Ron Littlefield talks about police, gangs during State of the CityDuring his final State of the City address, outgoing Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, talked about the efforts he put in place to combat gangs and the ongoing scuffles he had with police during his eight-year administration. Littlefield will be replaced by former state Sen. Andy Berke on April 15.
Two-term Mayor Ron Littlefield sat in the front row of a newly revamped Memorial Auditorium theater that was almost three-fourths empty.
The mayor who fought a recall effort and weathered protests over property tax hikes gave his last State of the City address Tuesday night before a small crowd of about 100 people. Instead of pledges for the future, Littlefield reflected on his eight-year term in office.
"Chattanooga is cool and green and growing," Littlefield said. "No longer dirty and declining. Chattanooga has status as a fast-advancing, youth attracting, 'cool' city. Nothing could be finer."
Littlefield has 34 days left in his term before Mayor-elect Andy Berke takes office. After his speech, he said he plans on stepping back and letting the next administration begin its transition over the next month.
Litlefield highlighted 10 items he felt were the most important parts of his administration. They included Volkswagen building a plant; EPB gigabyte fiber; the city's new wellness center, the building of the government and social service facilities at the old Farmer's Market, now the Gene Roberts Public Service Complex; and creating a new sewer and wastewater authority.
He spent a significant portion of he speech on police and safety.
Littlefield claimed that under his administration, more cops are on the streets, officers are making more money and overall spending on the police department is up by 20 percent. He noted there is a net gain of 5 officers between now and when he took office.
He lashed out at police unions, saying they used fear tactics to foster belief the police department is in bad shape.
"Don't believe what you hear from the police unions," Littlefield said. "They are paid to be unhappy."
Sgt. Craig Joel, vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said Littlefield's claims were not truthful. Officers have legitimate concerns.
"His ideas about his legacy and reality are two different things," he said.
Joel discredited the mayor's figures on police force numbers, saying Littlefield included non-sworn cadets in a current police academy. He also noted that the city has been involved in several lawsuits over the past two years because of pay disparity. Joel also said many officers were unhappy that the administration ended retirement benefits for new officers after the age of 65.
Littlefield reviewed seven strategies his administration pursued, and claimed victory on each one.
Among those, he said the Department of Neighborhood Services had been strengthened. He noted that while he couldn't take credit for the expansive 21st Century Waterfront project, his administration helped complete it by making needed repairs and improvements. The city's greenways have expanded over the last eight years, another goal his administration achieved.
And he also said he made a promise of compassion and saw that through with the new Gene Roberts Public Service Center on 11th Street.
"We have definitely left the city better than we found it," Littlefield concluded in his speech.
Afterward, Councilwoman Pam Ladd, current chairwoman of the City Council, said she thought the mayor did an excellent job in highlighting the years he had in office.
She served on the council for half those years and saw the good and the bad. She said in some instances the legacy Littlefield leaves behind is tainted because of people who just want to be angry.
"The criticism is unfair when the people don't do their homework and get the facts right," she said.