Will the Next Chattanooga Mayor Please Speak Up?

A significant portion of my Friday afternoon was spent trying to wrangle information about all of Chattanooga’s mayoral candidates. I found out that there are some really good ones and there are some who feel, because they are an affluent citizen, the election is simply going to be handed to them. I may sound uninformed, but really, I’m just a local guy who is minorly involved in the art/music scene, I work in people’s houses fixing a variety of problems, I’m a father, and (oh yeah) I’m a taxpayer too.

None of that qualifies me to compete in the Olympics, fly an airplane, or run for mayor of this city. It does, however, entitle me to comment on your campaign (or lack thereof) and report exactly what I was able to come up with as an average voter in Chattanooga. Actually, I am a caucasian college graduate with a job, so that makes me not totally average, but I am definitely not involved in the political scene here. These days, it seems I’m hanging onto my job by a thread, so I guess I’m a little more interested than the average Chattanoogan. 

The point is, I went through the list reported on the Hamilton Flourishing website and gathered as much info as I could about each candidate. Do I think it’s fair that I use one source to research our mayoral candidates? Yes, I do. I don’t think people in this city who are still working and trying to make it through the day-to-day of CoVID-19 have time to do much else. 

But also, no, I didn’t—I looked around the internet for info about these folks. I did not, however, sign up for a blasted Facebook account! I was once a person in that world, but no more. So, if your campaign is solely social media-based, sorry. I don’t look on Instagram either—though you would find my account if you looked for one. Social media is just not where I want to read about possible future politicians. 

One significant piece of information—that also disqualifies almost every candidate in my opinion—is that only one of the sixteen candidates have any ESL (English as a Second Language) accommodations—in a city where the Spanish-speaking population is significant and growing every day. 

Mayoral Make-Believe

Anyway, let’s get the bozos out of the way. Here’s a list of people whom I believe should drop out and let the adults focus on who should be our next mayor:

  1. Chris Long: C’mon, man. You look like you should know better—or maybe you don’t.
  2. Lon Cartwright: I think your crosswalk platform could be addressed by the city council—you should go to one of their virtual meetings on a Tuesday soon and tell them about it.
  3. Andrew McLaren: Who are you … dude? Just, shhh please.
  4. George Ryan Love: Are you going to co-host with Rush Limbaugh soon? Do you adore Al Franken? Are you an evangelical? I saw that you published a vampire book … I mean, I might know more if you would put a little more effort into your campaign. 
  5. Michele Peterson: She owns a business, I think. 
  6. Robert C. Wilson: Your Facebook has a pretty good amount of information, but I couldn’t see it all because Zuckerburg is a stingy fellow. I’ll tell you this: I don’t want to sell, sell, sell our “slice of heaven” to the rest of the world. I want tourists to want to come here because they’ve read about our town and have attempted to find out what’s happening here. I don’t want them to crowd our streets and electric shuttles with their Aquarium umbrellas and their ice cream toots. There! I said it. Tourists have gas and they stink. I’m kidding, mostly, but seriously … the last thing on my mind right now is how many chumps we can convince that Chattanooga is a hot tourist destination. There’s a pandemic on, btw, Robbie.
  7. Christopher Dahl: You’re scary. I’m going to say this because you’re just a white male in this race, so I can’t really offend you too much. Man, you look too much like Jeffrey Dahmer. Also, you seem really out of touch with even your own conservative roots. Stick to the history books, bub.
  8. D’Angelo Davis: It looks like you’re doing some really valuable work where you’re at, buddy. Stick to that for now. I bet you have great ideas, but I don’t think you can run the city. Though you are pretty good at a photo-op!

So that’s half of the candidates. Let’s see what these other fools are talking about.

The Real Mayoral Candidates

Dr. Eleanora Woods? Not much info available. You almost made the “get lost” list up there, but I like you. I did find a Free Press article that somewhat gave you a platform. Truth is, you haven’t wowed me. Until that happens, I’m not going to sit and watch a bunch of video interviews with you and a local tv/radio host dancing while seated. Although it is quite adorable, that’s not what my search is about—my search is simple: find the new mayor of Chattanooga. 

