The effort to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield likely will be detoured to Hamilton County Chancery Court if backers gather enough signatures to get the question on the Nov. 2 ballot.
“It’ll go to court,” said Hamilton County Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan. “It’ll have to.”
The groups Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party have filed petitions to recall Littlefield as well as Councilmen Jack Benson and Manny Rico.
Chris Brooks, with Chattanooga Organized for Action, said the group has handed over 12,000 signatures for the election commission to check. Organizers believe they are within striking distance of the 8,957 needed to force a recall election under the city charter.
Mullis-Morgan said that, as of noon Wednesday, 9,323 signatures had been checked and 5,937 were valid.
All petitions must be turned in by Monday to allow time for the ballots to be printed and for candidates to qualify for the post.
“We’re working on a real close time frame,” Mullis-Morgan said.
Littlefield could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
But the recall could be headed for court over questions of its legality.
The county election commission has said that, under the city charter, 50 percent of the voters in the last mayoral election must sign petitions to get a recall on the ballot. That’s about 9,000 signatures.
However, a senior law consultant for the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service has issued an opinion that state law trumps the city charter. That would mean getting signatures from 15 percent of registered voters, about 15,000.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 9,323: Signatures checked by the Hamilton County Election Commission
* 5,937: Signatures approved
* 3,386: Signatures thrown out
Source: Hamilton County Election Commission
“Those provisions of the [Chattanooga] charter are not operative, having been superseded by Tennessee Code Annotated,” Helmsley wrote. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Election Commission Attorney Chris Clem agreed that state law supersedes the city charter. But he said state law specifically allows cities to require fewer signatures for a recall.
The divergent opinions mean that “there’s no doubt this is headed to court” if enough signatures are turned in by Monday, he said.
Benson and Rico said Wednesday they have hired attorneys and will go to court if enough signatures are collected to recall them.
“Whatever they do, it’s going to have to face the challenge of legitimacy,” Benson 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.) ...