published Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Tennessee Court of Appeals rules against Littlefield recall effort


by Cliff Hightower

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a petition drive by groups trying to recall Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield failed to gather enough dated petitions to force an election and used the wrong process for the recall.

Littlefield attorney Tom Greenholtz said the legal team is satisfied with the opinion.

"It's good after two years to have validation from the Court of Appeals," he said.

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, called the process a learning experience, but said the group will have to discuss whether to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The next mayoral election is just six months away.

The appeals court ruling said the recall faction didn't have enough dated petitions, and that it should have used a three-step process -- a petition, a ballot question asking if voters wanted a recall and then a recall election.

But Folkner said the side found one victory in the decision. The appeals court said the City Charter's requirement for fewer signatures on petitions than state law would mandate is valid.

"This needs to be over as far as changes to the charter are concerned," Folkner said.

Three groups -- Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, the Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action -- started the recall two years ago.

The groups collected more than 15,000 signatures and the Hamilton County Election Commission certified more than 9,000 of them. But Littlefield filed a challenge claiming the recall should be held according to state law, which required 15,000 signatures. And some of the 9,000 signatures were on undated petitions.

Election Commission attorney Chris Clem said the commission will not take part in any more appeals. He said all the commissioners ever wanted was a properly structured recall process. He said the appeals court did that by validating the City Charter's petition requirement and that state law dictates everything else.

"The Court of Appeals did exactly what we wanted them to do," Clem said.

Folkner said the group now will oppose a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot that would change the charter's signature requirement from 50 percent plus one of votes cast in the most recent mayoral election to 15 percent of registered voters.

That would create a higher threshold for a recall.

"We'll oppose it," Folkner said. "We refer to it as the Incumbent Protection Act of 2012."

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