Catoosa County is at risk of losing its unique character, of becoming indistinguishable from that of greater Chattanooga. Comparatively low housing prices and good schools are a magnet to newcomers and the construction of detached single-family residences alone has grown by 689 units since 2016. An economy unbalanced by the short-term financial “sugar high” of residential overdevelopment makes things worse.
Alarmingly, this rapid growth may reflect the personal interests of members of our county commission. Steven Henry, for example, owns Steven M. Henry Construction, LLC, which develops residential real estate in Catoosa County. In his role as county commission chair Henry leads the government body that makes crucial decisions about our zoning and residential growth. According to his own campaign statements, so far, $35,700, or nearly 49% of the contributions made to Henry’s campaigns have come from developers, construction companies, contractors, real estate interests, and real estate investment companies. Quite simply, should the person who holds the office that determines how the county is developed himself be a developer? Although the parallels between Henry’s roles as a developer and officeholder do not prove any wrongdoing, it sure doesn’t look good. County business should in no way be tied to the personal financial interests of its elected officials. As far as I know, Henry has never acknowledged any potential conflict of interest between his dual roles as developer and officeholder, or offered to exempt himself from voting or influencing decisions that have potential benefit to him.
Henry’s opponent for commission chair in this election is Ernie Pursley. Pursley has called for each commissioner to sign a pledge that they will not use their role as commissioner to further their own business or personal financial interests. He has proposed the county look into the potential benefits of an impact fee on new development so that developers pay their own way rather add the costs of building and maintaining new infrastructure to your taxes. These are common sense initiatives to restore the interests of ordinary citizens to the agenda of local government. We should heed them. If we’re not careful we may lose control of the future of Catoosa County.
David C. Redheffer