February 27, 2009
Local Web site maps out campaign contributions
Bloggers at Chattarati say they spent long hours entering contribution information from publicly available disclosure documents into a database that then displays the contributors and amounts on interactive maps.
The first campaign finance disclosures in the current election cycle were due at the Hamilton County Election Commission by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 24--less than one week before the March 3 election begins. (I think I turned mine in at 3:59, because that's how I do.) Voters interested in seeing "who gave what to whom" can access the documents (mostly handwritten forms scanned into PDFs) at the Election Commission's Web site. However, meaningful analysis is difficult when poring over that much imaged paper.
The "Cash Maps" provide readers with a visual means of understanding where the money in each campaign originates. Users can click on a ZIP code (red pin) to see donations from individual addresses (blue pin). Map layers can be added to show city limits and council district boundaries. A new feature that's full of "wow factor" creates a custom file that one can download into the Google Earth™ application and browse as a color-coded "heat" map.
While there are certainly more ways that could be developed to help the public easily make connections with the information that is, by law, theirs to own, the dedication to transparency shown in Chattarati's efforts is laudable. I'm trying to forsake the "old vs. new media" paradigm and say "let's all just get along," but from a certain point of view, the traditional media outlets have just been upstaged by bloggers and developers working on a volunteer basis and in their spare time.
Full disclosure: I am a former contributing writer to Chattarati, and there is a good chance that I will return to that role after the election.
Brainerd neighbors left with unanswered questions after crime meeting
The Hilltop Neighborhood Association hosted a large crowd of Brainerd residents Thursday night at the Brainerd Baptist Annex on Austin St. City officials, including Mayor Ron Littlefield, 6th District City Council member Carol Berz, and Police Chief Freeman Cooper, spoke to citizens' concerns about a rash of recent break-ins and the perception of a slow response by the newly consolidated 911 Center.
Most area media outlets were on hand, and I'll provide links to their coverage at the end of this post. Thanks to available wireless Internet in the building, I was able to update my personal Twitter account as the meeting transpired. (In the future, I may do live-twittering of this nature from the blog account @TnTicket, but I currently have more followers on @joelance.)
Here is an unintentionally abridged (what up, TweetScan?) list of the updates, known as "tweets." The full archive can be found by browsing through my account on the web, although there the updates are in reverse chronological order.
|joelance : Huge turnout at Hilltop Neighborhood Assn emergency meeting on recent crimes. Trey Commander has a Google map up showing break-ins in Feb.|
|joelance : Councilwoman Berz is speaking now, since the mayor is delayed.|
|joelance : Berz:"The idea that we [are] not safe is abominable to me."|
|joelance : Scott Parker, NA president, introduces Police Chief Freeman Cooper.|
|joelance : Seven members of the CPD brass, with one on the way, standing up front.|
|joelance : Cooper: slight increase in overall crime rate in 2008; violent crime, except homicides, down in 2008|
|joelance : Chief Cooper: Nashville has 3 times the rate of property crimes as 'Nooga; Memphis about 5 times the rate|
|joelance : Gratitude pause: thanks to the BX for having free WiFi. It's so much easier to do this on a laptop than on a phone.|
|joelance : Cooper is reciting stats from 2008 on service calls and arrests. Now opening up for questions.|
|joelance : Question: (comment, really) we just ask that if we call 911, the police show up|
|joelance : Cooper: Remember that 911 has consolidated many jurisdictions. Clerks are unfamiliar with streets.|
|joelance : Question: what makes criminals pick certain houses? Cooper: if I could answer that, we'd solve Burglary.|
|joelance : Littlefield: over 40 years, crimes have risen in times of economic downturn.|
|joelance : Question: shift change resulted in 50-minute delay 8 mos ago. Last week, same house was broken into|
|joelance : Chief Cooper: shift change is overlapped so that the whole force isn't changing at once (though numbers are reduced)|
|joelance : Cooper: downtown renovation has nothing to do with crime in any particular area. Criminal groups are organized, and hit multiple areas.|
|joelance : Cooper: reporting a break-in doesn't increase your likelihood of being a victim|
|joelance : Now the homeowner at the center of this story asks, if the problem is with 911, what is being done about that?|
|joelance : Question: it sounds like we're saying 911 isn't organized, police aren't organized, but the criminals are. Mayor, did you say "expect it?"|
|joelance : RTN gets called out for not being here by both questioner and Mayor|
|joelance : "RTN" = WGOW talk radio host Robert T Nash, if you didn't get that|
|joelance : questions are heating up. Parker is urging audience to focus questions, not tell so many personal stories, due to time|
|joelance : the crowd doesn't seem satisfied with answers thus far, and time is running out. Room is reserved until 8.|
|joelance : Lots of questions/chatter about pawnshops and recovery of stolen items.|
|joelance : Cooper: "come ride with us. Get involved in Citizens Police Academy." Learn about what the officers go through|
|joelance : Time running out. Parker asks how residents can ask their outstanding questions. Littlefield: next N'hood Assn mtg. Cooper: CPIC meeting.|
February 26, 2009
Last day for early voting
Voting ends this evening at the Moore Road, Northgate Mall, and Amnicola Highway locations. On Tuesday, March 3, voting will take place citywide at each precinct's polling place (and, to be clear, not at any of the early voting sites).
