The regional study, which includes Cleveland and Bradley County, is being funded by private companies, individuals and philanthropic foundations. Also, Hamilton County intends to apply for a $2.5 million federal grant.
The first half of the two-hour meeting at the Chattanoogan Hotel was filled with planning and development terms such as “your values,” “your priorities,” and what makes this region “unique” as the three teams of experts tried to differentiate themselves from one another.
Spokesmen for each of the three teams answered five audience questions randomly selected from a hopper. About 300 people attended the meeting in person while about 70 others viewed a live stream via the Internet. The video quality was good but the audio was completely inaudible for the first hour.
“Why should we trust you to be open with the public regarding the regional plan when we only learned of it Oct. 14, after [you worked] on it more than two years in secret?” was the first question.
Program moderator Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Whitfield-Dalton Chamber of Commerce and former Whitfield County, Ga., commissioner, answered the question before presenting it to the consultants.
“We do planning all the time,” he said. “We had a metropolitan planning organization that did all types of planning and talked about crossing jurisdictional boundaries, so it occurs all the time.”
He said with the impact Volkswagen will have on the area moving forward, many people felt the need to look at the region differently.
“The whole premise was not to change anything about the way we are governed or our accountability but to change the conversation given that we are a large economic region,” he said.
Anderson said everybody has concerns about what is going to happen moving forward and how to forecast that.
“Why turn control over from a single local accountable process to a larger, less accountable process?” was the second question.
One of the consultants said it was “a synchronization of activities and efforts” rather than giving up control on the local level. “The challenge is to look at what people are doing well, what they are not doing so well and understanding what’s to be gained by working together.”
He said the objective of this and other processes throughout the country is to empower local governments to make better decisions.
The collective response to the third question about the growth plan was that it would not impact individual property rights and neither does it have anything to do with the United Nations’ Agenda 21.
Each of the consultants assured the audience it was a local process, but urged public involvement to ensure the plan evolves in a manner reflecting local values, customs and culture. If it doesn’t, they urged the audience to hold local government accountable.
The fifth question concerned who would be the consulting team’s representative if selected and do they have the software available to show their ideas.
The next step is for the stakeholder group launching the regional growth planning process to select the team with the aim of starting the process in early 2012. The teams will be selected through public feedback and other requirements.
The stakeholder group consists of local governments, businesses, and philanthropic organizations, including: Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Cleveland, Bradley County, Whitfield County, Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, Electric Power Board, Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, Southeast Tennessee Development District, Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, Benwood Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Lyndhurst Foundation, Maclellan Foundation, CBL and Associates, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, McKee Foods, Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, Shaw Industries, Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce, Unum, and CreateHere. The region includes DeKalb and Jackson counties in Alabama; Catoosa, Dade, Murray, Walker and Whitfield in Georgia; and Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie in Tennessee.
Neither the city of Cleveland nor Bradley County have contributed financially to the growth planning initiative.