Chattanooga City Council members approved Mayor Ron Littlefield's $96 million capital budget Tuesday night, but elected to wait another week before voting on the first reading to amend language of the City Charter as it pertains to efforts to recall officials.
Before their evening meeting, the group met to finalize appropriations for the capital budget, which includes approximately $1 million in city funding for a new police shooting range, $1.5 million for a new recreation center in Hixson, and $8 million for repairing the hardedge along the 21st-century waterfront. Councilwoman Deborah Scott, who eventually would cast the lone no vote against passing the budget, objected to all three items during the afternoon Budget and Finance Committee session.
Continually reiterating her opinion that city funds would be put to better use for paving and road repairs, Scott attempted to find additional support from her fellow council members. She found none.
"What I've been saying for the past three years is we're not spending adequate money on pavement management for those other roads that exist in Chattanooga, many of which have not had repair in a long, long time," Scott said. "It's incredulous to me that we could spend millions of dollars to study the roads, have a presentation saying what we needed to do for the roads, and now we're dismissing the fact that anything needs to be done because we're doing special projects that aren't related to the roads."
At one point, Littlefield and Scott found themselves arguing over each other on how much the city had put into pavement management.
"We are funding it, councilwoman," Littlefield said. "Maybe you need to give me a list of the roads you're talking about because we've paved, repaired and sealed—I could drive you all over your district, and there are roads that haven't been paved in a long time, including my neighborhood, which was last paved in 1987."
"You're making my point," Scott said.
"We don't have to go and repave roads that don't need repaving," Littlefield countered.
The council would vote 7-1 to approve the budget. Councilman Peter Murphy was absent.
The council also voted to defer for one week the first reading of a resolution that would seek to clarify the process for recalling elected officials by amending the City Charter to mirror guidelines put forth in the Tennessee Constitution. The motion comes as members of a group seeking to recall Littlefield wait for a hearing of an appeal to a February ruling that the state statute applied to their efforts to recall the mayor, effectively putting an end to a potential election.
During their agenda session, council members debated the validity of changing the statute, with several offering their views as to why they should go ahead with the measure or wait. Councilwoman Carol Berz said she didn't think elected officials should have to be "held hostage by fear" of a possible recall threat looming over their heads at any given moment.
"I think there needs to be a lot more discussion about that," Berz said. "I'm not even sure why it's on the agenda; I haven't heard the discussion among my colleagues about it even being on the agenda, and I think we need to have an open, honest discussion about it and not live in fear of the recall gnomes."
Councilwoman Sally Robinson said she was troubled by the fact that under the current statute, an official could be recalled without having committed an act of "malfeasance, dishonesty, theft or criminal behavior."
"To me, recall occurs if we have an elected official who doesn't pass muster," she said. "It's called the next election. I think that's how we recycle leadership in a democracy."
Councilman Jack Benson followed by offering his opinion that the current effort to recall Littlefield over a recent stormwater fee and property tax increase proposals was "not a justifiable cause." Responding to a comment by Scott that citizens were "smart enough" to decide on a potential item to amend the statue on a future electoral ballot, Benson said he didn't think citizens were "ready to vote on something they don't understand."
"Smarts are not the necessary thing," Benson said. "There's a lot of intelligent people out there. Enlightenment's what's necessary. We've been through this before … the public is naive if they think this is simple. There's a reason for the way this is set up."
The council voted 7-0 to defer the ordinance and will discuss the matter next Tuesday at 1 p.m.
In other news, the council voted to transfer duties for downtown parking enforcement to CARTA. Scott cast the only no vote against the measure.