published Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Stirring the recall muddle

Just when it seemed likely that a needless fringe effort to recall Mayor Littlefield over a justifiable tax increase might at last be resolved in Circuit Court next week, the issue has been elevated from a misbegotten farce to a longer running absurdity. Chris Clem, the part-time attorney for the county Election Commission, gave it longer legs Thursday with his surprise decision -- without the election commission's approval -- to expand the legal conflict to new and novel fronts.

On one front, he has wrongly undertaken to counter-sue the mayor for the cost of his challenge over the election commission's apparent failure to comply with state recall provisions for acceptable signatures and petitions before certifying a contested recall election. Clem's lawsuit, which he filed under the name of the election commission, further challenges both the constitutionality of the state recall law, as well as the state attorney general's office for its defense of the state law, which a lower court has said prevails over the city's own muddled recall statute.

Clem's counterclaims, particularly his unexpected third-party complaint against Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. over the alleged unconstitutionality of the state's recall law, is especially unusual and over-reaching. Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth reasonably deferred his scheduled Monday hearing on the matter until February to consider the new dimensions of the conflict.

Tennessee's county election commissions operate under the Tennessee Department of State. Their duty is to fairly administer elections in an orderly, timely manner as prescribed under state law. Though majority control of the commissions rotates to the political party of the governor, these public service agencies, as an arm of the state, are supposed to function without partisan bias.

So it is unique, if not out of order, for an election commission to challenge the constitutionality of a state election law, which, having been vetted at the time of its enactment by the state attorney general's office, automatically carries the state's presumption of constitutionality. It certainly is unusual -- if not overtly partisan -- for a part-time county election commission attorney to take it upon himself to challenge both the state's recall law, and to name the state attorney general as a defendant on that grounds. Hopefully, it will be quickly kicked out when it comes to court.

The mayor has reasonably claimed that the state recall law which takes precedence over the city's less strenuous recall ordinance. Clem now alleges that the state recall law is unconstitutional because it exempts Tennessee's two largest counties.

In fact, Clem, a former state legislator, surely is aware that many state laws exempt counties and municipalities of a certain size for a variety of reasons. Exemptions may be granted, for example, because some counties and municipalities, under own charters, have already enacted laws that are more strenuous than minimal state laws.

Indeed, the only reason the state law has come into play in the city's present recall issue is because of the controversy over whether the city's own recall ordinance meets the state's minimal standards for recall elections, and whether it was legally incorporated into the city's charter.

So Clem's attempt to make an issue of the constitutionality of the state recall law is curious, and more so because he has done so without the election commission's formal approval.

The timing and breadth of Clem's response to the mayor's rather routine legal challenge is vexing for other reasons. It needlessly extends the legal wrangling, even as the commission has already wrongly begun to issue qualifying petitions for an August election to replace Mayor Littlefield, though his office has not yet legally been declared vacant. The sum of those actions reeks of broad, wrongful partisan motivation in support of the recall's sponsors.

Mayor Littlefield has a legitimate responsibility to protect his office from the dictates of a small, myopic and disgruntled minority of the city's registered voters whose recall petitions apparently fail the state's minimum standards, and turn the electoral process upside down. The election commission's apparent bias to advance the recall has been disturbing from the beginning. Clem's actions make it look worse.

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328Kwebsite said...

I see we broke out the thesaurus for this one, but failed to actually read the recall laws.

Imagine how much less embarrassing this editorial would be if it were based on the facts of recall procedure. Like, City Charter Section 8.30, for instance.

A petition is not enough to recall an elected official, no matter what any judge says. The lawsuits are all irrelevant, including the Mayor's protests to try to keep his job through suing. The counter-lawsuit the Times Free Press is editorializing against is also irrelevant.

The fact is that the standard for removing the mayor was never met, regardless of which recall law was applied.

Imagine how much better our politics would be if some people would actually read before suing or spending money. A recall effort that can't pass by petition alone.

If removing an official by petition alone were possible, none of those politicos would have a job anywhere. Voters would constantly circulate recall petitions. It doesn't work that way.

The recall efforts are not decided by the judiciary. They are decided by the legislature.

Not only must a petition be qualified, but under the existing, plainly stated law, that petition has to be ratified by the City Council.

So, legal eagles, if you run the petition and submit it, but don't get enough politico gusto to get the City Commission to agree with you, what happens? Nothing.

Meanwhile, editors and other blowhards continue to waste our time with talk about lawsuits. No court decision anywhere is required for any of the recall laws to take effect. The reality is that a petition, by itself, is not enough. They require a significant supporting vote from the City Council.

That City Council cannot be forced to vote, or required to speak in any way. That's why building support for a recall effort is so important. No vote; no recall; no exceptions.

Thanks for wasting our time. Please read the law yourself. It's on the City of Chattanooga's website, which continues to be worth less than $328,000.

