Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield's home rule invitation baffles leaders

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield's home rule invitation baffles leaders

July 26th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

HOME RULE MEETING

Mayor Ron Littlefield is scheduled to lead an informal discussion at 3 p.m. Thursday in the City Council meeting hall about home rule for the county. The City Council building is at 1000 Lindsay St.

County Commission Chairman Larry Henry lashed out at the Chattanooga administration Monday after hearing Mayor Ron Littlefield plans to lead a discussion about home rule for the county.

"This is the county's role to take the initiative," Henry said. "The city should not mandate home rule on the county."

But Littlefield said Monday the idea of having a communitywide discussion about home rule "should not be a surprise to anyone" because he's been talking about the issue for months. He also said he did not think it unusual for the city to lead the discussions instead of the county.

"We're a part of the county," he said. "We're a big part of the county."

If home rule was adopted, it would allow ordinance powers like the city now has, such as more zoning power and code enforcement. Now the county operates under an old state constitutionally mandated law in which the county must pass some laws by going through the Tennessee General Assembly. For example, putting up a traffic signal within the county requires state legislation.

At noon Sunday, Littlefield's administration sent out general invitations for the meeting, saying the mayor planned to have an "informal discussion" about home rule for the county at 3 p.m. Thursday. Littlefield said he envisions it being like a town hall meeting with discussion between him and all who attend.

He said he would talk about county home rule, consolidation of city and county governments and metropolitan government.

Littlefield said he didn't want these discussions to stagnate.

"At some point, you just have to push this along," he said.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Monday he received a phone call from Littlefield on Friday about the town hall meeting.

He said he wasn't surprised, but he also doesn't plan on attending the meeting. He said he found it "odd and unusual" the city mayor would lead a discussion about home rule for the county, but is receptive to the idea of government consolidation if it saves taxpayer money.

But he said he also does not think the meeting would sway the direction of the county to start seeking home rule.

"That's an issue for county government and the Board of Commissioners," he said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd reacted with surprise Monday, saying she had not heard about the meeting. She said home rule seems like a logical step to take.

"It is somewhat presumptuous for the city to take that on, but the city is an equal partner in metro government," she said.

Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.