VOL. 11 | NO. 1 | Saturday, January 6, 2018
EDITORIAL: Take Current Council Members Out of Three-Term-Limit Question
For all of the names currently circulating for this or that office on one of the three election days we’ll have in Shelby County this year, it might help somewhere near the outset to remember who and what this is about.
This year will probably have a few ballot questions of a local nature for us to consider.
Memphis voters will decide whether to do away with ranked-choice (aka instant runoff) voting before it can ever be used in Memphis City Council races in 2019.
Ranked-choice voting is meant to replace runoff elections in races where no candidate gets a majority of votes.
But out of all the races on the local ballot, RCV would only apply to seven: those for the single-member City Council districts. And don’t be surprised if the council pushes for a city charter amendment that would abolish the runoff provision for those seven races, making the repeal of RCV a moot point.
The council also is considering a possible ballot question that would increase term limits for the Memphis mayor and all 13 council members from two consecutive terms to three. That would put the same folks in office for 12 years, possibly longer if someone is appointed to a partial term before being elected to full four-year terms.
The way this ballot question is written, if city voters approve it in November, the six council members now serving their second consecutive term would instantly be eligible to run in 2019 for their third term.
It’s not the first time this has been attempted. In 2008, Shelby County government pushed a set of charter changes that included an attempt to increase term limits for the county mayor and County Commission. Voters took down the entire package of charter changes to get at the three-term-limit proposal. And when that provision was removed from the charter changes, the package, which was otherwise the same, was approved a few months later by the voters.
Whether citizens should be able to vote on this and possibly change their minds collectively is a legitimate issue.
But like the horse race, the course here tells the story. If the council wants to put a three-term limit on the November ballot for voters to consider, it should unhitch the personal political interests of some of its own from the proposal. If a three-term limit goes on the ballot and voters approve it, it should start for those elected for the first time in 2019.
Start the clock running on a three-term limit after the current council members have abided by the two-term limit and are on their way out of City Hall.