Cook: The most important meeting of the year

Cook: The most important meeting of the year

November 17th, 2011 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Of the people.

This morning, the Hamilton County Election Commission will gather for one of the most important meetings of the year.

At the center of the room, around which the entire meeting orbits, sits one vital document: a petition containing more than 9,000 verified signatures, each one representing a Chattanooga citizen's wish to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield from office.

Three citizen groups are responsible for the petition. They're like the civics version of Rocky Balboa: the bloodied underdog, throwing punches not against Apollo Creed but what they see as irresponsible politics.

Their very existence demands we rethink the structure of Chattanooga political power. More Chattanoogans, for example, signed the petition -- originally containing more than 15,000 names -- than showed up on voting day in the 2009 municipal election.

Even though lawsuits and the threat of more hover like crows in a tree, today's meeting, at its core, is about one thing: The Election Commission making good on its vote last year to follow the City Charter's instructions on the recall process.

According to the charter, the petition contains enough names to force a recall election. Trying to steer the commission toward adhering to the Tennessee state Constitution -- which would require more petition signatures -- is Littlefield.

He thus has created one of the most ironic -- and unsettling -- moments in our city's history: As mayor, he is fighting against and opposing the very charter of the city he's elected to govern.

It has become, as one friend calls it, a hot mess.

In a way, I don't blame the mayor for fighting. We want a fighting mayor. But not when the fight is against the will of the people.

Heck, I'm still trying to get City Hall to answer questions about recently resigned Paul Page.

By the people.

Two sources within City Hall have confirmed that the city has offered payments of conciliation -- or financial apologies -- to at least two women that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled were sexually harassed by Page, the former director of General Services for the city.

That means taxpayer dollars are being used to pay apologies to victims sexually harassed by Page.

Before he resigned, Page was being paid nearly $100,000 a year in a job created by Littlefield, to whom he directly reported. When asked to respond publicly as to whether he knew of Page's ongoing behavior, the mayor had nothing to say.


Imagine if the CEO of a business refused to answer questions to the stockholders or board of directors.

In a democracy, aren't the people the ultimate boss?

For the people.

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, told me there was one reason why a large number of folks didn't sign the recall petition.

"Fear of retribution," he said.

Time and time again, he said, people wanted to sign, but hesitated. They believed that somewhere, someone who holds power over them would not approve.

To me, that is the saddest, most damning part of all. We live in the United States, not an authoritarian state.

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any," said author Alice Walker.

The recall petition has reminded the people of the city what we should never forget: Democratic power is supposed to tilt downward, to the ground, in the hands of the people. Sure, this process is ugly, but wrestling with power is not Pollyanna pretty.

But if the city charter that provided the process to elect the mayor is valid, then it must also be valid in his recall. You can't choose one but not the other.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@