published Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Change Chattanooga's flawed recall law

Efforts over the past several years to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield have illustrated the fatal flaws of the city’s recall law. It’s illegal under state law, and it needs to be replaced. An ordinance on the Nov. 6 ballot (No. 12631) would correct the flaws, establish a rational three-step process for recall, and fix a reasonable formula for the number of signatures needed to launch a recall.

Defects in the city’s current recall law weren’t obvious because the recall law wasn’t used. It took the petitions of a tiny minority of registered voters over the last City Council/mayoral term to illuminate its many flaws.

What we learned, specifically, was this: The current city recall law would have allowed less than 9 percent of the city’s approximately 105,000 registered voters to sign a petition demanding the recall of the mayor. If the petitions were certified — as they wrongly were by the partisan and misguided county Election Commission — and then allowed to stand, Mayor Ron Littlefield would have been put out of office immediately, and an election for a new mayor would been scheduled within 60 days.

Trial and appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, rightly overturned the city’s recall law and the Election Commission’s position, and for good reason. The current two-step process — a successful petition to oust the mayor, and then a quick election to replace him — would not have given a real majority of the city’s 105,000 voters a chance, in a special referendum, to actually vote to recall the mayor. The petition alone would have accomplished that coup d’etat. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

The state law, which supersedes the city’s recall law in several areas, remedies this shortcoming. It mandates a three-step process: 1) a successful petition by a number equal to 15 percent of the city’s registered voters to demand a referendum on the recall of an elected city officials or judge; 2) a referendum to let the majority of voters actually vote on whether to recall such an official; and, 3) in the event of a majority vote for recall in step 2, a subsequent election for replace the recalled official.

The city’s flawed two-step law worked to the advantage of a small minority of disgruntled voters for another reason: Though it called for a recall petition signed by a number of registered voters equal to 50 percent of the number that voted in the last mayoral election, that turnout, due to lack of serious competition, got just over 18,000 votes in a light turnout in the 2005 mayoral election. Thus the petition required just an approximate 9,000 signatures. The state’s 15 percent margin of registered voters for a successful petition is a more proportional standard.

As it turned out in the futile recall initiatives, the Election Commission was shamefully wrong in its cavalier acceptance of so many signatures on the recall petitions. It wrongly accepted signatures which many signees failed to date — a requirement necessary to facilitate a signee’s right to retract a signature within 10 days. The petitions also were not uniform, and they failed to state the specific question: Shall the elected official named in the petition be recalled? In all, barely 5,000 signatures were certifiable, not the 9,000 the Election Commission allowed.

Election Commission members must hold themselves to a higher, nonpartisan standard. As it was, they were unjustly lax in enforcing petition and signature requirements, apparently because the Republican majority simply agreed with the sentiment of the recall advocates. That’s not right.

Passage of the city’s proposed ordinance to revise the recall is necessary mainly to meet the higher standards of state law. It does provide an acceptable deviation by allowing City Council members to be subject to a recall petition based on the qualified signatures of 15 percent of the registered voters in the member’s individual district.

It also stipulates that officials removed by a referendum will be temporarily replaced by a successor appointed by the council pending the election of a new official. In such an instance, the mayor would be replaced by the City Council chairperson pending the replacement election.

These are vital reforms for the city’s recall process. Voters should approve them.

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aae1049 said...

Mr. Austin, you left out some finer points.

Point one: it is undisputed that over 10,800 registered voters in Chattanooga signed the petition seeking a recall election. There was a technical error regarding dating each signature, rather than the entire page.

Secondly, if you had ever working a community petition, say for liquor by the drink, you would understand that many signatures are lost due to voters moving and not changing their address. It is not a minor undertaking, looks easy, but it is not.

Point 2. there were more verified registered voters that signed the recall petition, than votes to reelect Mayor Littlefield in 2009.

In the 2009 mayoral election, the Hamilton County Election Commission archives report that 17,913 Chattanooga citizens voted in the 2009 re-election of Mayor Littlefield. Of the total 17,913 votes in 2009, 57 percent or 10,234 voted in favor of the reelection of Mayor Littlefield. Again, it is undisputed that over 10,800 registered voters signed the recall petition. The number of recall signatures represents 106 percent of the total number of votes for Mayor Ron Littlefield to be re-elected in March 2009, and 60 percent of the total voter cards cast.

In the 2005 runoff election, the Hamilton County Election Commission achieves report that 28,140 Chattanooga citizens voted in the 2005 runoff election of Mayor Littlefield. Of the total 28,140 votes in 2005, 54.11 percent or 15,224 voted in favor of Mayor Littlefield. Again it is undisputed that over 10,800 registered voters signed the recall petition. The number of recall signatures represents 71 percent of the total number of votes for Mayor Littlefield to be elected in 2005, and almost 40 percent of the total voter cards cast.

Point 3, At the very end, the final ruling was that the City Charter was the legal governing document for recall. The lower, local courts ruled incorrectly, but throughout the process, shhhh!

Point 4 There was good CAUSE to recall based on pervasive bid corruption and land deals. If you don't like that, tough.

