published Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The bill for a flawed recall

The county Election Commission and organizers of the failed effort to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield said last week they weren't sure what their next step would be in the wake of the court ruling that barred the recall. Organizers were rightly uncertain about their dim chances in another legal appeal, yet some Election Commission members suggested they might bill the city for the cost of this disastrous farce.

As they review the wreckage of their misguided mission and the legal flaws that allowed it, it should be apparent that they brought their defeat on themselves. And as a result, the Election Commission itself -- not the city of Chattanooga and not Mayor Littlefield -- should bear the cost of the commission's egregious failure to follow the state's election laws.

The recall petitions failed from the get-go to meet legal muster for the needed number of valid, dated signatures and the form of their petitions. The recall sponsors would not have had enough legally valid and dated signatures and properly formed petitions even if the city's faulty recall statute had been properly enacted -- which the court found it hadn't.

The superior state recall law still would have required valid voter signatures to be signed and dated, to allow signees to legally retract their signature within 10 days of signing such a petition. The force of state law also still would have required a unifying legal question on the petitions. There was no getting around those legal requirements, and the Election Commission should have automatically upheld them in the beginning.

Yet the same three Republican commission members dismissed their responsibility when the deadline for the petitions loomed. They did so again after being informed in 2010 by the first court ruling of their due process errors. And when the recall lawsuit was remanded back to the Election Commission by the appeals court last November for due process on a decision, they blithely went ahead and certified a recall election without considering the potential legal result of the action. That was their last chance to acknowledge the process errors and deny the recall on the merits of the petitions.

They apparently just assumed that when the case inevitably came back before the court, as it did last week, that the judge would excuse their official negligence and inattention to the requirements of the law governing recalls.

Their sheer gall leading to this debacle was stunningly apparent -- and wholly inexcusable. Commissioner Jerry Summers, one of the commission's two Democratic minority members and a former long-time attorney for the Election Commission, had timely cited the flaws both before and after the 2010 court ruling -- and was still reminding the commission of that last November.

Regardless, Commissioner Tommy Crangle justified their decision then to certify the recall on the grounds that the people who had signed the petitions deserved to have the recall election held, never mind the legal problems that Judge Jeff Hollingsworth had noted as grounds to bar the recall election.

"The people need to have confidence that their laws are legitimate. I think they have the right to recall their officials. I don't know how we can deny that right," he said at the Nov. 17 meeting at which the recall election was certified for the 2012 August general election.

The peoples' rights to recall, of course, must rest on adherence to the legal requirements of the recall law, and the commission's conscientious observance of that law. That's the least that must be required if such a tiny minority of recall-minded voters are to oust a mayor who was elected by a majority of voters.

But never mind. Fellow Republican Commissioners Michael Walden and Ruth Braly, embraced Crangle's dubious posturing, and promptly carried the Election Commission right off the legal cliff. Commission attorney Chris Clem's quixotic effort to have the superior state law declared unconstitutional abetted the subsequent legal folly.

Now it's time to face the results. The Election Commissioners will have to ask the County Commission for an additional sum, now estimated at around $150,000, to pay for their flawed handling of a recall election that never should have been certified. In any case, the city's residential and commercial tax base, which represents nearly 80 percent of the county government's tax revenue, will still take the hit.

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AndrewLohr said...

"...if a tiny minority of recall-minded voters are to oust a mayor who was elected by a majority of voters." Uh, according to The Chattanoogan, more voters went to the trouble of signing recall petitions than voted for our mayor's re-election in '09 (though NOT more than voted for him in '05). That's hardly a "tiny minority" for recall. At this point let him serve out his term; but he didn't re-run on annexation, tax hikes and sewer fee hikes, so he has no mandate for any of that, and he brought the recall on himself.

February 15, 2012 at 12:42 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

No one in this city thinks Mayor Littlefield has done a good job at anything but bribes, kickbacks and payoffs. We're confident the local politicos can come up with the tab for the recall costs.

Take it out of the $328,000 paid out for a website for the city that was never built.

Or, take it out of the $125,000 salary paid out to Bob Corker's right hand man to become county chief of staff.

Or, take it out of the $10 Million lie about "liability" in the city budget that wrecked the local economy with its greed.

These shortsighted editorials against the opinions of common people are unwanted and unnecessary. Perhaps it goes along with the paper's new policy of not listening to its readers. Excellent work at screwing up in the wrong direction, once again.

