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The Latest

Mayor Berke Keynotes Global Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

Posted by on 11-May-2016

On May 11, 2016, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke addressed a global delegation of leaders from cities and countries across the world regarding the July 16, 2015, terror attack and provided feedback on ways cities can establish their own strategies to counter violent extremism.

The first annual Strong Cities Network Global Summit is currently being held in Antalya, Turkey. At the Summit, Mayor Berke also announced that Chattanooga would join the Strong Cities Network. Other American cities currently members of the Strong Cities Network include New York, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, and Montgomery County (Maryland).

During his keynote speech this morning, Mayor Berke first briefed the audience on the city of Chattanooga, in particular demographics and social challenges. He went on to outline the circumstances of the July 16, 2015, terror attack and the impact on citizens. Mayor Berke praised the response of the Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) and detailed how the community responded to the attack.

“To be a great city, we have to be an inclusive and resilient city,” Berke told Summit attendees. “How cities respond to these types of events says much about who we are.”

“For Chattanooga, hate was not the answer to this terrible incident,” said Mayor Berke of the July 16, 2015 terror attack.

Mayor Berke led the U.S. delegation of two dozen leaders to the summit and, of the five keynote speakers, Mayor Berke was the only keynote speaker representing the United States. The keynote speakers included Hassan Ali Joho, Governor of Mombasa, Nairobi; Frank Jensen, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Denmark; Dr. Ranjit Patil, Minister of Maharashtra (Mumbai), India; Hans Bonte, Mayor of Vilvoorde, Belgium; and Andy Berke, Mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States of America.
The Strong Cities Network was launched last September and features 50 cities from around the world, including small and medium-sized cities along with metropolises such as London, New York, and Paris.


ABOUT STRONG CITIES NETWORK

Launched at the United Nations in September 2015, the Strong Cities Network (SCN) is the first ever global network of mayors, municipal-level policy makers and practitioners united in building social cohesion and community resilience to counter violent extremism in all its forms.

Led by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the SCN strengthens strategic planning and practices among municipal-level policy makers and builds the capacity of local practitioners to prevent the spread of violent extremism in all its forms. The network catalyses, inspires and multiplies community-centric approaches and action to counter violent extremism while respecting the fundamental rights of citizens.

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New Avondale Youth & Family Center; $6 Million Capital Project will Strengthen East Chattanooga Area

Posted by on 06-May-2016

In early May, a room full of community members joined Mayor Andy Berke as he announced the City of Chattanooga will be investing over $6 million into East Chattanooga through the building of a new Avondale Youth & Family Development (YFD) Center. The new center will be built from the ground up at the site of the current Avondale center and will add additional new amenities. The new Avondale YFD center is expected to more than double the square footage of the current Avondale YFD center

“We believe in the future of Avondale,” said Mayor Andy Berke. “This community has worked hard over the last several years to make today a reality. Our major investment will result in a new, larger center -- but more than that, it will allow us to provide opportunities and resources to even more families in this important area of our city.”

The current Avondale YFD center was built in 1949 and is one of the cities smaller centers. The last major upgrade to Avondale YFD Center was nearly 15 years ago. Since that time, YFD staff has held numerous discussions with the community to discuss needed renovations and changes to the center.

Preliminary discussions with staff and community members have highlighted several priorities to include in the center, including official size Gymnasium with bleachers, a computer lab, a Library/Reading lab, multiple classrooms, a multipurpose room, full-sized kitchen, and office areas. Preliminary discussions for exterior improvements include larger softball fields on Wilcox Boulevard, improved parking areas, and an improved outdoor basketball court.

A tentative timeline for the new Avondale YFD Center includes a July 1, 2016, planning and design start date. The community will be engaged to provide feedback and suggestions during this time. The City expects to begin demolition of the current Center in the fall of 2016. The new Avondale YFD Center will be officially open by the end of 2017. Leadership at YFD is currently working to ensure those who use the Center will have easy access to surrounding Centers once demolition occurs.

