Question: On April 15, Ron Littlefield will conclude his eight-year run as mayor of Chattanooga. How will Mayor Littlefield be remembered? What is his legacy?
Drew Johnson, Editor of the Free Press opinion page at the Chattanooga Times Free Press
Editor of the Free Press opinion page
In decades to come, as Chattanoogans look back on the mayors of years gone by, how will Ron Littlefield be remembered? The answer, likely, is “vaguely.”
Littlefield isn’t without his successes, namely the revitalization of the Southside and the rebirth of the city as a haven for hipsters and environmentalists. Additionally, crime actually decreased on Littlefield’s watch. The city is safer than ever.
But ultimately, Littlefield’s legacy will be minimal. That’s because Littlefield failed to effectively put his mark on the city.
He isn’t a bad mayor, but he lacked the understanding of what government should and should not do.
Judging by his actions, Littlefield believed that government was better equipped to own and provide private airplane service facilities, hotels, marinas, entertainment venues, pottery studios and golf courses than private businesses. He was unwilling to trim the budget, quick to advocate raising taxes and seemed to believe (in error) that government had better solutions than individuals about the issues facing the city.
The project he claims as his greatest success, EPB’s fiber optic system, is an outrageous boondoggle that may turn out to be an abject failure. The project, with its $552 million price tag (including bonds and interest) to taxpayers and electric customers, was supposed to provide Chattanooga with the fastest publically-available Internet in America, resulting in a tech boom in Scenic City.
That boom hasn’t happened. In fact, it’s unlikely that EPB’s fiber service can even consistently deliver the gigabit speed broadband promised when the service was rolled out. Ultimately, the taxpayer and electric customer subsidized fiber service became an unsavory experiment in socialism as the government-owned fiber service battled private cable, Internet and telecom companies in the marketplace.
As quickly as technology evolves and Internet service options change, it’s entirely possible that Littlefield’s beloved government-owned cable and broadband scheme will soon become obsolete, leaving little to show for its creation — except, of course, for its hefty price tag, which will burden EPB’s electric customers for decades to come.
Littlefield has plenty of critics. That doesn’t mean he is a bad man. He certainly, however, can be petty. Further, his decisions were, all too often, rooted in cronyism and back-room deal making, rather than what was best for the city.
Littlefield famously created an expensive government agency apparently so he could employ the daughter of a political ally. He has spent his final weeks in office ensuring that some of his assistants, namely Media Relations Director Richard Beeland and Deputy Mayor Anita Ebersole, were tucked in new jobs that would survive the turnover that is expected when incoming mayor Andy Berke takes office.
The mayor used city employees and resources, as well as tax dollars, to fight a recall effort to oust him from office. He kept a list of the church connections of groups and individuals involved in the recall effort, possibly to confront and needle his political opponents. In his publicly available emails, he mocked opponents, insulted police officers and called Chattanoogans names.
Will history look unkindly upon Mayor Littlefield’s apparent contempt for the people he served? Will anyone remember the wasted tax dollars or the expansion of government? Will anyone recognize that Warehouse Row and the Main Street revitalization, as well as Track 29 and the growing number of restaurants and shops in the wedge between Market and Cowart Streets, came about during Littlefield’s tenure? Probably not.
That’s because, rather than empowering individuals and families, or neighborhoods and community groups; rather than encouraging them to care about and contribute to Chattanooga and share in the city’s successes, Littlefield instead empowered government. That stripped the passion from the active and numbed the soul of the city. Instead of allowing Chattanoogans to buy-in voluntarily with their time and their sweat and their entrepreneurial spirit, he forced all of us to buy-in with tax dollars.
A mayor’s legacy isn’t based on what he built. It’s based on what we all built together. And Littlefield was happy to make Chattanoogans sit on the sideline while he got government to do the work.
Ron Littlefield will finish his 8-year term as the mayor of Chattanooga on April 15, 2013.Photo by Contributed Photo
Mayor of Chattanooga
As a career city planner, I love cities — and this city most of all. For more than 40 years since Walter Cronkite called us the dirtiest city in America, I have been part of rekindling the magic that once made Chattanooga great.
In the 1970s, it was environment. In the 1980s, it was Chattanooga Venture and the Walnut Street Bridge. It was a new city government in the 1990s, and much more along the way. Recently, we installed a new industrial heart in Chattanooga’s economy and built something totally unique: Fiber optics.
Legacy? Who cares? Let others have it. There is no shortage of people seeking credit. Accolades or accusations, who cares? What is written on the left side or the right side of this newspaper is without lasting consequence. Change and criticism are companions of progress.
What really matters is that Chattanooga is now clean and green. Forty years after our “dirtiest city” status, we are recognized world over as a comeback, turnaround success story.
Chattanooga, the most transformed city in America, has gone from declining to growing. Most significantly, among young people everywhere Chattanooga has become “cool."
What a marvelous adventure. I thank God for the privilege.
Craig Joel is a sergeant with the Chattanooga Police Department and vice president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.Photo by Contributed Photo
City Police Sergeant
Past president, Police Benevolent Association and current vice president, Fraternal Order of Police
When personally asked how Mayor Littlefield will be remembered, in an exercise of free association the words “cronyism,” “narcissism” and “paranoia”? immediately come to mind, which is sad because I believe his heart was generally in the right place. He just lacked solid advice and an appropriate sense of priorities to get there.
The mayor meant well, but he was just too willing to bend facts to his benefit rather than learn from mistakes and move on. He could be elected by the city charter, but not recalled by it. He condoned sexual harassment by inaction, but bristled at being questioned about it. He paid for public beauty at the literal expense of public safety, and never understood the consternation with this.
In short? His legacy is one of irony. Having essentially grown up serving others in various political offices, I believe that Ron Littlefield sought from the start to create a grand legacy of his own, and in the process never created a vision to do so — only befuddlement.
Businessman and former leader of Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield
Each politician wants a legacy. But the temptation to build nonessential buildings, hire friends for high-paying jobs, dole out private contracts and deviate from the needs of the city for a personal agenda was too strong for Mr. Littlefield.
The mayor took — and wasted — $150 million of our tax dollars, as shown on RecallRon.com. His administration’s actions compete with private businesses at the Chattanoogan Hotel, Memorial Auditorium and the airport, all while losing taxpayer money.
Littlefield’s resource grab and cronyism is his legacy. He has bragged about using his influence to affect judicial opinions, even in federal cases. He has demeaned city judges, covered up sexual harassment at high levels, and tried to remove the police take-home cars, cell phones and overtime pay. High morale is essential to fight crime and gangs. Yet this mayor denied a gang problem right before the recall. He should have left sooner.