Where is city’s authority to enforce Title 55, other state laws? Let’s check charter

A pistol sits on the hip of a police officer attending a city council meeting in Chattanooga. City officers appear to be acting outside of legal authority in enforcing two titles of state law, the shipping law and the criminal statutes. (Photo David Tulis)
City council members Russell Gilbert, left, and Ken Smith speak with city attorney Phil Noblett. (Photo David Tulis)

Question before me is whether cCity of Chattanooga has authority to enforce the motor vehicle statute Tennessee Code Ann.§ Title 55, and whether agents in its department of police have authority to touch anything in Title 39, the state criminal code.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7 FM

The city has been under transportation administrative notice since Feb. 20, 2018, and has pretended that the law, constitutional provisions and court opinions cited therein (without rebuttal) have no bearing on its mission or operation — even though the notice delineates transportation (for hire) out of the general category of highway travel, an important point the city is ignoring for 681 days, with no bite-back yet from angry members of the public.

Notice strongly suggests that the city halt any practices that injure the rights of the people in what are euphemistically called “traffic stops.” A traffic stop without legal authority is no different than firefighters dunning homeowners for fees if they lack property insurance, or cops dunning travelers who’ve gotten behind on credit card payments.

If the city can ignore the clear limits and scope of that law, how else might it be galavanting across the public stage, making a spectacle of itself in other ways?

Where, pray tell, is the city’s authority to prosecute crimes under statute, or any offenses in equity under the state’s revenue and transportation regulation rules?

Regulating ‘for-hire vehicles’

Before we close in on legally questionable law enforcement activities, let’s see what clear authorities the city corporation has. In what areas to police officers work in which there can be no doubt of their legal authority?

They are in Title 2, grants of authority. Its authority starts with the city’s power to tax property and privileges. http://www.chattanooga.gov/city-council-files/CityCharter/Title%2002.pdf

Privileges taxes on for-profit use of roads. “(16) Same-Vehicles for hire. To license, tax and regulate taxicabs, automobiles for hire, trucks and buses; to fix a rate to be charged for the carriage of persons and property by any vehicle held out to the public use for hire within the city; to require indemnity bonds, issued by surety companies, *** and to make all needful rules or regulations for the government of such conveyances and their operation within the city and for a distance of seven miles beyond the city limits *** .” (Priv. Acts 1949, Ch. 536, § 2) 

➤ Further down in the charter, a privilege tax on “upon the running of automobiles for pleasure” and motorcycles, for $5 for cars and $2 for motorcycles is imposed. “Sec. 2.11. Privilege tax on pleasure automobiles and motorcycles, taxicabs, buses, etc. The city council *** shall have power by ordinance to levy a privilege tax on automobiles for hire, taxicabs, automobile passenger buses, and require indemnity bonds in surety companies or indemnity insurance policies. *** The said city council shall also have authority to levy a privilege tax upon the running of automobiles for pleasure and motorcycles.” 

The concept of “pleasure automobiles” arises from the early days of automobility, when the novelty of the car drew thousands of people to pay for pleasure rides in city and country to enjoy fresh air and rapid movement across the landscape. Pleasure rides are, in the charter, subject to the city privilege tax, but appear outside the state’s “motor vehicle” construct, which by definition is, likewise, commercial and for hire.

Myriad authority for public safety

➤ Weapons control. In its interest in suppressing riots, affrays and public offenses, the city has power “[t]o regulate and prohibit and suppress the sale of firearms and the carrying of concealed weapons; to regulate, prohibit and suppress the sale and use of firecrackers, fireworks and toy pistols and any other business of any character which may be declared to be dangerous to the security and well-being of the inhabitants or to property.”

Disorderly persons and nuisances. “(23) Disorderly persons; breaches of the peace. To provide for the arrest, imprisonment and punishment of riotous and disorderly persons within the city, and for the punishment of all breaches of the peace.” The city, at (37), can “license and regulate” solicitors and distributors of handbills. (Priv. Acts 1949, Ch. 536, § 2; Ord. No. 12677, § 2, 12-18-12)

Sue cop as oppressor, defend self in traffic court: Transportation Administrative Notice

Breaches of the peace. (36) Breaches of the peace. To prevent and punish by pecuniary penalties all breaches of the peace, noise, disturbances or disorderly assemblies in any street, house or place in the city by day or by night. (Priv. Acts 1949, Ch. 536, § 2; Ord. No. 12677, § 2, 12-18-12). Sheriff Jim Hammond does not have “law enforcement” authority, but peacekeeping authority, according to statute. Police operate a similar authority limited to a certain type of crime. Namely, “public offenses.” Police and sheriff here and across Tennessee have overrun the riverbank and flooded private areas along the shore converting their duties into law enforcement and also ignoring TCA 40-7-103, grounds for arrest by officer without a warrant. This noteworthy abuse makes people subject to arrest without warrant for any alleged crime, starting with harmless traffic infractions and administrative missteps.

