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VOL. 132 | NO. 240 | Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Extension of Council Term Limits Proposed

By Bill Dries

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Earlier this year some Memphis City Council members and Shelby County Commissioners began talking about changing the limits of two consecutive terms in office that each legislative body has in place.

Memphis City Council members discuss a proposed charter amendment Tuesday, Dec. 5, that would expand the current limit of two consecutive terms in office for council members to a three-term limit. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The informal discussions centered on whether the limit of two terms should be increased to three.

In both cases, changing term limits involves taking a charter amendment to voters for their approval following the passage of a referendum ordinance.

The Memphis City Council will take the first formal step Tuesday, Dec. 5, toward a limit of three consecutive terms during a discussion in executive session.

Memphis voters approved council term limits in a 2008 city charter amendment that started with 2011 city elections.

Six of the 13 council members now in office are serving their second full term –Edmund Ford Jr., Joe Brown, Janis Fullilove, Kemp Conrad, Bill Morrison and Reid Hedgepeth.

Appointments to partial terms of office have not counted toward the two-term limit historically. But the first draft of the city referendum ordinance to be discussed Tuesday makes no mention of such a provision.

If the charter amendment goes on the November 2018 ballot and is approved by voters, it would take effect immediately and the six term-limited council members now set to go off the council at the end of 2019 could instead seek re-election in 2019.

Two of the six – Ford and Morrison – have pulled petitions for the 2018 county elections. Ford is running for the county commission seat currently held by his cousin, Justin Ford. And Morrison has pulled a qualifying petition to run for Probate Court clerk. Justin Ford and incumbent clerk Wayne Mashburn are among the county elected officials who are term-limited going into the 2018 county elections.

The three-term limit proposal as currently drafted would apply only to council members, not the mayor’s office, which has a two-term limit.

Such a referendum ordinance must pass three readings by the council to go before voters.

Council members could add the ordinance to Tuesday’s agenda for a first reading vote.

So far, there has been no proposal submitted to the Shelby County Commission for a similar change in term limits. The original county term limits ordinance was approved by voters in 1994 and started with the 1998 county elections.

The commission took a change to voters in a set of 2008 charter amendments that would have extended that to three consecutive terms for commissioners and the countywide offices of sheriff, county trustee, assessor, register and clerk.

But voters rejected that.

The commission followed with a third set of charter changes just before the end of 2008 that expanded only the term limits to the five other countywide offices.

It was approved by voters.

Joshua Fox and Joseph Fox, two employees of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, attempted in 2015 to put a charter amendment on the ballot by petition that would have removed any term limits for the five countywide offices added in 2008.

Their argument was that the term limits were a mistake that needed to be rectified. They did not reach the 80,000 signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot.

The Fox brothers filed a Chancery Court suit against the commission in 2016 seeking again to eliminate the term limits on the offices of sheriff, register, assessor, trustee and clerk by having them declared positions under the Tennessee constitution which has no term limits provisions.

The lawsuit stalled days after it was filed on technical grounds over exactly who was being sued and thus who could be served with legal notice of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs never amended the lawsuit.

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