Judge Rules in Favor of City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod’s Continued Service for District 9

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Chattanooga City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod testified in Hamilton County Circuit Court last Thursday after anonymous emails surfaced, questioning whether she met the residency requirements for District 9 and the city of Chattanooga, both prerequisites for her position. Photo by Camm Ashford.
City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod’s foster mother Vivian White testified that Councilwoman Coonrod mainly lives with her on Moss Street within District 9, though she bought a house in Harrison. “Demetrius has always been special to me and I’ve always seen how she’s tried to do the best she could,” she said. Photo by Camm Ashford.

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod can continue serving District 9, Circuit Court Judge Michael Dumitru ruled on June 11, following nearly six hours of testimony in Hamilton County Circuit Court last Thursday.

In a comprehensive 12-page ruling, Judge Dumitru stated that the city had “failed to prove its heightened burden” of demonstrating that Councilwoman Coonrod was living outside her district.

“Based solely on the testimony of the witnesses and content of the exhibits admitted into evidence at Trial, the Court concludes the City has failed to carry its heightened burden of proving conduct sufficient to justify the Councilwoman’s removal under the Ouster Statute,” Dumitru wrote in the ruling.

“The Court further DECLARES that, as of the date of this order and based solely on the evidence submitted at Trial, the Councilwoman is a resident of the Moss Street Home and therefore possesses the qualification of residency in District 9 required by the Chattanooga City Charter.”

Councilwoman Coonrod said she has “faced a politically motivated smear campaign aimed at undermining her candidacy and public service,” and noted that the court’s decision has “vindicated her against false residency accusations.” And not only “clears her name but also highlights the lengths to which some will go to obstruct progressive change and the voices advocating for it.”

She added, “I am deeply grateful to the court for seeing through this political smokescreen and delivering justice. This ruling is a victory not just for me, but for all the residents of District 28 who deserve representation rooted in integrity and truth. My commitment to this community remains unwavering.”

The civil complaint against Councilwoman Coonrod emerged after City Auditor Stan Sewell, City Attorney Phil Noblett, and all City Council members except for Coonrod received anonymous emails accusing her of abandoning her foster mother Vivian White’s residence on Moss Street in Eastdale. The emails alleged that she resided in a house purchased in January 2022, located off Heritage Drive in Harrison, outside city limits.

Councilwoman Coonrod testified that she intended the Heritage Drive house as a short-term vacation rental, but this plan was disrupted by new short-term vacation rental regulations and her father’s terminal illness. 

City Attorney Noblett said the anonymous complaints were filed on March 4 and March 21, “claiming that Councilwoman Coonrod is not qualified to hold office as a member of the City Council.”

During the civil trial last week, Keith Grant, Councilwoman Coonrod’s attorney, presented evidence linking her to her District 9 residence on Moss Street after the purchase of the Harrison home. This included Amazon purchases and banking statements. Councilwoman Coonrod also testified that the anonymous tipster had ulterior motives.

“I have an idea of who it is, the person,” Coonrod testified. “She called me before she released the information, and she told me she was going to release the information if I didn’t drop out of the race. And I told her that I wasn’t going to drop out of the race. I was still going to continue to run, and she told me that she was going to release the information, and I was like okay, as long as you put your name on it.”

During last Thursday’s trial, Judge Dumitru heard detailed testimonies from Councilwoman Coonrod, her husband Anthony Gladden, her adult daughter Alexis Nolan, her foster mother Ms. White, and Chattanooga city auditor Stan Sewell. The trial, marked by conflicting interpretations of residency rules, highlighted ambiguities in the city code regarding what constitutes residency.

Sewell, who spent weeks on what he considered a “very reasonable” and “sufficient” audit following the anonymous tips, testified that, “Based on the investigation that we conducted, I would not be able to conclude that she (Councilwoman Coonrod) had moved or transferred her residence.”

His decision was based on a thorough review of dozens of documents, including campaign financial disclosures, bank records, driver’s license, and Councilwoman Coonrod’s affidavit of residency.

In his ruling, Judge Dumitru directed that the city reimburse Councilwoman Coonrod for her legal expenses.
Coonrod, a candidate in the Aug. 1 Democratic primary race for the state House seat in District 28–now held by Rep. Yusuf Hakeem–was first elected to the District 9 City Council seat on April 11, 2017. She was sworn in for a second term on April 19, 2021.