Members of the Metro Charter Commission are getting into some of the thorniest political issues involved in writing the blueprint for a consolidated city and county government.
At least for now, term limits, runoff elections, being current on metro taxes to qualify to run for office and a referendum for any metro council pay raise are in.
Out, at this tentative stage, is the idea of a vice mayor, staggered terms for council members, a city pension for council members and partisan primaries.
All of the proposals approved last week go to a drafting committee. The committee will write charter language and then come back to the full commission with the wording. The charter group will then take a final vote on the general proposal and the charter wording.
Still to be discussed is how big the metro council would be and what the districts would look like.
The charter commission also delayed votes on proposals to:
- Fill vacancies on the metro council with a majority vote of the council unless it is a vacancy of more than two years. In that case, the vacant council seat would go on the next available election ballot.
- Making the council chairman the “mayor pro tempore” if the mayor resigns or otherwise leaves office. The mayor pro tempore would serve for up to 180 days if there is a general or municipal election scheduled during that period. If no election is scheduled, a special election for mayor would be held within 90 days of the vacancy.
The delay came after lots of debate, with more debate certain.
“Is there any other way?” Charter Commission Chairwoman Julie Ellis asked at one point. “It just hasn’t looked like a very good system. … The public has had a lot to say about this, and it’s not been kind.”
Commissioner J.W. Gibson termed it a system of “hard knocks,” pointing out that part of the Shelby County Commission’s dilemma in picking an interim mayor last year was that it required seven votes – a majority of the 13 members – which proved difficult to collect with three commissioners not voting, because they had been nominated for interim mayor.
Gibson, who is a county commissioner, was one of the contenders. He lost to fellow commissioner Joe Ford.
Charter commissioner Randolph Meade Walker proposed not allowing the mayor pro tempore to run in a special election.
“An interim who is an insider is appointed by fellow insiders,” Walker said. “I think a major drawback to this whole area has been an exclusivity in government that we have people who are the same folks that keep playing musical chairs. We need some new ideas – some new people.”
Gibson, however, said it might mean a council member who wants to be chairman as a later stepping stone to serving as mayor might have to give up being chairman.
Meanwhile, commissioner Chris Patterson expanded on Walker’s idea by adding that those appointed to fill vacant council seats could not seek the seat in the next election for that seat.
Charter commissioner and Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland headed the task force that presented the recommendations. He wasn’t surprised by the debate on the 25 items.
“There are legitimate differences of opinion,” he told The Daily News at the end of the three-hour session. “The county’s been through three mayors in the last year. The city’s been through three mayors also. … The average person has been very aware of the process.”
Ellis questioned whether the metro council should have staggered terms with half of the members elected every two years.
Eight new county commissioners were elected to that 13-member body in the 2006 elections.
Before those political precedents, most council and commission seats changed hands because an incumbent decided not to seek re-election. That was also the case in the 2006 and 2007 election cycles.
The proposed charter is due by mid-August.
Voters decide whether to accept or reject the charter in a pair of referenda on the November ballot. It must win in the referendum within the city of Memphis as well as the referendum in Shelby County outside the Memphis city limits....