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State of the City - 2016

State of the City - 2016

Thank you so much for that kind introduction. The Cottons are a true blessing for our city. Over the last year, they have looked out for our military families and our city with a sensitivity and purpose few can imagine. We owe them a debt of gratitude. Thank you, Major Cotton and Kelly, for your incredible service to this country. 

Similarly, Colonel Russo and Captain Berta have become treasured members of our community, even though their base is elsewhere. In the wake of last July’s events, I gained an even greater appreciation for the values and skills for our Armed Services members from working with people such as the two of them. Thank you for being here tonight

To Bishop Adams, who is truly called to serve, we appreciate your remarkable spirit and community service. I’m so glad you stepped up again tonight.

And thank you to our other program participants, we thank you for being here.

I want to acknowledge the many people who work to make progress in our city. Let me start with the members of City Council. Their willingness to take time, care, and attention to the issues facing our city has been inspiring. Chairman Moses Freeman, Vice Chair Jerry Mitchell and Council members Chris Anderson, Carol Berz, Russell Gilbert, Larry Grohn, Yusuf Hakeem, Chip Henderson, and Ken Smith -- please join me in giving them a round of applause.

But there are so many more people here who play a critical role in our city.

To Mayor Jim Coppinger. First and foremost, I appreciate our friendship. The relationship we have is good for both the city and the county. So thank you, always, for thinking about the best interests of everyone in the county as you make decisions.

Chancellor Steve Angle and President Flora Tydings. I can’t imagine a better time for the coordination of our city with higher education. UTC has made tremendous strides under Chancellor Angle’s leadership, and Dr. Tydings is methodically approaching strengthening our community college with unparalleled focus. Thank you.

And I want to thank the community partners who are integral to the city’s work. Nonprofits, chamber leaders, churches -- many of you we work with on a weekly if not daily basis, and we appreciate your passion for our city.

I also want to acknowledge the city employees in this room. I wish I could tell the many stories of their successes, of the way they relentlessly pursue what’s best for Chattanoogans. They take seriously the mission of finding the best solutions for those we serve.

And, finally, my family. I want to thank Monique, Hannah, and Orly for their unwavering support through long days and nights. Each of them is accomplished, with skills and abilities that amaze me every day. I feel fortunate to be known as Monique’s husband and Hannah and Orly’s dad. Thank you.

For the last two weeks, we have seen some of the worst acts imaginable by a small group of young men determined to harm each other, often with the shooter one night becoming the target the next. And we have responded by putting every single officer on the street, from the chief on down, to stop those intent on inflicting damage.

It has been incredibly trying for our community. We have felt the heartache caused by senseless violence and the pain of the neighborhoods where the incidents take place.

We have watched our officers pour their energy into catching those disturbing our City’s peace, and we know the frustration of our citizens as we deal with this wave of gun violence.

You might think these last two weeks would make this a difficult time to give this speech.

In fact, I think it’s the perfect time to give the State of the City.

Every year this speech gathers leaders of our community in one room to discuss what we are doing and how we can build a better life for people who live in Chattanooga. Sometimes, a State of the City address is an opportunity for celebration. Tonight, we work. Because our city’s future will be set by those coming together to build community and create opportunity, not by those who are out to destroy it.

So let’s begin with you, those who are doing the work every day. If you are a first responder, please stand now to be recognized. Thank you for what you have done and continue to do.

Please remain standing. I would also like to recognize the champions who wear different uniforms.

If you are a teacher, a neighborhood leader or a volunteer, please stand. If you are a Social Worker, a parent or a student, please stand.

Whether you are clergy preaching for peace or laity praying for it, please stand alongside them.

Now if you are willing to say tonight that we all stand together, to say this is our city, and we are united in our resolve to stop the violence, stand now with our police officers, stand with our firefighters, stand with our nurses and educators and clergy, with our business and community leaders.

Look around. This is the power of community. This is what we mean when we say: We are Chattanooga Strong.

Thank you.

