Chattanooga business coalition bucks Berke’s budget

    (Photo: ICan'tBreatheCHA Instagram)
    (Photo: ICan'tBreatheCHA Instagram)

    Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s proposed budget for FY 2021 passed first reading before Chattanooga City Council despite ongoing comment from community members and a “tax revenue” strike by a coalition of businesses in protest. 

    Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams, owner of Goldfinger Production$, an entertainment company that books musical acts for bars and restaurants, was one of the strike organizers through his volunteer role with “I Can’t Breathe CHA.”

    Williams said the group’s issue with Berke’s budget is the overcommitment of funds for police and under commitment for community resources. 

    “We want help with systemic problems all around and not just with police,” Williams said. “We want the YFD (Youth and Family Development) recreational centers updated. We want the technology centers upgraded. Our children are in the rec centers more than they are in school.”

    The strike was a gesture to deprive the city of tax revenue for the period of time during which businesses were closed.

    Berke’s proposed $258 million budget allots more than $71 million to the city’s police department, or almost a quarter of the annual budget. Unlike other Tennessee cities, including Nashville, which has a metropolitan form of government, Chattanooga does not have to budget for education since schools are part of Hamilton County. Monday, Berke announced he was carving money from the police department’s budget to create an Office of Resilience.

    Williams said “ICan’t Breathe CHA” grew out of community outrage following the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd by police there May 25. 

    Bar owner Ryan Rothermel, who operates Exile Off Main Street, is part of the coalition. 

    “This is not about the abolishment of police. We want to take a portion of the budget for that and put it into community and not militarized police,” Rothermel said. 

    Council cut short public comment Tuesday night, limiting it to one hour despite more than 200 signing up to speak at the virtual meeting. The preceding council meeting, June 9, was also marked by extensive public comment and lasted over seven hours. 

    Councillor Anthony Byrd, District 8, was the only council member to vote against the budget. The final vote will be next week. 

    Tonight, Williams, Rothermel and others will gather in Miller Park for another protest. 

    “We just want a decent, humane commitment,” said Williams.