If you are a Chattanooga registered voter, I urge you to take part in this important election.
Elections are also being held for a new city government in Collegedale, Tennessee.
February 25, 2009
Berz, Rutherford face off in Brainerd forum
Residents of Chattanooga's Sixth Council District heard from incumbent Councilwoman Carol Berz and challenger Marti Rutherford at a moderated forum last Monday.
About forty people gathered at the Jewish Cultural Center in South Brainerd to hear from the candidates on their plans to address crime and budget shortfalls, and to entice economic development. Michael Dzik, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation, asked eight questions that had been solicited prior to the event.
The question topics, and responses, broke down like this:
What are the city's infrastructure needs?
Berz: The sewer systems are in need of upgrades; so are area roads. The City Council is in the process of implementing a $5 million public works project (not new spending), mapping new sewers.
Rutherford: We've spent hundreds of millions on sewers (Moccasin Bend). District 6 wants sidewalks, extended from the McCallie tunnel to Chickamauga Creek. Shepherd area has no pedestrian access to its rec center. The district needs more bike paths. We also need to address stormwater runoff problems.
What do you value most about public service?
Rutherford: The opportunity to work with the people of District 6, as well as throughout the city.
Berz: The excitement of sitting down to deal in solutions instead of problems; the opportunity to stand up for women.
Where do you stand on library funding?
Ms. Berz used this question to discuss recent and future improvements in the Brainerd Mission and levee, while Ms. Rutherford promoted her concept of a civic center (not located at Eastgate) that would include facilities for adult education, after-school tutoring, and weekend movie nights. An updated library branch would be included in either of these developments.
Quotes: "I'm a library freak." (Berz) "I'm addicted to books." (Rutherford)
How should the city deal with upcoming revenue shortfalls? Will sales or property taxes have to be raised in order to make the budget?
Rutherford: The City Council cannot raise sales taxes; that would have to be by referendum. Non-essential services should be cut before property taxes are raised. Annexation is also an option in lieu of raising property tax rates.
Quote: "If I can't pay for something, I do without."
Berz: As chair of the budget committee, is looking for ways to prevent layoffs and tax increases. The council is "staying the course" for now, though if the economy worsens during the year, we may have to revisit. Don't be alarmed by the $1 million shortfall, as that much has already been cut. The council is engaged in strategic planning.
Quote: "We're not spending any money that we don't have."
What are your three main priorities?
Berz: Economic development, planned growth (considering VW and Alstom), and sustainability.
Rutherford: Jobs, no more taxes, safety/quality of life. Re-introduce speculative rezoning, redistribute police force to meet current needs.
What are your positions on the development of Brainerd Road, as well as crime along Brainerd Road?
Rutherford: Michael Mallen is proposing using Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) initiatives to attract business to the area. Regarding crime, the Deep Blue club has presented problems for neighboring businesses and residents. Have worked with a private group to patrol the area and hire an off-duty county deputy.
Quote: "The owners of [Deep Blue] are friends of my opponent's."
