Giannini had announced at Wednesday’s meeting of the Election Commission that, on the basis of a letter received that day from state Election Coordinator Mark Goins, no election date could be set for a citywide referendum on the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter until the Council had met to authorize such a referendum. The MCS Board itself voted 5-4 on December 20 to call the referendum, which, if passed, would automatically create the merge of MCS and SCS.
Goins’ letter was in answer to several inquiries from Giannini concerning SCEC’s freedom of action in setting a date for the referendum. Before receiving it, Giannini had indicated the Election Commission would likely set a referendum date of February 15.
Supporters of an MCS-SCS merger are pressing for the quickest date possible, expressing concerns about a likely move in the Tennessee General Assembly, which convenes next week, to establish special-school-district status for Shelby County Schools.
“They can still have a prompt vote,” said Giannini, promising to expedite the setting of an election date upon receipt of an authorizing resolution from the City Council. The SCEC chairman said, “I don’t know what the Council’s advance-notification requirements are for a special meeting, but, if they met, say, on Friday, we could respond with an Election Commission meeting on Wednesday of next week and maybe still schedule an election for February.”
On Wednesday, Giannini had said he thought a referendum date in February was now “off the calendar,” but he said Thursday that quick action by the Council could restore the possibility.
Addressing various publicly expressed suggestions that he, Goins, and SCS board chairman David Pickler were coordinating efforts to delay a vote on the MCS charter-surrender, Giannini said, “If we’re all a bunch of Republicans trying to carry out a conspiracy like that, it sure would be stupid to decide to get the Memphis City Council involved. “
Giannini said he suspected that a clear majority of Council members would support the MCS board. “I don’t know why they don’t go ahead and pass a resolution. We’ll set a date as soon as they do.”
The SCEC chairman said he was hesitant to make a definitive comment about an argument, proposed by City Council member Shea Flinn and others and supported by an opinion from Council attorney Allan Wade, that a petition signed by 25 voting residents of Memphis could provide the legal basis for calling a referendum on the MCS board’s action.
“They’re researching that in the Coordinator’s office,” said Giannini, who said his informal opinion was that any such petition would require signatures amounting to 15 percent of the city’s eligible voters.
Giannini also said that it was his understanding that the City Council was the legal successor to the old Board of City Commissioners cited in Goins' opinion as the body charged with signing off on a referendum proposal like the one called for by the MCS Board..