Herenton and Spence at press conference
Although the office of Memphis City Attorney Bruce McMullen disclaims any responsibility for the wording of Referendum #5676 on the November 6th ballot, former Mayor W.W. Herenton is charging that the referendum is illegal and fraudulent and designed expressly to prevent his intended 2019 race for Mayor.
Herenton and his attorney, Robert Spence, announced at a press conference in Spence’s office, Wednesday morning, that they would be filing a lawsuit against the city and those officials (unspecified except for council Chairman Berlin Boyd) who, they say, doctored the originally intended referendum.
Spence displayed three different versions of the term-limits referendum on a screen. Version One, approved on January 23rd by the city council, says the following:
Shall the Charter of the City of Memphis, Tennessee, be amended to extend the number of terms [that one] may be eligible to hold or to be elected to the office of Mayor or Memphis City Council from two (2) consecutive four-year terms to three (3) consecutive four-year terms and to repeal all provisions of the city’s Charter inconsistent with this amendment?
Version Two, approved by the council on the same date, and later certified by the Comptroller’s office, to be on the ballot:
No person shall be eligible to hold or to be elected to the office of Mayor of Memphis City Council if such person has served at any time after December 31, 2011, more than three (3) consecutive terms, except that service by persons elected or appointed to fill an unexpired four-year term shall not be counted as a full four-year term.
On April 5th, in between those versions and a final one sent to the Election Commission, Herenton announced his intention to run again for mayor.
Then, on August 23rd, the following version was signed by council chair Boyd and sent to the Election Commission:
Shall the Charter of the City of Memphis, Tennessee be amended to provide no person shall be eligible to hold or to be elected to the office of Mayor or Memphis City Council if any such person has served at any time more than three (3) consecutive four-year terms, except that service by persons elected or appointed to fill an unexpired four-year term shall not be counted as full four-year term?
As Herenton and Spence noted, the date of December 31, 2011, specified in the version approved by the council, is deleted in the version forwarded to the Election Commission and included on the ballot.
Speaking for the city attorney’s office, Deputy City Attorney Jennifer Sink said that the wording of the resolution was a matter decided upon by the council and that the administration’s responsibility was only to certify such fiscal impact as was carried by the referendum.
Herenton and Spence, however, were insistent when asked that no other interpretation was feasible except that the referendum was changed to preclude his race for mayor and that a lawsuit would be forthcoming against all those responsible for the deception.
Said Herenton: “This is not fake news. The Russians are not involved. This has taken place ... It involves officials in high places. ... Someone threw a rock at Willie Herenton. This is deception, it’s conspiracy, it’s fraud.”
Herenton said that “common sense” told him that the referendum wording was revised “with one clear intent” and that was to prevent his candidacy. Herenton said the “illegal” word change affected only “a class of one,” himself.
“Why didn’t they just say, ‘This is the Willie Herenton ordinance designed to prevent him from being a candidate for Mayor in 2019.” He blamed the administration of current Mayor Jim Strickland and said someone in the Election Commission office might also be involved.
Pending a legal resolution of the issue, Herenton said he would be recommending a “No” vote on the term-limits referendum. He noted that Chancellor Jim Kyle had withheld issuing a pre-election ruling against the term-limits referendum and two others that had been challenged by plaintiffs on the grounds that the referenda were confusing.
Kyle ruled that a post-election challenge would be more appropriate and that he would reconsider the matter then. The new challenge from Herenton could alter that timetable.