published Monday, September 10th, 2012

Ruling on recall of Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield due this week


by Cliff Hightower
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The Tennessee Court of Appeals is expected to issue an opinion this week on the recall of Mayor Ron Littlefield.

But no matter how the court rules, city voters still will be considering changes to recall rules in the City Charter in the Nov. 6 election.

The appeals court could rule that the City Charter's recall procedures are valid and that it doesn't matter that the number of signatures needed for a recall of a mayor or council member differs from requirements in state law.

If that happens, there's no need to ask voters to bring the City Charter into line with state law, said Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield.

"There would be no need for it at all," Folkner said. "Obviously, they should take it off the ballot."

The appeals decision is expected Wednesday. There are two major points: whether the charter was valid at the time of the recall and whether supporters gathered enough signatures or dated signatures to force a recall.

If the court validates the charter, it does not automatically mean Littlefield is recalled. The court still would have to rule whether there were enough signatures on the recall petition.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said he thinks the referendum still is needed even if the court says the charter was valid.

"It still doesn't change the inconsistencies," he said.

The recall started three years ago and has been mired in court since. Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruled in February that the charter was not valid and that state law trumped the City Charter. A state statute outlines the process, calling for a three-step process and petitions signed by 15 percent of registered city voters.

The City Charter calls for a two-step process with signatures from 50 percent plus one of the number of voters in the last mayoral election.

The City Council voted a month ago for a voter referendum on conforming the charter to state law. But opponents say that would make recall requirements stricter.

For example, the charter called for 9,600 signatures to recall Littlefield, but more than 15,000 were needed under state law.

McMahan said there's not enough time now for the council to vote on removing the referendum from the Nov. 6 ballot. The Hamilton County Election Commission will send ballots to the printer on the same day as the court decision.

Councilwoman Deborah Scott said she favors looking at the referendum again after the court ruling. She doesn't see why it needs to be on the ballot because the city has home rule.

"With home rule, you get certain privileges to do things different than state law," she said.

One of those privileges is having the ability to set how many signatures are needed, she said.

So there is no reason to change, she said.

"I think it was fine the way it was," Scott said.

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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