by James Coleman —
The debate over easing residency requirements for city police officers and firefighters remains at a standstill until the new year after a proposed ordinance to let voters decide the issue in a referendum next year was pulled during the Tuesday (Dec. 21) Memphis City Council meeting.
Citing a negative recommendation in committee, council member Michayln Easter-Thomas asked for the item to be pulled from the council’s consent agenda. It was supposed to be the first of three readings on the long-simmering issue.
“It’s absolutely out of order, if this was your prerogative – to not have the chief of police here, to not have this heard in committee, to not have had the debate that was necessary,” protested council member Chase Carlisle.
Carlisle continued, “For you to try to pull it off the agenda and kill it today is honestly just shocking and sad and abhorrent, based on policies and traditions of the council. Especially, not to give the police chief and those stakeholders an opportunity to weigh in on it.”
In addition to putting the issue on the August 2022 ballot, the resolution would have allowed police officers and firefighters to reside within 50 miles of the city.
Current rules require city employees to live in town. Proponents hope the extra slack will help grow the Police Department ranks from under 2,000 to 2,5000.
Thomas is among council members opposed or are lukewarm on loosening the restrictions.
“I separated the question to simply separate the question from being on the consent agenda. By no means are we trying to be sneaky,” said Thomas.
Carlisle was joined by council member Worth Morgan in criticizing the move. Both agreed it was an attempt to kill the resolution on its first reading.
Carlisle and Morgan maintained that if it failed to get seven votes, the matter would have ended without advancing to a second or third vote.
Thomas, however, countered, “We have had a robust discussion on this. It’s not like I was waiting until someone wasn’t here. We were all here last year,” Thomas replied.
An outgoing council approved a similar resolution in 2019 only to have it rescinded by the current members. The council overrode a veto by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.
Councilmember Jeff Warren suggested the issue be delayed for two weeks for further study and possible revisions. The council approved the pause.
Voting in favor were council members Cheyenne Johnson, incoming chairwoman Jamita Swearengen, Rhonda Logan, JB Smiley Jr., Warren and Thomas.
Outgoing chairman Frank Dolvett, Ford Canale, Carlisle and Morgan voted no. Council members Edmund Ford Sr. abstained, while Patrice Robinson opted not to vote and Martavius Jones was absent.