The trouble with that endeavor is they all say the same things:

  • “I’m going to fix the economy”
  • “Early childhood education is important”
  • “We need more housing accommodations”
  • “Look at these streets! We need infrastructure projects”
  • “Better schools”
  • “CoVID relief” (this year, anyway)
  • “Job skills training”
  • “Invest in our tourist industry”
  • “What are we going to do with the homeless?”

There’s more to it than that, sure, but you get the picture. Candidates are trying to sell themselves, so they give generic versions of issues us voters want to hear them talk about—or at the very least, we want to think they care about something other than drawing attention to their local business endeavors. 

The political climate of this country is so disturbed by the past four years that people believe they can just basically say they are running for mayor in Chattanooga and not even bother to make moves toward actually running for mayor. 

You’re not the underdog because you don’t try. Underdogs don’t get discouraged by the odds being stacked against them. Excuse me if you are really trying, Michele Peterson or Andrew McLaren. I think if you’re trying, given there are completely free ways to host a website, I should be able to read about your agendas. If I am wrong, that means these under-funded campaigns are working diligently behind the scenes to barely get noticed. What is the point then?

That said, some of your fellow contestants on Who’s that Mayor? do have websites, and I couldn’t get a straight answer from their campaigns either. Many out there in the campaign world are just running the gamut of politicized issues and making vague statements about how we need to address those issues. 

Erskine Oglesby, I bet you’re really busy and I also assume you’re a really great guy. President of the 100 Black Men of Chattanooga; Former something-or-other with the United Way; There are lots of righteous callings you’ve answered to. The trouble is, the information available on your website reads like an Erskine Oglesby fan account on social media. Your about page reads like a resume in paragraph form, or (gasp!) an obituary. There’s no substance. What do you want to do as mayor? Am I supposed to assume what your platforms are by what you’ve done in your past? You think the average Chattanooga citizen has time for that? Nope! Moving on…

Kim White, You have all the right moves. You are the only candidate who has an option for reading your website in Español. You discuss housing costs and citizens’ relationship with law enforcement. But let’s cut to the chase: You are a conservative candidate trying to tread water at a time when the right side of the aisle has done everything to make themselves look like heartless, goal-driven, hedonistic, violent, bullies intent on tearing down any progress made since the 1950’s and preserving what conservatives refer to as “tradition not hate.” Your party touts favor for a “free market” that really means the richest thrive and buy all the profit-making elements they can and subjugate the rest of the population under their rules. So, good job on the Spanish thing, sincerely, but after seeing the vast missteps of our selfish, pompous, and dangerous President during this pandemic, I am definitely not voting for you. And I know you know I am right because you make statements about how city politics should be non-partisan. 

Tim Kelly, you’ll probably win. You probably have the most money. You’re the honkiest honky with momentum in the running. But the truth is, I don’t trust you. The fact that you’re a car salesman doesn’t make me not trust you (it certainly doesn’t help your cause), but it’s the vague nature of your political statements. Your concern for the homeless seems suspiciously like it blossomed from your disdain for the homeless—I know how you business-types think—homeless people are the drunks ruining the aesthetic of downtown. Of course, you’d deny this publicly, but c’mon man. 

 Look, here’s a sentence from your webpage about Chattanooga neighborhoods:

Empower neighborhoods to reimagine how community centers should be used in their community, and increase investment in community centers.” 

“Empower neighborhoods”: Boy! You must’ve paid a real-life writer for this one. How, exactly, are you going to empower us, Mr. Kelly? Let me tell you something, for the most part, I think Andy Berke has been a decent mayor. I don’t see him in my neighborhood though, and I don’t necessarily want to. We empowered him to go off and live in the mansion and fix the damn problems. We in the neighborhoods make the complaints, you fix them. That’s why we pay you. We all have jobs to do, this one is yours. That’s how it works. If you want me to work in the neighborhood for you, I’m gonna need a paycheck. 

Anyway, don’t try to woo us with power, we know the people with the money have all the power, so just grow up.

“To reimagine”: ‘reimagine’ is one of those dumb words real estate agents use to convince the average citizen to agree to being fleeced by a bank and pay way too much for a home. In short, it’s a buzzword that doesn’t really mean anything. 