Bill Mayor Littlefield for the cost his own political ineptitude and corruption brought him. If he had stopped ripping the tax base off to pay his friends, maybe he wouldn't be in this position.

Littlefield called the tune. Let him pay the piper.

February 15, 2012 at 4:33 a.m.
dfclapp said...

Why does the Times editorial always seem to be written by the City government public relations department? The blame for squandering time and money on a failed recall rests entirely on the city itself because it failed to fix the problems within its charter.

If the Election Commission had written the recall provision in the City Charter I'd be with you. However, all they tried to do is make sense out of it and to have the integrity to stand by what they told petitioners was legal according to the City charter.

The outrageous comedy, if the Times editorial writers had the backbone to see it like it is and tell it like it is, is that the city defeated the recall by attacking the charter they created, combining hypocrisy with a royal waste of time and money. The City Council should not only pay the cost, but also apologize for creating the whole mess. Now would also be an excellent time to fix the charter.

February 15, 2012 at 6:24 a.m.
aae1049 said...

The real question Mr. Editor or as we fondly call the TFP, Public Relations Arm for the City, is why did Mayor Littlefield spend $80,000 in legal fees to keep a job that pays $130,000 in a 14-month period?

Asking that question would not achieve your partisan lobby or message, would it? Most people would say, this makes no sense financially. Well, it does if millions in bubba contracts are at stake.

It is abundantly clear that there is millions in contracts and land deals to preserve to cause the power structure, including the TFP to move in such a concerted manner to undo grassroots efforts.

Learning the details about the Farmers Market, and what the TFP did not report, leaves me certain that the TFP is a power structure lobby.

Mr. Editor your TFP has been on dinner and a date with local government for so long, you simply have more ink than credibility. Enabling bad government through silence is the TFP mode of operation.

February 15, 2012 at 8:56 a.m.
aae1049 said...

The Odor of Justice should be more than odor of Impropriety.

Little Chicago Watch, a citizen watch group, wishes to share very reasonable concerns about an appearance of impropriety in the case of the judicial recall hearings. How do we know that Justice occurred, in the face of these facts? That is the problem.

Election Commission PLEASE Appeal on behalf of 10,000 registered voters!!!!!!!

Fact 1

42% of Judge Hollingsworth’s campaign contributions are from Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm.

Fact 2

Judge Hollingsworth was employed by Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm prior to election.

Fact 3

City Attorney Mike McMahan selected Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm through blank check resolutions that do not have “not to exceed amount provisions,” after the firm filed a lawsuit to stop the recall election in 2010. Our watch group has filed an open records request to quantify the compensation Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm received from the City through Resolution No. 26633 March 22, 2011 and Resolution No. 26460 Oct. 5, 2010. There is an appearance of a windfall of contracts to Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm after the lawsuit was filed to stop the election.

Fact 4

City Attorney Mike McMahan represented the City at the taxpayer’s expense, but is not defending the City Charter enacted by a referendum by the citizens of our city (City Minutes, Feb. 2012).

Little Chicago Watch is concerned that Lady Justice may of had her blind fold off.

February 15, 2012 at 9:07 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Why does the power structure detest grassroots movements. Recall was good for our City.

February 15, 2012 at 9:22 a.m.
timbo said...

The power structure looks at the rest of us as little yapping Chihuahuas that aren't qualified to make decisions for ourselves. We are their pets and we should shut up and pay the bills. People like Harry Austin and Littlefield are a weird sort municipal sociopaths. They do this vile stuff and think to themselves that it is normal. They have no idea that it is wrong. Just so they get their way.

This is the way it's always been and for them will always be. I am sure they joke among st themselves about what a bunch of idiots we are and how if it wasn't for them we wouldn't know what to do.

Harry Austin and this newspaper are the propaganda ministers for the power structure. Always have been and always will be.

They just don't get it.

February 15, 2012 at 10:35 a.m.
tcrashfx said...

"Why does the Times editorial always seem to be written by the City government public relations department?"

Because it was?

February 15, 2012 at 7:48 p.m.
Haiku said...

yet some Election Commission members suggested they might bill the city for the cost of this disastrous farce.

Isn't it the loser who usually has to cough up the cash?

February 15, 2012 at 8:08 p.m.
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