The District 4 City Council race is the most crowded contest on the March 5 ballot. More people have decided to try to unseat 12-year City Council incumbent Jack Benson than are running for mayor — and for good reason. It's time for Benson to go.
Benson has always been a tax-and-spend, big-government politician who traded in Chattanooga's shameful tradition of cronyism. In recent years, however, his flaws have gone beyond questionable principles and failing to respect tax dollars. Many feel he no longer adequately represents his constituents.
In particular, several of his opponents point out that Benson is often ill-prepared for council meetings -- an allegation that will come as no surprise to regular attendees of City Council meetings. He called such criticisms "nitpicking" and admits that he believes he shouldn't be "tied up" with handling his city council duties if city staff can do them.
One of his challengers, along with several constituents, also told the Free Press that Benson rarely answers phone calls and is slow to return residents' emails.
At times it seems the people Benson is most receptive to are his largest donors -- namely individuals associated with CBL and Ken DeFoor Properties. Benson's history of voting in ways that benefit the two developers raise concerns that he might, at times, be more motivated by campaign contributions than by what is best for his constituents and the city.
When asked if there were places in the city budget that could be cut, Benson told the Free Press, "I always see places where we could cut." But, after naming a litany of city departments and coming up with no examples of excess spending, he recanted, saying, "I don't know of anything that could be cut." Benson even went so far as to call city-owned golf courses and performance venues "basic necessities."
It's that lack of prioritization and critical thinking that have led Benson to vote in favor of two property tax hikes during his tenure on the commission.
Since it is obvious that Benson is a poor representative of the people of his district and has no business on the city council, the question is: Which of his four challengers is best-suited to replace him?
The answer is Larry Grohn.
Grohn, a retired high school teacher, points out that Chattanooga has far more city employees than other cities of a similar size. He hopes to save tax dollars by streamlining departments and letting unnecessary positions go unfilled. With some of the money saved, Grohn hopes to fully staff the police department and put more police officers on the streets.
The Free Press opinion page endorses Grohn because of his commitment to addressing crime concerns, making Chattanooga a more business-friendly city and, unlike Benson, favoring budget cuts instead of tax increases.