What Does Coty Wamp Want for her Constituents?

Hamilton Co. DA Sends Mixed Message, But Not Really Mixed

Diane Nilan
5 min readDec 10, 2022

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DA’s order closing the Budgetel hotel. Photo Diane Nilan

Elected officials promise lots. I don’t know if recently-elected Hamilton County TN District Attorney Coty Wamp has children or not. But she’s served in positions to advocate for children. Perhaps she’s forgotten some basic childhood developmental principles that help children grow up to be productive adults.

According to the Center for Disease Control, and any expert child development source:

Having a safe and loving home and spending time with family―playing, singing, reading, and talking―are very important. Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep also can make a big difference.

Happy family (assumed) in downtown Chattanooga. Photo Diane Nilan

On November 16, DA Wamp issued an order evicting everyone, an estimated 800 people, from the Budgetel hotel in East Ridge, TN, a suburb of Chattanooga. Her message, the eviction order filed in court, was clear. She just got lots of things wrong, among them:

  • The responsibility of the Office of the District Attorney is to protect our community and keep our citizenry safe.
    No argument here. But what citizenry does she refer to? Are the Budgetel occupants not considered citizenry? Your responsibility also includes truthfulness, which apparently wasn’t a consideration in crafting this order.
  • The Office understands that dozens of individuals reside at the Budgetel Inn. However, it is, and has been for years, a hub for criminal activity of all sorts.
    Dozens? How about hundreds, upwards of 700 by multiple best estimates. With that discrepancy, one has to apply a grain of salt to other assertions by the DA, like the stats on police activity.

    And what about the hundreds of hard working adults whose proximity to their jobs you’ve thwarted? Walking to work made it possible for them to pay for their motel room. Now, crickets. And job loss. Bad for them, and bad for the local businesses depending on them. Not being able to get their stuff out of their rooms — uniforms, etc. — might make life difficult for those who don’t fall under your criminal blanket.

Kudos to local attorney Charles Wright who filed a motion on behalf of Budgetel evictees:

“The order of the court in this case violated procedural due process of the law as guaranteed to the innocent residents of the Budgetel… In crafting and executing said temporary injunction/restraining order no efforts were made to separate the residents who had committed law violations alleged in the petition from those who were innocent from such violations.”

  • Approximately three dozen children also reside at the Budgetel Inn. While the Office of the District Attorney, and the community as a whole, want to ensure that children have a safe place to live, the Budgetel provides the opposite environment.
    Another gross and tragic discrepancy. Three dozen? More like 150, including 75 or so school-age kids. That leaves lots of babies and toddlers uncounted. And unhoused. Diapers, hygiene supplies and food got left behind in the 4-hour shuffle out of their rooms.

    Yet another reason to doubt your intentions. Truth seems lacking.
  • Currently, there are four known sex offenders living at the Budgetel, three of which have been convicted of violent crimes against children.
    Wave the “sex offender” flag and rile up the unknowing masses. Sex offenders are pariahs, and most may have done horrible things. But what’s the difference between convicted offenders and those hidden — often times “respected” clergy, teachers, elected officials, etc. — those still offending? Who is protecting vulnerable children from them?
  • We have worked with the East Ridge Police Department to gather community resources so that the individuals residing at the Budgetel may find other temporary shelter. We have also notified surrounding hotels of the possible influx of patrons. Our primary concern is the children that reside at the Budgetel. We have been working with the Hamilton County Department of Education to ensure a smooth transition that will allow the children to live with their parent(s) in a safe environment.
    Perhaps the biggest myth of all — that other temporary shelter is available
    . Those staying at Budgetel had to prepay their room rates, weekly or monthly, upwards of $1000 in some cases. They didn’t get their money refunded. Fair to guess that most, if not all, including children who were staying at this hotel are now living hand-to-mouth, therefore that refund would come in handy to pay for a place to stay.

    The other piece of that myth is that temporary shelter would be available. It’s not. Shelters are full. Many folks have pets, not allowed at shelters and some other housing options. And why should the majority of the innocent Budgetel occupants be relegated to temporary shelter? For some, the Budgetel was “home,” be it ever so humble. As one person commented,

“The prices went up so high, you can’t afford to do it on disability. It takes me and my daughter and my wife’s check just to be able to survive at the Budgetel,” Rodgers says. Rodgers also points out credit checks and deposits needed in a traditional apartment aren’t things his family has enough money for at the moment.

Notifying surrounding hotels of a possible influx, how kind of you. What a nothing-burger.

And the assertion that your primary concern is the children. Bull feathers! I’ve spoken to children that you’re concerned about.

Joseph, anticipating his 10th birthday on December 14, the day his family will likely have to leave their motel room because they don’t have money, told me this (1-min. YouTube video).

Hamilton County Families in Transition information.
Hamilton County Families in Transition information. Photo Diane Nilan

Hamilton County Department of Education is struggling mightily and gallantly to deal with this massive challenge. You’ve uprooted 75 or so school children. That traumatizes them, for starters, so you’ve got kids sitting in classrooms struggling to pay attention, worried about if they’ll have a place to sleep, if their family will be uprooted again. Transportation has to be rearranged, at great cost to the department. Kids get separated from their favorite teachers, pals and peers if they end up changing schools (by their family’s choice because school stability is guaranteed by a law I helped get passed).

What’s Next?

Now that the judge has toured the Budgetel, a decision will be rendered Monday as to the fate of the hotel and those who stayed there.

I can’t help but wonder what was behind this abrupt ouster? Does the land that this beleaguered hotel sit on have a greater purpose? Do developers have their eye on ways to turn this property into a cash cow? Are those developers tied to the nepotistic Wamp family? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 18 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us