published Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Chattanooga Group files to intervene in mayor recall case


by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    The Rev. Leroy Griffith is a Westside resident and leader in the community.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Days before a state appeals court is set to hear an appeal in the recall of Mayor Ron Littlefield, a local community group wants to intervene, saying the city is infringing on its right to hold a citizens' initiative.

The Rev. Leroy Griffith filed a motion Friday in the recall appeal, saying the state law that dictates the city's ability to recall the mayor also affects the ability to conduct city initiatives. Griffith said he plans to travel to Knoxville on Wednesday when the appeals court hears from the groups who called for Littlefield's ouster.

"That's why we're in it," Griffith said. "We have a common problem, not a common cause."

Griffith, president of the Westside Community Association, has been leading an initiative for fair housing. The group wants an ordinance that would require the city's public housing authority to replace any demolished unit with a new unit — a one-for-one swap. A citizens initiative would allow the group to get a referendum on the ballot if the City Council rejects a petition seeking such ordinance.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said he does not think Griffith's group will be successful.

"I think it's a day late," he said. "I think it's way too late."

Hal North, attorney for Littlefield, agreed.

"I don't think they'll be allowed to intervene at this point," he said. "They are raising a point that I think is different."

The hearing Wednesday could be the final chapter of a two-year saga. Three groups -- Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, the Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action -- started a recall effort in the summer of 2010. They raised what they thought were enough signatures on a recall petition under the city charter, but Littlefield sued.

The case has been mired in court since, with Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruling that state law trumped the city charter and more signatures were needed.

McMahan said the same state law that dictates recall efforts also dictates citizen initiatives.

Under state law, the initiative must be approved by the Hamilton County Election Commission before a petition drive starts. The city charter requires the petitions to be given to the City Council and rejected before the election commission can hold a referendum on the initiative.

McMahan said the Westside Community Association has failed to do either of those actions, although Griffith did give him a petition with the proposed ordinance on it.

"He presented me a petition with zero signatures," McMahan said.

Griffith maintains his case needs to be heard to see whether or not state law actually trumps the city charter on citizen initiatives.

"This is late, but so is the situation that caused it," he said.

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