Chattanooga

Rep. JoAnne Favors announces she won’t seek reelection

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Chattanooga Democrat representing House District 28, announced Monday she won’t seek re-election in 2018 and instead will retire at the end of her current term, reports the Times Free Press.

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NPR says TN affiliate shouldn’t have fired reporter after legislator complaints

National Public Radio officials released a statement Monday saying Jacqui Helbert, former WUTC reporter, should not have been fired by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last week after complaints from state legislators, reports the Times-Free Press.

The lawmakers say Helbert didn’t identify herself as a reporter while taping remarks of Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Kevin Brooks to high school students opposing the “transgender bathroom bill.” (Previous post HERE.)

WUTC is an NPR affiliate, receiving more than $500,000 per year in state funding with a base of operations at UT-Chattanooga. The NPR statement urged the university and WUTC to reach an agreement that ensures the station’s editorial independence. Besides firing Helbert, the station yanked her report off the station’s website.

NPR’s statement said WUTC’s editors would not have removed the story from the station’s website if not told to do so by the university, and did not view the story as “fatally flawed,” as Helbert did not hide her equipment or mislead anyone, according to a statement released online by Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director, and Mark Memmott, supervising senior editor for standards and practices.

“Taking the decisions about enforcing ethics out of [WUTC’s] hands did more to undermine the station’s credibility than the original infraction,” the NPR statement reads. “This chain of events underscores why it is critical that newsrooms such as that at WUTC not be subject to pressure from the institutions that hold their licenses, the sponsors who give them financial support or the politicians who sometimes don’t like the stories they hear or read.”

Note: See also WPLN (Nashville’s NPR affiliate), which has comments from Bell and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, two of the legislators involved. The headline: “Republican Lawmakers Say They Didn’t Push For Chattanooga Reporter To Be Fired”

Berke easily wins reelection as Chattanooga mayor

Former state Sen. Andy Berke easily won a new term as mayor of Chattanooga in a city election Tuesday, reports the Times-Free Press.

Voters cast 11,991 ballots in favor of Berke’s bid for re-election, sweeping aside Councilman Larry Grohn to a distant second with 4,941 votes, followed by former three-time city councilman David Crockett and architectural consultant Chris Long. Crockett and Long mustered 1,438 and 407 votes, respectively. The race also generated 95 write-in votes, although no write-in candidates have been certified.

“We’ve seen this city move forward over the last four years,” Berke said. “Clearly, people want us to build on the improvements we’ve made to public safety, economic development and investing in our young people. We’ve received a mandate to continue to push forward.”

Grohn said his campaign workers believed they had run the best race they could run, but that’s not the end of the story.

“We will continue to work towards a better Chattanooga in whatever ways we are led to do,” he said. “I congratulate Mayor Berke and certainly hope he fulfills the campaign promises he made.”

Educator withdraws as Chattanooga mayor candidate, backs Berke opponent

Longtime educator Gail Francis has dropped out of Chattanooga’s mayoral race to support Larry Grohn’s bid for the seat, reports the Times-Free Press.

Francis was one of five candidates who qualified to seek the mayor’s seat, but she withdrew Thursday, the deadline to pull out.

Mayor Andy Berke, former three-time councilman David Crockett and businessman and former builder Chris Long remain in the race with Grohn, the councilman in District 4.

The Grohn campaign released a statement by Francis on Thursday.

“I had the opportunity to meet and speak to Councilman Grohn, and believe that the issues that are important to me, issues that pushed me into this race are issues that Councilman Grohn is standing on,” Francis said. “It is time for change in our city. It is time for action and a new direction.”

Grohn said he was honored to have her support, citing her work with Orange Grove, service on boards across the community and “a heart that loves our inner city and the drive to see the change we need.

Four challenging Chattanooga Mayor Berke’s reelection

Four people filed petitions to run against Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s bid for reelection next year, reports the Times Free Press. The qualifying deadline was Thursday and candidates have until Dec. 22 to withdraw their names.

City Councilman Larry Grohn, who has aggressively challenged the Berke administration on a number of fronts, is opting to run against Berke rather than seek reelection to his Council seat. He had announced his candidacy earlier.

“An entire generation of our city is in desperate need of education, opportunity, and hope,” Grohn said in released statement in November.

The Berke campaign has rebuffed Grohn’s attacks.

“One of our opponents is focused on using misleading claims to divide us, but the reality is Mayor Berke has spent the past four years changing the way our police department works with the community, reducing robberies and property crimes to an all-time low, and protecting women from domestic violence,” Tyler Yount, Berke campaign manager said in an email.

Berke faces three other challengers, including three-time former city councilman David Crockett, Chris Long and Gail M. Francis, former chair of the Sign Language Interpreting Department at Tennessee Temple University.

Charges dropped against man accusing mayor of adultery

A Chattanooga judge has dismissed domestic assault charges against Bobby Stone, who is husband to one of Mayor Andy Berke’s top advisers, reports the Times-Free Press.

After the hearing, Stone charged that his wife, Lacie Stone, was having an affair with Berke, and that Berke’s office had orchestrated a coverup. Bobby Stone filed for divorce later in the day on the grounds that his wife committed adultery.  

Both Berke and Lacie Stone have denied Robert Stone’s claims. Police have denied a coverup. 

Judge Lila Statom accepted District Attorney General Neal Pinkston’s motion to dismiss the charges after reading it this morning in Hamilton County Sessions Court.

The dismissal wraps up Robert Stone’s criminal matter, which began when Lacie Stone called Chattanooga Police Department chief Fred Fletcher and said her husband was trying to kill her in late May.

Concerned by the “unusual concerns” that Berke and Fletcher’s comments were raising, Pinkston asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to provide an independent look into how the police handled the case.

… (According to Pinkston’s motion) Lacie Stone said no assault ever happened. She gave a written statement to that effect and said she was concerned about “her job, the publicity this event may garner and allegations of extramarital affairs.”

She “wanted all this to go away,” according to Stacy Richardson, the mayor’s chief of staff, the motion says.