Two council members now face a recall effort that has been targeting Mayor Ron Littlefield for weeks.
“We need people in government who are responsible,” said Chris Brooks, an organizer for the group Chattanooga Organized for Action.
The group targeted Council Chairman Manny Rico and Councilman Jack Benson in its latest recall effort. The group, along with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield and the Chattanooga Tea Party, have been working on a recall effort for Littlefield for weeks.
Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Tobiah Tillman hands Debra Powell a petition to sign to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield while Jeff Powell sits at left at Miller Plaza during Nightfall Friday.
On Thursday, Chattanooga Organized for Action asked the Hamilton County Election Commission to approve gathering the recall petitions for Rico and Benson. The commission gave its approval, so now it is up to the group to get the required signatures.
Hamilton County Election Coordinator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said there is some confusion between the city charter and state law as to exactly how many signatures are required.
“Right now, we don’t know how many signatures we need,” she said.
If the city charter is followed, petitioners would need around 900 signatures to oust Benson and 600 signatures to oust Rico. Election officials said it would require between 9,000 signatures to 15,000 signatures to oust Littlefield. The smaller number follows the city charter and the higher number follows state law.
Rico said Friday he is a bit worried about the recall effort.
“You’re always concerned because you don’t know what they are telling people,” he said.
Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Rico suddenly ended a City Council meeting when members of Chattanooga Organized for Action and Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield were trying to speak.
He told them at the time they were out of order because, under council rules, they could not speak because they already had spoken twice within the past 30 days.
The situation has become “personal” for group members and they are targeting him for it, he said.
“I’ve tried to be nice to them,” he said.
Benson said he felt the recall effort was personal for him as well, and that he had a target on his back with one of the group’s members.
“As far as I understand, it’s a one-person personality conflict with me based upon a delusional problem with me,” he said.
Brooks said Friday that people in Benson’s district wanted the recall effort to go forward. He said it was not personal and could happen for any council member.
“All are pretty fair game,” he said.
He said Rico has shown allegiance to the mayor in the past, siding with the mayor on every issue.
HOW IT WORKS
Petitioners have until Aug. 30 to turn in their signed petitions. Election officials will then count and certify the signatures. If there are enough, Mayor Ron Littlefield, Councilman Jack Benson and Councilman Manny Rico will be removed from office, according to election officials. An election will then be held in November for city mayor and the districts. Littlefield, Benson and Rico can all run in those elections.
“Manuel Rico has shown outright contempt for citizens at City Council meetings,” he said.
Jim Folkner of Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield said the ouster for the mayor is in full swing. The groups said they would be going door to door this weekend, along with attending the Chattanooga Market, to gather signatures.
The group’s website said it had collected more than 5,100 signatures so far. But Mr. Folkner said that was old information. He did not know how many signatures the group had.
“It’s a lot more than that,” he said.
Speaking Friday at the Civitan Club, Littlefield was asked about the recall effort. He said he did not give it much thought.
“I’m not tossing and turning at night about it,” he said.
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Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...