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CPD Committed to Open Data through Police Data Initiative Commitment

Posted by on 05-May-2016

In May of 2014, Mayor Andy Berke signed an executive order establishing an Open Data Policy for the City of Chattanooga. Since that time, the City has taken a number of steps as directed by Mayor Berke’s order, including creating an open data portal as well as participating in the White House’s Police Data Initiative.

Last year the White House launched the Police Data Initiative. Since that time, the initiative has mobilized 53 leading jurisdictions across the country to take fast action on concrete deliverables responding to the White House’s 21st Century Policing Task Force recommendations in the area of data and technology.

"This is the community's data. It's the community's actions, victimization, response — we just happen to be the ones responsible for writing that information down,” said police Chief of Staff David Roddy. “So we are making that data as available and transparent as we can."

Through this effort, the City is responding first to White House’s 21st Century Policing Task Force recommendations within two streams of work;
Using open data to increase transparency, build community trust, and support innovation.

Better using technology, such as early warning systems, to identify problems, increase internal accountability, and decrease inappropriate uses of force.

"This is the community's data. It's the community's actions, victimization, response — we just happen to be the ones responsible for writing that information down,” said police Chief of Staff David Roddy. “So we are making that data as available and transparent as we can."

The City of Chattanooga currently provides data through the Chattanooga Open Data Portal. This is a public site developed by the City and allows community members to examine information on police incident reports dating back to 2005, traffic citation information and 911 calls for service.

"It's a continuation of what we see as our commitment to providing open and transparent government through our open data program," said Tim Moreland, director of performance management and open data for the city.

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Mayor Berke Challenges Businesses and Organizations to be Family Friendly

Posted by on 27-Apr-2016

On April 27, Mayor Andy Berke launched his Family Friendly Workplace Challenge along with the first businesses and organizations signed on to take the Challenge. Berke announced the Challenge on Monday night during his third State of the City Address. During a press conference today at the Edney Center for Innovation, Tennessee American Water and CO.STARTERS joined the list of businesses taking the Challenge.

“There are many types of benefits that help a business attract and retain employees with families,” said Mayor Berke. “There are lots of options depending on what works for business owners and their employees. Each company has unique challenges, and their employees have different preferences. But as a city, we prosper when employers get this right, when we find ways for everyone to participate in the workforce, use their talents, and help Chattanooga employers succeed and create even more jobs.”

Creating more family friendly workplaces was a recommendation made by the Economic Committee of the Mayor’s Council for Women. The Committee spent several months studying barriers that women face in the workplace and looking at programs local companies and women’s groups have implemented to empower and encourage women to support one another.

“The Family Friendly Workplace Challenge is a great way to begin to have this important conversation,” said City Councilwoman and Mayor’s Council for Women Chairman, Dr. Carol Berz. “We know that too many companies are not providing the kinds of benefits that allow their employees to thrive. By taking part in the Challenge, businesses and organizations can talk to their employees and create policies that fit with their specific needs. And most importantly, we’ll have multiple examples of how to make family friendly practices feasible in the workplace.”

Under the Challenge employers commit to engaging their employees and developing a plan to make their businesses attractive for working mothers and fathers. At the end of a year, the City will highlight success stories and use them as a model for other businesses throughout Chattanooga.

In addition to the City of Chattanooga, a number of large businesses and organizations have signed on to Mayor Berke’s Family Friendly Workplace Challenge, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of TN (second largest employer in Chattanooga with 4,437 full-time employees), University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (1,218 full-time employees), Chattanooga State Community College (679 full-time employees), and
EPB (545 full-time employees).

"Chattanooga State Community College eagerly accepts the Family Friendly Workplace Challenge,” said Dr. Flora Tydings, President of Chattanooga State Community College. “We have already begun recruiting employees who will be gathering input from our campus community in order to help design what we want ‘Family Friendly’ to look like in our quest to provide a great place to work and learn."

