THE STORY SO FAR
The recall effort began last year when three groups — Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party — launched a recall petition drive. More than 15,000 signatures were collected, and the Hamilton County Election Commission validated 9,600 of them.
Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth stopped the recall effort last year, ruling that state law trumped the city’s charter and the petitioners needed about 15,000 verified signatures.
The state Court of Appeals overruled Hollingsworth, giving the election commission the chance to set a recall election for Aug. 2, 2012. Littlefield has asked for a rehearing with the state Court of Appeals and could appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Whether Mayor Ron Littlefield is ousted in August or makes it to the following March, the mayoral recall effort is causing turmoil in city government, insiders say.
Littlefield is fighting the recall attempt in court, the City Council is confused about whether he can remain in office and nervous city workers are stressing out over who’s going to be their boss.
The two-term mayor faces an August 2012 recall election, seven months before the end of his term.
Littlefield admits the recall effort has bogged him down as he tries to pursue agendas close to his heart such as consolidation of governments and regional planning.
“I have to spend too much time dealing with these [recall] matters,” he said. “The tragedy here is we’ve got all these great issues in economic development and we’re spending time on things that have been resolved.”
Littlefield said he still is talking as much as he can about consolidating the city and the county governments and eyeing other goals.
“I have a relatively short list,” he said.
Several council members also see the recall as a distraction, but none would go so far as to call Littlefield a lame duck.
“I think it’s somewhat united the council around him,” said Councilman Jack Benson.
He noted that the council last week voted not to hire an outside attorney to investigate whether Littlefield could be removed from office now that the Hamilton County Election Commission has certified the recall petitions.
Benson and others also have said the fracas could hurt business recruitment, though they haven’t cited specifics. Tom Edd Wilson, president and CEO of the Greater Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, would not comment on the recall effort or whether it has affected the city’s business recruitment.
Meanwhile, Councilman Manny Rico said, some city employees are worried about what happens next.
“They don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “They’re worried about their jobs.”
Public Works Administrator Steve Leach said he isn’t worried much about his own job. He knew when he signed on seven years ago as a mayoral appointee that things could change at a moment’s notice.
But he said a lot of his employees have asked, “Are you going to be here?”
The best thing he can do is make sure there is proper transition in place if something does happen, Leach said.
“Every time there is change, everything is reorganized,” he said. “It’s just the way it happens.”
Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said staying focused on the city’s business and the next budget is tough when the prospect of an out-of-season mayoral election lies ahead.
“We look like a city in chaos,” she said.