published Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

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

by Cliff Hightower

by Dan Whisenhunt

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


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


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.


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.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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Sonic123 said...

I am not sure how the two councilmen could vote on an issue that will directly effect them. If the findings of the lawsuit go against Mayor Littlefield it will directly effect the recall process against these two in one way or another, so I am sure that they would vote to try to use city funds to block the recall efforts in any way possible. I think something smells a little fishy to me and it is not the Tennessee River.

September 1, 2010 at 1:47 a.m.
joe_six_pack said...

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

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


It looks like the City Charter applies because Tennessee law says it does, as below from that law:

Tennessee Code Annotated 2-5-151.

Petitions for recall, referendum or initiative.

(a) Any governmental entity having a charter provision for a petition forrecall, referendum or initiative or any person acting pursuant to such charter provision shall meet the requirements of this section.

(skip to (d) covers number required)

d) Petitions shall be signed by at least fifteen percent (15%) of those registered to vote in the municipality or county. The disqualification of one (1) or more signatures shall not render a petition invalid, but shall disqualify such signatures from being counted towards the statutory minimum number of signatures required in this section.

(Except that....skip to (j)

(j) This section shall control notwithstanding any statutory provision or charter provision of a municipality or county to the contrary; provided, that any contrary charter provision of a municipality or county which is enacted after July 1, 1997, shall control with respect only to the requirements set forth in subsection (d) relating to the statutory minimum number of signatures required in a petition.

////// Therefore the City Charter "shall control"

September 1, 2010 at 3:43 a.m.
slr3 said...

Remember the other co co conspiritors on the City Council who voted to increase our property tax by 19% on election day. They are (in addition to RICO and BENSON) ROBINSON,BERZ and LADD. Let's send them packing at our next opportunity.

Vote for MURPHY,SCOTT, McGARY and GILBERT. They voted against this tax increase and represent us as property owners & citizens.

September 1, 2010 at 4:20 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Saint Ronnie Has Risen! Blessed be the name of the Ron!

Beatification process begun by the Cardinals of the City Council.

Harry Statel

September 1, 2010 at 7:35 a.m.
crimshaw said...

Away in His Office

Away in his office and feeling alone The little lord Littlefield cries out for a throne! I love you King Crutchfield, whatever you say I’ll give Missy status and lot’s of good pay.

There’s jobs for my bosses and jobs for my friends,And jobs without merit and jobs without end. I’ve promised the high paying jobs all away. But you bring me voters — we’ll barter for pay.

I’ll walk ‘cross the waters at Moccasin BendOn sewage and dead fish without any end. It’s great my position will buy lots of things Like old Farmer’s Markets without any strings.

I’ll take from taxpayers and give to the rich, But don’t tell the voters–they think that it’s switched. I’ve promised a homeless hotel for the poor,“The Littlefield Palace” for delusions of grandeur.

It doesn’t matter that the site is all wrongWith coal tar and dump pits I knew all along. I bought the brownfield with large profits for friends Except the taxpayers who got screwed in the end.

I give to my friends and they give back to me,An honest public servant I’ll pretend to be I pulled all the wool over most peoples’ eyes But now the blind see through my thin disguise.

I’ll pass by the sculptures so gleaming and bright, While robbing and shootings take place in daylight. It matters not one bit what taxpayers say “I am the Lord Mayor, now be on your way.”

September 1, 2010 at 8:19 a.m.
Sonic123 said...

Folks I hate to say it but this type of government is seen throughout this area. You have mayors of small towns running gambling houses in plain sight and some that are running drugs and guns and they are lord and master and no one will even look at it. They give the people that help them the city jobs and keep them close at hand. And all the time the citizens pay the bills to keep the crime up and running.

September 1, 2010 at 11:12 a.m.
JasonMcG said...

The City Council is the legislative body of the City of Chattanooga and their oath is to represent the constituents from their districts.

By the City Council dedicating city legal and financial resources to the defense of Littlefield in a recall campaign the City Council is violating quite a few state and federal election and campaign finance reform laws.

Certainly City Council members as individual citizens have the right to verbally endorse a candidate and endorse or defend a candidate financially out of their own pockets.

However, the City Council does not have the right to commit the city's financial and legal resources to the defense of the Mayor's campaign to hold onto office.

Recalls are part of the election process, not the legislative process.

The City Council is way out of bounds on this one.

September 1, 2010 at 1:23 p.m.

The many voices of reason represented here in this comments section alone illustrate why Chattanooga is such a great place to live and work. Keep fighting the good fight! The last refuge of tyrants and crooks is always the legal system. I am glad it doesn't always work in their favor.

September 1, 2010 at 3:38 p.m.
xsiveporsche said...

I was not for or against the recall. Maybe I just did not care one way or the other until today. The comment Ron Littlefeild made today in his press release made me realize that he really is someone we do not need. If all he can do is abuse people who oppose him then he obviously does not have the intelligence to run our city.

September 1, 2010 at 7:51 p.m.

Of the people, by the people, and for the people.

September 1, 2010 at 8:18 p.m.
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