Mayoral candidate and former City Councilman David Crockett criticized incumbent Andy Berke for his pledge to give $1 million from the city of Chattanooga to aid in the construction of the new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.
"This is not his money," Crockett said at a morning news conference. "He doesn't have the right to spend the people's money in such a way."
The city will commit the funds in honor of the children and families affected by the Woodmore Elementary School fatal bus crash, Berke announced last week.
Crockett said that Berke put members of the City Council in a difficult position because he sprung it on them shortly before the announcement. Crockett said he has great respect for all the council members and wouldn't operate that way if elected.
He also criticized Berke for not mentioning supporting the project before, such as in his State of the City speeches.
Crockett said that helping those affected by the Woodmore crash is a wonderful cause and that if Berke wants to put up a personal contribution to the hospital in honor of the families, Crockett would join.
"I'll ask all Chattanoogans to join in this pledge," Crockett said.
And he said that the money might be put to better use with a project in the Woodmore neighborhood or elsewhere around the community.
"It's blatantly political and shows a lack of integrity," he also said.
He said if he were elected he'd work to spend the taxpayers' money "cautiously and effectively."
Mayoral candidate and City Councilman Larry Grohn agreed with Crockett that the topic hadn't been discussed before the Woodmore tragedy, and both called it a political stunt.
"It's interesting to me that the need for a new hospital has been around the entire term, and it took a bus tragedy for [Berke] to realize how important the services are," Grohn said.
During his announcement, Berke said that visiting the children affected by the crash helped make it clear how important pediatric ICU care is.
Councilman Yusuf Hakeem agreed that the Woodmore tragedy was the impetus for the announcement but said it is important to support the new state-of-the-art facility.
"I think in an effort of this nature the city needs to be a leader and not a follower, and if we want the private sectors and individuals [to help], I think we have to set that example," he said.
The city of Chattanooga has pledged to allocate $250,000 from the city's capital budget every year for the next four years. City spokeswoman Marissa Bell said that City Council members have been supportive of the project.
Nooga.com couldn't reach several other council members for comment on this issue.
Like any major capital investment, this expenditure will be included in the capital budget, which requires council approval every year, Bell also said.
"We have had multiple conversations with members of council about health care needs in Chattanooga, and in particular pertaining to Erlanger and the Children's Hospital," she also said. "The city of Chattanooga goes through a strategic planning process for all capital investments to ensure funding is available for a variety of different projects. Because of this strategy, the city is able to include projects like the new Children's Hospital without impacting other projects."
A spokesperson for the mayor's campaign said that, subject to council approval, the funding will be allocated over the next four years as part of the city's capital budget "to ensure a responsible, balanced budget with no tax increase."
"Clearly, our opponent believes an investment in high-quality emergency care and long-term medical treatment for children and families in Chattanooga is not a priority," spokesman Tyler Yount said. "Mayor Berke disagrees with his opponent. For him, healthier kids lead to stronger families, and that's why the city chose to support a new Children's Hospital."