A City Councilman said Friday he will ask colleagues’ opinions on whether they need outside legal advice to determine if Mayor Ron Littlefield should immediately be removed from office.
“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” said Peter Murphy, chairman of the City Council’s Legal and Legislative Committee. “That’s why we need to seek outside counsel.”
The Hamilton County Election Commission on Thursday certified a mayoral recall petition and set a recall election for Aug. 2, 2012.
Littlefield said if the council does decide an ouster is possible, “that’ll probably go to court as well.”
Murphy said in an email to council members Friday that the city charter is unclear on whether Littlefield should be removed from office until the recall election or continue to serve.
“There is the question of whether we have ministerial duty to pass a resolution that would temporarily replace him [Littlefield] with Chairwoman [Pam] Ladd,” he wrote.
Littlefield agrees there is some confusion in the charter.
“There are two provisions in the charter that aren’t exactly compatible,” he said.
One part of the charter says a recall would mean the council chairman or chairwoman would become temporary mayor. But another section describes a recall election as a “removal election.”
Murphy said the council will discuss hiring an outside attorney at the Legal and Legislative Committee meeting Tuesday. He said if council members decide to hire legal help, a resolution could be prepared in time for a vote at the council meeting that night.
In the wake of the election commission’s decision, Littlefield is considering legal challenges.
Last year, three groups — Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party gathered more than 15,000 signatures on ouster petitions.
Littlefield filed suit before the election commission could vote whether to certify the petitions. A Hamilton County Circuit Court judge for Littlefield, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals early this month said the judge should have allowed the election commission to consider certifying the results.
Littlefield’s attorney has asked for a rehearing and is also considering seeking an injunction, as well as appealing to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Ladd said hiring outside counsel may be prudent.
“The one thing he [Murphy] stresses and I agree with is we have more questions than answers,” she said.
Councilman Andraé McGary said getting an accurate interpretation of the charter is the “big issue” right now.
“We’re going to have to make a decision on whether or not to remove the mayor,” he said.
But one council member said the panel should not rush to hire an attorney.
“I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction,” Councilman Manny Rico said. “Let’s let the legal system play out.”
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...