Next, you use the word “community” three times in the same sentence. Are you trying to hypnotize us into believing you care deeply about the people that use these centers? 

Finally, “increase investment”—oh yeah? You gonna sell Subarus from our community centers? Who are you going to get to invest in these, and what will they want in return?

Bottom line is, I don’t trust you, Timmy.

Monty Bruell, I’ll let you speak for yourself:

At the local level, our city government should be focused on helping small businesses thrive and prosper. Dollars earned locally are spent locally.

One of the things that I frequently hear from employers is, “There are plenty of jobs. People just don’t want to work.” Well, I want to put this opinion to the test. Let’s create a database of jobs that pay a livable wage (at least $15/hour) that do not require a college degree.

Many people could increase their earnings capabilities with just a little extra training. We have to make sure that workers understand and can take advantage of these certification opportunities.

Currently, revenue from fares only covers 11% of CARTA’s operating expenses. We can easily produce revenue from other sources to make up this relatively small amount. Also, the CARTA system needs to be rerouted so that buses go to more places that riders need and want them to go. It should not cost money to look for a job or to get to and from work.

Okay, okay Monty. You’re making all the other candidates look bad. 

See what I mean, readers? Monty is a badass! Well, let’s see one more:

Since Women, African-Americans, and Latinos are disproportionately affected by wage disparities, it makes common sense that women and minority employers will do a better job of hiring and paying female and minority workers.

I love him!

Russell Gilbert, I used to be Russell Gilbert’s brother’s neighbor. Ron Gilbert was the president of our neighborhood association and was always out looking for opportunities for the folks in our neighborhood. Well, the Gilbert family must have had some great matriarchs and patriarchs (or one or the other, I don’t know) because Russell is clearly as involved as his wonderful brother Ron is. 

Ron Gilbert was the best neighbor I’ve ever known and I miss living next to him. I think his brother has every intention of continuing doing good work in our city. Unfortunately, I don’t think he really has a snowball’s chance in Florida of winning the election. Mostly because of lack of resources, maybe? 

His website has some glaring typos, and his intentions aren’t clear. Much like Erskine, Russell touts, and has others praise him for his good work—which is well-deserved—but I don’t see your path forward, buddy. I wish I did, honestly, because I would vote for you every time you run for mayor.

Wade Hinton, You have a clear platform. You address CoVID-19, housing disparity, economic opportunity for all, realistic community engagement, education empowerment, and you make inclusivity and anti-discrimination a city-wide effort. You just press all the right buttons for me, Wade. The former city attorney also has a way with words (or at least hired a good writer):

We can come together to create a Chattanooga with a shared vision for public safety—one where​ we can say Black lives matter while still appreciating the important role law enforcement plays in our community, because we believe in both civil rights and civil order.

Wade wants to carry Chattanooga into the 21st century, morally that is, but he understands that many in our city will have to be plucked out of their comfy spot in their 20th century way of thinking. The man has a plan, and I believe he can make it happen. 

I only wish he would team up with Monty and really blow Tim Kelly out of his Subaru’s sunroof. Theoretically, Timmy—just calm down and shh, please.

That’s my take, folks. I’m sure the only people who will read this are the fine folks I asked to edit it. If you want to see what information these candidates offer, you can visit that Hamilton Flourishing website I linked earlier in the article. Each picture is a link to something.

Harold Guenthner is a writer, musician, stinker, voter, handyman, father, (and, like, lots of other things) living in Chattanooga, Tennessee (where the Civil War just won’t shut the eff up. Like, ever, for some reason)(Seriously, the Civil War sucks. Please shut up about it)

The State of Estate Planning for LGBT Families

Estate settlement can be a nightmare when proper measures are not taken and legal paperwork is not in order. Cases dealing with estates of any measure can drag on for years sometimes — particularly when the deceased’s passing was unexpected. And that is when the legality of the marriage is not in question! LGBT couples seeking to marry and same-sex couples married in states where same-sex marriage is legal, were in a difficult position prior to 2013. All estate issues are not yet settled for the LGBT community, but some measures have been taken that allay some of the worries LGBT couples must face when dealing with estate planning.

