Chattanooga politics can often be compared to the Coolidge Park carousel: amusing to watch, the end result of a lot of time, effort and money, and if you wait long enough, the same issues come back around. Again and again.
So here we are, the week we are supposed to gather with friends and family to celebrate the things for which we are thankful. For the supporters and organizers of the Recall Ron movement that dominated headlines last summer, Christmas came early in an appeals court decision that rapped Mayor Ron Littlefield’s knuckles for appealing too soon, followed by the Hamilton County Election Commission deciding after all to schedule a recall election for next August.
However, before all the wannabe mayoral candidates start printing yard signs and bumper stickers, let’s pour a heaping helping of holiday eggnog on those plans. The whole point of the appeals court decision was that mayor had challenged the election commission too soon. The court said nothing about the validity of Chancellor Hollingsworth’s initial ruling that the recall petitions did not meet a number of standards. So, the very same arguments the mayor used last time will almost certainly be trotted out again now that the election commission has made their actual decision.
But, as with all things Chattanooga, you know it’s not simple as that. City Councilmember Peter Murphy, an attorney who chairs the council’s legal committee, noticed that the city charter has some ambiguous—and troubling—language regarding recall elections. The rather opaque passages could be read to show that the city council should strip Mayor Littlefield (temporarily, of course) of his authority and place current Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd is charge of the city as acting mayor until the election is decided.
Murphy believes that the charter issue is far from clear, and wants an independent attorney to weigh in. Several other members of the council agree with him—though it should be noted several of the more vocal are also widely expected to run for the mayor’s office—former Council Chairman Manny Rico described the entire debate as a “knee-jerk reaction” and urged everyone to calm down, relax and wait for all the various legal shenanigans to work their way through the system.
And even if everything works out exactly the way the Recall Ron folks wish for: a certification of their petitions, a court system that sides with them, and a scheduled and confirmed recall election date, there is still one last fly in the shoe-fly pie that is city politics. The simple fact is that Ron Littlefield has as much right as any other Chattanooga citizen to run in the recall election. He is limited from serving a third term as mayor, but this election would be to fill out the remainder of his second term.
And how amusing would it be if after all the time and effort and costs expended by Littlefield’s opponents for them to see the carousel complete a full circle with the same mayor as before—if he chooses to run, that is.