No answer: Chattanooga taxpayers should demand accountability


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

CHATTANOOGA — If you’re a Chattanooga taxpayer, ponder this little principle, which most of us learned at early age: If you have nothing to hide, if you conduct yourself with virtue, then you should never fear scrutiny.

Then ask yourself if your public officials are following it.

Take, for example, Chattanooga.

Whether it’s Mayor Andy Berke or members of the airport authority, don’t answer questions about things you’re entitled to know.

Airport authority spokesman Albert Waterhouse, for instance, failed to respond to Tennessee Watchdog’s numerous calls while the airport authority negotiated a deal with TAC Air, formerly the airport’s only private fixed-base operator. Waterhouse also did not respond to calls after negotiations concluded.

In lieu of that, Tennessee Watchdog contacted several members of the airport authority directly and even tried to reach airport CEO Terry Hart. Hart referred all questions to Waterhouse while other members of the airport authority either politely or curtly refused to talk.

HELLO? A Chattanooga City Council member is calling out the airport authority for what he calls lack of transparency.

As previously reported, the airport authority used $4 million in taxpayer money to compete against TAC Air — even though market conditions didn’t demand a competitor and no private FBO would come, due to economic conditions. The airport has since lost more than $1 million in taxpayer money.

After three years of this kerfuffle, TAC Air officials seemingly grew tired of the situation and left the city altogether. They sold their office and hangar properties to the airport authority at a cost of $12 million to taxpayers.

City Council member Larry Grohn has called out members of the airport authority for their lack of transparency with the public.

Airport authority officials even locked out members of the press the moment the officials realized reporters arrived to cover one of their recent meetings, Grohn said.

Last year, Berke’s office refused to disclose details of his trip to Germany, even the costs. During the trip, Berke and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger reportedly discussed additional taxpayer-funded incentives with Volkswagen officials, in exchange for the company expanding operations at their Chattanooga plant.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

If you live in Chattanooga, the stark reality is that your local officials are using more and more of your tax dollars to either fund private enterprise or to compete against it.

Government is picking winners and losers.

The city’s public Electric Power Board took $111 million in federal stimulus money to create ultra-high speed Internet and compete against private providers. EPB officials, seemingly oblivious to the fact that stimulus dollars came from taxpayers, announced that no taxpayer dollars funded the project.

Any public official, in a small town or a large metropolitan area like Chattanooga, should always answer any challenging questions readily, willingly and without hesitation.

Granted, this doesn’t always happen in small towns, where public officials, accustomed to friendly media coverage, either don’t know how to respond to hard questions or avoid them altogether.

Chattanooga officials, however, should have a higher standard for themselves.

Don’t wait until a public servant decides to use your tax dollars against you or your place of business.

It’s your money.

It’s your say.

These people are supposed to work for your best interests — not against them.

Contact Christopher Butler at or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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