published Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Littlefield recallers attack Chattanooga charter amendment on ballot


by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WHAT IT SAYS

A referendum asking voters to change the City Charter to meet state law states:

Ordinance No. 12631

"Shall the Charter of the City of Chattanooga be amended to make state law provisions concerning recall apply to popularly elected officials of the City."

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

A leader of a group that tried to oust Mayor Ron Littlefield criticized a Chattanooga charter amendment on the Tuesday ballot that city officials hope will clean up questions about recall votes.

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, said the wording of the proposed change is written poorly and confusing.

"The people don't know what they are voting on," he said. "It is vague. It is not the ordinance passed by council."

City Attorney Mike McMahan said he wrote the summary of the charter amendment and that he was limited to only 200 words on the ballot. The summary as published, including the title, uses 28 words.

"We do publish the whole ordinance in the paper," he said.

The proposed charter amendment came about because of the two-year battle to recall Littlefield.

The council voted in July to put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to match the City Charter's recall guidelines with state law.

The charter now requires signatures equal to 50 percent of the votes in the last city election to force a recall. The change would mandate signatures from 15 percent of registered city voters, a much larger number.

For example, ousting Littlefield under state law would have required almost 16,000 signatures, compared with about 9,000 under the charter.

Recall supporters have said there is no reason to change the charter. An appeals court ruled two months ago that cities may change the number of signatures needed to force a recall.

"The appeals court ruled we had an adequate charter," he said.

Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, said he agreed the charter referendum is confusing.

"I've had people write me asking, 'What does it say?'" West said.

He thinks the change would make it impossible to oust a mayor or council member.

Charlotte Mullis, Hamilton County elections administrator, said she heard few questions about the amendment during early voting.

"I think I've had two calls on that," she said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said the referendum should clarify the recall process.

"We're trying to make it easy up front for everyone to know what numbers they are looking at for a recall," she said.

"It was obvious we had a charter that caused a lot of confusion," she said. "Hopefully, we reduce the legality issues that came up last time."

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