Two major decisions took place in the summer of 2013, both of which impacted LGBT couples who intended to marry and same-sex married couples. The first being U.S. v. Windsor — June 26th — in which part 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was challenged by Edith Windsor, an inheritor of the estate of her same-sex spouse, Thea Spyer. Section 3 barred Windsor from claiming the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. In its decision, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declared DOMA an unconstitutional violation of equal protection, saying that the states and NOT the federal government should define marriage. This is why 26 states have had court rulings to legalize same-sex marriage and 11 others have legalized it by legislature or popular vote. The SCOTUS decision made many (but not all) federal benefits available to same-sex married couples. But more change was soon to come.

After the DOMA decision, if the state of residence did not recognize the marriage, the couple could not get all of the same federal benefits as given to heterosexual couples. The second notable decision of 2013 came from the IRS who, on August 29th, issued Revenue Ruling 2013-17 that answered many of the issues left open from the Windsor decision. This tax-based ruling states that regardless of a same-sex married couple’s current state of residence — whether same-sex marriage is legal or not in that current state of residence — if the couple was married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, the couple will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. Unfortunately, at this time, this ruling does NOT apply to domestic partnerships or civil unions.

Now, if you are in a legally acknowledged same-sex marriage, you must file your (2014) Federal tax return either as:

Married filing jointly


Married filing separately

Same-sex couples are allowed to file amended returns for 2011-2013, to change their filing status to married filing jointly, but it is NOT required.

This next section discusses some legal definitions that people spend twelve years in school trying to figure out — so do your best, Grownups. But, what is explained (basically) is that many tax benefits offered by employers are now legally also offered to same-sex spouses. It is recommended by all sensible Grownups that you get advice about your rights from a professional, qualified estate-planning attorney before attempting to take any measures regarding your estate.

In the IRS ruling (2013-17) several areas of employee benefits were passed (after U.S. v. Windsor):

  • Health Insurance – no more imputed income for
the spouse’s portion of the insurance coverage. The taxpayer may also file a refund claim for the income imputed to them over the last three years; this is done by filing an amended tax return from the beginning of the legal marriage or the period of the limitations, whichever is shorter.
  • Section 125 Cafeteria Plans – contributions can
now be made pre-tax for a same-sex spouse. Prior
to that, the covered spouse could only have post-tax deductions made since he or she was not a legal spouse.
  • Qualified Retirement Plans – same-sex spouses now must be treated as legal spouses for spousal consent rules, death benefits, required minimum distributions, hardship withdrawals, rollovers, benefit limits and benefits under qualified domestic relations orders.
  • Adoption Credit – the spouse cannot claim the adoption credit for expenses incurred in adopting the child of his or her legal same-sex spouse.

Other areas changed by the IRS ruling include:

  • Gift-giving – Unlimited, tax-deductible gift-giving can now be done between legally married same-sex couples — whereas there used to be a limit.
  • Unlimited Marital Transfer – When the first spouse dies, federal estate taxes for legally married couples apply. (State taxes may still apply in states that don’t recognize legal same-sex marriages from other states)

 As far as planning goes, Wills and other estate planning documents can be updated to take advantage of these changes. Now, same-sex couples can take advantage of marital AB trust planning as well as other strategies that used to be just
for recognized spouses under law. However, since only 37 states currently recognize same-sex marriage, health care proxies and power of attorney documents are still important.

Differences remain in the treatment for tax purposes and benefits for married same-sex couples vs. married heterosexual couples in the various states. Careful planning can help these couples take advantage of new benefits and federal tax status while avoiding missteps due to some issues still yet to be decided.

One thing that could be said is a positive outcome of DOMA, bare with me here, is that it has created a solid legal arguing point for removing unjust (and, at times, unwritten) rules and laws that are currently continuing to restrict couples from the right to marry.

Have you ever dealt with estate planning issues, Grownups? Are you currently—or will soon be—a spouse in a same-sex marriage? If so, congratulations! Leave us a comment below and discuss the legal hurdles you have dealt with.

Harold Guenthner is a freelance writer
and editor currently working out of Chattanooga.

This piece originally appeared on Society of Grownups blog in 2016

 Short-Term Goal: Become a Biker

Okay, I didn’t really want to become a biker. I did, however, want to buy a motorcycle and learn to ride it safely. A friend talked me into this. We were going to be motorcycle buddies, and ride through the White Mountains of New Hampshire on the weekends. Our plans included: stopping at roadside diners, wearing leather jackets, starting a gang, and getting into knife fights with ruffians.

