published Friday, September 14th, 2012

City needs a new recall law

It's been clearly evident for two years that the fringe attempt to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield was groundless to a fault, and fatally flawed under legal guidelines. The recall's chief supporter, Jim Folkner, has refused to give up, however. We hope Wednesday's appeals court verdict, upholding most of the trial court's findings, will finally be acknowledged as the last word.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling on the recall's key deficiencies: the city's two-step recall statute failed to meet the state's superior mandate for a three-step recall process, and there were too few qualified and dated signatures to meet recall petition requirements.

The former will absolutely require the City Council to adopt a revised recall charter to meet state guidelines. The latter should shame the Election Commission, and the majority Republic bloc that ap proved the petitions.

Commission workers allegedly told recall organizers that signatures on their petitions didn't have to be dated -- a requirement under state law to allow signers to change their mind and retract their signatures within 10 days. The partisan Republican Election Commissioners, who hold a 3-2 majority edge, negligently approved undated signatures to be counted anyway. Then they rushed to approve the recall petitions and put the question on the ballot despite warnings of flaws by the panel's two Democrats -- one of whom is Jerry Summers, a highly successful trial lawyer who formerly served as the Election Commission's attorney.

In fact, the Republicans' excessive partisanship seemed apparent at every turn. They also supported their attorney, Chris Clem, in the filing of lengthy petitions supporting the recall process and futilely challenging the constitutionality of the state's recall statute. Clem's fees pushed the Election Commission's $25,000 annual legal budget up to $35,000 by the end of the last fiscal year on June 30. His final bills for the last appeal, Election Commission administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan confirmed Thursday, have yet to be tallied.

There's a good argument to be made that the commission's members and Clem didn't have to get so heavily involved in the legal tangle over the recall petition. All they really had to do was acknowledge the court's authority and await the ruling in the legal contest between Folkner and Mayor Littlefield, who properly challenged the recall petition's flaws.

City officials must now move promptly to adopt a recall process that overrides their illogical two-step recall. Because of an exceedingly low turnout of 18,000 voters in the last mayoral election, it would have allowed the mayor's opponents to effectively accomplish a recall of the mayor with just 9,000 valid signatures on the petitions; that's less than 10 percent of the city's registered voters. Had the petitions and signatures been found adequate, the mayor automatically would have been removed, and a new election would have held.

State law prevents such an exceedingly low recall vote by requiring a three-step process: a successful petition, then a vote on whether to recall the mayor, and, then, if needed, a new election. That's a far fairer process. A revised charter is in order.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
328Kwebsite said...

Recalling the worst mayor in living memory was not a "groundless" effort. The man was a conduit for political payoffs, kickbacks and corrupt schemes. $328,000 on a website. That alone is good enough reason to fire any public employee, including the mayor.

September 14, 2012 at 6:12 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Harry Austin Table of Definitions

"Fringe" group or persons = Not approved by the Chamber of Commerce or Allied Arts mo tax money please crowd.

"Groundless" = a citizens movement that dares to challenge the TN Par Farm Corruption crowd.

"City Charter" = municipal government document that is applicable only when it suits the Chamber crowds interest.

"Sour Dem Grapes" = Republican Election Commissioners, who hold a 3-2 majority.

"Editor Head In Sand" = gross tolerance to pervasive bid corruption in local government.

BTW the Appeals Court ruled that the Charter was the prevailing document. The error was in the dating of signatures. Did you read the ruling?

September 14, 2012 at 6:18 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

If you want to see how screwed up Mayor Ron Littlefield is, look no further than today's Times-Free Press graphic on gang activity in our area. It is nothing but a listing of low-rent apartment complexes throughout the county. It is so prejudiced by real estate sales cronies that it even lists Hamilton Place Mall as a "gang hotspot."

The reality of our situation with the mayoral offices in this area is that cronies have used these offices to pay off their friends. We need dedicated and educated public servants as elected officials. Instead, look what we get.

Fabricated trouble with paying or paying for: libraries, police, fire, public works, sewers, roads, forests, zoos, psychiatric clinics, halfway houses, public housing, education programs from kindergarten to college, and so on.

We have seen direct and unnecessary destruction of the mechanism for paying for public services. This happened when we saw the wanton destruction of the city/county tax agreement.

