Ron Littlefield recall, Chattanooga, Tennessee (2012)
After initially stalling due to judicial action, the prospect of Littlefield's recall was re-opened in November 2011 when the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that a local Circuit Court judge lacked jurisdiction and therefore shouldn't have stopped Hamilton County election commissioners from having a chance to certify the petitions. The Hamilton County Election Commission then had the authority to certify the petitions and move forward with a mayoral election.
Littlefield is term-limited and would not be able to run again in the March 2013 regularly scheduled mayoral election.
Three different groups became involved in organizing the collection of signatures on recall petitions. The groups were:
- The Chattanooga Tea Party
- Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield
- Chattanooga Organized for Action
Jim Folkner was an early leader. Folkner cited three main reasons for wanting to recall Littlefield: Storm water fees and permit increases, annexing taxpayers without voter approval and a proposed consolidation of city police with county sheriff offices. Folkner said, "We intend to hold him accountable for all of it."
The specific counts in the recall petition were:
- Count 1: "The Mayor has requested large and unnecessary stormwater fees and permit increases to cover four years of negligence in handling these permits."
- Count 2: "The Mayor ignored civic groups, the police, and judges and declared a gang problem which threatens our city to be non-existent. At the same time, the Mayor has tried to dump the city police department onto the county."
- Count 3: "The Mayor has annexed thousands of people, without their vote, billing the city taxpayers to provide them services they do not want or need. Further, the Mayor is attempted to raise our taxes 33 percent to pay for these services and his other plans."
Charles Wysong, another recall supporter, gave as his reasons for supporting the recall, "The main reason they've increased property taxes by 19 percent, sewer tax by five percent, stormwater 300 percent on individuals, 600 percent on businesses and churches, it's time for them to stop."
Path to the ballot
The Hamilton County Election Commission authorized the collection of signatures on June 16, 2010. Recall organizers had 75 days from June 16 to collect about 9,000 valid signatures of Chattanooga residents.
Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action, organizations that supported the recall, set up signature collection booths at various venues including the Hamilton County Election Commission office on Amnicola Highway, the Brainerd Recreation Center and the Northgate Mall.
- Recall organizers submitted 6,000 recall signatures on August 7, 2010. At that time, the recall committee believed it needed 9,000 signatures and had more time in which to collect the remaining signatures.
- On August 18, additional signatures were filed, bringing the total of submitted recall petition signatures to 9,700.
- Additional signatures filed resulted in a total of 9,903 valid signatures out of 14,078 that were submitted.
Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruled in September 2010 that the recall petition signature requirement in state law trumped the recall petition signature requirement in Chattanooga's city charter. The recall organizations had relied on the recall provisions in the Chattanooga City Charter in determining how many signatures they needed to collect. This number of required signatures was less than the number of signatures that were required under state law. As a result of the conflict and of Judge Hollingsworth's determination that the state law was the one that counted, it was determined that the recall organizations had not submitted sufficient signatures.
Hollingsworth's ruling was thrown out in November 2011 when the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that Hollingsworth lacked jurisdiction to prevent Hamilton County election commissioners from having a chance to certify the petitions. The Hamilton County Election Commission then had the authority to decide how to proceed with the recall campaign. The commission had to decide whether to follow state law or the city charter. They decided to follow the city's charter, and on November 17, 2011, the commission voted 3-2 to allow a recall election against Littlefield to move forward.
In January 2012, the Chattanooga City Council voted 6-3 to become involved in Littlefield's lawsuit seeking to cancel the August recall election. A hearing with Judge Hollingsworth took place on February 10, 2012.
On February 8, 2012, the Hamilton County Election Commission voted to bill the city of Chattanooga for the commission's expenses in the recall case. Chairman Mike Walden said, "They've known about the problem (with the city charter's recall provision) for six years and they've done nothing about it. They've known all about this lawsuit and they've done nothing about it."
Recall supporters Charles Wysong and Mark West say Judge Hollinsworth should recuse himself from the recall case since 42% of his campaign funds came from the law firm of the mayor's attorney.
On February 10, 2012, Judge Hollinsworth ruled that the city had not properly enacted the recall provision in its charter. He ordered the previously scheduled August recall election to be canceled.
In September 2012, the Tennessee State Court of Appeals ruled against recall supporters. The appeals court said that the petitions did not contain enough valid signatures to force a recall election, and that signatures without a date would be considered invalid.
- Laws governing recall in Tennessee
- Recall campaigns in Tennessee
- Hamilton County, Tennessee ballot measures
- Mayoral recalls
- City of Chattanooga website
- Recall Ron, website advocating in favor of the recall
- Petition To Recall Mayor Ron Littlefield
- City Hall responds to recall petition
- Chattanoogan, "Recall Effort Launched Against Mayor Littlefield," May 28, 2010
- WDEF, "How Many Recall Signatures are Needed? City & State Laws Conflict," August 25, 2010
- Nooga.com, "Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield recalled, mayoral election set for August 2012," November 17, 2011
- Times Free Press, "Mayor Ron Littlefield suing Hamilton County Election Commission to stop recall election," December 16, 2011
- The Chattanoogan, "Judge Hollingsworth Rules Littlefield Recall Effort Invalid, Cancels August Mayoral Election," February 10, 2012
- Nooga.com, "Now recalled, Littlefield's removal rests on legal interpretation of city charter," November 17, 2011
- Times Free Press, "Mayor Ron Littlefield might sit out recall election," November 19, 2011
- Times Free Press, "Recall effort rallying point for 3 groups," September 5, 2010
- WRCB-TV, "Petition to recall mayor awaiting approval," June 4, 2010
- News Channel 9, "Signatures To Recall Mayor Delivered," August 9, 2010
- WRCBTV, "Election Commission OKs recall attempt," June 16, 2010
- Times Free Press, "Effort to recall mayor may be gaining steam," July 17, 2010
- Chattanoogan, "Littlefield Recall Group Says They Will Present First 6,000 Names To Election Office Monday," August 7, 2010
- Times Free Press, "Remaining signatures to recall Littlefield scheduled to be filed today," August 18, 2010
- WDEF, "Chattanooga Tea Party President Reacts to Mayor Littlefield's Recall Response," September 1, 2010
- Chattanoogan, "Littlefield Spokesman Says Recalls "Create Community Turmoil"," December 6, 2010
- Nooga.com, "City Council votes to join Littlefield recall lawsuit," January 25, 2012
- The Chattanoogan, "Election Commission To Bill City For Its Attorney Fees In Recall Case," February 8, 2012
- Sky 5, "Court: No Recall Vote For Chattanooga Mayor," September 12, 2012
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