Chris Brooks (L) and Councilman Jack Benson (R) make nice after lively debate and vote on his appointment to the Department of Neighborhood Services & Community Development Citizen Advisory Board.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WRCB-TV) - A normally uneventful appointment procedure took new life at Tuesday night's Chattanooga City Council meeting. At issue was a seat on the Department of Neighborhood Services & Community Development Citizen Advisory Board and who was nominated to fill it. Chris Brooks is no stranger to the council. As Executive Director of Chattanooga Organized for Action, he has attended most of their meetings and work sessions. But, when Councilman Andrae McGary offered his name for a three-year seat on the board, it became obvious that he rubs some council members the wrong way.
First, Councilwoman Sally Robinson, concerned that the board directs spending of over $3 million in Community Development Block Grant funds, noted that he does not stand nor participate in the invocation and reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of council meetings. To that point she asked, "Are you a citizen of the United States?"
Brooks replied, "I can provide a copy of my Social Security Card, if that's necessary."
Councilman Jack Benson warned, "How you answer this will dictate how I vote for you." He questioned Brooks's leadership in the mayoral recall movement. Benson asked Brooks to, "...abstain from future activity in pursuit of the recall of the mayor," citing the expense and "constant interruption" the issue had caused the city.
Brooks fired back, "...I need to abdicate the rights afforded me as a citizen of Chattanooga by our city charter in order for you to support my appointment to a city board?"
Councilman McGary called a point of order, saying he did not feel Benson's line of questioning had any bearing on the appointment. He called the question "out of line."
When asked by Councilwoman Carol Berz why he wanted to sit on this board, Brooks answered, "I feel committed to my city that, if I'm presented an opportunity to serve in a greater capacity and to learn, which is what I'm really looking forward to, to learn the functions of government in a more meaningful level to be able to participate in that process while learning it, I'm gonna jump at it."
Councilman Russell Gilbert praised Brooks's abilities as an organizer and developer for his community and added, "This is the first time I've heard debate about an appointee."
But, Councilman Manny Rico disagreed with Gilbert's assessment. "I think being a 'community organizer' and sitting on a board where you try to work with others to make decisions are too different things," said Rico. Adding that, in his experience, "He wants to talk and he has all the answers," Councilman Rico said. "I really don't like young people that try to intimidate people by trying to convince you that you don't know what you're talking about."
Rico ended his comments by asking Brooks if he had a job. Brooks replied, "How does anybody get to server on these boards if they're going to be scrutinized so viciously by the city council?"
Chairwoman Ladd stepped in and recognized Councilwoman Deborah Scott who said, "This scrutiny is far off-base for what this particular position is." She then quoted his academic resume to the council paying attention to his numerous accolades. Scott concluded, "This is a local person. He is dedicating his time. Maybe we don't always agree with everything he says, but he seems quite qualified to serve on this board."
The final count was 7-2 in favor of the appointment with Councilmen Jack Benson and Manny Rico voting against.