Tonight I attended the monthly meeting of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party of Shelby County. I wanted to alert them to what Change Memphis is all about and what we hoped to accomplish this fall. "Don't worry Republicans I want to talk to you guys as well." I was surprised by a resolution crafted by unnamed members of the County Commission in opposition to the newly crafted ORDINANCE NO. 365. Which will be on the November ballot. It was a resolution that would have the DPSC Oppose the passage of Term Limits for these newly "Chartered" officers. "Sheriff,Trustee,Assessor,Register and Clerk. After some discussion the Committee decided to pass a second more striped down version of the resolution instead, basically stating their "The Party's" opposition to Term Limits in these cases.
Reasons for the motion varied, but they ranged from a ideological opposition to the concept of term limits, to a general feeling of irritation at what was perceived as Republican trickery in the Ordinance's creation. By in large most of those who supported the measure stated suspicions that the move to establish term limits at this juncture is connected to demographic population shifts in the County,shifts that have resulted in an altered political landscape, and if unlimited term limits were good enough for the Republicans in the past then it should be good enough for the Democrats in office now.
I personally am a bit concerned about this,and I urge both political parties to proceed with caution when dealing with supporting or opposing these potentially far reaching Amendments to the City and County Charter.There can be many unforeseen consequences to some of these Referendums. Republicans should not be too quick to counter endorse 365. That would be a trap. As it would blur the core issues at hand of from a free thinking exercise of choice to a knee jerk politically Pavlovian reaction.
I still have a nagging curiosity over why the identities of the first Resolution's drafters was left a mystery. Why bother with secrecy if you plan on campaigning against it?
As for the question at hand, Are Term Limits Good...or Bad? Like most things that's hard to say.
So I decided to look at a few Cities that are Politically/Racially/Regionally/Culturally similar to Memphis, here's what i came up with, admittedly in a short period of time.
NASHVILLE-Term limits of two consecutive four year terms for Mayor and City Council. Established 2003
Brief-Nashville's current Term Limit status came about largely via the actions of the popular former two term Metro Mayor Bill Purcell to refused to seek a third term in office and acted to support the ballot referendum that would close the legal loophole that would have allowed him to seek a third term. reviews of such actions have been mixed. While the measure passed by a wide margin as is common for Term limit Ballot referendums, there have been growing concerns that Term Limits have had a negative impact on the Metro Council. Including, lack of experience in Municipal matters, an increase in the power of lobbyists, an increased lack of cooperation between Council members. As well as rising racial tensions between council members.A fundamental lack of communication between members
One city official is quoted as saying."What do these guys care? They've only got two terms, so they don't mind rezoning each other's ass to oblivion...." However, it is also possible that this is a phenomenon intrinsic to only that Metro Council. Who were elected in large part for their opposition to a widely unpopular proposed anti-discrimination bill for homosexuals. These council members backed by far right wing evangelical forces, and were elected on this issue more so than one of qualifications for office or knowledge of the operations of the metro bureaucracy. Still it must be noted that term limits did pave the way for such a pass.
Clearly Nashville had a rough time.
ATLANTA,GA.- Term Limits of two consecutive four year terms for Mayor only. No Term limits for City Council members.
Brief- Atlanta has had African American Mayors since the Election of Maynard Jackson over Sam Massell, Atlanta's first Jewish Mayor,in 1973. Jackson went on to serve three terms from 1974-1982 and returned to politics to serve another term from 1990-1994. Andrew Young served as Mayor of 1982-1990. Bill Campbell was elected Mayor in 1993, and served as Mayor from 1994-2002. Campbell was followed by the election of the first African American female Mayor of a major southern city, Shirley Jackson who was elected in 2002 and was re-elected by a landslide "90%" in 2005.NOTE-Despite an overall drop in the African American population of Atlanta from 66.8% in 1990,to 54% in 2004.
New Orleans-Term Limits for Mayor and City Council of two consecutive four year terms for both. The provision limiting Mayors to two consecutive terms has been in place since a referendum in 1954 and seems to have been an effective measure. Popular Mayors have on multiple occasions have had proposals seeking to repel limits or extend them, but New Orleans voters have yet to further amend the charter in this regard and have upheld the two term limit.
Prince George's County Md.- Term Limits for County Executive, and County Council, of two consecutive four year terms. Established 1994. Prince George's County in 2000 was the setting for a racially charged electoral conflict over term limits, as five African American councilmen and the County Executive were all set to leave office in 2002 because of term limits. The key issue here was the stated belief that African American politicians new to the process were just starting to understand the in's and out's of government and now were finally in a position to be able to make positive change for the African American community. Thus a campaign to repel the Term limits law was launched that was very racially charged. It is worth noting however that some of these councilmen in question won their seats in districts formerly held by whites, who were forced out because of term limits. The campaign to repel the term limits law was defeated by over a thirty point margin, by the majority black voters of Prince George County. The current County Executive Jack Johnson, is African American.
So personally, I think Term Limits can work, or fail, it depends on the area and a host of factors that vary from one place to another.It Does not always run smoothly but life will go on.
