Chattanooga City Council won't hire recall attorney

Chattanooga City Council won't hire recall attorney

November 23rd, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Ron Littlefield, City of Chattanooga Mayor

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Chattanooga's mayor be removed from office until a recall election?

The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday decided against hiring an outside attorney to advise them on whether to remove Mayor Ron Littlefield from office.

Councilwoman Deborah Scott indicated she would support hiring outside counsel during the council's Legal and Legislative Committee meeting, when she said City Attorney Mike McMahan wasn't "independent of what's happened in the past."

"It would give me more confidence that we have done this objectively," she said.

Chattanooga Tea Party member Larry Grohn backed up Scott's concerns during a public comment period.

"The city attorney represented Ron Littlefield in front of the Court of Appeals," he said. "Not the City Council, and not the citizens of Chattanooga."

McMahan said he had no issue with the council hiring another attorney, but Councilmen Jack Benson and Manny Rico opposed the measure along with five other council members who didn't second Scott's motion when the time came.

"We need some directions with authority," Benson said. "Let it rest until we get a court order."

Hal North, an attorney for Littlefield, said Monday he was prepared to ask a Circuit Court judge to issue an injunction if the council attempted to oust Littlefield from office.

Asked if North had filed anything Tuesday, McMahan said, "Not to my knowledge." Littlefield briefly appeared at Tuesday night's council meeting to present awards to city employees.

Recall fever once again swept Chattanooga last week after the Hamilton County Election Commission certified 9,600 recall petitions and scheduled an election for Aug. 2, 2012.

The decision followed a state Court of Appeals ruling that said the commission should have had a chance to certify petitions last year. A local Circuit Court judge stopped the certification at the time.

Throughout the spring of 2010, Chattanooga Organized for Action, Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield and the Chattanooga Tea Party collected more than 15,000 signatures and submitted them, citing gang violence, tax increases and a perception of City Hall corruption as reasons.

The groups gathered more than 15,000 signatures, and officials validated 9,600.

Advocates for Littlefield still maintain a conflict between state law and the City Charter on whether the number of petitions collected are actually valid. State law requires 15,000 signatures while the charter asks for 9,000.

Looking to the future, several council members on Tuesday said they wanted to change the City Charter section regarding recalls.

State law calls for a three-step recall election process -- certification of signatures on a petition for recall, a yes-or-no ballot asking if voters wish to recall the mayor, then a recall election.

The City Charter outlines a two-step process that goes from recall petition certification to a new mayoral election.

Both disputes -- the required number of recall petitions and the recall process itself -- represent the heart of the legal wrangling between Littlefield and the three groups backing the effort to recall him. The mayor has asked the Court of Appeals to reconsider allowing the election commission to act.

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