Thank you for providing a venue for community discussion.

Citizens, VOTE NO - CITY CHARTER REVISION

October 30, 2012 at 6:49 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Respectfully, we object to Taxpayer Funded Resources, equipment and staff, being used to fund raise on the taxpayer's dime.

http://littlechicagowatch.com/2012/02/littlefield-recall-foul-taxpayer-staff-equipment-and-resources/

October 30, 2012 at 8:59 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

(aae's link SAYS that the law firm defending Mayor Littlefield from recall also received work from the city.)

Does the state have to protect local politicians from angry citizens? Mayor Littlefield got reelected and then sprang annexation, higher taxes, and sewer fees on us, instead of campaigning on them. If the city wants to make recall easier than is ordinary in the state, what's wrong with that?

October 30, 2012 at 10:10 a.m.

Sometimes, yes the state does have to do that. Turns out you can get citizens angry about a lot of things.

Not all of them are right.

And the city isn't sovereign either, it exists at the state's behest, if the city wants something, it needs to be provided for by law.

Sorry, but your local anarchy hasn't been implemeted.

And aae1049, the big problem with this whole business is the turnout in the mayoral election. Way under representative. Personally I think that's the ignored tragedy here.

Whatever one's side on the recall, surely we can see that as a tragedy?

October 30, 2012 at 2:01 p.m.
timbo said...

There are no surprises in this article. Harry Austen supports the power structure. Big surprise.

The problem is if they change the law that will never be another recall because it will be too hard to get signatures. The underlying agenda here is obvious. Although the county is conservative, the city is down right socialist. Littlefield is a political crossdresser and the rubber stamp council is so far left that Mao would be proud.

The point here that there is about a 99% chance that city government is going to be liberal. There is about the same chance it wii be kissing up to the power structure. This is just the way Harry Austin and the Lookout Mountain want it. So they would be for anything that would increase the chances of any changes taking place.

If the city government was traditionally conservative Harry would be advocating that nothing would. Protect the power structure at all costs.

October 30, 2012 at 2:08 p.m.
timbo said...

There are no surprises in this article. Harry Austen supports the power structure. Big surprise.

The problem is if they change the law that will never be another recall because it will be too hard to get signatures. The underlying agenda here is obvious. Although the county is conservative, the city is down right socialist. Littlefield is a political crossdresser and the rubber stamp council is so far left that Mao would be proud.

The point here that there is about a 99% chance that city government is going to be liberal. There is about the same chance it wii be kissing up to the power structure. This is just the way Harry Austin and the Lookout Mountain want it. So they would be for anything that would increase the chances of any changes taking place.

If the city government was traditionally conservative Harry would be advocating that nothing would. Protect the power structure at all costs.

October 30, 2012 at 2:08 p.m.

The city government described as liberal?

Maybe if you're a typical self-proffesed "right-wing conservative stalwart" who uses the term, shall we say, liberally, to describe pretty much everything you oppose, but that's pretty much making the term useless.

BTW, Mnao was no leftist.

October 30, 2012 at 2:50 p.m.
timbo said...

Happywithnewbrains........ The city of Chattanooga will basically vote 55 to 60% for president Obama. That is about as liberal as it gets. Does the city have a Liberal government? You be the judge.

Socialism means that the government is directly involved in economic things.
1. Downtown - It was built with over $497 million of taxpayer borrowed funds. The city pays approximately $9 million per year for interest expense on that money. This is classic socialism where the government takes the winners and losers.

  1. EPB - Another case of classic socialism. The government runs into tea that is crucial To the individual and business. All the time competing with private business. As with most government entities, It is a with waste and Excessive salaries and spending.

3, Environmental extremism - Like the federal government, This city is eat up with environmental nuts. Trying boondoggle after boondoggle to Enhance their image as an environmental city. All the while doing little and costing a lot.

  1. The VW "Bailout ".- Spending millions to entice the second richest car company in the world To come to Chattanooga. We offered twice as much as any other car company Set the all-time record for incentives for the automotive industry. $600 million for the VW Taken away from already stressed small businesses. Again, the government picks the winners and losers.

I hope that's enough to convince you how liberal the city government is. The problem is people like you are so far left They think Mao was a conservative.

October 30, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.
aae1049 said...

HappyWithLindsayStreetCartel

I am not moved at all by your apathy. We have TN Parole for Sale Bag Man, William A. Thompson, with the TN Waltzer brokering land deals with our Mayor. I know it is probably too complicated for you to understand, so you just oppose it and resort to name calling, as you always do. Fortunately, our group does not need your approval.

It is common for people like you that are not in possession of facts to name call, "local anarchy." If the truth is anarchy, then I will wear that badge. If you will wear your regular dunce hat.

http://littlechicagowatch.com/2012/02/land-transaction/

http://littlechicagowatch.com/2011/10/rental-property-and-city-contracts-profitable/

If you are OK with the documents contained in these pieces, it is you with the problem

October 30, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.
jjmez said...

These are vital reforms for the city’s recall process. Voters should approve them.

