A Chattanooga businessman has filed a petition with the Hamilton County Election Commission to recall Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. His complaints are all arguably valid reasons to oppose the mayor and to wish for a different person in that office.
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.
Likewise, the threshold for a municipal recall seems reasonable enough. If just 15 percent of registered voters in the city sign the petition, the Election Commission will be required to schedule an election to replace Littlefield. In theory, he could get ousted while enjoying an 85 percent approval rating among registered voters. Wow, right?
There’s just one small—tiny, in fact—problem. Only 17,913 of our city’s registered voters could be bothered to show up during the mayoral election last year, when Mayor Littlefield was seeking this second term. Since nearly a three-fifths majority of those voted for the incumbent, that means the combined opposition received far less than the total needed to effect a recall, even if every one of those voters were to sign the petition.
Furthermore, the opposition failed to recruit a viable candidate. Rob Healy moved into town from the county in barely enough time to qualify; and he was widely viewed as having a personal motive for running, after having been fired by Littlefield. Thomas Smith is a perennial candidate whose main focus is providing a voice for the urban poor. While admirable, his platform was by no means positioned for widespread adoption. And then we had this blogger dude. He put his name in when it seemed clear that Healy was going to be blocked from running on a technicality (and Smith hadn’t yet filed). Blogger dude wasn’t so much “opposition” as he was concerned that an unopposed incumbent would preclude having a public conversation about the incumbent’s merits for reelection and whether a different direction for the city was warranted. (If you’re just tuning in, blogger dude was me; and for the record, I withdrew my candidacy and returned to writing about elections rather than running in them.)
One of the complaints in the recall effort deals with the recent annexation. Some portion of those new city residents is vexed about the additional property tax burden. But even if, hypothetically speaking, all of the registered voters newly annexed by the city were ideologically aligned against the mayor, it is doubtful that the recall effort would succeed, because few of them are likely to actually put pen to paper.
But on the other hand, if it does succeed: What then? Does Jim Folkner have a plan to recruit a future leader who will rein in what he and others see as government excess? Does this group have an alternative agenda for moving our city forward on the issues that matter most to our residents? Or are they simply ticked off at the current administration?
These rhetorical questions would be worth exploring further were there any reason to believe that somewhere close to 15,000 people will seek out this recall petition when only just over 7,000 deigned to register their discontent last year. Chattanooga: like it or not, you have the government you asked for, albeit through abdication of your responsibility.