published Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Councilman upset over omitted e-mails

by Cliff Hightower

A Chattanooga city councilman blasted the city administration Wednesday for not fully complying with his open records request, while Mayor Ron Littlefield’s attorney said a court hearing could come as soon as Friday in the recall effort.

Councilman Andraé McGary, who hosts the radio talk show “Live and Local” on 102.3 WGOW-FM, said Wednesday that at least three e-mail exchanges between Littlefield and Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West were left out of the documents he received after making a records request.

“It certainly looks like they were purposefully omitted,” McGary said. “I don’t think it was an accident.”

McGary said he will raise the issue during the City Council’s Legal and Legislative Committee meeting Tuesday. He has said he is “very interested” in running should there be a recall election.

McGary, the Chattanooga Times Free Press and several other media outlets requested copies of the e-mails early last week. The city released the e-mails Monday.

Littlefield and West traded e-mails more than two weeks ago, trying to set up a meeting. In them, both men talk about politics, religion and the recall effort.

In his records request, McGary asked for any e-mails between West and Littlefield.

McGary said Wednesday he was given e-mails from Aug. 15 through Aug. 19. He said two e-mails between the two men that fell within those dates were not included. A third e-mail that occurred after those dates also was not included.

City officials responded to the records request from the Times Free Press in the same fashion.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for the mayor, said the city handed over “all we had on the city [computer] server.”

The mayor wrote the e-mails on a city account. But Beeland said Littlefield didn’t have to release any of the e-mails because they were “personal” and exempt from the Tennessee Open Records Act.

He said the mayor released them anyway, but he couldn’t explain why some weren’t turned over.

Mark Keil, the city’s information officer, said his office searched the computer system and released what was found. He said there could be multiple reasons for the e-mails not appearing, including the mayor deleting them the same day.

Elisha Hodge, open records counsel for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, said state law requires that governments make such records available to the public. But if there is no record to produce, it is not a violation, she said.

“If the record doesn’t exist, it just doesn’t exist,” she said.

Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said the only recourse if someone questions whether all records have been released is to file a lawsuit.

But he questioned whether the mayor could label the e-mails “personal.”

“How someone can have a personal conversation over a city server? That’s a crock,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Hal North, Littlefield’s attorney, said the courts could move on the recall effort by this morning.

“We’re waiting to get this assigned to a judge,” North said.

He said a Circuit Court judge could be handed the case today and a hearing could come as early as Friday.

Littlefield filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Hamilton County Circuit Court to stop the recall effort launched by the Chattanooga Tea Party, Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield and Chattanooga Organized for Action. Under the City Charter, the recall groups gathered enough signatures to force a recall election.

But Littlefield contends the groups used petitions not approved by the Hamilton County Election Commission, failed to get dates with each signature and included allegations rather than questions on the petitions.

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tobiah said...

It is one thing to deny records requests from the public as in 3 documented occasions prior to this incident but then to deny them to a councilman and news sources such as this one proves that Chattanooga Organized for Action was right about their concerns of the lack of transparency in City government.

This completely validates our 'accusations' and the entire recall movement. This is daily making it a harder case for the mayor and it seems that especially with his lawsuit against the election commission and attacks on the public that signed the recall petition, we have handed him a shovel and he keeps digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole. When the recall goes through and he tries to run again he will be limping through his campaign to win the election.

September 2, 2010 at 2:08 a.m.
notlittletommy said...

I agree totally. But folks, beware of Andrae. Watch his agenda. He LIED on the radio last week when asked about a possible run for mayor. He REPEATEDLY said that it was just a rumor. And now, he is strongly considering it? Come on folks. WATCH OUT!!!

September 2, 2010 at 4:21 a.m.
chefdavid said...

I know in counties like Pinellas the St. Pete times has access to the server and can read any employees email. I think the timesfree press ought to look into something like that.

September 2, 2010 at 6:33 a.m.
Allison12 said...

City Computer, taxpayer owned.

September 2, 2010 at 8:23 a.m.
Musicman375 said...

Maybe Mr. West can offer up the missing emails. They should still be in his inbox too.

This whole situation stinks so badly, and I know children who display more maturity than the mayor has recently. How sad.

September 2, 2010 at 8:42 a.m.
dave said...

Basically the Mayor knows the "jig" is up and his time is short and he is trying to hang onto power anyway he can. Personally I didn't like him as a public works director and I certainly don't like him as a Mayor...and voted for ..."anybody but"..he has always brushed aside the rights and well-being of the citizens pushing his own "agenda" for personal enrichment. I would be careful of him though, as I native Chattanoogian I know that the politics here can be dangerous and deadly. Those that have lived here long enough remember the days of James "Bookie" Turner. Personally I think Mr West and Mr. Wysong are very brave souls. But...Mr Mayor we are "TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY"!!!

September 2, 2010 at 10:01 a.m.
Salsa said...

"I know in counties like Pinellas the St. Pete times has access to the server and can read any employees email. I think the timesfree press ought to look into something like that."

Username: chefdavid | On: September 2, 2010 at 6:33 a.m.

Newspapers have no special rights that any other citizen doesn't also have. If the newspaper can access it then any other citizen has that same right.

If they actually do this, I hope they have a way to block out employee e-mails regarding pending police investigations. It would be a little ridiculous for the suspects in those investigations to be able to read about it and cover their tracks as the police try to solve a crime.

September 2, 2010 at 11:50 a.m.
IrishDaddy said...

Hey Mayor Littlefield I know a way the city can save some money. The road work hear in Hixson of Grubb and Lower Mill roads is some of the most shottie work I have seen. Maybe if the city commission would contract it out, we would get better roads. All I know is we were told that this was temporary and it has been temporary for more than a year. It took more than 6 months to do all this temporary road work. The work done off dayton pike running to 153 and Red Bank City limits took all of 2 weeks and 2 miles of road, it is beautiful, maybe you can get that road crew to do the work, I am sure it was contracted out. Just think of all the money we could save very effecient and you don't have to pay them hospitalization and or retirement benefits.

September 2, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.
MayGun said...

Lack of transparency nothing new here.

check these videos out

September 2, 2010 at 3:08 p.m.
crimshaw said...

Be very very careful who you may elect for the Cities highest position. It seems even now back room deals for support are being made. Seems it will never end. Elect someone not in the current or involved in past City or county governments.

September 2, 2010 at 3:48 p.m.
chioK_V said...

Indeed, Surely Mr. West held onto any emails that traveled back and forth between himself and the mayor. I agree, this whole thing sure does stink to the high heavens, and all that stink isn't coming from the mayors side either. As for Andrae, he's new, young and doesn't quite understand that these people who seem to support you now because you're doing what they want will be the first to throw you under the bus once they get what they want. Don't think for one minute that these individuals who are presently going after the mayor won't turn on you and go after you too after they've used you all up.

September 2, 2010 at 4:45 p.m.
fairmon said...

Anyone that has ever sought, held or been appointed to a political position will not receive my vote, this includes McGary. Voters should look at the business management experience and capability of the current council. All should be replaced at their next run for office.

September 2, 2010 at 8:02 p.m.
locked99xj said...

Mr. West, did keep the email. Here are all of them posted on the Times Free Press...

Read about our mayor's arrongant response and how he tries to bully Mr. West into meeting with him. Littlefield is mentally disturbed.

September 3, 2010 at 9:27 a.m.
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