Chattanooga has less than one week to prepare for an event that will likely last only a few hours.
When President Barack Obama arrives in the Scenic City Tuesday-the exact time has yet to be disclosed-traffic routes will close and security will be heightened. But Chattanooga has been through the drill before, and local leaders are ready to welcome the leader of the free world to their town once again.
Few details were offered to the public Thursday regarding Obama’s planned tour of the Amazon distribution center at Enterprise South, his first trip to Tennessee since 2011 and first on record to Chattanooga. Local law enforcement agencies have begun engaging with U.S. Secret Service to lay the groundwork for the visit, but beyond the basic announcement of the president’s plans, very little will be shared before he arrives.
An official with the Chattanooga Police Department declined to comment on the agency’s preparations for the visit Thursday, deferring questions to the Secret Service. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said the county department would play a “limited,” supporting role to city officers and Secret Service in the coming days.
“We will assist anywhere Chattanooga needs help, whether it’s traffic control, advance work with the Secret Service or anything else that they ask us,” Hammond said. “. A lot of advance work is typically done.”
Mayor Andy Berke was notified that the president’s visit was a possibility on Tuesday, a spokeswoman in his office said. Wednesday afternoon, White House officials contacted the mayor’s office to inform Berke that Obama would indeed be coming-news that the mayor said he was happy to receive.
“I’m pleased to welcome our country’s president to Chattanooga,” Berke said Thursday in an emailed statement. “With a thriving middle class, Chattanooga is an outstanding example of a community dedicated to building our local workforce and ensuring economic development opportunities reach every part of our city.”
The news is causing a change in plans for Berke, whose staff was expected to present his first budget to City Council members Tuesday afternoon. Although the group will still conduct their regular meeting Tuesday evening, City Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem requested Berke postpone his presentation until Wednesday, adding that he hoped the change would allow for more citizens and city employees to attend the presentation.
“We’re looking forward to doing it on the following day,” Hakeem said.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the county would be prepared to handle Obama’s visit in partnership with city law enforcement and federal and regional agencies. Coppinger said handling logistics for the trip would be a “coordinated effort,” similar to presidential visits made to Chattanooga in recent years.
“This is something we’ve done over the years with other people, whether it was [President George W.] Bush or [Vice President Dick] Cheney, and it’s always been a coordinated effort,” Coppinger said. “This is something our county is accustomed to doing, and it will not be burdensome to our resources at all.”
Although it remains to be seen if elements of Obama’s stop will be open to the public, one group is already planning to greet the president with a protest. Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, said his group and other “liberty-minded individuals” would plan on holding a rally to protest Obama’s policies.
“Him coming to Chattanooga is a big event for our community, but we want him to know we strongly disagree with his policies, which continue to lead the economic struggles that we’re facing,” West said.
Obama is expected to deliver remarks on job creation and economic policy.
Regional lawmakers, all Republican, have said they do not plan to attend the event.