At today’s press conference, Mayor Berke announced the inclusion of Tennessee American Water to the list of those taking the Challenge.

“As changes occur in our workforce and society, we recognize the importance of work-life balance for our employees. That’s why Tennessee American Water is pleased to join Mayor Berke’s Family Friendly Workplace Challenge,” said Tennessee American Water President Valoria Armstrong. “We look forward to building upon existing programs we have that focus on health and wellness while identifying new opportunities with our employees.”

Small businesses and organizations with 50 or fewer employees taking the Family Friendly Workplace Challenge include The Bread Basket, Co. LAB, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, Epiphany Day Spa & Brow Couture, and Ovalle’s Catering Company.

“The key to finding a job that launches a career is to find a company that matches your needs. Ovalle’s is not the biggest company out there, nor are we the flashiest, but we are a company that puts our employees and their families first,” said Erwin Ovalle, owner of Ovalle’s Catering Company. “We want our employees to know that when you join Ovalle’s, you join a company that will commit to supporting you and your unique needs, whether it is our support for professional development and education, or our commitment to helping find a work-home balance that fits your family’s needs.”

In addition to Ovalle’s, local small business the Bread Basket is also taking the Challenge saying, “We are a family-owned business, so we understand the importance of creating an environment that provides our employees with the flexibility needed to balance demands of work and family life.”

“The Bread Basket is proud to be part of the City of Chattanooga’s Family Friendly Workplace Challenge, and we look forward to working with our employees to come up with new ideas for managing stress and improving our overall wellness,” continued Anson Hyde, owner of the Bread Basket. “That’s tough when we work with cookies and cakes all day, but I’m confident we can be successful!”

Today’s announcement added CO.STARTERS to the list, furthering the number of small businesses and organizations looking for innovative ways to ensure a family friendly workplace for their employees.

“Our purpose with CO.STARTERS is to grow thriving communities by supporting local business, which starts with providing the most supportive environment possible for our own team to thrive,” said Enoch Elwell of CO.STARTERS. “We are excited to join the other members of this challenge as we together highlight the family friendly culture that gives our employees the freedom to do their best work."

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State of the City Address (April 25, 2016)

Posted by on 26-Apr-2016

For the last two weeks, we have seen some of the worst acts imaginable by a small group of young men determined to harm each other, often with the shooter one night becoming the target the next. And we have responded by putting every single officer on the street, from the chief on down, to stop those intent on inflicting damage.

It has been incredibly trying for our community. We have felt the heartache caused by senseless violence and the pain of the neighborhoods where the incidents take place. 

We have watched our officers pour their energy into catching those disturbing our City’s peace, and we know the frustration of our citizens as we deal with this wave of gun violence. 
You might think these last two weeks would make this a difficult time to give this speech.

In fact, I think it’s the perfect time to give the State of the City. 

Every year this speech gathers leaders of our community in one room to discuss what we are doing and how we can build a better life for people who live in Chattanooga. Sometimes, a State of the City address is an opportunity for celebration. Tonight, we work. Because our city’s future will be set by those coming together to build community and create opportunity, not by those who are out to destroy it. 

So let’s begin with you, those who are doing the work every day. If you are a first responder, please stand now to be recognized. Thank you for what you have done and continue to do. 
Please remain standing. I would also like to recognize the champions who wear different uniforms. 

If you are a teacher, a neighborhood leader or a volunteer, please stand. If you are a Social Worker, a parent or a student, please stand.
Whether you are clergy preaching for peace or laity praying for it, please stand alongside them. 
Now if you are willing to say tonight that we all stand together, to say this is our city, and we are united in our resolve to stop the violence, stand now with our police officers, stand with our firefighters, stand with our nurses and educators and clergy, with our business and community leaders.

Look around. This is the power of community. This is what we mean when we say: We are Chattanooga Strong.

Thank you. 

