published Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Recall election may offer quick path to office


by Cliff Hightower

The quickest route ever to becoming Chattanooga mayor could open this week if the Hamilton County Election Commission certifies petitions for the first mayoral recall in Chattanooga’s history.

Those interested in running, including incumbent Ron Littlefield, must qualify next week for an election that will begin in less than seven weeks, barring a court challenge.

“We have never had an election like this before, and with such a short campaign period and no runoff, I would expect there will be a flood of candidates,” said Rick Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a former Hamilton County election commissioner.

So far, Littlefield is the only candidate to definitely say he’ll run if there is a mayoral election.

“The mayor is experienced and is capable of running a full campaign, if such an election should come,” said Richard Beeland, Littlefield’s communications director.

But several other politicians and community leaders contacted by the Chattanooga Times Free Press refused to rule out a run.

“There will be a spirited campaign once our petitions are certified,” said Chris Brooks with Chattanooga Organized for Action, one of the groups behind the recall drive.

Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, Hamilton County’s administrator of elections, said that as of Friday her staff had counted 9,071 valid signatures out of 14,078 submitted. Under city rules, it takes 8,935 to force a recall, or half the number who voted in the last mayoral election, plus one.

Recall groups have until 4 p.m. Monday to turn in more signatures. Groups including the Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, the Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action were still collecting signatures Saturday.

TAXING TIME

The citizen groups began the recall campaign after Littlefield proposed a 33 percent property tax increase following hikes in stormwater and sewer rates. The City Council voted in June to raise property taxes a little more than 19 percent.

Littlefield could ask the Hamilton County Chancery Court to halt the election commission’s plans for a recall election Nov. 2, when voters cast ballots for state and federal offices.

Littlefield was unavailable Saturday. Beeland said Littlefield will consider his options if and when the election commission decides whether to certify the petitions and schedule the mayoral election.

Questions have been raised about whether the City Charter or state law controls how many signatures are required for a recall. Under state law, the number of required signatures is about 16,000.

Last week, a senior law consultant for the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service issued an opinion saying that state law trumps the City Charter.

Mullis-Morgan and Wilson both said they expect the question to go to court, likely delaying any recall election.

WHO MIGHT RUN?

Jim Folkner, who says he’s a “semiretired businessman” and who heads Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, said Saturday he may run for mayor to ensure there is a candidate to keep city taxes and spending down.

“It’s been a grass-roots effort to bring this recall about, and I feel commitment to these people to push forward with the changes the people want,” he said.

City Councilman Andraé McGary, one of four council members to vote against the city tax increase in June, said he is “very interested” in running.

“We’ll just have to see how the recall plays out,” he said, declining to discuss any details of his potential candidacy.

Hamilton County Commissioner Jim Coppinger, a retired Chattanooga fire chief, said he is not backing the recall effort “and I look forward to being sworn in for a second term as county commissioner on Wednesday.” But Coppinger wouldn’t rule out a run should there be a recall.

County Commissioner Warren Mackey said he might consider a mayoral bid, too.

“I have been approached about running, and it’s something I’ll have to consider,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who lost his Republican gubernatorial bid, said he “will not be a candidate for mayor should there be an election this year.”

Todd Womack, chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who previously worked in the mayor’s office with Corker and briefly with Littlefield, ruled out a run at this time.

RECALL CALENDAR

Barring a court challenge, an election for Chattanooga mayor could soon begin:

* Monday: Petition signature deadline

* Tuesday-Friday: Hamilton County Election Commission will review signatures and possibly certify a recall election and open qualifying petitions for mayoral candidates

* Tuesday, Sept. 7 - Deadline to turn in qualifying signatures to run for mayor

* Thursday, Sept. 9 - Deadline for candidates to withdraw from mayoral election.

* Oct. 13-Oct. 28: Early voting

* Nov. 2, Election Day

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

“I love what I am doing right now, and I want to keep doing that, at least for now,” Womack said.

Some City Council members said Friday they are not interested in running.

“I’ve really not given it any serious consideration,” said Carol Berz.

And Peter Murphy said, “I don’t think it’s something I would look into.”

Rob Healy, who ran against the mayor last year, said he doesn’t know now if he would run in a recall election.

“I’m following it, I’m interested, and we’ll see where it goes,” Healy said.

Bill Raines, a commercial real estate business owner who helped lead a blue-ribbon panel that reduced proposed stormwater fee increases earlier this year, said he’s been encouraged by local business leaders to run. Raines said he has decided against it to spend more time with his family and business.

State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, also said he’s been approached about running. Berke, who flirted briefly last year with running for Tennessee governor, did not return repeated phone calls.

Wilson said he expects the short calendar and the lack of a runoff election will spark a crowd of candidates. When Gray Davis was recalled as California governor, for instance, 135 candidates qualified for the ballot.

“We may not have that many, but I would expect a lot,” he said. “Shorter elections mean more candidates.”

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Do you support recalling Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield?

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Gardener said...

"Last week, a senior law consultant for the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service issued an opinion saying that state law trumps the City Charter."

