City judges lash out at mayor

City judges lash out at mayor

February 2nd, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Mayor Ron Littlefield

Two city judges criticized Mayor Ron Littlefield on Tuesday for suggesting that their courtrooms be moved out of the courthouse.

The city administration fired back, saying the judges' jobs might be eliminated.

City Judges Russell Bean and Sherry Paty confronted the City Council's Legal and Legislative Committee on Tuesday about Littlefield's suggestion that the courts and the City Court Clerk's office move from the Hamilton County Courthouse.

"I hope you will not stand by and let one person single-handedly destroy something that is working," Paty told committee members.

Littlefield was not present for the meeting, but Richard Beeland, the mayor's spokesman, said there are no plans set in stone to move anything.

But he added that, besides looking at moving the judges, there is the possibility of eliminating one judge's position or eliminating both judges and letting the General Sessions Court take over their workload.

City officials said they might see up to $50,000 in savings by moving the facilities, but could not provide details on where the savings would come from.

Littlefield announced almost three months ago that he was thinking about moving the court clerk's office to City Hall. That could also mean moving the judges, but not necessarily to City Hall, city officials said Tuesday.

Bean and Paty said Tuesday they believed the mayor might be eyeing the old Tennessee American Water building at the corner of 10th and Lindsay streets. They said they believe the city is spending money to renovate the building in an attempt to move the city courtrooms into them.

Beeland didn't deny that the Tennessee American building, which is owned by the city, is a possible destination for the courtrooms, but he said anything discussed now is premature because the mayor's office still is studying the cost savings for all options.

"It seems like the judges and the council have the cart before the horse," Beeland said.

He acknowledged that construction work is taking place at the building but called it routine maintenance.

Paty presented the committee, which is made up of all council members, with a list of reasons why moving into the Tennessee American building would not work.

She said the rooms in the old water building were too small and could present a fire code problem if crowds were large. The building also would be unsafe for transporting prisoners in and out of the courtroom and might be a problem for handicapped people needing access to the courtroom, she said.

She and Bean also said they see no way the city could save money with the move because it would have to pay all utilities in the building, instead of sharing the costs with the county, as it does now at the courthouse.

They also said there could be the added expense of hiring more security personnel, because some of their security is provided by the county.

Bean held up an old Chattanooga News Free Press article from the 1990s when the new courthouse opened. In the story, then-City Council Chairman Littlefield called the building a "one-stop shop for area lawbreakers" and a "monument to city-county togetherness," Bean said.

Bean and Paty called on the council to investigate the matter, find out where any money to renovate the water building was coming from and immediately stop the mayor from proceeding.

"This is the council's call," Bean said.

Council members said they would call a special committee meeting and ask the administration to provide costs for renovations and any potential moves.

"Are we benefiting?" asked Councilman Russell Gilbert. "Based upon what I'm hearing now, it could be more expensive."

IN OTHER NEWS

City Attorney Mike McMahan announced Tuesday during the Public Works Committee meeting that his investigation of Citywide Services Director Jimmy Templeton should be completed by next week. The committee was set to hear from Templeton concerning allegations made against him in an audit by City Auditor Stan Sewell. The audit said Templeton conducted city business with companies that employed three of his family members. Council members said they would wait until next week to hear Templeton's side of the story after the city attorney's inquiry is complete.


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