Also, it's not a "fringe effort" to recall the Mayor. Everyone with a brain in this County realizes that he is the worst Mayor we have ever had. His list of failures is so long that a daily recitation of the problems he creates is the sole source of 30% of your News section's local reporting.

Please stop insulting our intelligence by implying that anyone approves of this low IQ BS that has come out of the Mayor's office for these past few years.

In the future, please consider reading the recall law before editorializing about it. It can be found at: http://www.chattanooga.gov/City_Council/110_Charter.asp

The section requiring the City Council to ratify a recall or any replacement of the Mayor is found in Section 8.30 "Succession to office of mayor."

Please set an example for our community by conducting basic research to determine the relevancy of items you deem newsworthy enough to editorialize against.

January 7, 2012 at 1:08 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

The following hypothetical situations would have all been supported by the existing law:

.1. Many people sign the petition. It gets certified to the toughest standard. The Mayor gets recalled. The city council then votes to replace Mayor Littlefield with . . . Mayor Littlefield.

Only the commission of a felony, not a recall petition, permanently disqualifies someone from becoming mayor. City Charter, Section 8.53. Therefore, even if recalled, the mayor could be re-appointed by the City Council or later elections to office.

.2. A few people sign the petition. They plead their case to a judge. He says the petition is good, and order that the Mayor be removed. Once a mayor is removed for any reason, a replacement mayor must be installed by the city council. The city council votes. They install: Mayor Littlefield for a second term.

.3. One person signs the petition. He pleads his case to a judge who rejects his efforts. The judge then says that the person wasted the city's time by obviously failing to submit a qualifying petition. All officials who advanced the petition share blame. Now someone must pay for the time lost. All participating agencies counter-sue to avoid paying for the fiasco created by someone not reading the law before acting. The mayor keeps his job without incident.

.4. The mayor resigns. He wants to leave the country immediately for personal reasons. Recent scandals suggest that he's about to be prosecuted by some other government agency. He would prefer to be a fugitive. The City Council receives his resignation and . . . votes to reject it and bind him to his office to hold him responsible for whatever it is he has done.

The City Charter's section on replacing the mayor for any reason --any reason-- including death, disability, sickness, voluntary resignation, failure to maintain a bond, any reason, is clear: the City Council must vote to ratify the decision and take action for his replacement.

City of Chattanooga's Charter, section 8.30. It requires a vote. Elected people must be responsible to the public when it comes to appointing an unelected replacement for an elected official.

All of these petitions and their lawsuits are irrelevant because the only deciding action which can replace a Mayor, a City Council vote, has not taken place.

January 7, 2012 at 1:49 a.m.
aae1049 said...

TFP Editor, you seem frustrated that you are not successful in controlling outcomes. I worked the Hire Here campaign, and watched you work your little ink off trying to kill the local hiring ordinance. I think the TFP editorial page is becoming insignificant. I mean the recall is forging ahead despite this TFP editors months of, and 2 consequtive days of recall rants.

For the record, Chris Clem is brilliant, and raises the bigger state law issues regarding recall. Why would TFP object to that? Answer: Because if the Attorney General rules in Chris Clem's favor, Mayor Littlefield is recall toast. Yep, that is right.

Shame on the TFP for intentionally failing to report pervasive contract corruption in city government, and chronically fail to disclosure information the public deserves to know. No worries, we will LittleChicagoWatch.com The TFP is widely known as the Public Relations Arm of City Government among politically active groups.

Mr. Editor, you don't even live in Chattanooga. I do, and I care that my tax dollars have been intentionally diverted to TN Par and TN Waltz folks, so cry me a River. We are having a recall election.

April Eidson Chattanooga Resident

PS: TFP is about Clean Speech, not Free Speech. Hurry, you must have a hot story about an art venue.

January 7, 2012 at 11:05 a.m.
joelance said...

328K, it is a bit puzzling that people lean so heavily on one wrongly inserted word ("recall") in Section 8.30, while completely ignoring an entire chapter of the Charter ("CHAPTER II. RECALL") which is where the provisions governing recall procedure reside. See § 3.18.

Now, if 3.18 happened to spell out a three-step process, wherein voters (not the Council) would first be asked a Yes or No question on the recall, then 8.30 would be invoked if the voters decided Yes, the incumbent should be recalled. At that time, of course, yes, the City Council chair would become interim Mayor, and the Council would vote as you specify.

However, 3.18 outlines a two-step process, in which the first and only election held after a recall petition is certified involves candidates; and if a candidate other than the incumbent wins, then there is no vacancy that would invoke 8.30. Well, maybe there'd be a very brief one, lasting only between the certification of election results and the swearing-in of the new mayor. But the point is, under the Charter, the people vote first, and then the City Council acts as necessitated.

January 7, 2012 at 1:25 p.m.
timbo said...