Variety of power. The city also has power of eminent domain, authority to regulate tourist guides, camps, dangerous houses, control weeds and rubbish, and regulate acts and business is detrimental to public health and safety etc. Its powers range from venereal diseases to steam boilers, from regulating watchmen to disorderly houses.

Police department created

The city is chartered to create a police department at Title 1, section 41. “Police and fire departments. To provide for a police force and fire department and the organization and maintenance of the same, and to provide all proper equipment, houses and stations for said police force and the said fire department.” (Priv. Acts 1869-70, Ch. 4, § 9; Priv. Acts 1949, Ch. 536, § 2)


(52) Acts, businesses, etc., detrimental to public health, safety, etc. To define, prohibit, suppress, prevent and regulate all acts, practices, conduct, business, occupation, callings, trades, uses of property, and all other things whatsoever detrimental to the health, morals, comfort, safety, convenience or welfare of the inhabitants of the city, and to exercise general police powers under the provisions of this Act and the general law. (Priv. Acts 1949, Ch. 536, § 2)

In Title 13 are six pages dealing with the internal operation of the departments. Gratuities are banned; no one can be pressured for political donations; the city compensates with clothing and equipment allowances; soliciting and politicking are banned. One section deals with pensions, another with tenure and due process rights when an officer is accused of misdoing.

But nothing about enforcing the state criminal statute. Nothing about transportation statute enforcement. Points all made in transportation administrative notice Tennessee. https://nooganomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Transportation-Administrative-Notice-Tennessee-3.pdf

General powers provision

Are we closer to finding out where city of Chattanooga has power to run a police department that enforces state criminal and tax laws. Are we close? Are we there yet?

A general powers grant at Paragraph 66 seems to offer huge space in which to lodge the police power as practiced today.

But that cannot easily be done. It doesn’t satisfy, because a general rule following a specific one doesn’t control, but is controlled by the earlier narrower definitions and specific grants. One cannot, in the rules of construction, eliminate distinctions in a law by generalizing definitions and voiding any line or paragraph in ordinance or statute.

At first glance, however, the general powers paragraph in the city charter seems impressive. Powers implied can be established by ordinance later, we read, and “no enumeration of particular powers by this charter shall be held to be exclusive.” Meaning, just because a power isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean it cannot be claimed or exercised. Government needs liberty to address new situations to protect the public good.

(66) General powers. To have and exercise all powers which now or hereafter would be competent for this charter specifically to enumerate, as fully and completely as though said powers were specifically enumerated herein; and such powers as may be authorized pursuant to general state law for a municipal government to exercise including, but not limited to, the power to sue or be sued, implead or be impleaded in all courts of law and equity; and no enumeration of particular powers by this charter shall be held to be exclusive. (Ord. No. 12677, § 2, 12-18-12)

Nothing about transportation, criminal cases

The city charter has nothing within it about specific state laws the police department has a duty — or authority — to enforce.

There is nothing in the 18 titles of the city of Chattanooga charter indicating its agents have authority to tread the ground reserved for the Tennessee highway patrol, the police serving the department of safety and homeland security, an administrative agency serving the governor. 


That department every year declares the patrol as the “sole agency” for enforcing traffic regulations. Read for yourself on Page 4 at the most recently available contract / covenant with the federal government. 

To quote:

According to the Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) Title 65 Chapter 15, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is the sole and lead agency in the State of Tennessee responsible for enforcing laws related to size, weight, and safety regulations for commercial motor vehicles and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program and it does not fund any sub-grantees. [emphasis added]

The entirety of the state traffic regulation, whether in Title 65, utilities, or Title 55, motor and other vehicles, is commercial, and every registered car and truck whose user or owner injected that car into the stream of commerce (for hire, as licensee, as a privileged person) is a “commercial motor vehicle,” even motorcycles.

As we explain in “Turn cars into vehicles, travelers into drivers — gotcha!”, by Danny Murphy, the traffic enforcement is upon the taxable privilege of operating a motor vehicle, which being taxable is in the purview of the Tennessee department of revenue. 

Next question: Does city of Chattanooga have any orders of delegation, tax revenue sharing agreements or any other sort of lawful alliance or affinity with either the DOS or the department of revenue? Not likely, since generally a legally delegated authority cannot be re-delegated or sub-delegated.

But I’ll ask.



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