published Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Chattanooga to pay fees for mayor Ron Littlefield recall flap

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Do you think Mayor Littlefield should be recalled?

The Hamilton County Election Commission plans to bill the city of Chattanooga for the legal fees resulting from Mayor Ron Littlefield's recall challenge.

The commission, which is funded by the county, has racked up at least $9,000 in legal bills since Littlefield filed suit in April to stop the commission from certifying recall petitions and related court action.

"I think the city whose charter has caused this problem should reimburse the citizens of Hamilton County," Chairman Mike Walden said Wednesday during an election commission meeting. "The citizens of Hamilton County shouldn't be paying for the actions of City Council."

Walden said the court must decide whether a rewritten City Charter properly was adopted in 2002.

Littlefield argues that it was not, and therefore the city's recall rules -- which require fewer signatures than state law -- don't apply.

The issue came up previously six years ago, Walden said, but "the City Council has done nothing to solve this problem."

Election commissioners relied on the charter in November when they certified the signatures on petitions and set a recall election for August. Littlefield has challenged that decision, and a hearing is set for Friday before Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth.

The election commission isn't the only entity that has racked up legal bills. The Chattanooga Tea Party, Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield and Chattanooga Organized for Action -- the three groups that spearheaded the recall effort -- intervened in the mayor's first suit.

Mark West of the tea party said the effort has cost the groups at least $20,000.

"We have no one to pass our costs on to," he said.

The groups have remained on the sideline for the latest lawsuit, but the election commissioners urged them to get back in the game before Friday's hearing.

Chattanooga intervened in the current action at Hollingsworth's urging, Election Commission Attorney Chris Clem said, but the city has not taken the position that its charter is valid.

"We fought our case," Jim Folkner of Citizens to Recall Littlefield said during the Wednesday meeting. "Our position is that the election commission has voted, and why should the people hire an attorney to protect an election that's been ordered?"

Folkner told election commissioners he wanted them to ask Hollingsworth to recuse himself based on new ethical guidelines that take effect in July for the Court of the Judiciary. He cited campaign contributions to the judge by Littlefield's attorney's firm.

Commissioner Jerry Summers said there is no reason to doubt Hollingsworth would rule impartially, but he questioned whether an Appeals Court might overturn any decision made Friday if some of the legally required parties aren't represented.

"The courts are where you decide this, but you've got to have the necessary parties," Summers said.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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