andy berke arts
City Times, They Keep On Changin’
Throughout his campaign for mayor, then-Sen. Andy Berke told anyone and everyone who would listen that he wanted to remake city government. His goals were clear: Make Chattanooga government more efficient and more responsive to the needs of the residents.
Now that he has moved from the statehouse in Nashville to the top floor of Chattanooga’s City Hall, Mayor Berke is wasting little time in reshaping the administration of the city.
This past Friday he welcomed three familiar faces to his administration—familiar not for their work in government, but notably for their work in the community.
Former Pulse contributor Blythe Bailey, who wrote on urban and regional sustainability issues in these pages in 2009, will be heading up the newly created Department of Transportation. Up to this point, transportation needs and planning had been handled by the Department of Public Works (along with water, sewer and sanitation), but Berke believes that transportation is important enough for the improvement and growth of the city to warrant its own specific department. Bailey, an architect by trade, will be presented with the rather daunting challenge of figuring out how to improve the city’s many transportation issues.
Joining Bailey in Berke’s new administration will be longtime Urban League of Chattanooga COO James H. McKissic, who will be stepping in as director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The department, which was created in 2005, was chartered to cultivate “an environment of understanding, respect and equality of rights” for the entire population of the city. McKissic, who describes himself as “passionate about empowering communities and changing lives,” has been a leading voice in cultural diversity in the community for many years. He is also a strong advocate for the arts, not only being a painter of some renown himself, but also active as a board member for ArtsBuild, the Public Art Committee, LaPaz and GreenSpaces.
Rounding out the Friday announcements, Mayor Berke welcomed Bethlehem Center director Lurone Jennings, who will be taking over the newly created Department of Youth and Family Development, one of several new departments that were decided on by a reassessment of city needs. The former Howard principal, known to many simply as “Coach”, who also served as the Director of Drug Education and Athletics for Hamilton County Schools, will now be responsible for the recreation part of the former Parks & Recreation department, with a focus on the 17 neighborhood centers throughout the city.
Bailey, McKissic and Jennings will not be the only new faces coming to city government. Berke’s ambitious plans to remake city government, which have so far met with overwhelming approval from the newly seated City Council, are an opportunity to break with the past administration. And while initial community reaction to the recent changes and appointments has been strongly positive, what many political watchers noticed in Berke’s Friday announcement was what was absent: any mention of leadership changes within the Chattanooga Police Department.
Current chief Bobby Dodd has been seen in some circles as a question mark, with people in and outside of the department wondering whether he would continue is his post or would be part of the ongoing house-cleaning as the Littlefield era moves into history. As of this past weekend, he’s still the top cop in the city. But if Berke has proven anything so far in his first few days in office, he is anything but indecisive: If he is going to make a change, expect it to be made soon.