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Residency issue still a muddled picture in the mayor’s race

The already-serpentine pending lawsuit over how long a person must live in Memphis to be eligible to run for mayor took another loop this week when the Shelby County Election Commission was dropped as a defendant.

The subtraction leaves the city administration and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland as the only defendants in the residency dispute.

Memphis City Council Attorney Allan Wade filed notice with the Chancery Court on Monday (May 8) asking the Election Commission to be “non-suited.” The commission will officially be dropped after Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins, who has jurisdiction over the lawsuit, signs the notice.

Wade’s action came after attorneys for the lawsuit’s original complainants, Memphis Chapter NAACP President Van Turner Jr., and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr., asked that the Election Commission be dismissed.

Bonner and Tanner are seeking to become mayor of Memphis. Neither meets the five-year requirement.

Jenkins brought the city into the lawsuit last week after Jennifer Sink, the city’s chief legal advisor, said the city’s position is that the five-year residency requirement still is in effect. Sink’s opinion concurred with an opinion by private attorney Robert Myers, a former Election Commission chairman.

The issue took another twist Monday when Wade filed a “cross complaint,” saying that a 1996 ordinance ended the five-year residency requirement for mayor. Wade had opined in November that the 1996 ordinance ended the five-year requirement.

Wade’s cross-complaint states:

“No administrative officer of the City, including the Mayor, has any legal authority under the Tennessee constitution, under any Tennessee statute or under any provision of the City”s Charter to amend, modify or repeal any duly adopted provision of the City’s Home Rule Charter … except by order of a court of competent jurisdiction in a timely and proper legal action brought in any such court.”

Wade’s lawsuit was originally filed last week on behalf of the council, which has not voted on the matter.

That raised a question during a hearing before Jenkins Wednesday (May 10) about whether Wade’s lawsuit had violated the City Charter since the council did not vote to authorize Wade to take the action.

According to the City Charter, council approval is needed before filing “extraordinary legislation,” but concludes no approval is needed for the city to enforce ordinances or resolutions.

On Monday, Wade cited his contract with the city, along with a resolution passed in 1992 that empowers him to defend Memphis’ laws.

Jenkins on Wednesday listened to arguments by both sides of the residency issue and also ruled the City Council can be a party to the lawsuit.

A trial on the issue is expected to begin next week.

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