published Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Deborah Scott wants Chattanooga City Council members to have limited terms


by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga City Council member Deborah Scott is seen in this file photo.
Chattanooga City Council member Deborah Scott is seen in this file photo.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Councilwoman Deborah Scott says she wants referendums on the November ballot to include term limits for City Council members and moving city elections from March to November.

"Why couldn't a referendum be put on the ballot for a change in elections and term limits?" she asked Monday.

In an email, Scott said council members should be limited to two consecutive terms, which is the same as the mayor's office. Limits would lead to more civic participation from the public in government, she said.

Moving the elections to November would increase voter turnout because general elections for state and national posts are held then, Scott said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she would be open to talking about term limits and election date changes. But she said she thought the council had discussed moving election dates in the past and decided it would be a logistical nightmare.

She also said she could see term limits for the council because the mayor has term limits. But council members already have a form of term limits, she said.

"There's term limits with the voters," she said.

Scott acknowledged that the council is working on a tight deadline to get referendum items on November's ballot.

Councilman Peter Murphy, chairman of the city's Legal and Legislative Committee, said Monday that his committee is in no hurry to get term limits and election changes on the November ballot because there are plenty of opportunities to get those referendums on other election ballots.

Even if the referendums were passed in November, they wouldn't be in place for the upcoming March 2013 city elections and would have to wait until the March 2017 elections to go into effect.

"There's no fire here," he said.

The council already is discussing new recall guidelines for the mayor and City Council, which would have to be approved by voters in November. State law says it takes 15 percent of all registered voters in the city requesting to have a recall election, while the City Charter says it takes 50 percent of voters who voted in the last mayoral election.

Some council members have said they think the state's threshold is too high, while others think it may be too low.

The council is considering the change to recall rules after legal wrangling in the recent attempt to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield. Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruled in February that state law trumps the City Charter.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said there are logistical problems with changing the March city election to November, including possible runoff dates for city elections. He said it might make more sense for city elections to be moved to August, when the state holds its primary elections. That way, any runoffs that were necessary could be held during the November general elections.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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