A group of citizens is planning to file a request with the Election Commission for a referendum seeking to overturn the controversial domestic partners ordinance approved 5-4 on first reading by the City Council on Tuesday.
Mark West, president of Citizens for Government Accountability & Transparency, said attorneys have advised him that some 4,500 names would need to be secured on a petition and the group would have two weeks in which to do it. He said, "We feel that is very achievable."
If adequate names are secured, he said that would trigger a special election in which citizens would vote the ordinance up or down.
Mr. West said the group's attorney has begun preparing the petition so that it will comply with the requirements of the law.
He stated, "This is what we've been asking for all along. An issue this divisive and contentious should be decided by all the people, not by five people who never mentioned it in their campaigns."
He said, "This issue popped up because one councilman was pushing his own agenda."
Attorney Chris Clem said in an email to Election Commission members that there is "a 99 percent chance" that such a petition will be filed.
He said the Election Commission needs to schedule a special meeting on the issue.
Attorney Clem said, "There is probably a need for the Election Commission to have a brief meeting Wednesday morning, November 20th in order to approve a petition.
"As you know, the City of Chattanooga passed on first reading tonight a controversial ordinance extending benefits to same sex partners. As always, the Election Commission does not have a role in supporting or opposing such ordinances. The Chattanooga City Charter has a “referendum” or “initiative” provision in its Charter that allow citizens to file a petition to repeal such an ordinance. A group of citizens want to file such a petition.
"The Chattanooga Charter provides that the petitioners must file their petition within 14 days. The City of Chattanooga (Attorney Phil Noblet) contends that the 14 days starts running immediately upon passing the ordinance. The City Charter does imply the 14 days starts running immediately upon passing the ordinance. The ordinance is expected to pass final reading next Tuesday night, November 19h.
"The State Election Office (Mark Goins and Beth Henry-Roberson) believe the 14 days probably starts running on the date the Election Commission approves the petition, not when the city passes the ordinance. So, if we waited until our normal meeting on December 4th then it is most likely that the 14 days for the petitioner to gather signatures would start running at that time. The state election office relies on state law, not the Chattanooga charter, to indicate the 14 days starts running when the election commission approves the petition.
"However, there is a 99% that a lawsuit will result over whether the City Charter correctly started the 14 days upon the passing of the ordinance or the 14 days starts when the election commission approves the petition.
"The Election Commission can avoid this entire issue of when the 14 days starts if the Election Commission would simply meet 12 hours after the vote on Tuesday night. If we meet and approve the petition on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. then everyone can agree that the 14 days starts running that Wednesday morning.
"So, I would like to pass on to you the request by the State Election Office for the Hamilton County Election Commission to briefly meet Wednesday morning, November 20th in order to approve this petition so that certain people can start their 14 days of gathering petitions to repeal this ordinance."