Tonight, as a community, we work. And whether the issue is crime or growing our economy or investing in our youth or strengthening our neighborhoods, we will work on all of them -- together. 
So let’s start with crime. Let me state the obvious: there are far too many illegal guns on our streets, and they sit in the hands of those determined to do harm. I am so appreciative of the work of our police department, where our officers are working long hours in difficult circumstances. In one week, they arrested 28 gang members and confiscated 18 guns. Yet we also saw those arrested make bond the same night, only to get on Facebook the next day with more provocative statements. These last two weeks epitomize the danger that occurs when a small group of people value retribution more than they worry about jail or even their own safety. And the cycle of violence and the code of silence continues.

But we will continue to push back. And as we continue to come together to do so, we will succeed. We will take back our streets because failure is truly not an option.

Last year we arrested 306 gang members as part of VRI. Now, we have more information than ever before about the main perpetrators on our streets. Because many of these are truly young men -- 16, 17, 18 -- Chief Fletcher has worked with Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw to start SHOCAP, intervening with teenagers before they get too far down the wrong path. And the police department has also begun a new focus on chronic offenders, identifying those doing the most damage in our community regardless of their gang affiliation.

And everyone else is chipping in, too. Fire trucks are rolling by schools at entrance and exit times so students and parents feel safe. We have partnered with Hope for the Inner City and others to open doors for those gang members seeking a better life, and 184 have found employment. And, because our police department has more authorized personnel than ever and a renewed focus on building bridges with the community, getting out of their cars to talk with people in our neighborhoods, citizens are giving us more information about what is happening than they did 2 years ago.
But we must keep adding on to what we’re doing. Last week I announced two new measures. The first is our accelerated purchase of ballistic technology to match up guns with specific crimes. The flow of guns on our streets is staggering. Our officers have worked hard to confiscate illegal weapons, and last year they seized 23 percent more than they did just 3 years ago. 
As we seize these illegal guns, we need to link them to the violent acts they’ve been used to commit. With our expanded partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, we will take a look at every gun and see if it matches up with what we’ve found at a crime scene. We can then do more to develop leads, tie the weapons and the people who were caught with them to violence, and help our prosecutors pursue justice.
Second, I have spent the last two weeks with people stopping me on the streets and asking, “What can I do?” Truthfully, many of them, like you, work hard already. Last week, at my regular prayer breakfast, I heard about several different community efforts. One pastor told me about a late night basketball game starting at his church, another about expanding their reading initiative, and another about gathering together a group to take a stand against violence. We need to promote these activities and grow them. That’s why I have asked Bishop Kevin Adams and Brainerd Vice Principal Charles Mitchell to lead our Citizens Safety Coalition. Bishop Adams and Mr. Mitchell, please stand and be recognized for your leadership.

Still, we must do more. One of my greatest frustrations is the difficulty of catching those involved in drive-bys. I read far too many police reports where the only identification of the perpetrators is that they were driving a dark SUV. And even when our officers get information about what’s happening on our streets, our outdated technology makes compiling that intelligence and distributing across the force too time consuming and difficult. We need real time information -- the kind that comes when you’re monitoring what’s happening and letting officers know about it as quickly as possible.
That’s why, today, I am announcing over the next two years the city will spend an additional one million dollars on public safety cameras and IT infrastructure for our police department. Law enforcement, clergy, and neighborhood leaders will work together on a plan to deploy the cameras as well as finding ways for those with their own video cameras to patch it into our new network. Churches can put them up in their parking lots; neighborhood leaders on their streets. As we expand this system, we can get more specific information about what cars are on our streets in the minutes before and after a shooting occurs; and to build the intelligence system that allows us to focus on our more chronic offenders.

