published Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Hamilton County Election Commission debates primary night meeting

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The Hamilton County Election Commission on Monday certified the March 6 presidential primary results and discussed a meeting they held the night of it.

In a meeting, commissioners first certified the election, which went smoothly, according to an outside precinct audit.

Also on election night, commissioners voted 3-2 to file a brief in connection with an appeal of a judge's ruling against the commission.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield filed a lawsuit against the commission after it certified a recall petition against him in November and set a date for a recall election. In his February ruling, Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth halted the recall election.

Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, one of the groups that began the recall effort, is appealing Hollingsworth's decision.

The election commission's attorney, Chris Clem, said the brief being filed by the panel will ask the court to decide what law applies and explain the commission's actions. The brief will likely be due in April, he said.

Election Commissioner Jerry Summers questioned why members of the recall effort knew the matter was going to be discussed at the commission's March 6 meeting when the Chattanooga Times Free Press had been repeatedly told that no special items had been added to the election night agenda.

"When it's something important, particularly, I think the public has the right to know," Summers said.

Clem and Election Commission Chairman Mike Walden said the matter came up unexpectedly because Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield had filed its appeal of Hollingsworth's decision that day. Walden defended his record for transparency and public notice, saying his first act as chairman had been to set regular election commission meetings.

In another item discussed at Monday's meeting, Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith asked Clem for guidance on requirements for getting a term-limit referendum for elected county officials on the August or November ballot.

In an email sent later in the day to Smith, Clem said the options are to seek a change in the law from the Tennessee General Assembly or work to create a charter form of government that would allow the creation of term limits.

Two of the state's counties, Knox and Shelby, have charter forms of government.

"We can either make it a political issue when they're running for the Senate or the House or we will start the procedure for home rule," Smith said.

Smith said he's not personally interested in a consolidated city and county government, just a charter for the county, and that the Democratic Party wouldn't endorse any course of action until members know what their choices are.

"We've got to have an outline of what the procedure is if we're going to be successful," Smith said. "I wanted to make sure our steps are sequential or legal."

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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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