Tonight, as a community, we work. And whether the issue is crime or growing our economy or investing in our youth or strengthening our neighborhoods, we will work on all of them -- together.

So let’s start with crime. Let me state the obvious: there are far too many illegal guns on our streets, and they sit in the hands of those determined to do harm. I am so appreciative of the work of our police department, where our officers are working long hours in difficult circumstances. In one week, they arrested 28 gang members and confiscated 18 guns. Yet we also saw those arrested make bond the same night, only to get on Facebook the next day with more provocative statements. These last two weeks epitomize the danger that occurs when a small group of people value retribution more than they worry about jail or even their own safety. And the cycle of violence and the code of silence continues.

But we will continue to push back. And as we continue to come together to do so, we will succeed. We will take back our streets because failure is truly not an option.

Last year we arrested 306 gang members as part of VRI. Now, we have more information than ever before about the main perpetrators on our streets. Because many of these are truly young men -- 16, 17, 18 -- Chief Fletcher has worked with Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw to start SHOCAP, intervening with teenagers before they get too far down the wrong path. And the police department has also begun a new focus on chronic offenders, identifying those doing the most damage in our community regardless of their gang affiliation.

And everyone else is chipping in, too. Fire trucks are rolling by schools at entrance and exit times so students and parents feel safe. We have partnered with Hope for the Inner City and others to open doors for those gang members seeking a better life, and 184 have found employment. And, because our police department has more authorized personnel than ever and a renewed focus on building bridges with the community, getting out of their cars to talk with people in our neighborhoods, citizens are giving us more information about what is happening than they did 2 years ago.

But we must keep adding on to what we’re doing. Last week I announced two new measures. The first is our accelerated purchase of ballistic technology to match up guns with specific crimes. The flow of guns on our streets is staggering. Our officers have worked hard to confiscate illegal weapons, and last year they seized 23 percent more than they did just 3 years ago.

As we seize these illegal guns, we need to link them to the violent acts they’ve been used to commit. With our expanded partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, we will take a look at every gun and see if it matches up with what we’ve found at a crime scene. We can then do more to develop leads, tie the weapons and the people who were caught with them to violence, and help our prosecutors pursue justice.

Second, I have spent the last two weeks with people stopping me on the streets and asking, “What can I do?” Truthfully, many of them, like you, work hard already. Last week, at my regular prayer breakfast, I heard about several different community efforts. One pastor told me about a late night basketball game starting at his church, another about expanding their reading initiative, and another about gathering together a group to take a stand against violence. We need to promote these activities and grow them. That’s why I have asked Bishop Kevin Adams and Brainerd Vice Principal Charles Mitchell to lead our Citizens Safety Coalition. Bishop Adams and Mr. Mitchell, please stand and be recognized for your leadership.

Still, we must do more. One of my greatest frustrations is the difficulty of catching those involved in drive bys. I read far too many police reports where the only identification of the perpetrators is that they were driving a dark SUV. And even when our officers get information about what’s happening on our streets, our outdated technology makes compiling that intelligence and distributing across the force too time consuming and difficult. We need real time information -- the kind that comes when you’re monitoring what’s happening and letting officers know about it as quickly as possible.

That’s why, today, I am announcing over the next two years the city will spend an additional one million dollars on public safety cameras and IT infrastructure for our police department. Law enforcement, clergy, and neighborhood leaders will work together on a plan to deploy the cameras as well as finding ways for those with their own video cameras to patch it into our new network. Churches can put them up in their parking lots; neighborhood leaders on their streets. As we expand this system, we can get more specific information about what cars are on our streets in the minutes before and after a shooting occurs; and to build the intelligence system that allows us to focus on our more chronic offenders.

We will not relent. When confronted with a challenge, we address it head on and succeed. We have worked too hard to rebuild our city to allow the criminal acts of a few put our progress at risk.

And we will make progress because that is truly the Chattanooga Way. We know our actions can change things. No matter what the problem, we do the work. And we keep working, again and again, even when we make progress, knowing that more attention is always called for.