We will not relent. When confronted with a challenge, we address it head on and succeed. We have worked too hard to rebuild our city to allow the criminal acts of a few put our progress at risk.
And we will make progress because that is truly the Chattanooga Way. We know our actions can change things. No matter what the problem, we do the work. And we keep working, again and again, even when we make progress, knowing that more attention is always called for.
Over the last 3 decades, public and private leaders have invested to improve our fortunes. We worked to clean our air and water, clearing the way for new investment. We rebuilt our downtown, showing the nation how to take advantage of a waterfront. And when we saw we needed to diversify our economic development, we laid fiber optic cable, resulting in the fastest, cheapest, most pervasive internet in the world and opening Chattanooga up to a whole new world of the innovation economy.
These decisions have paid off. Over the last 3 years, our unemployment rate has dropped 2 point 5 percent. Even more importantly for growth, Chattanooga had the third highest wage growth for a mid-sized city. That increases buying power -- at restaurants, in apartments, at the grocery -- and is a big reason why we had the highest rise in home prices in the mid-South last year. Even though huge hurdles still remain -- ones that we will tackle to spread the benefits of progress among more in our city -- we have made important strides.

Leading the way is our Innovation District, a result of the Chattanooga Forward process and the hard work of the Enterprise Center. There, within a quarter mile radius of the Edney Building at the corner of 11th and Market, we are seeing new companies born, existing businesses interacting with entrepreneurs, and researchers and students working to come up with the next big idea. Lamp Post, Bellhops, Vayner Media, Open Table, Carbon 5, and many, many others are setting a new stage for the Chattanooga economy.
But the Innovation District isn’t just about business. It’s about solving problems with new, creative solutions. There are groups that meet at the Edney Buildings community space to discuss some of Chattanooga’s most pressing challenges -- education, crime, healthcare access, and ensuring new Chattanoogans feel a part of our community fabric.

The collisions that occur there will lead us places we can’t predict. The Innovation District, after all, is a place for people -- thoughtful, talented, diverse, interesting people. It is teeming with energy, always ready to take off in a new and interesting direction.

And the innovation district is also dedicated to making sure we are a city where everyone has a chance to grow their skills. Take Joanne. A 65-year-old Chattanoogan, Joanne is raising her two grandkids. Until recently, she spent her nights taking them to fast food restaurants that had free Wi-Fi so they could do their homework Now, thanks to Netbridge, a partnership between EPB, the city, and the school system, Joanne -- as well as 1700 other local families -- has our super fast internet at home. No more gas money or scurrying from restaurant to restaurant. Instead, her grandkids do their homework around the kitchen table.

I hope Joanne’s grandkids grow up and pursue their talents in Chattanooga. If they do, they need a vibrant and energetic city to live in.

So we continue our work. Our downtown is remaking itself before our very eyes. Apartments are sprouting up everywhere, with $650 million of investment into downtown real estate. In 2017 we will double -- double -- the number of people living in our downtown from just three years ago. And as our city grows, we need great public spaces to serve our residents. They’re where families go to play together, where neighbors go to have conversations, where citizens go for a little peace and quiet. Now, we will make a once in a generation investment to continue the revitalization of Chattanooga.

MLK Boulevard is the front door to our city. Every day 40 thousand people drive through it. The citizen led Chattanooga Forward process identified it as a great opportunity for our city. So over the last year, hundreds of people have met together to redesign the MLK district. The plans are stunning. Raising the park from its current bunkered layout to street level, adding an amphitheater and pavilion, streetscaping across MLK Boulevard to Miller Plaza, and turning Patten Parkway into a bustling space for retail and pedestrians -- through private and public partnerships, we will start this fall to transform this underutilized area into a beautiful gateway to our city.

We also want to give people the chance to have the rich experiences that improve quality of life. That means investing in music and art, growing our culture and provide an outlet for our young people to express themselves. You may have noticed, for example, that the marquee at the Tivoli is lit up a whole lot more than it used to be. That’s because, again from the Chattanooga Forward process, city government turned over the keys to a new foundation that is increasing the quality and quantity of shows. Already, they’ve tripled the revenue per event as well as bumped up the number of nights someone’s playing. With a new Broadway series and many other events on the way, we know there’s lots of room for growth.
For those of you keeping track -- that’s three major accomplishments that were born from Chattanooga Forward, a citizen driven process to recommend changes that would improve our community. There are many other accomplishments from Chattanooga Forward and I would like to thank all those who served on the task forces or attended a public meeting -- would you please stand. Thank you for your hard work.