We have noticed the collusion for the installation of officials without election from a local political cabal.

We have seen categorical social discrimination and substandard treatment of people because of race, ethnicity and poverty. It got to the point that victims of Christmas Eve shootings, like the endangered people in the area, were insulted hundreds at a time by the Mayor's very public comments.

Want to understand why the Mayor should have been recalled: open your eyes! Open your ears! Look around! Listen and think about what has happened. Watch how these people have paid themselves and their rich friends when times got tough. See how they take advantage of public office. Ask yourself: why should people tolerate behavior this disgusting?

September 14, 2012 at 7:15 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Why shouldn't a mayor be held accountable? That's what the editorial is advocating when they try to alienate and minimize legitimate complaints about mayoral performance in Hamilton County and Chattanooga.

When the recall effort was carried out, it was supported by existing laws. The cold truth is that in order to use the existing, legitimate and functioning laws to recall a city mayor: you need the city council on your side. If there are not enough votes on the council in favor, the mayor is not going to be deposed. This time, there weren't.

There is also no way to force the city council to acknowledge or participate in a recall effort. It's not the number of people who have to sign a petition that matters under the existing law. Popular support has to be matched with representative support for the removal of the mayor. This time, it wasn't there.

Rather than let cronies make it even harder to recall a mayor, we should keep things as they are. If this mayoral recall effort scared the hell out of people who thought they bought off this city, then maybe they should be frightened. Citizens should not have to tolerate orgies of public policy cruelty and corruption like the one we've seen under Mayor Ron Littlefield.

The existing mechanism for recalling a mayor is clear, concise, and reasonable to carry out. The law should be left as it is. Just because some rich kid's lawyer tried to hem and haw and stall and bill out a claim of hypothetical problems doesn't mean we should waste our time entertaining those ploys which sustain corruption.

Remember this the next time city leaders irresponsibly install officials without election. Remember it next time they insult the public and behave in a corrupt manner. Remember it every time you vote for the rest of your life.

And don't forget it in November.

September 14, 2012 at 7:16 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Want to know why Hamilton Place Mall was included on that "gang activity" graphic? Think about it.

Hamilton Place Mall out competes other malls in the area because they have an off ramp. Very simple. The family that put that mall together has been in the shopping mall business for a long time. When it came time to sell off Eastgate and build Hamilton Place, they did the best they could to do it right. While I'm no fan of shopping malls, the observable condition is that CBL did a good job of building a retail mall area.

When they did that, they corroded the market share of other real estate cronies. How much land is worth still counts for a lot in Chattanooga. Look at Bob Corker's mayoral time. He did almost nothing but re-value landholder assets by redirecting traffic throughout the city.

If a driver can easily turn onto the lot, it's worth more than one he has to cross traffic for.

That's it. It's why McDonald's out-competes Burger King. It's why Home Depot and Lowe's jockey for position on newly made roads. It's what got Bob Corker the money to run for Senate.

It's what ticked off commercial real estate cronies when Hamilton Place did it right, and they found themselves stuck with the same old generic plot of land next to a busy road. Now look what happens. Even though the only streetgang walking the malls are five old ladies in tennis shoes, somehow Hamilton Place ends up on the map of "gang hotspots."

Notice how many of those areas are for rent. That is, for rent by somebody not paying sales commissions to the cronies paying off the office of mayor of Chattanooga.

If the land has an apartment for rent, it can't make a sales commission for local Republicans. Thus, Hamilton Place Mall gets called a "gang hotspot." The only thing Hamilton Place Mall is a hotspot for are surburbanites in pavement-bound SUVs.

Mayor Ron says this gang activity needs more study. Yeah, it needs a mayor. Particularly it needs a mayor of the kind we can't get from the likes of Ron Littlefield.

September 14, 2012 at 7:51 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Take a look at that little red square of "gang hotspot" in East Ridge. It's apparently showing one apartment complex, the one next to the tunnels. What "gang activity" is in that place? Has there been more than one arrest a year? What gang is there?

Lower-income middle class people with hourly wage jobs? Drivers of used automobiles? What was the indicator that there was "gang activity" in that place?

Anyone who is familiar with the East Ridge area recognizes that the leading type of criminal is an impulsive person low on wages. They frequently get caught in schemes stupid enough to be embarrassing. That doesn't make one apartment complex a gang hotspot.