Over the last 3 decades, public and private leaders have invested to improve our fortunes. We worked to clean our air and water, clearing the way for new investment. We rebuilt our downtown, showing the nation how to take advantage of a waterfront. And when we saw we needed to diversify our economic development, we laid fiber optic cable, resulting in the fastest, cheapest, most pervasive internet in the world and opening Chattanooga up to a whole new world of the innovation economy.

These decisions have paid off. Over the last 3 years, our unemployment rate has dropped 2 point 5 percent. Even more importantly for growth, Chattanooga had the third highest wage growth for a mid-sized city. That increases buying power -- at restaurants, in apartments, at the grocery -- and is a big reason why we had the highest rise in home prices in the mid-South last year. Even though huge hurdles still remain -- ones that we will tackle to spread the benefits of progress among more in our city -- we have made important strides.

Leading the way is our Innovation District, a result of the Chattanooga Forward process and the hard work of the Enterprise Center. There, within a quarter mile radius of the Edney Building at the corner of 11th and Market, we are seeing new companies born, existing businesses interacting with entrepreneurs, and researchers and students working to come up with the next big idea. Lamp Post, Bellhops, Vayner Media, Open Table, Carbon 5, and many, many others are setting a new stage for the Chattanooga economy.

But the Innovation District isn’t just about business. It’s about solving problems with new, creative solutions. There are groups that meet at the Edney Buildings community space to discuss some of Chattanooga’s most pressing challenges -- education, crime, healthcare access, and ensuring new Chattanoogans feel a part of our community fabric.

The collisions that occur there will lead us places we can’t predict. The Innovation District, after all, is a place for people -- thoughtful, talented, diverse, interesting people. It is teeming with energy, always ready to take off in a new and interesting direction.

And the innovation district is also dedicated to making sure we are a city where everyone has a chance to grow their skills. Take Joanne. A 65 year old Chattanoogan, Joanne is raising her two grandkids. Until recently, she spent her nights taking them to fast food restaurants that had free wifi so they could do their homework Now, thanks to Netbridge, a partnership between EPB, the city, and the school system, Joanne -- as well as 1700 other local families -- has our super fast internet at home. No more gas money or scurrying from restaurant to restaurant. Instead, her grandkids do their homework around the kitchen table.

I hope Joanne’s grandkids grow up and pursue their talents in Chattanooga. If they do, they need a vibrant and energetic city to live in.

So we continue our work. Our downtown is remaking itself before our very eyes. Apartments are sprouting up everywhere, with $650 million of investment into downtown real estate. In 2017 we will double -- double -- the number of people living in our downtown from just three years ago.

And as our city grows, we need great public spaces to serve our residents. They’re where families go to play together, where neighbors go to have conversations, where citizens go for a little peace and quiet. Now, we will make a once in a generation investment to continue the revitalization of Chattanooga.

MLK Boulevard is the front door to our city. Every day 40 thousand people drive through it. The citizen led Chattanooga Forward process identified it as a great opportunity for our city. So over the last year, hundreds of people have met together to redesign the MLK district. The plans are stunning. Raising the park from its current bunkered layout to street level, adding an amphitheater and pavilion, streetscaping across MLK Boulevard to Miller Plaza, and turning Patten Parkway into a bustling space for retail and pedestrians -- through private and public partnerships, we will start this fall to transform this underutilized area into a beautiful gateway to our city.

We also want to give people the chance to have the rich experiences that improve quality of life. That means investing in music and art, growing our culture and provide an outlet for our young people to express themselves. You may have noticed, for example, that the marquee at the Tivoli is lit up a whole lot more than it used to be. That’s because, again from the Chattanooga Forward process, city government turned over the keys to a new foundation that is increasing the quality and quantity of shows. Already, they’ve tripled the revenue per event as well as bumped up the number of nights someone’s playing. With a new Broadway series and many other events on the way, we know there’s lots of room for growth.

