Chattanooga City Council to vote on $20,000 equity study

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Aubrey Henriksen, left, hula hoops with Ken'zhia Phillips, 9, right, as part of the "Park Spark" event on Sept. 22, 2021.
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Aubrey Henriksen, left, hula hoops with Ken'zhia Phillips, 9, right, as part of the "Park Spark" event on Sept. 22, 2021.

A nearly $20,000 study by a professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga would evaluate citywide disparities in education, health care, food security, and the criminal justice system and aim to provide leaders with ways to solve those problems.

The Chattanooga City Council will decide Tuesday whether to move forward with the study, according to the panel's agenda. The cost would be up to $19,809, including $11,573 for senior personnel, $3,935 for fringe benefits and $2,500 for materials and supplies.

"Social equity involves just and fair societal inclusion where all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential," Marcus Mauldin, associate professor of public policy and administration at UTC, wrote in a proposal to the council. "Social equity also encompasses the idea of economic equity.

"However, the pursuit of social equity in communities is often hindered by systemic, societal issues and institutional practices. The proposed study will explore the effects of these issues and practices on the Chattanooga community."

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The contract states Mauldin will complete the study by Feb. 29, although he noted in a phone call Monday that he might request an extension to March depending on the official start date. That wouldn't affect the cost of the project, he said.

Mauldin will provide the City Council with a progress report during the study, a final research report and a presentation of his findings.

Mauldin's proposal states the project will require extensive research, data collection and analysis. Through a survey of existing data, Mauldin will provide insights into the current state of equity in education, employment, housing, health care, food security and criminal justice, the summary states.

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Mauldin will also develop a list of policy recommendations and implementation strategies to address inequities. He will assess the cost of those steps and how the city can fund and sustain those over time.

During prior meetings, members of the City Council have said the study could be a valuable tool for ongoing policymaking. They've also questioned how it would add to the existing body of work available about socioeconomic disparities in the city, such as the Urban League's 2022 report on the State of Black Chattanooga.

In a phone call, Mauldin said his study will include recommendations and implementation strategies, which will be the biggest difference between his project and other reports that have been completed in the past.

Mauldin will evaluate the methodologies of those reports to ensure they're assessing the same issues, allowing officials to make comparisons over time. He also wants to come up with a uniform understanding of the meaning of social and economic equity.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga's new chief equity officer focused on addressing disparities)

"It doesn't just have a racial component to it," Mauldin said. "There's race, there's gender, there's socioeconomic things that go into that. We'll be looking at it from a broad sense."

The study could evaluate disparities in, for example, affordable housing, arrest rates, the types of criminal charges people receive and where economic development occurs.

Council Member Demetrus Coonrod, of Eastdale, brought the idea of the study to her colleagues a few months ago. Coonrod did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday, but in a September phone conversation Coonrod said she would like to see the city have powerful tools for promoting fairness, justice and equality.

"We keep having these studies done, and no policy recommendations are given in those studies," she said. "We're looking at distressed areas, areas that have lacked investment throughout history. We need to pull the Band-Aid off of these disparities."

The study shouldn't have a racial lens, she added.

"What we're seeing today is that everybody is being affected," she said. "If you are poor and living in poverty in impoverished conditions, you're affected by being in a food apartheid, you're affected by payday loans saturating your community, you're affected by dilapidated homes in your community."

Contact David Floyd at [email protected] or 423-757-6249.

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