So we know Chattanooga is on the move, with an Innovation District consistently singled out by national publications, unparalleled private investment, and streets populated by visitors and residents. But I don’t want anybody to think our focus is only on downtown. We are investing all over Chattanooga, and we are working to make sure neighborhoods benefit from our work.

In this year’s budget, we will double the amount we spend on paving from when I took office, reflecting the priorities of our residents and the advocacy of City Council. In addition to reworking our aging infrastructure, we will complete Bell School Park in Alton Park and plan to update beautiful East Lake Park. If you take a look at our budget, you will see that most of our major investments are in neighborhoods. The Wilcox Tunnel in East Chattanooga, the Family Justice Center in Brainerd, building 23 thousand feet of sidewalk throughout the city -- all these projects are important. 

But it isn’t just concrete and asphalt that build a City. Our most important investments are in people, changing our city to tear down the barriers that prevent them from being successful. The obstacles are multidimensional, but all of them inhibit the growth of our community. Chattanooga has a hot economy. Yet too few of our citizens benefit from our growing prosperity. 
Families seek a life where kids can get a good education, and parents can live more comfortably because they know their kids are being taken care of. Yet we hear far too much about the problems in our schools and the children they serve. We know our economy will grow even more when we maximize the talents of everyone who lives here. Yet, too many people feel like their paths to the middle class are blocked by obstacles both seen and unseen.

We have to change this. Many Chattanoogans think that what made our country great -- social mobility, the chance to change your lot in life through hard work and persistence -- is a dream instead of a reality they work towards. They see the new building, the business expanding its workforce, the startup company signing its first big contract and wonder: “What about me?” And their despair ripples throughout our city, from crime to blight to schools.
So, tonight, we make them part of our work. We commit ourselves to building more paths to the middle class; to making sure more of our neighbors have the skills to own their own business or work at the company of their choice; to make sure their kids see a path that ends up with their inclusion in our economic prosperity, rather than in the violence that plays out in our streets.
That’s one of many reasons I’m so involved in Step Up. A partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Benwood, PEF, and the city, Step Up broadens opportunities by offering summer internships to high school students. With the help of businesses throughout our city, young people can spend June and July seeing what it’s like to go to work every day, giving them direction and focus.

Imagine if every young person in our City spent their summers earning a paycheck and gaining skills for the future. That would change the trajectory of our entire City. It builds our talent pipeline and creates a renewed sense of hope and opportunity for our public school kids.

Take Kentrell. I met Kentrell when he and the rest of state runner up Brainerd High basketball team visited City Hall. Kentrell was charming, intelligent, and engaging. He asked me what I was doing to enhance opportunities for young people in our city. I told him about Step Up, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with his response. He said, “I have my Step Up orientation on Monday.”

Kentrell is going to be successful. I just don’t have any doubt about it. But we can’t wait until our youth are on a set path at 17 or 18 before we point them in the right direction.

One way to make this happen is to invest smarter and more heavily at the very beginning of our citizens’ lives. Economists say that we get 8 dollars back for every dollar we put into quality early learning. So we have to stop thinking about early childhood education as a luxury available only to those with the means to afford it. After all, kids who receive high quality early learning are less likely to get into trouble when they get to school, and in their later years, earn higher wages and have healthier families.

And it all starts with parents. Think about your own family. When your kid won’t sit still, who do you call for advice? When they’re sick, who helps you decide whether they should go to the doctor? Too many Chattanoogans don’t have that network of support.

