QUESTION ON THE PETITION
Shall Councilman Chris Anderson who represents the Seventh District of the City of Chattanooga be recalled?
Despite District 7 Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson's complaint that the recall effort to unseat him is unconstitutional, election officials gave residents approval on Thursday to start collecting signatures on a petition.
Hamilton County Election Commission board members contend it wasn't their job to address why District 7 residents want to recall Anderson, the first openly gay councilman in Chattanooga.
The commission only has the authority to decide whether the petition follows state and local statutes, but commissioners agreed that the current ordinance is so vague that one could potentially recall an elected official for anything.
"It's one of the most vague, overbroad statues," said board member Jerry Summers. "If Mr. Anderson likes vanilla ice cream and Mr. Wysong [helping with the recall effort] likes strawberry, that might be enough."
Anderson's attorney, Stuart James, argued that the commission would not have approved the petition if it was clear that the recall was rooted in discrimination.
"What if this petition was recalling Moses Freeman and said we're recalling him because he's black? Or what if it's against Carol Berz? Would you recall Carol Berz because she's a woman?" James asked the commission. "Would you approve this petition? I don't think so."
Alton Park leaders who support the recall argued that Anderson has failed during his year in office to represent the needs of the community, specifically to help them establish a safe place for the youth to go.
"We knew he was gay when we voted for him and we did everything we could to get him into office," said Gill Schropshire, president of the Alton Park Neighborhood Association. "But he doesn't plan to do anything for Alton Park, not one thing."
After the meeting, Schropshire sent an open letter to the City Council and Mayor Andy Berke saying he has called Anderson 48 times and that the councilman humiliated Alton Park leaders by referring to them as being "uncivil," "uneducated," and "those people."
Anderson argues that he has met with Alton Park leaders multiple times along with the city's Economic and Community Development Department and helped to reopen a park in the Alton Park area last year. Joda Thongnopnua, Anderson's spokesman, said the councilman never insulted anyone from Alton Park.
"I'm firmly committed to continuing to represent my district. I'm disappointed in the election commission's decision this morning," Anderson said. "This recall effort is an outrageous waste of taxpayer money and resources."
Anderson has contended that the tea party is behind the recall efforts, citing the involvement of Charlie Wysong, a pastor and local tea party member who is helping with the effort but does not live in District 7.
Wysong helped spearhead a challenge to the City Council's decision to award benefits to the domestic partners of city employees. The effort helped put the issue before voters in a coming citywide referendum on the Aug. 7 ballot. He said he was asked for his advice with the latest recall effort but that residents are behind it. Wysong's son created the website to promote the recall efforts.
Petitioners have 75 days to gather 1,600 signatures -- 15 percent of the registered voters in District 7. But Thursday, the election commission asked petitioners to get the signatures by April 10 -- 55 days from now -- to put the question to District 7 voters on the same August ballot as the referendum.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...