City Council members hope to find a better solution to the gang violence issue in Chattanooga after letting a resolution meant to combat this issue flop. (Photo: Staff)

A resolution that would help put disadvantaged youth in touch with mentors as part of the Chattanooga Police Department’s Violence Reduction Initiative flopped in City Council Tuesday night.

The resolution would have allowed the CPD to enter into a contract with Father to the Fatherless for case management services for kids at risk of not transitioning to adulthood successfully.

These services are intended to provide a stable mentor to kids who need someone to help guide them through adolescence in order to reduce the percentage of kids who join gangs or become violent in adulthood.

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The resolution set aside $600,000 for two years of funding for the program.

City Council action
After listening to 10 community members voice their opinions on the Father to the Fatherless program, a representative from Mayor Andy Berke’s office requested a two-week deferral.

District 8 Councilman Anthony Byrd made a motion to grant the deferral, but the motion was not seconded by any member of the council and was therefore removed from voting.

City Council Chairman and District 2 Councilman Jerry Mitchell then asked if any of the council members wanted to make a motion to pass the resolution. The entire council again remained silent, killing the resolution.

District 9 Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod was absent from the meeting because of a death in the family.

Following the voting, District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz said that even though she supports the principles of the program, she refused to forward the motion because she thinks there are better ways to facilitate this kind of program.

Berz also voiced her support for the program in the Jan. 16 council meeting.

“[The Father to the Fatherless program] should be able to do fully what they do, but not in a vacuum,” she said.

She hopes that the Family Justice Center can play a larger role in the future because it already has access to the resources included in the Father to the Fatherless resolution.

Other council members shared a similar sentiment about the resolution.

“I think we have a better solution out there,” District 4 Councilman Darrin Ledford said. “I think we have more resources that can be pulled together … The work that [Father to the Fatherless] does in the community, no one questions that. I love what they do, but I don’t want to leave these resources untapped.”

Byrd said he was ready to give the program a full yes, but was OK with deferring the vote to give leaders a chance to respond to some of the concerns. He remains hopeful for a solution.

“I want to get all of these community leaders together, have a meeting, sit down and find out what can we do to come together,” Byrd said. “Maybe it’s not one group that has to get all of that money.”

Public opinion
Before the council voted on the resolution, they invited members of the community to voice their opinions on the issue.

Of the 11 who spoke, several were directly involved with the program and spoke of its efficacy.

Orchard Knob Middle School Principal Tiffany Earvin said that anytime the school lost a student, Father to the Fatherless representatives were at the school to help children.

“When students wouldn’t talk to our counselors, they talked to their mentors,” she said.

Others wanted to stress the importance of any kind of program to help Chattanooga’s disadvantaged youth.

“I’m neutral on both sides; I just want a good program for these kids and the community,” Antonio Boston said.

Other business
Other matters dealt with during Tuesday’s meeting included:

  • A passed resolution allowing a small distillery to operate in the Chattanooga Choo-Choo
  • A resolution annexing property belonging to the Lookout Mountain Conservancy
  • A resolution beginning the process to reconstruct and extend Passenger Street
  • A presentation from Girls Inc. of Chattanooga that covered the need for sidewalks, litter cleanup work and no speeding signs in some areas of Chattanooga
  • A request to allocate $190,000 for lock services that got kicked back after several council members thought this was too much to pay for locks

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah

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