That’s exactly where Sarah found herself before she got linked up with Baby University. She was 8 months pregnant and had recently left a violent boyfriend. She had just crossed a major milestone in her life and had taken control of her own destiny. Through courage, grit and determination, Sarah had taken an important first step to build a better life for her and her baby. 
But that didn’t mean it would be easy. She had a secured a place to live, but couldn’t afford the $200 to turn on her utilities. That means no running water, no heat, and no cash for furniture. Sarah, though, found her support network in Baby University. Through Baby U, she was not only able to get her utilities turned on and get furniture -- but with those basic necessities out of the way, she is now able to spend more time planning for the future of her family.

One more thing to understand about this story: Chattanooga families are strong. Sarah left a violent situation; Sarah found a place to live; Sarah reached out to Baby U. 
Sarah is someone this city needs to bet on.

Because no one gets where they are going without a strong community around them, and children are no exception. Chattanooga kids need our attention to grow and thrive. Not so long ago, I remember worrying about my own young daughters, whether they were going to crawl at the right time, whether they were going to speak when the other kids did. Because Monique and I had good role models, we paid close attention to our kids’ progress. And Monique felt so passionately about getting them off to a good start that she and her best friend started a brand new preschool, which earned the State’s highest designation in its very first year.

Unfortunately, my kids are the exception, not the rule. Only 43 percent of kids take advantage of early learning opportunities. Over these past three years, we have expanded our Head Start slots and worked on making it a great experience for more families, but still there is much, much more to do.

That’s why, tonight, I am announcing new Early Learning Scholarships for Chattanooga families. These scholarships are aimed at helping families get their kids into high quality experiences at either a preschool or daycare. Working with the United Way, we will do three things. First we will bridge the knowledge gap, so more parents understand the value of these developmental experiences. Second, we will incent day care centers, where many of our young people spend their days, to improve their attention to learning so their institution can qualify to accept these scholarships. And third, we will close the payment gap for parents who earn too much money to qualify for state vouchers but don’t make enough to afford quality early learning themselves.
But for us to serve as many families as possible, we have to be organized and targeted. That means working with quality providers such as Chambliss Center for Children, Siskin Children’s Institute, and Signal Centers, to make the entire system more financially sustainable. And it means making sure parents have the information in their hands to make good decisions about their child’s development.
City government can and should lead this effort. That’s why today I am announcing we will establish a new Office of Early Learning. It will be charged with making the most of our city’s quality early learning opportunities and expanding them so they reach more families.
Chattanooga can be a national leader in getting children off to a good start. It’s hard to feel like the 100 yard dash is fair if you start out 10 yards behind. Yet that’s exactly the scenario many kids face.

Much of this focus on early childhood comes from ideas generated by the Mayor’s Council for Women. Chaired by Councilwoman Carol Berz and Representative JoAnne Favors, they have been everything our community could have asked for and more. They have written white papers, advocated for new policies, and with the help of Representative Gerald McCormick, passed a bill in the General Assembly to help domestic violence victims. 

If you are a member of the Mayor’s Council for Women, please stand. Give these tremendous community leaders a round of applause.

They constantly explore new avenues to improve our city. A few weeks ago, at an event, Tricia, a Chattanooga mom with a young child, asked me about how we could ensure more employers understand and value women like her. Part of the council, she pointed out, had identified this as a major need in our city. I promised Tricia that day -- in front of all these women -- I would have an answer at State of the City.

So here it is.

There are many, many types of benefits that help a business attract and retain employees with families. Paid parental leave, onsite childcare, flex time -- there are a lot of options depending on what works for business owners and their employees. Each company has unique challenges, and their employees have different preferences. But as a city, we prosper when employers get this right, when we find ways for everyone to participate in the workforce, use their talents, and help Chattanooga employers succeed and create even more jobs.
Today, I am announcing the Family Friendly Workplace Challenge. Employers who take the challenge will commit to engaging their employees and coming up with a plan to make their businesses attractive for working moms and dads. City government is going to lead by example, taking the challenge ourselves, alongside a first set of employers: 
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of TN
- the Bread Basket
- Co. LAB
- the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce
- Chattanooga State
- EPB
- Epiphany Day Spa & Brow Couture
- Ovalle’s Catering Company 
- UTC

Please give them a round of applause for pledging to put Chattanooga families first.
At the end of a year, we will highlight success stories and use them as a model for other businesses all around Chattanooga. 

