published Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Berke unveils 'bold' new City Hall for Chattanooga


by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is proposing a major overhaul of city government, eliminating four departments and creating three new ones.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is proposing a major overhaul of city government, eliminating four departments and creating three new ones.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
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WHAT'S NEXT

Chattanooga City Council members on Tuesday are expected to consider Mayor Andy Berke's proposals to overhaul City Hall.

CHANGING GOVERNMENT

Departments to be created:

• Department of Economic & Community Development

• Department of Youth & Family Development

• Department of Transportation

Departments to be eliminated:

• Department of Parks & Recreation

• Department of Human Services

• Department of Education, Arts & Culture

Source: Chattanooga

Poll
Will Mayor Berke's new structural plan help the city?

A week into office, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced what he called a "bold" plan to streamline government by eliminating four city departments and creating three new ones.

"This is the first major change to city government since the charter was adopted in 1990," he said Friday. "It's bold."

The reorganization will save about $370,000 a year in salary and benefit costs, according to estimates from Berke's office.

What city government will look like under Berke has been much anticipated since Chattanooga voters swept the attorney and former state senator into office March 5. Although turnout was anemic, with just more than 18,000 ballots cast, Berke won 72 percent of the vote.

Interest intensified when the new mayor last week let go 18 of 21 people who worked directly for his predecessor, Ron Littlefield.

Berke called his plan a "reorienting" of city government that will match services with his priorities of growing business, helping children and fighting crime.

"We shouldn't do things just because of tradition," he said. "We wanted to figure out the priorities of the community and structure ourselves to meet those needs at the lowest cost."

Under his plan, the departments of Education, Arts and Culture; Neighborhood Services; Human Services; and Parks and Recreation will be eliminated. New departments -- Youth and Family Development, Economic and Community Development and Transportation -- will be set up.

The reorganization calls for:

• Youth and Family Development to include the recreation and programming aspects of parks and recreation, Head Start and all other segments of youth development.

• Economic and Community Development to include community development functions of parks and recreation and neighborhood services.

• Transportation to include services and functions related to infrastructure, transit planning and road construction.

Other departments, such as the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Information Services, Personnel and Finance and Administration, will remain.

City Hall will take on a more corporate structure, with Berke essentially serving as CEO and having fewer department heads reporting to him. While 14 people reported to Littlefield, only five will report to Berke: his chief of staff, chief operating officer, city attorney, senior adviser and police chief.

All other department heads will report to Chief Operating Officer Andrew Kean, who is tasked with making sure city operations are efficient and customer-focused.

Berke acknowledged that the big changes he is proposing at City Hall undoubtedly will unsettle many employees.

"Anytime you have large-scale institutional changes, employees will be uneasy," he said.

In meetings with employees, however, he said he has been inspired and encouraged by their response to his goal of tying city services to specific goals. Most employees will do the same jobs they are doing now, just under different leadership and new vision.

Berke said hiring won't start until "the structure is right." Once new staff members are brought on board, goals will be developed "so we can be judged and held accountable," he said.

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem did not respond to a message Saturday, but two councilmen spoke in support of Berke's plans.

Jerry Mitchell, who was parks and recreation director under Mayors Jon Kinsey and Bob Corker, said it's a massive change for the brand-new mayor to propose.

"He's not stepping into the water," Mitchell said. "He's going in."

Shrinking government should allow for better communication, Mitchell said, but he warned that city workers need to be kept in the loop.

"We've got to make sure the city employees come along with it," he said.

Larry Grohn said the council is watching out for workers' welfare.

"We're not talking about anybody losing their jobs," Grohn said. "We're talking about a different mindset."

But, he said, eliminating some departments is a good way to save money.

"If you're going to try and have a big-hitter change, this is the way to do it," he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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