That seems highly doubtful since the election for Mayor of Chattanooga is not a state election, but rather a local election and local elections within the city limits are governed by the City Charter.

If the recall was to remove, for example, someone from office who had been elected to the State Legislature, that is when the state law would kick in and apply, yet since this is only a local election and not for a position in TN state government the local rules apply.

Regardless, if the annexations go through there will be more than enough new registered voters in the newly annexed county areas being added to the city to drive a 2nd recall effort which would meet both state and local requirements.

August 29, 2010 at 9:04 a.m.
xsiveporsche said...

How do you qualify for an election like this. I am not very political but something needs to be done and get rid of the politicians. We don't need carreer politicians running our city but someone who loves it and is willing to do whatever it takes to make Chattanooga the best city in the country. I think it is the best in the south and one of the best in the country and has so much potential.

August 29, 2010 at 9:46 a.m.
commonsense2010 said...

Gardener, Right on, right on, right on!!!

August 29, 2010 at 10:25 a.m.
slr3 said...

I find it humorous that commissioner Berz is even considered to replace Littlefield. Remember the five commissioners who voted to raise our property taxes by 19% in order to fund the bloated city budget. They are BERZ,ROBINSON,LADD,RICO and BENSON. Why would a voter in their right mind vote for one of these five to replace Littlefiels??? On the other hand , commissioners voting against raising our taxes are MURPHY,SCOTT,McGARY and GILBERT. One of these four should be considered in the mix for our next Mayor.

August 29, 2010 at 10:46 a.m.
joelance said...

Gardener, while I agree with you that local rule should prevail, the section of state law cited does pertain to municipal recalls. There is a valid case either way, and it's likely a judge will have to decide.

Another point is that the state law governing city recall signature thresholds was passed in 1997. If the section of the Chattanooga City Charter was added after that (i.e., during the 2002 revision), then it may hold up. But if it was there before the 1997 state law, then there is a strong case that state law supersedes city charter language here.

August 29, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.
fairmon said...

Those active in the successful recall should document the qualifications and characteristics of an acceptable candidate. Included could be items such as: o Anyone that has sought, held or been appointed to any political office will not be considered. o Demonstrated success running a business similar in size and scope to city government.
o Capable of developing and managing a zero based budget. o Someone familiar with right size staffing and wage comparisons for similar work. o Willing to fill key leadership positions based only on qualifications, no political considerations. o Willing to reduce or eliminate non-additive departments and redundant work. o Values the availability of employment for all residents and tax payers. o etc. etc.

Once the criteria and qualifications are developed, documented and publicized compare all candidates to those and collectively support the one that best meets those criteria. It is hard to imagine someone less capable and less sensitive to the financial plight of citizens and businesses being successful but it is possible in the short time available to know the candidates.

August 29, 2010 at 12:20 p.m.
sideviews said...

The city of Chattanooga has an annual operating budget of nearly $170 million and employs nearly 2,00 workers. I doubt you will find someone as harp3339 wants who has demonstrated success in running a local business of that size willing to take the job for the $147,000 salary. To elect someone who has never been elected to any public office is likely to produce a leader who is not experienced in listening to the pubic, responding to constituents or knowing how to operate in a public, political environment. If we reduce taxes without jeopardizing the city's bond rating, we will probably have to cut staff, salaries or pensions of city employees.

August 29, 2010 at 2:43 p.m.
xsiveporsche said...

Sometimes you have to cut staff and employees. Why should we pay 5 people to do the job that 2 can do. You have seen it too. 5 guys on the side of the road and only 1 or 2 working. 1,000,000.00 for a new marina. I think it could be better spent elsewhere. We apy our mayor $147+ a year. Hell elect me I will do it for half and be happy about it. Riverbend, How much does that cost our city every year? Police, Rescue, Trash colection and disposal, why? If Riverbend is making money then they should also be reimbursing for these expenses and if they are not no more Riverbend. There are ways for Chattanooga to make money without losing money all the time. It is time to start taking our country back from carreer politicians and it starts with taking our city back. Call me Nieve but it should be an honor to serve your community. These people are only in it for the money and the connections, it time we changed that.

August 29, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.
fairmon said...

Sideviews. Thanks for your response. I do think if the salary is the incentive to accept the office of mayor then we certainly don't want that person. 2,000 employees is not an unusually large number and I do know several people meeting that criteria. I can assure you they would not be successful business people without being a good listener, understanding the communications but with the ability to identify and ignore bs, probably not a good political skill. Have you been impressed with the way the current mayor listens? If he is listening he must have a hearing problem.

I can assure you a wage survey of like work will result in some salary reductions. Yes, many current positions would be eliminated with no negative impact on essential services. The pension plan and other open ended benefits would be replaced with a defined benefit plan similar to what most of the business world has in order to know the cost they will face. Tax payers are not in the business of furnishing jobs and have a right to expect good value for each tax dollar.

Politics as usual is what got us in the dilema we are in today and it will not get any better with more of the same. Necessary business decisions can adversely affect some. Why should the tax payer pay higher taxes to avoid that?

August 29, 2010 at 9:31 p.m.
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