Mayor Ron Littlefield has proposed building a services center for the homeless, making the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library a nationally recognized facility, seeing a high-speed rail line to Atlanta become a reality and expanding the city’s boundaries.
But his ultimate dream would mean the end of his job.
“I would like to leave as the last mayor of Chattanooga,” Mr. Littlefield said.
That dream can become a reality only if the City Council and County Commission agree to set up a panel that would craft a charter for metropolitan government. City and county voters would have to approve the charter to establish a new government, according to state law.
But with such a grand vision of how he would like the future of Chattanooga and Hamilton County to proceed, Mr. Littlefield said he is not driven by a need to leave a lasting legacy. He said he wants only to leave the community “better than I found it.”
“I don’t feel compelled to leave a monument to myself,” said Mr. Littlefield, who has three years left in his second term as mayor.
setting the bar high
Mr. Littlefield has his share of detractors, from those who opposed him on a takeover of Tennessee-American Water Co. to those who feel the homeless services center on 11th Street threatens their neighborhood.
He has faced his latest detractors in his march toward annexing areas within the city’s urban growth plan. Rob Healy, his opponent in the March 2009 mayoral election, said last week that one of the mayor’s largest weaknesses is his inability to communicate ideas.
It is OK to have big ideas, but the public should know about them, Mr. Healy said.
“The first thing you do is you sell the people on it, then you move forward with the project,” he said. “I believe you always set the bar high, but you know how to get there. That’s what’s been missing.”
Mr. Littlefield has proposed several significant projects since taking office in April 2005: the homeless services center on 11th Street, the makeover of the library and finally metropolitan government.
Dr. Robert Swansbrough, political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the previous two mayors pursued ambitious agendas. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and former mayor, opened the riverfront and former Mayor Jon Kinsey led in downtown development, he said.
Now Mr. Littlefield must look for his own legacy, Dr. Swansbrough said.
“A lot of people felt he had pressures to bring big visions,” he said.
the road less traveled
Council Chairman Jack Benson said the mayor has his share of successes. Mr. Littlefield established an internal auditor for the city that has kept track of where taxpayers’ money is going, he said. The McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center also was built during the mayor’s administration, and the mayor started the Office of Multicultural Affairs, he said.
“He’s a very creative person,” Mr. Benson said.
He said what Mr. Littlefield brought to the table is paying attention to the most minute aspects within the administration and the community, not just the big visions.
“It was time we paid attention to the details,” Mr. Benson said. “The devil’s in the details.”
Dale Mabee, chairman of the planning commission and campaign manager for Mr. Littlefield in the last two elections, said it will take time for some of the mayor’s visions to become reality. But Mr. Littlefield chose to take routes that were harder, he said.
“You can do politically expedient things that are quick and easy and that you can toot your own horn about,” he said. “But he’s taken on some projects that take time.”
Mr. Littlefield said last week that the city has undertaken quite a bit of annexation, and the Volkswagen plant is coming to town under his watch. He said all his plans will be accomplished in due time.
“I have a schedule calendar in my head and a countdown clock that’s running,” he said. “I have three-and-a-half years left to do it.”
Mr. Healy said time is of the essence.
“He’s been in office five years, and he’s got three years left to go,” he said. “Time is a wastin’.”
* February 2005: Then mayoral-candidate Ron Littlefield says he favors a high-speed rail from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
* November 2005: Council approves spending $300,000 on proposed Maglev rail line.
* December 2005: Mayor Ron Littlefield says he favors takeover of Tennessee-American Water Co.
* March 2006: City buys Farmer’s Market for homeless services center.
* April 2007: Says Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library needs a makeover
* April 2009: Announces plans for annexation, consolidation
* September 2009: More than $140,000 of city money set aside for additional Maglev studies.
* October 2009: Announces plans for talks on metropolitan government; first and only social service provider opens in old Farmer’s Market.
Source: Newspaper archives
Read about a plan to use the Hamilton County trustee to collect Chattanooga property taxes.