I want to congratulate the POWER STRUCTURE and their propaganda minister Harry Austin. They have already won and stopped the recall and the opposition doesn’t even know it. Why? Simple, because they have every one of you amateur and professional lawyers arguing with one another about the minutia and they have made you think that this is somehow a legal question. It is not. It is a political question that is being settled by manipulating the legal system. First, the fact that Hollingsworth didn’t recuse himself the first time this went to court more than a year ago was extremely unethical behavior. After all Littlefield’s attorney’s are Hollingsworth’s old firm. This removed it from being a legal question and made it political. A lot of Hollingsworth’s supporters and campaign contributors made sure that the FIX WAS IN the first time and presto…. Hollingsworth made a tortured, bizarre ruling against the recall that was later thrown out. Politics as usual. Second, it should seem bizarre that Hollingsworth ended up with this case again but in this town it is standard procedure. He get’s overturned, the case is assigned to another judge and she hands it over to him. Can you imagine any were else in this country where that would happen and not one media source, or editorial writer, or anyone, not say that this is corruption at it’s highest???? They didn’t even raise a question. Politics as usual. Third, Clem filing his lawsuit in the appeals court to overturn the state recall statuate makes me wonder if he isn’t in on this legal scam. Think about it, he has only a remote chance to get the state court to overturn a state law on constitutional grounds. They will either refuse to hear it, rule for Littlefield, or kick the can down the road to the supreme court. None of that is positive and it smacks of collusion.
Why would Clem do this? He too, is a political animal. An ex-state rep who has a political job on the election commission. Don’t think for one minute he doesn’t have future political aspirations. He can just go through the motions and make the right wing of the party and the tea party think he “really tried.” Wow! That and a dime will buy you zip. The main reason for his lawsuit is to give Hollingsworth a negative ruling to hang his hat on and rule against the recall. Again, POLITICS AS USUAL. The deal is done, the die is cast, the fat lady has sung, it’s all over but the shouting. Save any more of your time and effort. . The POWER STRUCTURE HAS ALREADY WON AND SHOT A BIRD IN OUR FACES IN THE PROCESS………. Welcome to Machiavelli 101.

FOLKS YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST.

January 7, 2012 at 3:41 p.m.
Lr103 said...

I'm just surprised, amazed even, that this recall group and their supporters haven't been sued for malicious persecution or something. Someone, somwhere must have very deep pockets.

And uknowwho needs should check with their doc to see about getting their meds dosage increased.

There was talk about some of those signatures on those recall forms appeared forged. Will there be an investigation into that possibility? Federal, perhaps?

January 8, 2012 at 2:40 a.m.
fairmon said...

The editorial states...

The effort to recall Mayor Littlefield over a justifiable tax increase might at last be resolved in Circuit Court next week,

Who agrees that a 19% increase in the cost to be a home owner in the city of Chattanooga plus an increase in utilities (EPB and TAWC) is modest as the council and mayor label it or justifiable as the TFP editorial concludes without supporting that conclusion with facts?

January 8, 2012 at 4:30 a.m.
01centare said...

harp, the tax increase is actually modest compared to what it will be if the Tea Partiers hating on Ron Littlefield have their way. The tax increase was just the scapegoat to suck as many in as possible, when in reality the tax increase has nothing to do with their true agenda.

Why didn't this same group go after the county when they raised property taxes long before the city of Chattanooga did? In fact, country property taxes were raised several times over the years even as the city taxes remained the same. Again silence.

Just to enlighten you and others on just how nasty certain members of this recall group are, in the shadows and crawling on their bellies, they're even going after innocent Chattanoogans who have no ties to politics or public life whatsoever. Anyone who even remotely questions them are subject to become a target of their hate and subject to their brand of investigation in an attempt to dig up dirt this group think they can use.

I too see the potential for a malicious persecution lawsuit against them on the horizon. I hope their pockets are deep enough when Chattanooga citiznes finally wake up.

January 8, 2012 at 9:05 a.m.
fairmon said...

01centare said... harp, the tax increase is actually modest compared to what it will be if the Tea Partiers hating on Ron Littlefield have their way. The tax increase was just the scapegoat to suck as many in as possible, when in reality the tax increase has nothing to do with their true agenda.

I don't agree with your opinion regarding the agenda of the recall group. My comment was about the not so modest increase for citizens of the city of chattanooga. The mayor and city brag about how they have grown the city. If that is true then organic growth would increase tax revenue. Other than police and fire personnel government employees compensation is higher than the private sector for like work. There is significant spending on nice to have which is not essential and doesn't add value. With a few exceptions departments are over staffed and inefficient. Unfunded undisclosed future city liabilities are frightening but spending does not reflect any concern by the mayor or council.

January 8, 2012 at 5 p.m.
bissco said...

