published Saturday, February 11th, 2012

A correct ruling on recall

Judge Jeff Hollingsworth's welcome decision Friday to cancel the pending August recall election for a successor to Mayor Ron Littlefield was expected, and correct. Hopefully it will end the cantankerous and misguided mission of a small minority of voters who would have wrongly ejected the mayor for reasons of fiscal and administrative policies -- annexation, a modest and long-needed property tax increase, and an unavoidable fee to meet state and federal mandates for control of storm-water run-off.

Such issues as those should have never have been allowed as reasons for a recall in the first place. With the recall properly canceled, it's now incumbent on the City Council -- if it still wants to have a unique recall statute -- to propose a common-sense recall process that comports with the more stringent state recall law, and that limits recalls to acts of moral turpitude or criminal offenses.

Policy issues typically involve difficult but necessary decisions on fiscal and administrative issues: They should not qualify as reasons for recall. That sort of recall is best left, as it traditionally has been, to the next general election, where political leaders are properly judged on their overall performance in office by a majority of voters.

The recall canceled by Judge Hollingsworth met none of those traditional standards. It was wrongly abetted, moreover, by key deficiencies in the city's recall statute and by key failures by the petitioners and by the Election Commission.

The city's statute allowed a misbegotten two-step recall. The first step allowed a small minority of registered voters to demand a recall under properly filed petitions. And if those petitions were certified, the mayor was automatically ejected from office, and a so-called "recall election" would be held at the next general municipal or county election to pick a successor from any number of candidates.

In this case, the city's faulty recall process allowed a new mayoral election upon certification of petitions signed by a number of registered voters in the city equal to 50 percent of voters in the last city election.

Talk about the tail that wags the dog. Since Mayor Littlefield was elected to his second term by an exceedingly low turnout of just 18 percent (roughly 18,000 voters) of the city's roughly 100,000 voters, it would have taken just 9,386 signatures of registered city voters on properly certified petitions -- a minority of less than 10 percent of the city's eligible voters -- to oust the mayor and elect another.

City government can't be allowed to operate on such a thin edge of vulnerability. Ousting a mayor on such thin fraction of the electorate would amount to rule by a small and fractious minority.

As Judge Hollingsworth's rulings have shown, however, the city's recall statute was never properly incorporated into the charter, as required by state law, to override the state's more stringent recall provisions. The latter require a more practical three-step recall process: 1) certified petitions signed by 15 percent of the city's registered voters; 2) a referendum to ask the general electorate -- the majority of voters -- whether there should be a recall election for specified reasons; and, 3) if needed then, a recall election.

The current petitions for a recall were marred for other reasons, as well. Of the 14,854 signatures acquired, just 9,718 were found to be registered city voters. But more than half those eligible signatures lacked a signing date, which disqualified them. Signing dates are required under state law to confirm a signee's right to rescind his or her signature within 10 days.

The Election Commission's Republic majority, moreover, wrongly allowed improper petitions and signatures to be accepted before they voted -- on a partisan 3-2 vote -- to certify the recall election. Judge Hollingsworth had laid out all these reasons to reject the recall in the mayor's initial lawsuit for an injunction to stop the recall, but appellate Judge John McClarty ruled that decision was premature because the Election Commission had not actually certified the recall. Once it did -- ignoring the court's ruling -- the commission's errant decision was fair game for another court ruling.

Judge Hollingsworth's repeat ruling Friday should now be respected by the both Election Commission and the City Council. The latter needs to write a new recall statute, if it still wishes to have one, that meets the state's more sensible and stringent standards. And the Election Commission needs to learn to follow state law and quit making up its own partisan rules to advantage a discordant minority of voters. Its misdeeds already have been too onerous and too expensive to justify another needless court filing.

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gjuster said...

The problem is that we will never know if the correct legal decision was made because it is tainted by Judge Hollingsworth's association with the attorney's for the Mayor. By not rescuing himself - he has forever tainted himself as a corrupt Judge - and his decision will always been seen as the fix was in - even if it was the correct legal decision. It's a shame because this was an important ruling regardless of which side you fall on.

February 11, 2012 at 9:22 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Lady Justice is a Circuit Court PAC Member!

Little Chicago Watch, a citizen watch group, wishes to share very reasonable concerns about an appearance of impropriety in the case of the judicial recall hearings.

We issue the following findings of fact:

Fact 1

42% of Judge Hollingsworth’s campaign contributions are from Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm.

Fact 2

Judge Hollingsworth was employed by Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm prior to election.

Fact 3

City Attorney Mike McMahan selected Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm through blank check resolutions that do not have “not to exceed amount provisions,” after the firm filed a lawsuit to stop the recall election in 2010. Our watch group has filed an open records request to quantify the compensation Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm received from the City through Resolution No. 26633 March 22, 2011 and Resolution No. 26469 Oct. 5, 2010. There is an appearance of a windfall of contracts to Mayor Littlefield’s legal firm after the lawsuit was filed to stop the election.

Fact 4

City Attorney Mike McMahan is representing the City at the taxpayer’s expense, but is not defending the City Charter enacted by a referendum by the citizens of our city (City Minutes, Feb. 2012).

Little Chicago Watch is concerned that Lady Justice may have her blind fold off.

February 11, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.
01centare said...

Hurray for the mayor!!

February 11, 2012 at 5:14 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Given the low quality of decisions and obviously corrupt conduct of our local officials, I am shocked to see repeated endorsements by the paper in favor of Mayor Littlefield.

These people have done little else but use their office to take taxpayer money for their own personal and political gains. We've seen losses at rates of near $125,000 monthly.

The list of corrupt misdeeds resulting in the misappropriations of funds in excess of $100,000 would involve more lines than the editorial above.

$10 Million lie about "liability" in the city budget.

Cost impact of corruption so severe it affects adjacent counties.

$328,000 website; money went to a design firm with ties to former Mayor John Kinsey. Still no web page!

Corrupt no-bid outsourcing for high-tech contracts. Strictly enforced bid process, though, if you drive a sewer sucker truck.

Broken sewer system received few repairs after raw sewage created a pond in Coolidge Park.

Quasi-racist curfew policy for the park.

Repetitive corrupt coordination among city and county officials to exploit legal borders, for profit.

Racketeering to appoint the county mayor, without elections.

Self-appointment of the county Mayor. Five deputies fired to make a salary for Bob Corker's old right-hand man to be his chief of staff.

Routine unnecessary harassment of police, fire, public works officers and employees. Parking scandal, fire sprinkler opposition, overall disregard for the city's zoo.

Zero support from the city Mayor when city employees had even the smallest problems that could have been solved by the city itself; Outdoor Chattanooga's rent-a-kayak program, for instance. Lack of basic coordination and leadership support for the city government itself.

No support for the poor in public schools during the county's "Slaves learned to read" policy discussions and superintendent ouster. Again, poor Chattanoogans lose with Littlefield.

Turned his back on the library -- the library --, rehab programs and poor people in general.

The intimidation of 400 witnesses through manipulation of the fire code so severe and obviously corrupt that it was sure to create obstructions on fact gathering for the prosecutions of shooters during Christmas Eve's violent events.

Generally speaking, we won't have a good day in government until these people are gone. If we could have been rid of Mayor Littlefield in August, things would have gotten better that much sooner.

February 12, 2012 at 8:27 p.m.
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