When you're scanning the sky for incoming artillery, you don't always notice the termites chewing away at the beams in your basement.
That's another way of saying, when you're obsessed with the latest episodes of King Don Un's reality show up in D.C., you sometimes forget to pay attention to what's happening in your old home town. Specifically, what's going on with the Memphis City Council and with certain members who are running for other offices to be decided in the upcoming August 2nd election.
I'm generally in favor of term limits, as are most local voters, judging from the fact that they've voted in two-term limits for most county offices and for the Shelby County Commission and, in 2008, voted by a three-to-one margin to limit the Memphis City Council to two terms. In that same election, Memphians voted by a similar margin to institute Instant Runoff Voting, which allows voters to rank their choices and by so doing, eliminate expensive runoff elections.
One perhaps unforseen result of term limits has been the ongoing recycling of various office-holders from one county job to another. Term-limited out of the county clerk's office? Just run for county assessor or Juvenile Court clerk or trustee or register of deeds. Anyone can register a deed, right? The roles change, but the cast of characters remains the same. It's a hassle to have to find a new public office to run for every eight years. Such a drag.
This year, three city council members — Edmund Ford, Bill Morrison, and Janis Fullilove — are candidates for the county commission, Probate Court clerk, and Juvenile Court clerk, respectively. If any or all of the three wins their prospective new offices, a pivotal question arises: How long will they will hold on to their council seats before resigning them? By law, they can wait 90 days. If they do, it complicates an already complicated matter.
Memphis City Ordinance #1852 reads, "on any vacancy occurring in the Council ... a successor shall be elected to fill out the remainder of the term. ... That special municipal election shall be held on the date of the next August or November election." If any these council members are elected to another office on August 2nd and hold onto their council seat for 90 days, a November election for those seats becomes nearly impossible.
Further muddying the water is the fact that city council Chairman Berlin Boyd and council Attorney Allan Wade have cited an as-yet-unseen (and perhaps nonexistent?) legal memo that states that the next council election can't be held until next August. If that decision prevails, then any vacant council seats would be filled via appointment by the current council, thereby depriving those represented by said councilmembers the right to decide who represents them.
The sad fact is, this city council seems quite willing to ignore the will of Memphis voters. In January, council members voted to put a referendum on the November ballot to allow voters to give them three terms instead of two. They have also managed to avoid implementing the Instant Runoff System approved by city voters in 2008 and have put a couple of confusing IRV referendums on the November ballot to thwart or reverse that decision.
Bottom line, if the council gets its way: Citizens in the three possibly affected districts won't get to vote on who represents them for more than a year. But, as a consolation prize, this November, we will all get a chance to give them three terms instead of two. Tough call.
Frankly, I think it's time we go to the basement and check the beams. Something's chewing away down there.
Editor's note: The house pictured on last week's cover was not the house being objected to by the Cooper-Young couple quoted in the cover story. Thanks to gracious home-owner Monica Braun, who pointed out the possibly misleading image.