That it is an apartment complex, that's the "gang activity." That's what we get when the city hires a supposedly independent researcher to tell us about these matters. Instead of getting a decent report, we get a second description of real estate sales territory denied to local real estate agents and trading landowners.

Were there any arrests traced to these addresses? For example, when suspects are booked, their address is determined by the police. When suspects are apprehended, the location is noted by the police. How is there any correlation between gang-related crime and these particular addresses?

The correlation rests with the payoff of the lawyer who wrote the report. His patrons can't make any money off of those addresses, so they're vilified. Every quarter of the year the local Republicans have to do something odious to pay off Karl Rove and his superpac money. This quarter, defaming apartment dwellers is it.

Thanks, Ron.

September 14, 2012 at 8:14 a.m.
chrisbrooks said...

It boggles the mind to try and understand how Mr. Austin can take an issue rooted in popular democracy and twist it so fantastically.

Mr. Austin's hand-wringing over the number of signatures required to initiate a recall of an elected official is laughable - he says that the current law allows "the mayor's opponents [read: voters, the people] to effectively accomplish a recall of the mayor with just 9,000 valid signatures on the petitions; that's less than 10 percent of the city's registered voters."

That is absolutely correct, because the law for initiating a recall sets the bar at the same level as it takes to get elected to office - 50% + 1 of the number of people who voted in the election. If that number is good enough to get mediocre and corrupt officials elected to office, then that number should be good enough to remove them. That is fair. That is democratic. But Mr. Austin does not think so. He says that the number of registered voters who signed the petition demanding the recall are a "fringe" - but what about the number that showed up and voted? Is that not equally fringe? Why not also raise the number required then to get elected to office? Why not equally require that any candidate who wins an election with less than 10% of the total number of registered voters - as Littlefield did in the last election - that the election should be decertified and declared a boycott by the voters? I personally believe that the voters recognize a turd sandwich when they see one, and I do not blame them when they don't want to hold their nose and pull the lever.

Lastly, Mr. Austin seems to have a problem discussing the real issues - he has yet to mention that the predominate number of signatures were gathered by a group of people who were motivated to do so out of their deep concern for the long historical pattern of corruption in out city. Corruption that this editorial page seems to care less about.

September 14, 2012 at 9:22 a.m.
UjokinRIGHTQ said...

This study does not bode well for minorities and their communities. They mistakenly believe they will benefit from this study. The way they came to regret the stiff crack cocaine laws they initially went along with, they will come to regret this studys' findings in the short and long runs.

I fear the term gang has just become another code word for a targeted racial group of Chattanoogans, and an excuse for even heavier handed gentrification proceedings.

September 14, 2012 at 9:56 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

I'm still waiting for Austin to give an apology to the hundreds of thousands of metro Memphis residents he called "Racist", on school system issues out there, but I won't hold my breath. Either he didn't know the facts, didn't understand the facts, or worst of all, didn't care about the facts.

September 14, 2012 at 12:06 p.m.
Lr103 said...

City officials must now move promptly to adopt a recall process that overrides their illogical two-step recall. Because of an exceedingly low turnout of 18,000 voters in the last mayoral election, it would have allowed the mayor's opponents to effectively accomplish a recall of the mayor with just 9,000

Here's a suggestion for adopting or updating the recal process for any elected official.

  1. Only registered voters who actually took the time to get up off their &^%! and vote should be allowed to take part in any recall efforts. In other words, **if you're too lazy to take time to vote you have no business taking part in any attempts at recalling someone.

  2. It would be interesting to know just how many of those signers actually voted in the mayoral election.

  3. How many of those voters actually knew what they were signing and why? Watching the news, I'd never witnessed so many white people knocking on minority people doors in poor neighborhoods, walking up to minority strangers on the streets in an effort to get their signatures. These very same individuals who would normally grab their purse, feel their back pockets to make sure their wallets hadn't been lifted anytime they encountered a minority. Then if they happen to pull into a parking space next to a minority, they'd immediately lock their car doors and activate their car alarms with their eyebrow raised in suspicion and that Clint Eastwood look that say Go ahead. Make my day! LOL

September 14, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.
please login to post a comment

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »


Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.