Election panel sues and challenges state recall law

photo Chris Clem, Esq. of law firm Samples, Jennings, Ray & Clem, PLLC in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth is expected to issue an order today delaying a hearing on the recall of Mayor Ron Littlefield just as candidates can begin picking up qualifying petitions.

The delay was prompted by a new lawsuit in which the Hamilton County Election Commission is challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee's recall statute.

"We need to resolve those issues," Hollingsworth said.

Election commission attorney Chris Clem said Thursday he would like to see the recall statute thrown out and revamped because it specifically excepts Nashville/Davidson County.

Tennessee's Constitution says that laws must apply equally across the state. The recall statute doesn't, Clem said.

The state attorney general has 30 days to reply to the suit.

That moves the recall hearing, in which Littlefield is asking for a permanent injunction stopping the August election, to Feb. 10.

Qualifying opens today for people interested in running for mayor.

Littlefield is fighting to stay in office after the Hamilton County Election Commission two months ago certified recall petitions and set the August election date.

Last summer three groups -- Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party -- circulated petitions seeking the recall. Supporters cited property tax increases, stormwater rate increases and high gang violence as reasons to oust the mayor.

Littlefield said Thursday his attorney would have liked the hearing to be held Monday. But he said he's comfortable with moving it to February because it should be an all-encompassing look at all the issues.

"We concede the best thing would be for this to be wrapped up in one sitting," he said.

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Clem said he knows if his constitutional challenge succeeds, state law could change. He said many state legislators aren't thinking about dealing with the recall statute in an election year, so the challenge might force action.

"The fact that it would be struck down would be a good thing," he said.

Jim Folkner with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield said he agrees with the election commission's desire for clarity in state law. But he said it is just another delay.

"This hearing, whether it be in January or February, is still a delaying tactic because he [Littlefield] continues to file lawsuits," Folkner said.