VOL. 132 | NO. 240 | Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Elections, Term Limits, Assemblies Face Council
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members vote Tuesday, Dec. 5, on a move to repeal ranked-choice voting before it ever gets used. The body also talks about a proposed charter change that would raise council term limits from two consecutive terms to three and takes the first of three readings on changes to the ordinance that sets ground rules for parades, marathons and protests on city streets.
“The city council and the mayor – we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” council member Kemp Conrad said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines” as he and council chairman Berlin Boyd and council member Martavius Jones reviewed those issues and others.
The council meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, for live coverage and for updates from committee sessions earlier in the day.
If the council approves the ordinance on ranked-choice voting Tuesday, the action would put a proposed charter amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot for city voters asking them to repeal the 2008 city ordinance allowing RCV.
RCV would replace separate runoff elections in the seven single-member district races for city council when no candidate gets a simple majority of the votes cast. It does that by having voters indicate a second and third preference among the candidates.
The term-limits referendum ordinance would also go on the Nov. 2 ballot but is not up for a first reading vote Tuesday.
Council member Reid Hedgepeth’s proposal on parades, marathons and protests drew fire from those involved in city protest the last two years, but Hedgepeth has said the ordinance is intended to give more notice to residents and businesses along the routes of marathons and 5K runs.
The council’s vote on first reading follows Saturday’s St. Jude Marathon.
“The calls that I get are that homeowners, and generally on Saturday mornings, can’t get in and out of their houses because the street is closed down for two or three hours,” Hedgepeth said in a Nov. 21 committee session where he introduced the measure. “What this does is it only applies to parades and races.”
Protest organizers and leaders, however, read the ordinance as a back-door attempt to make it more difficult to protest.
Boyd says the proposal initially didn’t deal with rules and permits for protests at all, but those provisions were included because Hedgepeth had to include the entire ordinance in order to outline the amendments.
“I think it was really taken out of context,” Boyd said. “As a council person, when you propose an ordinance or an amendment or making a change to an ordinance, it’s not clean on the first initial track when you take it before your colleagues. That’s why we take it through three readings.”
There were later amendments that Boyd and other council members say make it easier for protesters to organize a demonstration with a permit.
“It’s not like Reid’s in a black helicopter trying to figure out a way to quash free speech,” Conrad said. “If people would just kind of trust and let the process work without kind of going to their guns from the first get-go, I think it would be a healthier process.”
“No one, I know for myself personally, was trying to take away anyone’s first amendment rights,” he said. “I think everyone has a right to assemble. But I think what people have got to realize is people have a tendency of dispersing information and changing the dynamics into the direction they want them to go. We’re just trying to make government better. We’re trying to make Memphis better.”
Jones said he couldn’t vote for anything that would limit the right of people to assemble.
“Personally I haven’t heard much from my constituents about this being that much of an issue,” he said of marathons blocking people inside their neighborhoods with street closures.
“I’m thinking about the expense,” he said specifically of the Orange Mound 5K that had its inaugural event just a few weeks ago. “I’m thinking about the expense and the burden of having to inform everyone on that particular route. There’s still some modifications that have to take place.”
The council is expected to delay a final vote originally set for Tuesday on its ordinance outlining city actions if the state does not grant permission to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park.
The vote on third and final reading will likely be pushed to Dec. 19, the council’s last meeting of 2017, based on a letter last week from Allan Wade, the city administration’s attorney in the legal proceedings over Forrest’s statue.
Wade sent a letter to attorneys for the state Friday, Dec. 1, saying city government has received no word when mediation sessions on the controversy are scheduled.
“We have received conflicting information from the mediators and the other parties about the reasons for the delay,” Wade wrote in the letter to attorney Steven Stout and Emily Urban in Nashville. “The reasons for the delay are irrelevant. The city has been willing to cooperate with the state’s desire that the parties try to amicably resolve their differences and is still willing to do so.”
But Wade added that the city “cannot delay much longer.”
“As our final gesture to cooperate, the Memphis City Council will delay acting on its pending ordinance until Dec. 19, 2017,” Wade wrote. “The city will agree to participate in mediation before that date. Thereafter, the council will take whatever action it deems appropriate.”
The council vote comes before a Dec. 21 hearing on the issue before an administrative law judge, whose decision would bypass the Tennessee Historical Commission and allow immediate action by the city.
The mediation sessions would be among the city, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the descendants of Forrest. Forrest and his wife are interred at the base of the monument.
The council ordinance lists alternatives to the removal of the statue that the council may undertake. They include closing Health Science Park to anyone and the city erecting a monument to lynching victims in the plaza around the Forrest statue.
“I’m frustrated by the time that it has taken,” Jones said. “If I had to state one pressing priority it would not be Nathan Bedford Forrest. If anything, I would say it is dealing with our ongoing budgetary challenges – trying to fund all of the things that the city of Memphis has to fund.”
“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.