For those of you keeping track -- that’s three major accomplishments that were born from Chattanooga Forward, a citizen driven process to recommend changes that would improve our community. There are many other accomplishments from Chattanooga Forward and I would like to thank all those who served on the task forces or attended a public meeting -- would you please stand. Thank you for your hard work.

So we know Chattanooga is on the move, with an Innovation District consistently singled out by national publications, unparalleled private investment, and streets populated by visitors and residents. But I don’t want anybody to think our focus is only on downtown. We are investing all over Chattanooga, and we are working to make sure neighborhoods benefit from our work.

In this year’s budget, we will double the amount we spend on paving from when I took office, reflecting the priorities of our residents and the advocacy of City Council. In addition to reworking our aging infrastructure, we will complete Bell School Park in Alton Park and plan to update beautiful East Lake Park.  If you take a look at our budget, you will see that most of our major investments are in neighborhoods. The Wilcox Tunnel in East Chattanooga, the Family Justice Center in Brainerd, building 23 thousand feet of sidewalk throughout the city -- all these projects are important.

But it isn’t just concrete and asphalt that build a City. Our most important investments are in people, changing our city to tear down the barriers that prevent them from being successful. The obstacles are multidimensional, but all of them inhibit the growth of our community. Chattanooga has a hot economy. Yet too few of our citizens benefit from our growing prosperity.

Families seek a life where kids can get a good education, and parents can live more comfortably because they know their kids are being taken care of. Yet we hear far too much about the problems in our schools and the children they serve. We know our economy will grow even more when we maximize the talents of everyone who lives here. Yet, too many people feel like their paths to the middle class are blocked by obstacles both seen and unseen.

We have to change this. Many Chattanoogans think that what made our country great -- social mobility, the chance to change your lot in life through hard work and persistence -- is a dream instead of a reality they work towards. They see the new building, the business expanding its workforce, the startup company signing its first big contract and wonder: “What about me?” And their despair ripples throughout our city, from crime to blight to schools.

So, tonight, we make them part of our work. We commit ourselves to building more paths to the middle class; to making sure more of our neighbors have the skills to own their own business or work at the company of their choice; to make sure their kids see a path that ends up with their inclusion in our economic prosperity, rather than in the violence that plays out in our streets.

That’s one of many reasons I’m so involved in Step Up. A partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Benwood, PEF, and the city, Step Up broadens opportunities by offering summer internships to high school students. With the help of businesses throughout our city, young people can spend June and July seeing what it’s like to go to work every day, giving them direction and focus.

Imagine if every young person in our City spent their summers earning a paycheck and gaining skills for the future. That would change the trajectory of our entire City. It builds our talent pipeline and creates a renewed sense of hope and opportunity for our public school kids.

Take Kentrell. I met Kentrell when he and the rest of state runner up Brainerd High basketball team visited City Hall. Kentrell was charming, intelligent, and engaging. He asked me what I was doing to enhance opportunities for young people in our city. I told him about Step Up, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with his response. He said, “I have my Step Up orientation on Monday.”

Kentrell is going to be successful. I just don’t have any doubt about it. But we can’t wait until our youth are on a set path at 17 or 18 before we point them in the right direction.

One way to make this happen is to invest smarter and more heavily at the very beginning of our citizens’ lives. Economists say that we get 8 dollars back for every dollar we put into quality early learning. So we have to stop thinking about early childhood education as a luxury available only to those with the means to afford it. After all, kids who receive high quality early learning are less likely to get into trouble when they get to school, and in their later years, earn higher wages and have healthier families.

And it all starts with parents. Think about your own family. When your kid won’t sit still, who do you call for advice? When they’re sick, who helps you decide whether they should go to the doctor? Too many Chattanoogans don’t have that network of support.

That’s exactly where Sarah found herself before she got linked up with Baby University. She was 8 months pregnant and had recently left a violent boyfriend. She had just crossed a major milestone in her life and had taken control of her own destiny. Through courage, grit and determination, Sarah had taken an important first step to build a better life for her and her baby.

