Chattanooga government does not reflect city’s diversity, new data shows
New data from the city of Chattanooga reveals significant gender and racial disparities in parts of local government charged with making key decisions about how the city grows, develops and operates.
Chris Anderson, administrator of the city’s innovation and performance delivery, said the city “is not where we want to be” as he presented the demographics of its 39 boards and commissions which serve as advisory bodies to the Chattanooga government at a committee meeting Tuesday. of the municipal council.
Examples of city councils and commissions, which are made up of volunteers appointed to their roles, include the Regional Planning Commission, the Electric Power Council, and the Beer and Demolition Council.
The majority – 53% – of Chattanoogans are women, and 34% of city councils and commission members are women, according to Anderson’s presentation.
Although Chattanooga is 31% African-American, 19% of the members of the various city boards of directors are African-American and 1% of the council and commission members are Hispanic while making up 9% of the population. from Chattanooga.
Meanwhile, whites make up 77% of the city’s board and commission members, which exceeds the 60% they represent in the city’s overall population.
“We’re in a situation where we have these boards that don’t really reflect the community they serve, and by extension of that, they don’t reflect what people look like and what the people who come before them identify with. to be heard, ”Anderson told board members.
The presentation came a week after City Councilor Demetrus Coonrod criticized the city for continuously placing white men in positions of power while minorities who better represent the region are excluded.
Coonrod did not speak publicly during the meeting and declined to comment for this story.
Anderson said his office was working to collect better demographic information on the city’s boards and commissions to address the long-standing lack of diversity since May, after Mayor Tim Kelly took office in April.
Historically, the city has done a poor job of tracking the demographics of its boards and commissions, Anderson said. Demographics were not always captured when people applied for these positions, and although the city is actively working to correct the problem, 24% of the board and commission makeup and 31% of racial makeup remain unknown.
As a result, he said council and commission staff have been trained on how to properly update this information and maintain an accurate database, and the city now has an internal dashboard for monitor performance.
Anderson said he believed that more applicants from under-represented sectors of the population would have the greatest impact. In January 2022, council members will receive more information and communications to distribute to their districts in an effort to secure a larger and more diverse pool of candidates.
Councilor Jenny Hill, who heads the education and innovation committee where the presentation was given, said she hoped the council could “eliminate this imbalance” by focusing on the problem and using data – which is also now publicly tracked on city boards. and the commissions web page – as a resource when looking to book appointments.
“A lot of times I find that to be true, that people want to be asked in person to serve. And as a woman, I know that a lot of times women don’t run for office because no one has asked them. to show up, ”Hill said. “So we have a very important responsibility and opportunity as board members to ask people who may not have been invited in the past to participate in their government.”
Contact Elizabeth Fite at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.