published Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Petitions ready for Chattanooga mayor election as businessmen speak out


by Cliff Hightower

BUSINESS PEOPLE

A group of businessmen have signed a letter saying they oppose the recall of Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield because it might impact economic development. The 10 businessman are:

* Jim Berry, CEO of Republic Parking

* Fletcher Bright, principal of Fletcher Bright Co.

* Joe Decosimo, principal of Joseph Decosimo Co.

* Ken Defoor, developer

* Al Duke, cofounder of Tenth Street Capital

* Craig Holley, chairman, president and CEO of CapitalMark

* Bryan Patten, president of Patten & Patten

* Mike Steele, partner of Payroll Professionals

* Bill Sudderth, partner of Chattanooga Land Co.

* Grady Williams, senior partner for Lattimore, Black, Morgan & Caine

PETITONS

Petitions for the August recall mayoral election will be available for pickup 8 a.m. Friday at the Hamilton County Election Commission, located on Amnicola Highway.

A group of local businessmen have expressed their distaste of the recall effort against Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield on the eve of petitions being made available to candidates who want to replace him.

Ten businessmen wrote a letter to the editor to the Times Free Press this week, saying the recall effort should be stopped because economic development will suffer.

"Any economic development entity in the country would tell you that this kind of publicity is extremely detrimental to any city trying to bring new business and industry into a region," the letter states.

Littlefield said he agrees with the letter's sentiment.

"I appreciate these leaders in our community stepping up ... It's become a political distraction," he said Wednesday.

The letter comes a day before petitions for those wanting to run for mayor in an August recall election can be picked up at the Hamilton County Election Commission.

In a related matter, a court hearing on a temporary injunction to stop the recall election will be heard in Circuit Court on Monday. Judge Jeff Hollingsworth will preside over the hearing. Last year, he ruled in favor of Littlefield, saying the recall petitions didn't have enough signatures under law to move the effort forward.

The state Court of Appeals overruled him and the election commission then certified the recall petitions and set the election for August.

The mayor filed suit once more in December, leading to the Monday hearing.

Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator for the Election Commission, said she will hand out petitions starting Friday. But she said the court date set for Monday has put a wrench in the system.

"I'm hoping that people will wait [to pick up the petitions] until after the court case," she said. "If someone comes in, we're not going to tell them not to pick up."

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, one of the groups leading the recall effort, said he could not understand why Mullis-Morgan would want to discourage people from picking up petitions.

"If people want to run for mayor or object to Mayor Littlefield, they ought to be able to do what they want to do," Folkner said.

Folkner has said he is considering a mayoral run, but said Wednesday that he has not made up his mind whether he would pick up a petition on Friday.

The recall effort began in the summer of 2010 when three groups -- Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party -- began collecting signatures to recall the mayor.

Business leaders object

In their letter, the business leaders say the recall effort distracts the mayor and other city leaders from looking after the interests of the city.

Election commission records show five of the 10 businessmen who signed the letter contributed to Littlefield's 2009 election campaign.

Fletcher Bright contributed $1,000; Joe Decosimo and his wife contributed $2,000; Jim Berry contributed $500; Ken Defoor and his wife contributed $2,000 and Grady Williams contributed $150.

Bright, who also contributed to Littlefield's defense fund against the recall effort, said there is a connection between the distaste for the recall and his monetary contributions to the mayor.

"There is a tie-in," he said. "It confirms my opinions on the thing."

Folkner said he had no problems with the letter writers' contributions to Littlefield.

"They have a right to contribute to who they want to," he said.

Several of the businessmen said Wednesday their contributions play a minor role in their effort to halt the recall. They said they mostly want to show the public there are two sides to the story. They also said they do not expect the letter to sway Hollingsworth's decision on Monday.

Bill Sudderth, partner for Chattanooga Land Co., did not contribute to Littlefield's campaign and said that, while he does not agree with everything the mayor does, in this instance, backing the mayor against the recall is the right thing to do.

"Some of us just think Ron needed some support," he said.

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