published Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Chattanooga City Council moves to aid homeless

Chattanooga City Hall
Chattanooga City Hall
Meghan Brown
OTHER BUSINESS

• Council delayed action an ordinance that would have made it easier for city employees to run for public office. In a 5-4 vote the was sent to a committee when several officials had questions and wanted more time to talk about the effects of the ordinance. The item was proposed by Councilman Chris Anderson to reverse the city's code and allow city employees who run for public office to continue working for the city during the campaign. The committee will discuss it next week.

• Council voted to change the city's purchasing manual, raising the level of sealed bids for contract work from $10,000 to $25,000.

The City Council grilled the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition leader Tuesday for not planning ahead of time how to keep the city's only overnight cold shelter open and then at the last minute put the burden on city officials.

Last year, the Homeless Coalition didn't ask the city for its annual $75,000 to run the Community Kitchen's cold weather shelter in the winter.

So on Tuesday, after numerous meetings with the mayor's office, Coalition Executive Director Stephen Wright asked the City Council to amend the 2014 fiscal budget funneling $50,000 to keep the shelter open during the rest of the frigid winter season through March.

But before city officials voted unanimously on the first reading to give the coalition the money, they had some harsh words for Wright.

"It's hard for me to fathom we learned it was going to be cold last week," said Councilman Chris Anderson. "Can you tell me why you didn't come to us a month or two ago anticipating this problem?"

Wright, who took over as director in June, said he did anticipate the funds would be needed but by then the city was already planning to vote on this fiscal year's budget and he was told to wait until the process was complete.

In November, he submitted a budget packet and said he continued asking about it until this week when the item was placed on the budget.

"It seems negligent on our part but it wasn't intentional or malicious by any means," Wright said. "It was just something that failed to be done."

When the council asked if the shelter would be able to remain open if they didn't approve the funds, Wright said essentially no.

Since Thanksgiving, the shelter has open at night for the homeless about 12 times, Wright said, and the Community Kitchen staff has volunteered to work those hours or received help from other volunteers.

If the council approves the final reading of the ordinance next week, the Homeless Coalition immediately will receive the money.

Eighty-percent of the funds will go to pay for salaries for employees, off-duty police officers and social workers, which Wright said was where the money went last year.

The coalition is already working on their plan for next year, Wright told the council after several officials also questioned that.

"We want the [coalition] board to understand they've got to do better," said Councilman Moses Freeman. "Next time they come with an emergency we may not be as sensitive to them."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

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about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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