published Friday, July 29th, 2011

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield calls for Hamilton County charter

by Cliff Hightower
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Mayor Ron Littlefield said Thursday he would establish an exploratory group to come up with a charter for county home rule or combined city/county government by August 2012.

“This is the launch,” Littlefield said. “This is the beginning.”

But one county leader said it may not be so easy for the city mayor and suggested Littlefield meet with the County Commission.

“He’s got his work cut out for him,” Commission Chairman Larry Henry said. “I think it would be good to have some talks.”

If home rule was adopted, the county would have some lawmaking abilities the city now has, such as more zoning power and code enforcement. Operating under an old law mandated in the state constitution, the county must pass some laws by going through the Tennessee Legislature. For example, putting up a traffic signal within the county requires state legislation.

On Thursday, Littlefield led a 70-minute discussion in the City Council meeting room about the possibility of home rule and a combined metropolitan government for Hamilton County. He said he would appoint four committees to examine aspects of the idea.

He said one way that governments could unite is if the county adopted home rule and the city then gave up its charter.

More than 250 people crowded into the room to hear Littlefield outline his proposals and to make comments.

He said the easiest route would be for the County Commission to adopt a resolution for a charter committee or for County Mayor Jim Coppinger to make a proclamation. But another route would be a petition signed by at least 10 percent of county residents who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial election, he said.

In the meantime, Littlefield said, the exploratory group could start drafting a charter.

Perrin Lance, an organizer for Chattanooga Organized for Action, which tried to oust Littlefield by petition last year, said during the meeting that county leaders don’t appear to support Littlefield’s idea.

“How do you go about this without county support?” Lance asked.

“Well, if we have to take the petition route, you and your friends know how to do a petition,” Littlefield said. “Ten percent. It’s less than a recall election.”

Chattanooga resident Stephen Harper said the city should be distancing itself from the county, not moving closer.

“I would ask you to look at another option,” he said. “And the option is not marriage, but divorce.”

He proposed the city separate itself and form its own county.

But Littlefield said the steps already are in place for forming a metropolitan government. He said charter committee members could use the charter from a failed consolidation effort in 1984 as a guideline.

“We don’t have to start from scratch,” he said. “We don’t have to start from ground zero. We can start where we were before.”

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