Chattanooga mayoral candidates share thoughts on relief funds, education, affordable housing in second debate

Colin M. Stewart, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·4 min read

Mar. 27—Issues of economic, educational and housing equity took center stage as Kim White and Tim Kelly met in their second debate ahead of the April 13 Chattanooga mayoral election runoff.

The tone of Friday evening's face-off, presented by WTCI-PBS and WUTC-FM, was collegial in comparison to the March 18 debate sponsored by news partners WRCB-TV and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

On Friday, Kelly and White were given two minutes each to respond to each of 16 questions about issues such as spending of federal COVID-19 relief dollars, addressing the recent surge in the city's homeless population and assessing the region's public transportation system.

RELIEF FUNDING

Kelly told viewers that Chattanooga was very fortunate as it is slated to receive $39.8 million from the federal relief fund, and he plans to use that money to "supercharge the plans we already had to pull the city out of the pandemic."

Those plans include appointing a city director of public health to work with the county to accelerate relief "as a one-stop-shop for small businesses to help them recover and get rebooted. And then, of course, the money is also eligible for infrastructure investments in broadband, in water and sewer, and, especially I think, in the area of homelessness and affordable housing, which has really become a full-blown crisis."

White said she would chart a similar course, creating an office of small business support to "really go out into the community that makes sure that we put those funds where they're needed most — and that's supporting small- and medium-sized businesses that are hurting."

White pointed to her background in real estate and development as an important tool for her response to the city's affordable housing pinch. She said she will focus on creating and using public-private partnerships to bring foreclosed properties, of which there are about 500 in the city, back onto the tax rolls, while building a $2 million housing fund to attract investment in the city's affordable housing efforts.

"We believe that we can put 700 units of affordable housing into the market during my first term," she said.

"It is an epidemic," Kelly said of the affordable housing shortage. "It is a basic economic function of supply and demand and we have to increase the supply of housing generally in order to make an impact here, but we also have to create vehicles and methods so that these aren't Band-Aids, so that they're permanent solutions to the problem."

He pointed to community land trusts as one important tool in that fight.

JOBS AND EDUCATION

On attracting jobs to the city, White twice pointed to her experience directing the River City Co., which she credited with bringing $1.2 billion in investment to Chattanooga.

"I don't think [city leadership has] been a very good partner with the Chamber of Commerce and others, and I look forward to saying that the mayor is the No. 1 salesperson, working with partners to help us bring investment here," she said.

Kelly pointed to his personal track record building and growing multiple successful businesses during his time in Chattanooga as a reason for choosing him to lead the city's economic development efforts.

"I've created hundreds of jobs in Chattanooga, and I've been on the Chamber of Commerce board twice, in very active roles both times ... I know that if they need me to get on a plane and go to New York or Silicon Valley or Austin and recruit, that I'm going to bring home the bacon."

Both candidates said they would work to improve on the city's current efforts to offer more early childhood education opportunities.

Kelly said he would set a goal of expanding to another 1,200 early childhood education seats in his first year, and up to 4,000 a decade from now.

White, meanwhile, said she would set a goal of 2,000 more early childhood education seats, while also announcing her intention to provide child care services for city employees.

POLICE AND TRANSIT

Both candidates proclaimed strong support for Chattanooga Police Department Chief David Roddy, saying he was moving the city's police force in the right direction, restoring trust with the public and ensuring that the department's demographics match those of the city.

On the issue of public transit, White said Chattanooga underfunds CARTA, and she will work to identify projects that can be completed quickly to improve offerings and make it easier for Chattanoogans to get to work.

Kelly proclaimed himself to be a hand-on manager who would work closely with employees on the ground to improve service and find ways to innovate.

"I think we've got some tremendous opportunities to innovate at CARTA, including using the Uber pool and smaller, sprinter-type vans like they're doing in Dallas," he said.

Early voting began last week and will continue through April 8. Election day is April 13. For more information, visit timesfreepress.com/voter-guide.

Colin Stewart can be reached at cstewart@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6366.