Describing his eight-year tenure as a "marathon trek across the wilderness," Mayor Ron Littlefield offered an optimistic tone in his final public address to a small crowd Monday.
Littlefield, who was elected in 2005 and once more in 2009, virtually ignored any controversies that took place during his tenure. Instead, the mayor described the state of Chattanooga as "very, very good" and provided a laundry list of accomplishments as proof that he was leaving the city in a better state than it was when he assumed office.
"Only when you get to the other side and look back can you completely appreciate how far we have come and all the hurdles and hardships that have been endured," he said.
Littlefield delivered remarks, totaling 45 minutes, to an audience of approximately 100 people spread across pews at the newly renovated Community Theater at Memorial Auditorium. The majority of those in attendance were city employees, elected officials or media—only a handful of civilian citizens were in attendance to hear the mayor speak.
Littlefield wasted no time detailing how he had fulfilled campaign promises he ran on during his first bid for office, from completing the 21st-century waterfront to developing the business park at Enterprise South. He touted enhancing the city's links and gateways, successfully managing millions for the city's economically challenged neighborhoods, and introducing new parks and greenways.
Littlefield spoke admirably of traffic cameras and the driver programs they help pay for, improvements at the downtown library and promoting public art across Chattanooga.
The mayor defended his approach to crime and gangs in the city, saying that his 2005 Stop the Madness anti-gang initiative had shown positive results before being defunded by City Council—because it was faith-based.
"It made great strides," he said.
The mayor defended his record with the city's police and fire departments, saying he took "serious exception" to claims that the city's sworn personnel had been "shortchanged" for their service during his time in office. Referencing a controversial change to the police's take-home vehicle policy, Littlefield said his administration had never "parked" cars and had, in fact, done the opposite.
"Contrary to campaign claims, the officers' cars have never been 'parked' by this administration," he said. "We un-parked them. Yes, if you live outside the city, and therefore don't pay taxes, a mileage charge is required—far less than the operating cost of the vehicle. Each officer has an assigned vehicle and a choice whether to drive it home."
Littlefield showed particular indignation toward police unions during his speech. Three times, the mayor told listeners to "don't believe what you hear" from the labor groups, who had objected to his policies regarding take-home cars and officer pay during his years in office.
"It's their business to be unhappy," he said.
It was when referencing disputes with unions that the mayor made a singular reference to a controversial property tax increase levied by his administration to compare it to an overall police budget increase of 56 percent, which he said had occurred in the past eight years.
The mayor never mentioned another hallmark controversy of his time in office—the prolonged, 18-month effort by a group of citizens to recall him from his post, which consumed much of his second term. In all, approximately 15,000 signatures were collected calling for his ouster, but a Circuit Court judge ruled that thousands were not collected in compliance with state law and therefore invalid.
Closing his remarks, Littlefield emphasized the city was in "excellent financial condition" and listed 10 "points of pride" that he saw as being signature to his two terms. The final point—that Chattanooga was "cool, green and growing"—the mayor described as being "icing on the cake."
"No longer dingy and declining, Chattanooga has status as a fast advancing, youth-attracting, 'cool' city," he said. "Nothing could be finer."
The mayor offered a brief challenge to his successor and the new City Council members, who will be sworn in next month.
"The state of our city is good," Littlefield said. "In fact, it is very, very good. I cannot overstate the responsibility as we place this city that we love—this 'Most Transformed City in America'—into your hands. It is up to you now."