Berz: Have talked with the owners of Eastgate and Brainerd Village about the community center. In order to put in sidewalks, negotiations are necessary with landowners. On crime, cited the recent Ochs Center report that shows a few downtown neighborhoods are key contributors to criminal activity elsewhere, including District 6. Neighbors are taking charge of safety by watching out for each other.
Quote: "It's not petty (crime) when it happens to you. It's terrible."
Define transparency in government.
Berz: It means being clear on the source of decisions. Be positive and creative with solutions, instead of focusing on problems. Tell the public the truth; no back-room deals.
Quote: "There's been some untruth said up here tonight."
Rutherford: Candidates are required to disclose itemized contributions of over $100, as well as file a statement of interests with the state ethics board. The council is required to advertise issues that will be discussed. Sunshine laws prohibit decisions being made outside of public view. It's regrettable that many council decisions are made during afternoon committee meetings, instead of at council sessions when the public can attend.
Quote: [on the council's requirement to advertise its upcoming agenda] "I'm not sure what audience there is for it."
Why are you the most qualified to hold the office?
Rutherford: I really am District 6. I get the job done. I'm an employee of the public, known for knocking on doors.
Quote: "You can't erase fifteen years of experience with one year." [Ed. note: Ms. Rutherford was an elected member of the City Council for approximately ten of the past fifteen years.]
Berz: One represents a district, but is involved in making decisions with eight others. Collaboration is important, as the smallest percentage of votes has to do with a particular district. Worlds of experience have led to this one year in office, would like four more.
Quote: "Change has taken place; it's a new Chattanooga."
Berz: My father used to quote to me a Hebrew saying that translates "when God gives you gifts, use them to repair the world." I was approached to run for this office. People shy away from running due to the "icky" process, and the things that go on.
Quote: "Marti has done a good job; it's just time for a change."
Rutherford: The difference between my opponent and me is that I'm like Teddy Roosevelt. I will charge San Juan Hill. My opponent likes to have committee meetings.
Quote: "People in District 6 think that I'm still their council member because I'm doing the job."
Bonus quote: [half-running toward podium, in a sing-song voice, ostensibly mocking Berz] "Hope is coming! Hope is coming! Hope is coming! I think we heard enough of that all Fall."
For more, see WRCB's coverage.
February 15, 2009
Chattanooga needs an independent auditor
Or, so says the City Charter (PDF).
Sec. 8.15. Internal auditor. An internal auditor shall be appointed by the council, independent of the mayor, and may be removed and replaced at any time by the affirmative vote of a majority of the council. The internal auditor's responsibilities will include, but not be limited to, auditing expenditures of the executive and administrative departments and verifying that all revenues due the city are properly collected and accounted for.
The council has a responsibility here -- one that is long overdue. If you believe that the Charter should be followed as adopted, I urge you to contact your Council Member and ask him or her to act on this matter quickly.
Links to more information and commentary:
February 13, 2009
City council and mayoral candidates discuss goals with residents
The Brainerd Unity Group and the Midtown Chamber Council held a round of community discussions Thursday evening aimed at bringing Chattanooga voters face-to-face with candidates in the March 3 election. Tables were set up in the Friendship Community Church gym for each council district with contested races, and residents questioned the candidates on crime, neighborhood and economic development, and community outreach programs.
Council District Nine, which includes portions of Highland Park, Avondale, Eastdale, Bushtown, and Missionary Ridge, is represented by Councilwoman Debbie Gaines, who earlier announced that she is not seeking reelection. Five candidates are in the race to replace her. Quenston Coleman, J.T. McDaniel, Thomas Mott, Peter Murphy, and Jackie Thomas took turns answering questions submitted by residents and administered by moderators Dr. Fran Bender and Dr. Olin Ivey.
Some of the sharpest disagreement came when Peter Murphy advocated hiring more police officers to patrol crime-ridden areas, and both Jackie Thomas and Thomas Mott stated that increased patrols do not work in minority communities. Quenston Coleman said that he would focus on intervening in children's lives early on, so that they developed good habits. J.T. McDaniel stated that economic development was key to reducing crime.