But that didn’t mean it would be easy. She had a secured a place to live, but couldn’t afford the $200 to turn on her utilities. That means no running water, no heat, and no cash for furniture. Sarah, though, found her support network in Baby University. Through Baby U, she was not only able to get her utilities turned on and get furniture -- but with those basic necessities out of the way, she is now able to spend more time planning for the future of her family.

One more thing to understand about this story: Chattanooga families are strong. Sarah left a violent situation; Sarah found a place to live; Sarah reached out to Baby U.

Sarah is someone this city needs to bet on.

Because no one gets where they are going without a strong community around them, and children are no exception. Chattanooga kids need our attention to grow and thrive. Not so long ago, I remember worrying about my own young daughters, whether they were going to crawl at the right time, whether they were going to speak when the other kids did. Because Monique and I had good role models, we paid close attention to our kids’ progress. And Monique felt so passionately about getting them off to a good start that she and her best friend started a brand new preschool, which earned the State’s highest designation in its very first year.

Unfortunately, my kids are the exception, not the rule. Only 43 percent of kids take advantage of early learning opportunities. Over these past three years, we have expanded our Head Start slots and worked on making it a great experience for more families, but still there is much, much more to do.

That’s why, tonight, I am announcing new Early Learning Scholarships for Chattanooga families. These scholarships are aimed at helping families get their kids into high quality experiences at either a preschool or daycare. Working with the United Way, we will do three things. First we will bridge the knowledge gap, so more parents understand the value of these developmental experiences. Second, we will incent day care centers, where many of our young people spend their days, to improve their attention to learning so their institution can qualify to accept these scholarships. And third, we will close the payment gap for parents who earn too much money to qualify for state vouchers but don’t make enough to afford quality early learning themselves.

But for us to serve as many families as possible, we have to be organized and targeted. That means working with quality providers such as Chambliss Center for Children, Siskin Children’s Institute, and Signal Centers, to make the entire system more financially sustainable. And it means making sure parents have the information in their hands to make good decisions about their child’s development.

City government can and should lead this effort. That’s why today I am announcing we will establish a new Office of Early Learning. It will be charged with making the most of our city’s quality early learning opportunities and expanding them so they reach more families.

Chattanooga can be a national leader in getting children off to a good start. It’s hard to feel like the 100 yard dash is fair if you start out 10 yards behind. Yet that’s exactly the scenario many kids face.

Much of this focus on early childhood comes from ideas generated by the Mayor’s Council for Women. Chaired by Councilwoman Carol Berz and Representative JoAnne Favors, they have been everything our community could have asked for and more. They have written white papers, advocated for new policies, and with the help of Representative Gerald McCormick, passed a bill in the General Assembly to help domestic violence victims.

If you are a member of the Mayor’s Council for Women, please stand.  Give these tremendous community leaders a round of applause.

They constantly explore new avenues to improve our city. A few weeks ago, at an event, Tricia, a Chattanooga mom with a young child, asked me about how we could ensure more employers understand and value women like her. Part of the council, she pointed out, had identified this as a major need in our city. I promised Tricia that day -- in front of all these women -- I would have an answer at State of the City.

So here it is.

There are many, many types of benefits that help a business attract and retain employees with families. Paid parental leave, onsite child care, flex time -- there are a lot of options depending on what works for business owners and their employees. Each company has unique challenges, and their employees have different preferences. But as a city, we prosper when employers get this right, when we find ways for everyone to participate in the workforce, use their talents, and help Chattanooga employers succeed and create even more jobs.

Today, I am announcing the Family Friendly Workplace Challenge. Employers who take the challenge will commit to engaging their employees and coming up with a plan to make their businesses attractive for working moms and dads. City government is going to lead by example, taking the challenge ourselves, alongside a first set of employers:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of TN
  • the Bread Basket
  • Co. LAB
  • the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce
  • Chattanooga State
  • EPB
  • Epiphany Day Spa & Brow Couture
  • Ovalle’s Catering Company
  • UTC.

