedness.
I worry that Ms. Brown’s positions seek to create a Catch 22 whose ramifications she may not appreciate. When Ms. Brown speaks out of both sides of her mouth to take shots at the current county government, she risks creating the very barriers to responsible governance and budgeting that she professes to abhor. This is misguided at best, irresponsible at worst.
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I'm not a supporter of Ms. Brown but I must take issue with one point you've made. When you stated that you were "not aware of any circumvention of the normal budgeting and deliberative process", I would say that statement may be a bit too clever by half.
The county budget was presented to the commission on June 6, 2017. Then after a normal deliberative process, was approved on June 21, 2017 with no tax increase. Then on Aug. 29 (with the labor day weekend upcoming), the mayor requested that the budget be changed to include a 10 percent property tax increase. The only public hearing on this was seven days later on Sept. 6. The proposal was approved immediately afterward on an 8-1 vote.
Although this vote did not violate any laws, it most certainly was not a "normal budgeting and deliberative process". There was scant amount of time allowed for commissioners to notify their constituents of this proposed change and to receive any meaningful feedback.
At least in my eyes, this was the equivalent of passing legislation in the dead of night and certainly not what I expect from my elected representatives.
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I thank Mr. Kelman for his correspondence regarding my campaign and positions on public school success and government transparency. Discussions of policy in the public square like these are what democracy is all about.
I respectfully disagree, though, that committing to the success of our public schools requires that our mayor operate in the dark. I don’t see it as a Catch-22, nor do I believe that transparency is a hindrance to good government. In fact, transparency supports good government.
The facts regarding the tax increase of 2017 are plain: On Aug. 29, Mayor Coppinger, with eight of nine county commissioners already committed in support, announced that the millage rate increase was a done deal. Seven days later the resolution passed the commission by the expected margin - eight votes. Citizens were never invited to comment on the matter. There was no second reading. It was announced and passed within a week, all by design. The entire scheme lacked transparency or public input.
As for public schools, consider the most recent TNReady scores, released just this week. School board member Rhonda Thurman said she was “astounded” by the results. We have a school system full of superb teachers, experienced principals, and a new administration that’s clearly working hard, yet a $257 million dollar backlog of school maintenance hinders their ability to instruct. Low pay causes us to lose talented teachers to nearby communities. We deserve better. Our children deserve better.
A ground-up retooling of our county budget will reveal new ways for us to support our teachers and provide adequate facilities for student learning. The bottom line is that if we don’t endeavor to fix our schools now, the future of our economy hangs in the balance. It’s that simple.
It’s important to note that the nine-figure backlog of school maintenance and the overcrowding crisis in our jails that led to the tax increase had been points of wide public concern for years, yet Mayor Coppinger waited until he was headed into an election to do anything about it. In short, the crisis developed and worsened on his watch.
I’ll also take this opportunity to reiterate my positions on government transparency, and how I’ll make Hamilton County government more accessible to taxpayers.
Hold county commission meetings later in the day, at a time when more citizens may attend
Require County Commission to consider all resolutions after a second reading
Tax resolutions will be considered after a third reading
Commission agendas will be posted online one week prior to meetings
Live stream and archive online all commission business, including general meetings, hearings, and budget workshops (as the Chattanooga City Council has for years)
The mayor and county commission will conduct quarterly town hall meetings in different venues around the community to better understand the community’s priorities
These are six common sense, sensible, and simple tools for government transparency that the current administration simply doesn’t support. Don’t let anyone tell you that a government that operates in the dark operates best. Real leadership requires that elected officials face the public, engage in the debate, affirm their position, and know that political victories and good policy flow forth from that very process.
It’s a process that I’ve already begun, and look forward to continuing as your next county mayor.
Lookout Mtn., Tn.