Simply put, we can overcome challenges when we put our minds to it. That’s what we’ve done as a city time and time again. Our determination to shape our future is our strength, a characteristic the world saw clearly nine months ago. That day, and the weeks and months that followed, showed our city’s essential character.

You know the facts. July 16, 2015. Lee Highway. Dozens of shots fired. One injured. Amnicola Highway. Hundreds of shots fired. One injured. 5 heroes downed. Many more saved by an aggressive, well-trained, and determined Chattanooga police force.

The men and women there to drill that day signed up because they love our country. They understood our freedom requires more than wishing; it requires the genuine commitment to do whatever is necessary to keep us safe, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice. They run into, not away from, the danger people face all around the world.

Over the next few months, as July 16, 2016, approaches, we will have many opportunities to honor the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and their families. Sullivan. Wyatt. Holmquist. Wells. Smith. Their service and their lives are now forever a part of the Chattanooga story, a reminder of what it means to be brave, to be completely dedicated to your neighbors, whether you know them or not.

Today, in our audience, we have active duty service members, reservists, and veterans among us. Their careers have affected each and every one of you. If you have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces, please stand and be recognized.

Thank you for your service.

And we should again honor our own brave first responders. The police who, despite being outgunned, ran into a firefight to save the lives of their brothers and sisters. They are the same ones who are on our streets tonight, working to keep our neighborhoods safe. Please give them another round of applause.

I have never been more proud to be a Chattanoogan than in the way we responded to 7/16. We were of one purpose. We prayed together, cried together, grieved together. We looked out for one another, trying to comprehend the magnitude of the challenge but determined to act for the betterment of our service members’ families, their colleagues, and the entire city.

Because that’s who we are. We have always had challenges, and we have refused to bow to the struggle. We are not passive participants, letting history wash over us. No, we have never shied away from our problems but have instead come together as a community to make progress.
It is time to do that again. We will not throw up our hands and let the criminals win. We will work tirelessly to stop the violence, pulling every lever we can. Just as we’ve done over the last few weeks, we will ask each officer to find, arrest, and bring to justice any person who does harm in our community. And we will continue to put the right tools in their hands -- ballistics technology, cameras, systems that make their duties easier to fulfill. And we will join together as a community to build a coalition to remind them that our city belongs to the many who seek to build each other up, not to the few who try to tear each other down, and we will never accept it any other way.
There’s more than enough for everyone here to do. Take an intern at your business through Step Up; join our safety coalition; mentor a child in our community. Do it through your church, your non profit, your company. We work -- all of us, in our own ways, lending our individual talents in service of a stronger collective.
A few months ago, people were rightly celebrating being called the best town ever. Not long after, people throughout the community were putting bumper stickers on their cars calling us Chattanooga Strong. Today, our hearts ache and our minds reel because of the tragedies of the last 2 weeks.

Here’s what those moments have in common. No one of those things alone defines us. It’s all our days, good and bad, and -- more importantly -- the way we respond to them that shows who we are. When we celebrate an award, we acknowledge the remaining obstacles to progress. 
When we feel the struggles of violence, we know we have the character and tenacity to change our course. As a city, we understand that -- in good times and bad -- the work never stops. Never. There’s always a way to make us safer, to grow our economy more, to strengthen neighborhoods, to put a young person on the right path. And we will relentlessly take those steps forward because we are unafraid to overcome our challenges -- together.

So here it is. I am here, alongside you, as clear as ever about our problems and as optimistic as ever that we will work together to solve them. 

A little while ago, everyone stood in this room, together in common purpose. As we exit tonight, we leave the same way, united in our unending resolve to build a better city. Let’s get to work. 

Thank you.

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