Please give them a round of applause for pledging to put Chattanooga families first.

At the end of a year, we will highlight success stories and use them as a model for other businesses all around Chattanooga.

Simply put, we can overcome challenges when we put our minds to it. That’s what we’ve done as a city time and time again. Our determination to shape our future is our strength, a characteristic the world saw clearly nine months ago. That day, and the weeks and months that followed, showed our city’s essential character.

You know the facts. July 16, 2015. Lee Highway. Dozens of shots fired. One injured. Amnicola Highway. Hundreds of shots fired. One injured. 5 heroes downed. Many more saved by an aggressive, well-trained, and determined Chattanooga police force.

The men and women there to drill that day signed up because they love our country. They understood our freedom requires more than wishing; it requires the genuine commitment to do whatever is necessary to keep us safe, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice. They run into, not away from, the danger people face all around the world.

Over the next few months, as July 16, 2016, approaches, we will have many opportunities to honor the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and their families. Sullivan. Wyatt. Holmquist. Wells. Smith. Their service and their lives are now forever a part of the Chattanooga story, a reminder of what it means to be brave, to be completely dedicated to your neighbors, whether you know them or not.

Today, in our audience, we have active duty service members, reservists, and veterans among us. Their careers have affected each and every one of you. If you have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces, please stand and be recognized.

Thank you for your service.

And we should again honor our own brave first responders. The police who, despite being outgunned, ran into a firefight to save the lives of their brothers and sisters. They are the same ones who are on our streets tonight, working to keep our neighborhoods safe. Please give them another round of applause.

I have never been more proud to be a Chattanoogan than in the way we responded to 7/16. We were of one purpose. We prayed together, cried together, grieved together. We looked out for one another, trying to comprehend the magnitude of the challenge but determined to act for the betterment of our service members’ families, their colleagues, and the entire city.

Because that’s who we are. We have always had challenges, and we have refused to bow to the struggle. We are not passive participants, letting history wash over us. No, we have never shied away from our problems but have instead come together as a community to make progress.

It is time to do that again. We will not throw up our hands and let the criminals win. We will work tirelessly to stop the violence, pulling every lever we can. Just as we’ve done over the last few weeks, we will ask each officer to find, arrest, and bring to justice any person who does harm in our community. And we will continue to put the right tools in their hands -- ballistics technology, cameras, systems that make their duties easier to fulfill. And we will join together as a community to build a coalition to remind them that our city belongs to the many who seek to build each other up, not to the few who try to tear each other down, and we will never accept it any other way.

There’s more than enough for everyone here to do. Take an intern at your business through Step Up; join our safety coalition; mentor a child in our community. Do it through your church, your non profit, your company. We work -- all of us, in our own ways, lending our individual talents in service of a stronger collective.

A few months ago, people were rightly celebrating being called the best town ever. Not long after, people throughout the community were putting bumper stickers on their cars calling us Chattanooga Strong. Today, our hearts ache and our minds reel because of the tragedies of the last 2 weeks.

Here’s what those moments have in common. No one of those things alone defines us. It’s all our days, good and bad, and -- more importantly -- the way we respond to them that shows who we are. When we celebrate an award, we acknowledge the remaining obstacles to progress.

When we feel the struggles of violence, we know we have the character and tenacity to change our course. As a city, we understand that -- in good times and bad -- the work never stops. Never. There’s always a way to make us safer, to grow our economy more, to strengthen neighborhoods, to put a young person on the right path. And we will relentlessly take those steps forward because we are unafraid to overcome our challenges  -- together.

So here it is. I am here, alongside you, as clear as ever about our problems and as optimistic as ever that we will work together to solve them.

A little while ago, everyone stood in this room, together in common purpose.. As we exit tonight, we leave the same way, united in our unending resolve to build a better city. Let’s get to work.

Thank you.


City of Chattanooga
Mayor's Office
101 E. 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Phone: (423) 643-7800

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