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Judge’s ruling is in but the mayoral residency debate may not be over

A big win for two mayoral candidates is a head-scratching decision for some others. That dichotomy resulted from a Chancery Court judge’s ruling that Memphis does not have an enforceable five-year residency requirement.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. and Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr. celebrated the ruling that Shelby County Chancellor Joe Day Jenkins made on Thursday afternoon. They would not have met the five-year standard; not even a two-year one.

“I am very thankful for the ruling from Chancellor Jenkins,” said Turner, whose suit challenging the five-year requirement was merged with a legal challenge by Bonner. “I look forward to pulling my petition Monday and running to be the next mayor of Memphis.

“What will ultimately be of consequence on October 5 is what you have done for Memphis and what you plan on doing to move Memphis forward.”

Bonner said the “whole residency issue has been a contrived distraction from the real issues of an important mayor’s race that will determine the direction of our city for the next decade….

“Memphis needs a mayor who will put public safety first, clean up litter and blight, and put programs in place that give our kids a chance…. I’m glad to have this behind us and thankful for good judges like Chancellor Jenkins, who has resoundingly ruled in our favor.”

Jenkins came down on the side of attorneys for Bonner, Turner and the Memphis City Council, finding that a 1996 referendum repealed residency requirements. Attorneys for Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration argued the city charter’s five-year requirement should be upheld.

Downtown Memphis Commission President and CEO Paul Young said the main goal in his bid to become mayor remains unchanged.

(Paul Young campaigns at a Memphis People’s Convention meet and greet. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

“From the onset of this campaign, our focus has been on showcasing how I will be the transformative leader Memphis needs in this pivotal moment,” said Young. “I eagerly await the chance to engage in spirited debate with all candidates. I’m confident that my strength as a leader and commitment to Memphis will shine through.”

Tennessee House Minority Leader Karen Camper hinted at a possible challenge to Jenkins’ ruling.

“The decision to allow candidates to run for mayor who do not meet the residency requirements sets a dangerous precedent that will allow anyone from anywhere to be eligible to serve as Memphis mayor,” said Camper.

“We have laws that were created and designed to protect the sanctity of our institutions and to instill trust in those we represent, and they should be followed. Our team will review the ruling and discuss our options on next steps in the coming days.”

Memphis businessman J.W. Gibson, who lost a bid to be added as a litigant, said Jenkin’s decision left him disappointed and frustrated.

“No other surrounding city or municipality would make such a ruling – not Bartlett, not Germantown, not Collierville. What would prevent someone in Mississippi or Arkansas from coming over here to run for mayor? No residency requirement is absurd.”

Gibson, who was present for the court hearing, praised Strickland’s attorneys for setting out the requirements in the city charter for mayoral candidates.

“Being there in the courtroom, it was so plainly laid out what the ordinance requires in the city charter,” said Gibson. “The referendum in 1996 doesn’t say anything about the mayoral race. It pertained to the city council. I will be exploring in coming days what my legal options are.”


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