Memphis voters in August will get a second chance to extend the number of terms the mayor and City Council members can remain in office.
The council, on third and final reading Tuesday (May 24), approved an ordinance that, if approved by voters on Aug. 4, would extend the current limit of two consecutive four-year terms to three consecutive four-year terms for City Council members, and three consecutive four-year terms for the mayor.
Current term-limited council members, along with Mayor Jim Strickland, who also is term-limited, could seek a third term if they choose to do so.
Memphis voters rejected a similar ordinance in 2018 and Councilmember Cheyenne Johnson predicted voters will reject it again.
Strickland recently dismissed the idea of a third term as a remote possibility and that he did not spend much time thinking about.
However, Tuesday evening, the mayor said, “over the next several days, my family and I will seriously consider the opportunity.”
Memphis municipal elections are Oct. 5, 2023.
The referendum ordinance’s original sponsor, Councilmember Martavius Jones, cast the only no vote Tuesday. His version called for extending the limit to three terms for just the council and not the mayor. He explained it was a move to strengthen the role of the council in city government.
Council attorney Allan Wade said for the ordinance to pass, it must receive 50 percent, plus one, of the total votes cast by Memphis voters.
Much of the discussion for the council focused on whether there should be separate ballots for extending the terms of council members and extending the term of the mayor.
Wade and Johnson cautioned that having separate ballot questions could result in the approval of extending the number of terms the mayor could serve and not extend the terms of council members.
A motion by Councilmember Rhonda Logan to have separate referendum questions for council members and the mayor failed.
There also was general agreement among council members that current term-limited members should be included in the referendum.
Logan said it was “obvious” that council members needed longer terms.
“Initially, this was concerning the ability of council members to serve terms that they will be effective in – that you have a long enough time to serve and that you can serve your constituents well. There’s a huge learning curve,” Logan said.
Voting yes were Chase Carlisle, Frank Colvett, Michalyn Easter-Thomas, Edmund Ford Sr., Johnson, Logan, Chairwoman Jamita Swearengen.
Council member Patrice Robinson was absent and Council members Ford Canale, Worth Morgan and JB Smiley Jr. did not vote.