This issue has no clear right or wrong answer it is purely a subjective distinction which we encorage everyone to vote according to your own values and ideals.However for someone to say that this is somehow intrinsically harmful to the Democratic party or African Americans is...respectfully in my opinion,an inaccurate statement at least in the several cities I looked over which have term limits. In fact while Term Limits may have started off as a Conservative launching issue, as time and demographics change, you see that in time it worked against them as well.
It is however very harmful to incumbents, and perhaps that is the discussion that we really should be having. Do we want a system that encourages change and a fresh approach,with smaller risk of corruption or would we prefer a system that values experience and seeks those most familiar with how government really works and how to get things done?
Below is the Ordinance in question provided in it's completed form for your use
Item 4 Prepared by: Christy Kinard
Assistant County Attorney
Approved by: Brian Kuhn
Shelby County Attorney
ORDINANCE NO. 365
AN ORDINANCE AMENDING THE SHELBY COUNTY CHARTER BY ADDING A NEW SECTION TO THE “GENERAL PROVISIONS” UNDER ARTICLE V RELATIVE TO TERM LIMITATIONS OF COUNTY CHARTER OFFICERS. SPONSORED BY CHAIRMAN DAVID LILLARD.
WHEREAS, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners adopted Ordinance No. 360 and Ordinance NO. 361 on June 2, 2008 proposing amendments to the Shelby County Charter which were published and submitted to the voters of Shelby County during the August 7, 2008 countywide election; and
WHEREAS, Ordinance No. 361 passed, but Ordinance No. 360 failed and, therefore, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners desires to submit a referendum that will provide the voters of Shelby County with the option to impose term limits on the county charter officers, being the Shelby County Sheriff, Shelby County Trustee, Shelby County Register, Shelby County Clerk, and Shelby County Assessor; and
WHEREAS, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners has proposed the amendment to the Shelby County Charter contained herein and same should be published and submitted to the voters of Shelby County in accordance with the state election laws during the next countywide election; and
WHEREAS, the full statement of the proposed amendment does not exceed three hundred (300) words in length and, therefore, should be published and submitted to the voters in its entirety.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE, that, pursuant to Article V, Section 5.05D of the Shelby County Charter, the following proposed amendment to the Shelby County Charter shall be submitted to the qualified voters of Shelby County at the next countywide election allowed by law and the Shelby County Election Commission, in accordance with the state election laws, is hereby directed to publish the proposed amendment which read as follows:
Shall the Shelby County Charter be amended by adding a new section to the “General Provisions” of Article V as follows:
Section 5.25. Term limitations for county charter officers.
County charter officers elected pursuant to Article VIII herein shall not be eligible to hold, or be elected to, the same county charter office for more than two consecutive four-year terms.
If an individual is elected or appointed to fill an unfilled term, that term shall not be counted as part of the term limitations set forth herein for county charter officers.
so as to impose term limitations on County Charter Officers as a qualification for holding office?
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that upon this Ordinance becoming effective, the Clerk of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners shall immediately deliver a certified copy of this Ordinance to the Shelby County Election Commission in accordance with Article V, Section 5.05B of the Shelby County Charter.
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that the proposed Charter amendment shall be deemed ratified and adopted if approved by a majority of those voting in the referendum election.
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that for the purposes set forth in this Ordinance, the proposed amendment to the Shelby County Charter shall take effect on September 1, 2010 as it applies to the Shelby County Sheriff, Shelby County Trustee, Shelby County Register, and Shelby County Clerk; but shall become effective on September 1, 2014 as it applies to the Shelby County Assessor; so as not to have the effect of removing the incumbent constitutional county officers from office, or abridging the term or altering the salary prior to the end of the term for which such incumbent constitutional officers were elected.
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that, in accordance with state law, the Shelby County Election Commission shall certify the returns of the referendum election to the Shelby County Clerk and the Secretary of State together with a copy of the proposed Charter amendment previously filed with the Shelby County Election Commission by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that upon receipt of the proclamation from the Secretary of State showing the results of such referendum election on the adoption or rejection of the proposed Charter amendment, the Shelby County Election Commission shall (1) attach one copy of the proclamation to the copy of the proposed Charter amendment theretofore certified to the Secretary of State and (2) deliver one copy of the proclamation to the Shelby County Clerk who shall attach the same to the copy of the referendum returns and proposed Charter amendment theretofore certified to, and deposited with, the Shelby County Clerk; the Shelby County Clerk subsequently delivering the proclamation and all attachments thereto to the Clerk of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners who shall make it a part of the minutes.
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that all laws constituting the present Shelby County Charter that are not in conflict with the Charter amendment proposed herein be and the same are hereby continued in full force and effect, and all laws in conflict therewith be and the same are hereby repealed.
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that if any clause, section, paragraph, sentence or part of this Ordinance shall be held or declared to be unconstitutional and void, it shall not affect the remaining parts of this Ordinance, it being hereby declared to be the legislative intent of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners to have passed the remainder of this Ordinance notwithstanding the part so held unconstitutional and void, if any.
BE IT FURTHER ORDAINED, that this ordinance shall take effect upon adoption pursuant to Article V, Section 5.05B of the Charter of Shelby County.
Chairman of County Commission
A C Wharton, Jr., County Mayor
Clerk of County Commission
FIRST READING: August 13, 2008
SECOND READING: August 18, 2008
ADOPTED THIRD READING: August 27, 2008