We weren’t really going to get into knife fights, but it was fun to fantasize about being tough, biker-types. A road trip into the Southwestern states was definitely on the list of adventures we planned. Actually, That specific goal was what secured my interest in learning about motorcycles and (potentially) purchasing one.

Learning to Ride

As a child, I owned a moped—the kind you pedal to start. My dad bought it at a garage sale for $40 and I rode that thing constantly. All of my friends had dirt bikes and four-wheelers (I grew up in Georgia), and I would ride right by their side into dirt pits and wooded trails. So, when the subject of paying to learn to ride a two-wheeled contraption came up, I scoffed: “I’m not going to pay someone to teach me something as simple as riding a motorcycle!”

My friend was quite convincing and soon I was forking out $300 for motorcycle safety lessons. It was worth every penny. I learned about situations I would have never thought of before it would be too late on the road, and the instructors taught me how to maneuver said conditions with confidence.

In my experience, education is rarely a waste of money.

Buying the Gear

 My friend started ordering her gear before we even set foot in the class. I held off because a decent, safe helmet will run you upwards of $1000—and those things are surprisingly fragile. If the helmet is dropped from over two feet off of the ground, it is recommended that you replace it.

This nugget of information was my first moment of hesitation. I am a pretty clumsy guy. Sure, I’ve climbed 40-foot ladders to paint houses and scurried across many roofs replacing shingles, but if you put something delicate in my hand, I hope it isn’t valuable.

Buying the helmet is only the beginning. It is recommended that you have, basically, an entire outfit for riding your motorcycle. Those biker dudes wear leather because it is durable, and the idea is to grind your leather into the asphalt instead of your funny bone.

Sneakers are also a no-go for bikers. They wear boots because they want to be able to walk after they fall off of their bikes and their feet have scraped across 20 feet of blacktop. In fact, any accessory you can think of is a recommended biker purchase: gloves, pants, scarves, etc.

I know what you’re thinking: you never see bikers wearing all this stuff. Yes, you do—they just don’t stand out to you like the guy wearing shorts and not wearing a helmet does.

Buying the Bike

 Now that you’ve spent upwards of $1500 on equipment (and $300 on lessons), it’s time to buy your motorcycle. I was looking at small, used Hondas and Yamahas—anything I was interested in was at least $1200. By this point I was already convinced this wasn’t for me because of the expense, but I didn’t want to give up without at least researching the motorcycles I was interested in.

I looked for a while, but in the end I decided I wouldn’t pursue the biker life. Aside from all the expenses I already mentioned, there was also maintenance and storage to consider.

Keep the Motor Running

 I have worked on cars many times in my life. I’ve always bought clunkers and maintained them myself. I can do easy stuff: alternators, belts, oil changes, brake pads, etc., but I hate it! I am a handy guy—I can plumb your bathroom, rewire your kitchen, and paint your whole house (inside and out), but I have no interest in looking under your hood.

From what I understand about motorcycle ownership: it requires you know how to fix the engine yourself or you’re going to be paying a mechanic fairly often to do it for you—especially if you buy used. Also, I live in Somerville, MA—I don’t have a garage or anywhere to keep my bike while it’s undergoing maintenance.

As for learning how to fix a motorcycle, it’s not for me. I read about half of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I never got to the part where they fixed the bike.

No Thanks

 In the end, my buddy went on with her motorcycle dream and I am still just driving a pickup truck. I am glad I took the class, though—the people were very nice and I now have more respect for motorcyclists on the highway. I try to remember to always look twice before changing lanes now, because it is rarely the fault of the person on the motorcycle when they wreck—it’s usually the fault of the person driving the big, safe car.

The whole process of figuring out that this plan wasn’t for me took only a few months. I guess sometimes the goal is to figure out you may be on the wrong path, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m glad I was convinced to take the class and learn that I didn’t really have it in me to become a biker.

Harold Guenthner is a freelance writer
and editor currently working out of Chattanooga.

This piece originally appeared on Society of Grownups blog in 2016