When asked about library funding, most candidates agreed that using funds to establish reading centers in the districts would be better than refurbishing a central location downtown.
Regarding recreation, Mr. Murphy lamented the city spending $16 million on the new softball complex at Summit, when Montague Park remains closed, and "all it needs is dirt." Ms. Thomas countered by saying that she wouldn't want kids playing on potentially toxic ground unless we could be absolutely sure there was no danger.
The city's other open council seat, in District Three, drew fewer participants, but candidates Pam Ladd and George Patten appeared to have a good discussion. (Note: I stayed at the District Nine table, so my report on the others is from a distance.)
In District Six, Councilwoman Carol Berz had a large group to herself, as opponent Marti Rutherford did not attend. Many of those in attendance reside and do business in the 6th District, so Rutherford's absence came as somewhat of a surprise. I had heard one person say that she was planning to send a representative in her stead, but that did not happen, so it's unclear whether there was a competing event, or she chose not to come.
In District Eight, challengers Dennis Clark and Andraé McGary faced off without their opponent, Councilman Leamon Pierce, at the table. Again, I have no word on whether or not there was a scheduling conflict for the councilman.
No candidates were on hand from Districts One or Seven (though Joe Graham did make a brief appearance toward the end of the night). Mayor Littlefield's regularly scheduled district-wide meeting had the District 1 folks in Lookout Valley; I'm not sure if there was something similar keeping the District 7 candidates.
Councilmen Jack Benson (District Four) and Russell Gilbert (District Five) attended the forum, but as they are unopposed, they did not hold specific district discussions, but mingled with various attendees. Props to them for showing up.
Following an intermission (with food!), mayoral candidates Rob Healy and Thomas Smith II took center stage to answer questions submitted by each of the council district tables. Mayor Ron Littlefield was unable to attend, due to the aforementioned District 1 meeting. Rev. Mike Feely, Executive Director of the St. Andrews Center, moderated.
I'm generally abstaining from comment on the mayoral race, but certain items are too critically important to ignore: Thomas Smith announced his certainty that he would win a swimsuit contest, were one to be held among the three candidates. That remark brought the biggest crowd response of the night.
Early voting continues through February 26, and the election is on March 3. Get to know your candidates, and please vote.
February 10, 2009
Tennessee House Speaker stripped of party membership
The Tennessee Republican Party formally ousted House Speaker Kent Williams from its ranks yesterday, and thus put an end to their historic -- though mighty brief -- majority status in both houses of the Tennessee Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.
I find it somewhat interesting, but not very surprising, that the House of Representatives now comprises 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and one independent; when prior to the 2008 election, the state Senate held 16 Democrats, 16 Republicans, and one independent in its makeup. The only weird part is that both independents are former Republicans named Williams, and each has held a title that contained the word "Speaker." Oh, and both are from East Tennessee.
But taking a step back from all the recent drama (think "Naifeh Republicans," former Sen. Mike Williams' vote for John Wilder, former Sen. Rosalind Kurita's vote for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and now Speaker Kent Williams), one may conclude that this is a continuation of a fairly predictable pattern in our state's representative branch. Alliances are formed around the center of power, and ideology takes a back seat to individual aims.
Another way to look at this is to consider that both parties have moved in the direction of their base supporters (the Democrats only very recently so), while traditionally, many legislators have been what some would call "moderate." This natural tension is likely to show up in the form of contested primaries for some time to come.
The hand-wringing by one side, while the other side piously overlooks its members' nearly identical behavior, sure makes a fine spectacle, though.
February 9, 2009
State of the Blog
Well, that was interesting, and educational, and a whole lot more. I've made an endorsement upon leaving the race, and am still technically a qualified candidate, and therefore I will not write directly about the mayoral campaign until after the election.
So, what else has been going on? Nothing much, right?
Now that I'm back, I don't know where to start. Plus, there is only so much value (read: very little) in going back and rehashing stories that have been much discussed by the sharper minds among us.
Just consider this post as an announcement of TennesseeTicket's return, then, and thanks for tuning in.
Governor Phil Bredesen will give his State of the State address tonight from Nashville. That will likely give us plenty to ponder. Like, for instance, who will be giving that address two years from now?