published Saturday, September 5th, 2009

City police warned about annexation talk


by Cliff Hightower

by Jacqueline Koch

The city attorney's office warned the police department that any city employees who publicly made negative statements about annexation could be called to testify in court, the chief of police said.

Police Chief Freeman Cooper said Friday he was advised of the directive by the city attorney a few weeks ago. He then sent an e-mail to his command staff to tell them about the warning, he said, and the e-mail was forwarded to various officers in the department.

"Per City Attorney -- Any City employee publicly making a negative comment regarding annexation Should expect to be subpoenaed to testify if the City is sued," one version of the e-mail reads.

Officers in various police divisions who received the e-mail or heard about it secondhand said they perceived the communication as a threat and hesitated to speak on the record about either annexation or the e-mail.

City Attorney Mike McMahan was out of the office Friday, his secretary said. Assistant City Attorney Phil Noblett said he did not issue such a statement and was unaware that such an e-mail existed.

Mayor Ron Littlefield said Friday there was no basis for the e-mail.

"Employees can say what they want to, because I doubt they will be called to court," he said. "But elected officials will be."

He said the city attorney's office has warned elected officials about watching what they say in public and in e-mails because they're governed by the state's open records laws.

"Say anything you want, but expect it to be part of the record, which could end up in public court," Mr. Littlefield said.

Whether the city attorney's office issued directives on discussing annexation to other city departments is unclear.

Jerry Stewart, director of the city's waste resources division, Larry Zehnder, the parks and recreation administrator, and Steve Leach, the public works administrator, said the city attorney had not issued such a statement to their departments.

David Holway, president of the national International Brotherhood of Police Officers, issued a statement through a spokeswoman, saying he "was frankly a bit shocked that the city appeared to be eager to step on the First Amendment rights of its employees."

Richard Hollow, general counsel for the Tennessee Press Association, said there's no legal basis for any city attorney to directly or indirectly order a city employee not to speak on a matter of public or general concern.

Exceptions would occur if an officer was needed to testify as a witness during pending litigation for something such as a car accident or an arrest gone bad, for example, he said.

"Perhaps it's not a direct admonition -- 'Don't talk' -- but it is a veiled sort of suggestion that, if you do talk, it may bring about an adverse consequence to you," Mr. Hollow said. "And it tends to discourage the free and open flow of ideas, which is a restriction on First Amendment rights."

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SCOTTYM said...

Hey Officer,....(And City Officials)...

This guy just told me to shut up. Can he do that?


I think some people neglected to learn that an open exchange of ideas and opinions, should be just that, an OPEN exchange. No one should get shut down so long as they are being civil.


Unless I'm incorrect, City of Chattanooga Police Officers are exactly the same, under law, as any other resident of HamCo, (excluding certain elected officials of course) in that they have exactly ZERO voting rights concerning the annexation issue.

We, the residents of Hamilton County, including but not limited to, police officers, city employees, county employees, sheriff's deputies, etc., can talk and write all we want, in a civil manner, and in various forums, and heaven help anyone who tries to shut us down. It would cost a fortune in legal expenses.

This is one of those rights that is not the city's to give, nor take.


Here's a way out for the city, free of charge.

Start with a real apology to anyone who may have felt intimidated by the power of the city.

Then.

Retire Chief Cooper, he isn't helpful when dealing with the people of the city or, obviously, with his own officers. Goodbye, enjoy the golf or whatever.

Finally,

Let's toss the current annexation bit until we pass an modification to the annexation rules requiring a 3/4 majority vote among city residents and residents of the area to be annexed. Then we can start anew, ya'll can propose all the annexation schemes you want, and we'll vote.

If you did this you could lose, but you would most assuredly establish a more trusting relationship with the people of the county, and as bonus, you might get re-elected.

Maybe.

September 5, 2009 at 2:56 a.m.
rolando said...

That wasn't just a "veiled sort of suggestion", it was an out and out threat against any employee opening his or her mouth. Looks like the city attorney's office is in the business of silencing any opposition to Littlefield's plan to annex anyone, anywhere, anytime. They must really fear a lawsuit.

September 5, 2009 at 3 a.m.
SCOTTYM said...

rolando,

"They must really fear a lawsuit."

It seems as though they are drawing one in upon themselves.

September 5, 2009 at 3:15 a.m.
Alex said...

The Littlefield adminstration and his department heads are an absolute train wreck. The political appointmnets he made to manage the deparments are a joke, one word to prove my point, Missy Crutchfield.

September 5, 2009 at 9:46 a.m.
Salsa said...

Time for a regime change.

September 5, 2009 at 10:35 a.m.
Salsa said...

"The city attorney's office warned the police department that any city employees who publicly made negative statements about annexation could be called to testify in court, the chief of police said."

What about if they spoke in favor of annexation? Would you threaten to call them into court for that too?

September 5, 2009 at 10:36 a.m.
joecrash1 said...

NO ANNEXATION! DOWN WITH ANNEXATION! ANNEXATION IS BAD! ANNEXATION WAS A TOOL OF HITLER! BOOOOOOOO ANNEXATION! I will expect my subpoena forthwith.

September 5, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.
james said...

as a city employee who has made comments in the past on here and other chattanooga news sites, this feels like a threat and i have to wonder now what might be in store in the days to come for myself and anyone else who works for the city who might have said something. we have to work like every other hard working man and woman out there, what we DO NOT have to deal with is being intimidated by ANYONE while we do our jobs. this is just another sad moment in this mayors terms of SERVICE. if he is reelected after all this ...we get what we deserve.

September 5, 2009 at 12:39 p.m.
franksmith said...

Sounds like the city is going to pull itself into a First Amendment violation, this is just what the city needs during a budget crunch, a mulit-million dollar lawsuit.

September 5, 2009 at 1:13 p.m.
enufisenuf said...

It is a sad sign of the times when you can praise the powers to be all you want but don't dare say ANYTHING negative. WHat a thin skinned society of sissys we have. That applies to government on all levels, corporate america, businesses, even the fast food industry who can't get some orders right try to make it customer error by challenging the limited mental abilities of workers and managers alike

September 6, 2009 at 2:29 p.m.
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