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Ballot measure ‘mistake’ has Herenton sensing conspiracy

Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade on Wednesday said it was not his intention to block former mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton from running for mayor again when he drafted the proposed ordinance regarding term limits that is on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Herenton, however, has said he thinks the ordinance is part of a conspiracy to sink his announced candidacy.

“I find it very strange that long-term and very sophisticated government officials would not understand the legislative process, that they would not recognize that this ordinance would uniquely impact Willie Herenton’s candidacy for 2019,” Herenton said.

Wade acknowledged that the ordinance, as written, would prevent Herenton from running for mayor in 2019 and that he made an error in drafting the proposed ordinance. He maintained that Herenton would still be able to run after a court challenge, which Wade said he would not fight against.

Wade said he talked with Herenton on Tuesday.

“I explained all this to him yesterday,” Wade said. “I told him if you file it, I’m going to concede that it was a mistake and I think that would solve his problem. It was not intentional.”

The already controversial ordinance would extend city council and mayoral term limits from two consecutive terms to three. That would take effect immediately if approved in the election, meaning current council members now serving their second consecutive term of office since the term limits took effect in 2011 could run for a third term in 2019.

The ordinance was supposed to include a phrase that it applied to those who took office after Dec. 31, 2011, but that was not included.

According to Wade, Herenton is one of four or five politicians that would be affected by the proposed ordinance as it is written. He does not think Herenton needs to take any more action on the matter until after the election, depending on whether it passes.

Herenton is the city’s longest serving mayor at 17 years, from Jan. 1, 1992 to July 31, 2009.

“We’ve outlined to him a path, a remedy for him to run,” Wade said. “…From my perspective I don’t think there is anything (else) I can do until after the election.”

Herenton acknowledged having talked to Wade and said he emerged from the exchange still thinking that a conspiracy was being perpetrated. He has established a committee to protest the term-limits ordinance so that he will have legal standing should he have to go to court and fight it.

Attorney Robert Spence, who represents Herenton, has said that the omission that Wade acknowledges was intentional. He could not be reached for comment by the TSD’s print deadline.

Wade said the language in the proposed ordinance was put there “to make it fair to (council members) Janis Fullilove and Joe Brown, who also had prior service.”

The most controversial ordinance on the ballot would repeal Instant Runoff Voting. That’s a process where voters rank their candidate choices, making runoff elections unnecessary. It was approved by voters in a 2008 referendum but hasn’t ever been put into use.

A second item would eliminate runoff elections altogether. The third referendum, the one Herenton has taken issue with, would extend mayor and city council term limits to three consecutive, four-year stretches. But it doesn’t say that current limit is two terms.

Chancellor Jim Kyle last week denied an emergency petition to have all three proposed ordinances rewritten or struck from the Nov. 6 election ballot.

Early voting for the Nov. 6 election began on Wednesday and runs through Nov. 1.

The plaintiffs included some candidates for the October, 2019 City Council race. They argue that the language of the ordinances is too confusing for voters to make an informed decision and that the ordinances – if approved – would cause them significant harm if they run in 2019.

Kyle noted that the county’s voters have not tested the ordinances and ruled that there is no proof they are confused. “We don’t have fire and I can’t put it out if I don’t see a fire,” Kyle said.

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