Mayor files suit against recall; parties clash before coming court battle

Mayor files suit against recall; parties clash before coming court battle

September 1st, 2010 by Cliff Hightower and Dan Whisenhunt in Politics Local

Mayor Ron Littlefield filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County Circuit Court Tuesday, trying to stop a recall election in November.

He also lashed out against those who organized the recall effort.

"This recall effort is a classic example of a dead-end path followed by a narrow minded fringe group fueled by misinformation and blinded by anger," Littlefield wrote in a news release.

On Tuesday evening, hours after Littlefield's news release, the City of Chattanooga inserted itself into the middle of the mayor's lawsuit, giving the city attorney the authority to file a motion on behalf of the city. The city is asking the judge to rule on all questions about the recall process raised by Littlefield's suit.

PDF of the Mayor's Lawsuit

THE MAYOR'S CASE

Among key arguments in Mayor Ron Littlefield's lawsuit to block a Nov. 2 recall election:

* State law only allows recall elections during county or municipal elections

* Petitions are supposed to contain a question, not allegations

* State law supersedes City Charter on the number of signatures needed to force a recall

* Date of signing is required with each signature

* Recall effort used a variety of petitions not approved by the Hamilton County Election Commission

Source: Lawsuit filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court

HOW THEY VOTED

The Chattanooga City Council voted Tuesday night to allow the city attorney to join a lawsuit against those seeking to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield. Councilwoman Deborah Scott abstained from the vote because she had not time to read the city's filing. Councilwoman Carol Berz was absent; the seven other members supported joining the suit.

Littlefield's lawsuit wants to stop any special recall election from going forward and delineates five key points for stopping it, including that the Hamilton County Election Commission wrongly followed state law by allowing the recall effort to go forth as it has.

The mayor, who has been silent for days about the recall, on Tuesday issued a three-page letter in response. In the letter, he said groups supporting the recall were "spewing venom" and had raised the hate level in Chattanooga to level "red."

He also attacked several of the organizers in the recall effort - Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, the Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action - saying they were jobless, chronic grumblers and complainers and the only common thread they held was "tearing down what others have worked hard to create."

Recall organizers were quick to fire back, saying they were sticking to differences in opinions on policy while the mayor was instituting personal attacks.

"Today Chattanooga residents have been the unfortunate witnesses of the politics of personal destruction employed by the most powerful man in Chattanooga, Mayor Ron Littlefield, against not only several others and me, but against the 10,000 Chattanooga citizens and registered voters who the believe the mayor should be recalled," said Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, in his own news release.

The three groups turned in more than 9,000 valid signatures last week to recall Littlefield. Election officials are expected to certify the signatures next week.

LAWSUIT DETAILS

Littlefield's attorney filed the lawsuit in Circuit Court just a little after noon Tuesday. Within hours, City Attorney Mike McMahan asked the City Council for permission to join in the lawsuit.

Hal North, Littlefield's attorney, said Tuesday he hopes to get a hearing in court by the end of the week. He said he thinks the facts are pretty clear that an election should not be held in November to recall the mayor. But he said if they lose in Circuit Court, he and the mayor will look at other avenues.

"We would strongly encourage an appeal," he said.

McMahan said the city isn't taking sides, but wants to make sure all questions raised by the recall effort are answered.

Council members who supported joining the lawsuit said they are doing it on behalf of residents. But the vote also included support from two councilmen also targeted by recall efforts - Manny Rico and Jack Benson. The fact that Benson and Rico supported the motion is not a conflict of interest, McMahan said.

"You can't be conflicted out of being a council member," he said. "They are the legislative body of the city."

Joining the suit would probably cost the city less than $1,000, McMahan said.

Councilman Peter Murphy said it would be "horrible" if Littlefield's suit did not answer all the questions raised by the recall effort.

"If my conduct is such my constituents want to recall me, I want them to know exactly how to go about it," Murphy said.

"I think we're all under threat of recall until we get a clear definition of what rules to follow," Benson said.

Charlie Wysong, a member of the Chattanooga Tea Party, spoke at the council meeting Tuesday, arguing against the council's decision to become a part of the suit. He said all the relevant questions will be asked by Littlefield's attorneys.

"The city does not have to get involved in this," Wysong said. "I do think this is a conflict of interest on the part of the city and I think most people will see it that way."

response from the recall

Jim Folkner, head of Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, said he thought the mayor should "do his job" rather than depend upon fighting legal technicalities in court. He also said he found some of the mayor's comments offensive.

"I think it's a bad image for him to insult the citizens," he said. "He's using his mayoral bully pulpit to chastise them and insult them."

Chris Brooks, senior organizer for Chattanooga Organized for Action, agreed.

"I wish the mayor would respond substantially," he said.