Well, that was quick, predictable, only mildly disappointing and, turnout-wise, pathetic. But no matter. Now that most of the dust has settled—besides the District 4 Jack Benson/Larry Grohn runoff on April 9 and the as-yet unsettled Yusuf Hakeem vs. Peter Murphy vs. J.J. and the Check Marks smackdown in District 9—let’s get back, or down, to business.
Dear Mayor-Elect Berke and City Council Members-Elect: Congratulations! You did it! Now comes the hard part—effectively governing. Let’s not make this difficult. Chattanooga needs a mayor and council who can work together for the betterment of the city on every issue and at every level. We know you all agree on that, but things get tricky with that first big decision. We’re sure you’ll give it your all—and you’ve got four years to prove yourselves. So, let’s dispense with the relatively easy stuff and clear the table for the Big Issues of crime, taxes, utilities and potholes. Here’s our wish list to accomplishing much for the city’s arts-loving population in one quick, painless and fell swoop:
• With regard to the Education, Arts & Culture Department, you have two choices: Either return it to Parks & Rec, with equal rights, or restructure it without the Tivoli Theatre or the Memorial Auditorium under its management. We see value in a separate-but-equal EAC speaking up for public art and education, but venue management is clearly not its expertise, at least under its current, um, well, for lack of a better word, leader. We have nothing personal against Missy Crutchfield, but either let her go or reassign her, drop her salary to a reasonable level and forbid her from dealing with anything involving city money and managing properties. All evidence points to the fact that this is the prudent thing to do.
• With that done, either hire a professional, experienced venue manager to run and book our twin civic jewels or issue bids for a professional venue and entertainment management agency to do so for us. Again, all evidence points to the fact that this is the prudent thing to do. You don’t have to sell or lease either theater, but you must place them in competent hands for the sake of the city’s finances and for those of us who would like to see something other than a touring Broadway show or a near-dead legend picking up some quick cash, no matter how much a "legend" the performer may appear to be.
• Transparency is a popular theme and one many of you ran on, so let’s bring that to bear with regard to public art. Each time the city offers any financial support for a new piece of public art, a barrage of complaints flow in, charging the city is using money better spent on fixing potholes, funding schools or hiring police officers and firefighters. Stand up and tell them this: Public art is a worthwhile investment. It beautifies the city and notifies its citizens, visitors and businesses looking to relocate here, as well as the national media, that we are not the Old South. Remind them that the funds spent are small compared to the returns, and that those funds have been pre-allocated and have nothing to do with stealing from other priorities. Be clear on this.
• Finally, embrace, or at least listen to, every reasonable request for review to continue to introduce more progressive urban design into our still re-emerging downtown. Welcome arts organizations and help them to continue to imbed the arts downtown and spread the movement to the suburbs. Your children—and the 18,000 people who actually voted for you—will thank you. You’ve got one month before taking office. Do these simple things and you will start strong.