A recall election for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has been scheduled for August 2012.
Meanwhile, Littlefield and his attorneys are again exploring legal options to stop it.
The Hamilton County Election Commission voted Thursday morning to certify a recall petition for Littlefield in its first meeting since the state Court of Appeals dismissed Littlefield’s attempt to halt the recall earlier this month.
Last week, the mayor filed a petition for a rehearing on the issue, which hasn’t yet been acted on.
But the election commission didn’t wait for the appellate court’s ruling to forge ahead with an action it was set to take when the legal battle began in August 2010. Commissioners voted 2-1 to certify the recall petition. Commissioners Tommy Crangle and Ruth Braly voted for it, Jerry Summers voted against it and James A. Anderson abstained.
Crangle said his vote to certify the recall is a vote in support of those who worked to collect about 15,000 signatures, 9,600 of which were certified by the election commission.
“People think they have the right to recall their officials,” he said. “I don’t know how we can deny that.”
Anderson said he wants to wait to act until the legal action is final.
Summers said recall petitions should be reserved for extreme acts, not just disagreements about policy.
Littlefield’s attorney, Hal North, said the election commission’s action is premature.
“We’ll consider asking the Court of Appeals to [stop] the action the commission has taken,” he said.
Another spokesman for Littlefield also said the election commission should have waited until the Court of Appeals made its ruling.
“No final decision has been reached by a court regarding the legality of the signatures collected or the number of signatures needed to proceed with a recall,” Littlefield spokesman Richard Beeland released in a statement.
Jim Folkner, who heads Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield — one of the groups that championed the recall effort — is pleased with the election commission’s decision.
“I’m hopeful the courts will acknowledge that his legal maneuvering is a delaying tactic and nothing but a delaying tactic,” Folkner said after the meeting.
Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party launched an effort to recall the mayor two years ago.
The matter ended up before Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth last year when Littlefield sued to stop the commission when it was scheduled to certify more than 9,600 petition signatures. That number would have met the city charter’s minimum requirement for a recall.
Littlefield argued that a state law prevailed over the city charter in determining how many signatures are necessary. The state would require 15,262 signatures, as calculated in the Court of Appeals decision. The court cited 9,386.5 as the minimum number for the city’s charter requirement, though the election commission had determined it to be 8,957.
The mayor said only 4,281 of the 9,600 signatures accepted by the election commission met the state requirement that they be dated.
Hollingsworth stopped the election commission from certifying the petition.
The Court of Appeals vacated that decision earlier this month, saying Hollingsworth didn’t have authority to act when he did because the election commission hadn’t made a final decision.
Littlefield then asked for a rehearing and still has time left in his 60-day window to appeal the Court of Appeals decision.
Commissioners also voted to hold the recall election in August 2012, though Anderson qualified his vote, saying he wouldn’t want to hold an election if legal maneuvers in the Court of Appeals aren’t final by then.
North described the process before the election commission over the past year as a “comedy of errors.”
“This commission has compounded those problems today,” he said. “What you’ve done is taken proceedings to certify these [signatures] prematurely.”
Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...