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    Opinion: Votes on City Council, County Commission this week show how politics makes strange bedfellows

    When the proposal to transfer $250,000 in funds from the Hamilton County Health Department to hybrid-funded Clínica Médicos was discussed during the Hamilton County Commission meeting last week, it drew a few minor questions but mostly only praise for the work the clinic does.

    From commissioners’ comments, we expected the resolution would pass this week but suggested commissioners should look warily at such future end-of-year requests.

    When the vote was taken on Wednesday, commissioners not only turned down the resolution 7-4, but the three who praised the clinic most highly the week before voted against it.

    The vote also was interesting because it divided commissioners by party and by those who represent underserved communities.

    Republicans Joe Graham and Mike Chauncey, both of whom have constituencies that use the clinic, voted for transferring the money, along with Gene-o Shipley. Democrat Greg Beck also backed the resolution. Opposing it were Democrats David Sharpe and Warren Mackey, both of whom consider themselves champions of the underserved, along with Republicans Chip Baker, Ken Smith, Lee Helton, Steve Highlander and Jeff Eversole.

    Baker, Mackey and Sharpe all had praised the clinic the previous week, Baker remarking that the clinic’s founder had heard “a resounding thank-you for what you do,” Mackey oozing that “you are doing some amazing work” (and wanting to make sure those “in the shadows” were served), and Sharpe helpfully pointing out that the clinic treats anyone, regardless of ability to pay.

    We had warned that such a transfer of money, though perhaps worthy in this case, would cause “private and nonprofit hands [to] go out.” And that’s what Baker said had occurred. “I got a number of calls from other medical providers [asking] that, if we’re giving out money, why not them,” he said.

    When Mayor Weston Wamp made the proposal to transfer the funds last week, he stressed that only roughly 50 days were left in the fiscal year, that it was an opportunity to “pay it forward” and that it was a one-time-only investment, so the unfilled health department positions where the money was coming from weren’t about to get fully staffed.

    That made Mackey’s comment Wednesday a little hard to comprehend.

    “I would like to see this go through,” he said. ” With a little more time, I think it can go through. There’s commissioners shaking their head and agreeing … it possibly will go through.”

    The fiscal year, though, now only has about six weeks left.

    Sharpe, who rarely sees eye to eye with Wamp, again praised the work of clinic founder Dr. Kelly Arnold but seemed to blame the absent mayor for suggesting the transfer.

    “I find it unfortunate that you had been placed in this position of scrutiny in a way that I believe was not thoroughly vetted and left here to stand without the support of the sponsor,” he said. “That’s disappointing to me.”

    Sharpe’s argument seemed to dredge up the seeming power play between the young, first-year mayor and the commission, which has resulted in disputes over a reconstructed dais, the contract of the county attorney and the reallocation of various county funds, among other things.

    Wamp says he gets along with almost all the commissioners behind the scenes, but when the YouTube cameras come on he and the all-male panel frequently are at loggerheads.

    Unlike the division over the funding transfer resolution at the Hamilton County Courthouse Wednesday, Chattanooga City Council members at City Hall closed ranks to protect one of their own Tuesday when they voted unanimously to dismiss an ethics complaint against Councilwoman Carol Berz.

    The next-door neighbor of the councilwoman had filed a complaint against her after she sponsored an amendment to the city’s noise ordinance earlier this year following the councilwoman’s complaints to police about late-night noise coming from the neighbor’s parties between 2020 and 2022.

    City attorney Phil Noblett said he saw no connection between the noise complaints — which stopped after a cease and desist letter was sent to the neighbor by Berz’s attorney husband in 2022 — and the councilwoman’s noise ordinance amendments.

    City council members voted with “ayes” on the ethics complaint Tuesday instead of with a roll-call vote, so whether Berz voted to dismiss the complaint against her could not be known. However, we believe it would have eliminated any suggestion of conflict of interest if she had abstained from the vote or even left the room while the discussion on the matter ensued. Indeed, as a Tennessee Supreme Court listed mediator, we would have expected that of her.

    We’re not sure the County Commission’s split vote on funds for Clínica Médicos and the unanimous ethics vote in favor of Berz brands one body as divided and the other as united, but it does make it clear once again that politics can and will make strange bedfellows.



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