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VOL. 7 | NO. 28 | Saturday, July 05, 2014

Editorial: Time for City, County Residency Standard

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We have a residency problem.

In the world of local politics not everyone we elected from a district lives in that district.

But they should. There are laws that say they should.

Some of the folks we elect who don’t live in the district they represent make those laws that have residency loopholes big enough for them to build a house in.

You would think there would be a single standard definition of residency across our local and state governments, but there isn’t and that is no accident.

Neither are the laws and charter provisions that set no specific procedure for investigating questions of residency. In some cases, they outright bar a body like the Shelby County Election Commission from investigating such claims when someone runs for office.

This live-and-let-live position by our elected officials also comes with a failsafe.

They know reversing the results of an election with an ouster is and should be a very serious matter done within rigorous legal standards.

So, in the case of Shelby County government, they put a charter amendment on the ballot for approval that says nothing about ouster proceedings and moves directly to the county commission declaring a vacancy. The charter also sets out no method for investigating residency claims so that when someone does investigate there are immediate questions about where in the charter or in any kind of law it says who investigates the claim that an elected official does not live in the district he or she represents.

It’s a rigged game.

And it is little consolation that the public act of questioning a candidate’s residency often has the effect of dooming that citizen’s candidacy especially if they aren’t an incumbent.

It is another perk of being a member of the incumbents club.

There should be a single standard at least across our two local governments – city of Memphis and Shelby County – that all have to abide by, whether they are running or whether they are nearing the end of their time as an elected official.

And because our elected officials have an obvious conflict of interest, they should have only a limited role in drafting a common provision to become part of the city and county charters with the approval of voters.

That standard should also settle the question of someone who has to move quickly and temporarily outside their district because of the events and emergencies that come up in the lives of everyone whether they are elected or never hold office.

We suggest a citizens committee, including plenty of legal expertise in the art of loopholes draft the appropriate language and submit it to the county commission and city council for inclusion on the next appropriate city and/or county election as a referendum item.

We deserve better from those we elect. Asking them to live in the district isn’t about parsing what residency means.

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