ABOUT THE CENTER
Chattanooga, along with Cookeville and Nashville, received grants through the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs to develop Family Justice Centers as part of Gov. Bill Haslam's Public Safety Action plan for the state.
The cities have three years to open their centers. The state set target dates for specific goals. If cities do not comply with target dates and goals, they are in danger of losing funding.
Mayor Andy Berke's initiative to start a Family Justice Center here with federal dollars has been mired in conflict that led to the firing of the program's coordinator.
Juanita Loundmonclay said she was told she was fired because she "embarrassed the mayor." Berke says the reason was poor performance.
Loundmonclay was fired the day after she sent an email critical of another program participant to a large group of people.
"I was told I embarrassed the mayor. I got fired on the spot," said Loundmonclay, hired by Berke last September from a pool of 100 candidates to lead planning efforts for the Justice Center, a program to combat domestic violence.
Berke said Loundmonclay's performance was not up to par, but noted the contents of the email she sent did play a part in her termination. The Berke administration, which declined to comment further on Loundmonclay's firing, said this setback won't hinder efforts to open the Justice Center by the end of June 2015.
Loundmonclay's personnel file shows she was fired for inefficiency or negligence and that she was warned multiple times to "use caution with what information is sent out via City of Chattanooga email."
Emails provided to the Times Free Press show Loundmonclay and Charlotte Boatwright, president of the Coalition Against Domestic & Community Violence, butted heads in the first nine months of planning.
Boatwright has worked for two decades to curb domestic violence locally and helped get the three-year, $225,000 state grant that Chattanooga was awarded last summer along with two other cities.
Early on April 23, Loundmonclay sent an email to the state startup coordinator asking for her help.
"We still are having problems with Dr. Boatwright, and she will surely cause a problem at the meeting on Thursday," Loundmonclay wrote.
Public Safety Director Paul Smith was included in some of the emails.
Loundmonclay said she accidentally sent the email that night to a group of nearly 75 people. Boatwright immediately responded.
"I am devastated to find out at midnight on Thursday about the vicious emails that have been circulated about me to my colleagues," Boatwright wrote. "Such accusations should have been dealt with with me, not reported around the state in order to damage my reputation."
The email was later called "unprofessional and inappropriate."
The next morning, Smith told Loundmonclay to pack up her office about 20 minutes before the full Justice Committee was scheduled to meet about the center's strategic plan that needs to be approved by May 31.
Boatwright said the tension with Loundmonclay stemmed from Loundmonclay being allowed by the Berke administration to rewrite the strategic plan with a small interest group that excluded dozens of partners for some of the key planning efforts.
"It's wrong to [make plans] behind closed doors," Boatwright said.
Tennessee Criminal Justice Programs Director Bill Scollon said it's not unusual for projects to experience turmoil and setbacks when many organizations are involved, and his office works with cities to get through the sticky spots.
Smith, who said he plans to hire an executive director by the beginning of June, noted that the planning meetings will be pushed back only a week. He said the next step is to find a location for the center.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org at 423-757-6659.
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 ...