Why the property tax increase in Chattanooga? Well, the mayor tried to annex areas to come up with a new source of revenue for the city. FACT: Law says you can't annex areas for the sole purpose of raising revenue. I know this to be the case, because when the annexation got stalled in court the mayor lost his so called new property tax revenue. What did he then do? He raised the property tax on those living within the city limits. A city property tax was not on his radar as he expected his annexation plan to go through without being challenged. His annexation plan was nothing more than a money grab--PERIOD!! Hey Ron, do us all a favor and manage your money better. This my friends is why you got a tax increase...

January 8, 2012 at 6:40 p.m.
01centare said...

The city's stormwater increase was brought about due to a mandate by the federal government to upgrade the city's outdated sewage system. Otherwise the federal government could have possibly charged the city thousands a day in fines if the city did not address the problem. Those thousands of dollars in fines would have most certainly been passed on to property owners. Making their property taxes much higher than they already are.

The property taxe increase has been quite modest compared to the county tax increases over the years. Property owners who pay both county and city property taxes should note their county property taxes have always been higher than their city taxes. In fact, there was a county property tax increase again before the city increased its taxes. After that county increase the county commissioner went out and brought spanking brand new furniture. There was a very small few who were outraged by both the increase and the new furniture move. Why? Who knows?

City property taxes are much cheaper than county property taxes. Check and compare your city and county property taxes if you pay both.

As for fire and police jobs go. For a job that requires only a high school education or G.E.D. the starting salaries are actually quite good for a fireman and police officer. With as little as two years of college, the starting pay can be higher.

January 8, 2012 at 8:12 p.m.
aae1049 said...

01 Centare The city stormwater feeincreases were NOT mandated by the EPA or TDEC. Call the Chattanooga office of TDEC 634-5745 and ask the regulators. Secondly, the information you have posted is absolutely untrue. City of Chattanooga taxes and fees are HIGHER than Hamilton Co. Chattanooga's stormwater fees are the highest in TN, that's right higher than Metro Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville does not have a stormwater fee. So, back to your fiction that the feds mandated the stormwater fees. You just believe everything you read from Littlefield camp.

Chattanooga $2.3090 $2.7652 $5.0742 East Ridge $1.4200 $2.7652 $4.1852 Red Bank $1.1001 $2.7652 $3.8653 Soddy-Daisy $1.0000 $2.7652 $3.7652 Collegedale $1.3400 $2.7652 $4.1052 Ridgeside $1.9000 $2.7652 $4.6652 Lakesite $0.2400 $2.7652 $3.0052 Walden $0.4400 $2.7652 $3.2052 Lookout Mtn. $1.4700 $2.7652 $4.2352 Signal Mtn. $1.6634 $2.7652

January 8, 2012 at 8:58 p.m.
timbo said...

You people just don't understand how this place works.

January 9, 2012 at 9:14 a.m.
timbo said...

One more thing, several year ago I helped our only honest politician (Rhonda Thurman) get information and present it to the Pachyderm Club on the fact that Hamilton County government was the most expensive per capita in the state. April, they didn't know what "per capita" was or how to divide the total budget by the population. As simple as this was, Bill Bennett and others said we were crazy.

You are up against corruption from the smart crooks like Littlefield and ignorance and stupidity from the rest of them. Subtle tactics don't work. They must be hammered over the head. The difference between our corruption and other places is that ours is supported and promoted by our newspaper. We don't have a free press. We have a purchased press who is in on it.

January 9, 2012 at 9:34 a.m.
sangaree said...

@Chattanooga $2.3090 $2.7652 $5.0742 East Ridge $1.4200 $2.7652 $4.1852 Red Bank $1.1001 $2.7652 $3.8653 Soddy-Daisy $1.0000 $2.7652 $3.7652 Collegedale $1.3400 $2.7652 $4.1052 Ridgeside $1.9000 $2.7652 $4.6652 Lakesite $0.2400 $2.7652 $3.0052 Walden $0.4400 $2.7652 $3.2052 Lookout Mtn. $1.4700 $2.7652 $4.2352 Signal Mtn. $1.6634 $2.7652

But doesn't Chattanooga have a much larger population than Red Bank, Soddy Daisy, Ridgeside, Lakesite, Walden, Lookout Mtn. Signal Mtn. ect.? Therefore the drain is much greater than those little small suburban-like enclaves? Making the expense to operate the city greater. Therefore, the cost is higher. Most of the citizens living in Soddy-Daisy, Collegedale, Walden, Lookout Mtn. Signal Mtn. actually benefit from jobs they have in Chattanooga. Most all CPD employees live in Soddy Daisy, Harrison, Hixson, Ooltewah.

@Hamilton County government was the most expensive per capita in the state.

Hamilton County Government? Then why is the city government leaders being attacked if the county government is the most expensive in the state?

January 9, 2012 at 3:47 p.m.
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