I agree! vote YES

October 30, 2012 at 8:14 p.m.

timbo, who said anything about how the city votes? We're talking about the city government, and government involvement in economic development? Which is an idea that's hugely popular with such "socialists" as the governors of Wisconsin (Scott Walker, who has thing thing called the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation), Texas (Rick Perry, who has the Texas Enterprise Fund) and even former President Bush (who signed this little law in 2007 which was the source of those Solyndra loans you hate so much.

Besides, picking winners and losers? Guess what? That's the job of ANY organized state. Or do you think that the government should just assign contracts by random lot and hope for the best??? Your rhetoric is showing its emptiness.

Still, if you want to worry about government getting buddy-buddy with corporations, you're going to have to realize where the cozy relationship can be found...and it ain't with the people who are calling themselves socialists. True socialists care about the people winning.

And if you want to talk excessive salaries, and costs to the people, I'll take EPB over Enron any day of the week.

But no, I recognize Mao as the authoritarian control freak he really was, with an interest in his own agenda, not the people's, which he just colored a certain way in order to disguise his true character.

He wrapped himself in the flag of the people, and the people were lead to believe it. Don't imagine you're immune either.

aae1049, your continuing behavior shows how you'd rather insult me than realize your own flaws. Really, you complain about me name-calling with your own actions in that regard on display again? You're a great big hypocrite ain't you? Are you that interested in destroying your credibility, or do you think nobody can see your behavior here, let alone remember how you've behaved before?

Ah, but you don't care, do you? Thanks for showing your lack of integrity.

And you're also ignorant of AndrewLohr's positions. Maybe you should take a little time to read his posts and realize that he seems to believe in personal sovereignty to a high degree and reject the idea of a state.

He's just not got the honesty to own up to it, preferring to hide it behind a love for Jesus which he believes validates his self-professed libertarianism.

October 30, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

The article falsely states the effect of the city's current recall law.

The state's approach to recall and the city's approach to recall make for a balanced and working pair of laws. Under the state's approach, a large number of signatures is needed to affect a recall. Under the city's recall law, citizen signatures --AND-- a vote of the city council is required to remove the mayor.

The statement above, that signatures immediately affect a mayoral recall, is false. This newspaper has repeatedly stated this falsehood. It is not reflected or supported by the city charter.

The charter clearly states that emergency actions to replace a mayor require action by the city council. It also shows that the city council must act of its own accord. It's not required to automatically rubber stamp anything. The council makes its own decisions.

The editors have repeatedly and habitually misled the public by not conducting basic research like reading the charter's articles about installing and replacing the Chattanooga Mayor.

The cold fact is that the current laws have a fair and balanced approach. If many signatures are collected and not acted upon by municipal officials, maybe then the state would have call to step in and take action. Meanwhile, the smaller number of city-required signatures in conjunction with city council action represent a reasonable level of community involvement for mayoral recalls.

Read the law. It is written so that you can understand it. Notice that mayoral recalls have the same requirements for response that any other emergency might have. Notice that changing that law might make it harder to replace a mayor in the event of his death, illness, or inability to carry out office for reasons other than unpopularity.

FInally, once again, the latest recall effort failed because it failed to gain the crucial second half of support required under the existing and functional recall law: there was no support on the city council for removing Littlefield.

As it is, the editors' patrons may have been scared to see their golden boy get rebuked by the populace, but the law should stand as the sound and reasonable and functioning legislation that it is.

Read the law for yourselves. It's in the city charter.

October 30, 2012 at 11:09 p.m.
timbo said...

happywithnewbutts.....Your right, I don't care. Just because Republicans support something doesn't mean it is CONSERVATIVE. There is a big difference. Just look at George Bush, he was the no. 2 big spender of all time. Obama is no. 1. Bush did a lot of stuff that wasn't conservative and had socialist overtones.

What you are doing is proving my point. There is little difference in the two parties when it comes right down to it. The Republicans will just be slower in implementing their form of socialism. Right now that is good enough when your compared to Comrade Obama.

Local Republicans sold out a long time ago. There are two parties in this town but they aren't republicans and democrats. They are the power structure and everyone else.

Your naivete is kind of sad.

October 31, 2012 at 8:55 a.m.
timbo said...

happywithnewboobs....You said,"Besides, picking winners and losers? Guess what? That's the job of ANY organized state. Or do you think that the government should just assign contracts by random lot and hope for the best??? Your rhetoric is showing its emptiness."

Are you that stupid? We weren't talking about government contracts you idiot. I was talking about using taxpayer money to "invest" in private businesses. I gave my examples but here are a few more: Solyndra, Ficar, Razor Technologies, ECOtality, Beacon Power, etc., etc, That is the government picking winners and losers. It is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and just plain wrong.

If you can't follow along, why don't you just shut up?

October 31, 2012 at 9:04 a.m.
shen said...

328Kwebsite, if that's the case, then both sides have been misleading. The recallers and the opposers of recall. As the supporters of the recall went into neighborhoods they'd never have ventured before, and approached people they'd normally immediately cross to the other side of the street rather than make any contact with, for the sole purpose of obtaining their signatures.

October 31, 2012 at 9:51 a.m.
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