Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division employees living outside Shelby County can breathe a sigh of relief, after members of the Memphis City Council Tuesday (Aug. 22) shot down a proposed referendum question that would require the utility’s workers to live within Shelby County.
While the residency referendum went down in flames, the council approved a referendum that will let voters decide if the City Court Clerk should be an elected position.
The residency referendum failed on a 5-3 vote. Seven votes were needed for passage.
Council Chair Martavius Jones’ proposal came after the utility board voted in June to do away with its residency requirement that had required MLGW employees to live in Shelby County within six months of being hired.
Voting in favor of the resolution were Jones, Edmund Ford Sr., Jana Swearengen-Washington, Michalyn Easter-Thomas, and Cheyenne Johnson.
Voting against the item were Jeff Warren, Frank Colvett, and Ford Canale.
Members Chase Carlisle and JB Smiley Jr. sat out the vote.
The referendum was sponsored by Jones.
“Until they can tell us they’ve got a waiting list for employees, I don’t think we should be tying their hands,” said Warren. “It is foolish for us to try to limit them. I think it would be damaging to our community.”
The utility has been hindered by a series of summer storms. The weather events led to days-long outages in sundry communities and neighborhoods, mostly from falling trees and limbs.
The city-owned utility also has a decades-long backlog of limb cutting to achieve in its service area, exacerbating the problem. Most of the work is awarded to area contractors.
Jones introduced the referendum after the MLGW’s board voted to kill its residency requirement in June. Previously, employees were required to live within the county’s limits within six months of their hire.
Most City of Memphis employees are required to live within the city’s boundaries. One of the exceptions is police and fire department personnel.
While MLGW’s residency requirement dodged the 2024 ballot, the question of whether the City Clerk’s position will once again be an elected post, or remain an appointed position, will be decided by voters.
It was unanimously approved.
Jones also introduced the proposed referendum. An ongoing review of the City Charter by council private attorney Allan Wade and former city chief legal officer Jennifer Sink, discovered a flaw dating back to 1975.
That year, a referendum was passed to make the Clerk’s Office an elected position during a city election. The ballot question, however, should have taken place concurrently with a Shelby County election held during an even-numbered year.
To clean up matters, council members unanimously approved an ordinance granting appointment power to the three City Court judges. The appointee then seeks approval from the council.
The referendum effectively asks voters to undo the June vote.
Voting in favor of its inclusion on the ballot were Canale, Easter-Thomas, Carlisle, Ford, Jones, Johnson, Warren, and Swearengen-Washington.
Colvett and Smiley did not vote.
Members Rhonda Logan, Worth Morgan and Patrice Robinson were absent for both votes.