Memphis leaders at odds over residency requirements for mayoral candidates
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Memphis leaders are at odds right now over how long someone should be required to live inside city limits before they are eligible to run for mayor.
On Wednesday, May 10, a Shelby County Chancery Court judge ruled that the Memphis City Council can join the lawsuit filed against the City of Memphis over this issue.
The City of Memphis opinion is that the city charter says a candidate must live in Memphis for 5 years before they’re eligible to run for mayor. But the attorney for the city council says that stipulation was repealed by Memphis voters more than a quarter century ago. This pits the city council against the Strickland administration all to figure out if Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner and Memphis NAACP President Van Turner can run for mayor.
Memphis City Council Chairman Martavius Jones told Action News 5 that no one saw this residency battle royale coming.
“To be honest with you, this was a blind spot for me,” said Jones, “Knowing there was a discrepancy between the two, I would have had it on the ballot last year for the people to correct but it was a blind spot.”
And now it’s up to a judge to decide which opposing position is correct. Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade argued in Chancery Court that the city no longer has a 5-year residency requirement for mayoral candidates. The requirement, said Wade, was struck down by voters in a 1996 referendum.
But Memphis City Attorney Jennifer Sink sided with a recent opinion by attorney Robert Myers who is the former head of the Shelby County Election Commission. Myers stated that the 5-year residency requirement was never repealed by voters and is still in effect today.
Memphis NAACP President Van Turner and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner are both running for Memphis mayor and are considered front runners.
Each had to buy a house inside Memphis city limits before election day – which is Thursday, October 5. Bonner lived in Bartlett, Turner in unincorporated Shelby County.
Both filed a lawsuit in Chancery Court challenging the 5-year residency opinion. Wednesday’s ruling was just one of the twists and turns in this legal case.
“My wife and I chose where to live in 2004 knowing and fully expecting to be annexed into the city. We fully expected to be in the city within the next couple of years,” Turner told Action News 5.
Turner said a change in the state annexation law left his neighborhood out of city limits. But he stayed put, he said, because he became a Shelby County Commissioner representing that district until last year. Now he’s hoping a Chancery Court judge will rule in his favor, allowing his candidacy for Memphis mayor to continue.
“I would encourage voters to do their homework on the people who are running for mayor right now,” said Jones, “Once that’s clear, we need to move our city forward, elect the person you think has the best plan, the best vision for moving Memphis forward.”
The city council recently approved a resolution that will allow Memphis voters to decide if two years is long enough to live in the city before you run for mayor. But that resolution won’t be on the ballot until 2024, after this year’s mayor’s race is decided.
The Chancery Court lawsuit to decide if the five-year requirement is still valid, and if Turner and Bonner can continue their campaigns, goes to trial on May 18. The Shelby County Election Commission said the qualifying deadline for candidates is Thursday, July 20.