Council Chair: "It's not anything within the jurisdiction of the council"
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) – M.L.K. merchants are gathering at City Council Tuesday night, putting all their efforts toward changing Mayor Ron Littlefield's decision to move the Bessie Smith Strut to the Riverbend Festival this year.
It brings in big bucks for the vendors there, but the mayor says it's a safety issue and needs to be moved.
Mayor Littlefield announced the decision move the strut to Riverbend last week, citing safety issues.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd says he supports that reasoning, but business owners along M.L.K. say they're not going down without a fight.
Despite council members saying that they don't have a way to reverse the decision, merchants still want their voices to be heard.
"It was the wrong thing to do," says George Ottrix. "We didn't have no voice."
M.L.K. merchants say the most upsetting part-- is their input wasn't a factor in making the decision to move their biggest money maker of the year.
James Massengill opened Chattanooga Smokehouse the night of the strut three years ago and says he credits the event for the success of his business.
"Get it overturned," says Massengill.
"Give us a chance to vote on it, or let council vote on it or something," says Ottrix. "We had nothing to do with them moving it."
"I don't know how it will turnout, but I'll be supporting all the other businesses on the street."
Former Friends of the Festival Board Member Gerald Mason is joining these merchants at Tuesday night's meeting.
"I hope we can make a change down at city council tonight," says Mason.
He says moving the strut was discussed by the board every year, but never happened because they thought it would destroy the event.
"It's not just the merchants, or the Black community," Mason says. "There are a lot of people that want this thing to continue."
Despite opposition to the mayor's decision, council members say their hands are tied.
"It's not anything within the jurisdiction of the council," says Chairwoman Pam Ladd.
"I don't think it's going to be reversed because it's a done deal," says Ottrix.
Still they say if there's any chance at all to save their version of the strut, it's getting city leaders on their side.
Merchants plan to argue the safety reasoning to the council, saying they think money is the true motivator.
This will be the first year admission is charged for the event.
Many vendors say they won't participate if it's moved.