VOL. 130 | NO. 7 | Monday, January 12, 2015
City Council Gets Ahead of Self With Vacancy Deadline
By Bill Dries
The deadline for submitting an application to fill a vacant seat on the Memphis City Council wasn’t necessarily last week, according to a legal opinion from the council’s attorney.
Allan Wade issued the opinion Monday, Jan. 12, after only two of the seven citizens who applied for the District 7 vacancy by the noon Wednesday, Jan. 7, deadline had 25 signatures of voters in the district on the petition the council requires in its rules of procedure for filling such a vacancy.
Former council member Barbara Swearengen Ware and Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Brian Carson had 25 or more signatures of voters who live in council District 7, according to the Shelby County Election Commission.
The five other contenders who did not have at least 25 signatures are former council member Berlin Boyd, attorney David Pool, Curtis Byrd Jr., Charles Leslie and Audrey P. Jones.
Wade noted that the council rules of procedure for such vacancies, adopted in September 2007, set the deadline as “noon on the Thursday preceding the Tuesday meeting when the Council shall fill the vacancy.”
The council is to vote to fill the vacancy at its Jan. 20 meeting, which would put the deadline at noon Jan. 15, by the wording of the council rules of procedure.
Legal opinion on District 7 vacancy
Wade advised the council rules can only be modified, including the deadline, with seven votes on the council.
“Any person who has sought to qualify before the rule is changed is entitled to rely on the rule,” he added in the legal opinion. “We recommend that each candidate who has submitted an application be notified of the status of their application and be advised to submit any supplemental information to the council that they desire to submit to satisfy the requirements on or before noon Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015.”
The election commission verified the signatures for all seven applicants by the original deadline. But the submission of such a petition is not something that is certified or regulated by it.
Ultimately, council members nominate the contenders for the appointment and there is no requirement that everyone who submits the petition and other material must be nominated.
“Additionally, the public may nominate candidates and interested candidates may personally submit a letter indicating their interest in the vacant seat,” the council rules read.
“Interested candidates will also be asked to provide proof of residency as described by the City of Memphis Human Resources Division,” the rules continue as they set the terms for proof of residency and the petition.
“Signatures of 25 registered voters residing in the council district in which the vacancy exists shall be obtained,” according to the council rules.
Council chairman Myron Lowery’s letter announcing the vacancy from the resignation of Lee Harris, who left to serve as a state senator, says the council “will fill the interim appointment according to our Rules of Procedure,” citing the rules adopted in 2007.
Those rules also begin by saying council members nominate in writing “a qualified individual they would like considered for the position.”
The petition for the appointment is the qualifying petition required of all candidates running in elections for local office in Shelby County, including Memphis. Failure to get at least 25 signatures of voters in the district involved in that instance means those candidates do not go on the election ballot as certified by the election commission.
And the requirement has casualties in virtually every election with experienced candidates gathering many more than the 25 required, knowing some of those who sign will live outside the district or won’t be registered to vote or both.