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The (Limited) History of Term Limits

In 2008, over 75% of Memphis voters cast their vote to limit the time in office for mayor and city council members to two consecutive terms. Earlier this year, 11 of the 13 city council members voted to put a referendum on the November 2018 ballot that would ask voters to approve a term limit extension to three consecutive terms. According to some city council members, there is a steep learning curve in the first term, but you start to hit a groove in the second term. The third term is to tie up any loose ends and prepare to pass the baton to the next generation. Some say that good leaders shouldn’t be penalized by term limits, but others say good leaders should give way to the next generation of good leaders.

Since 1968, Memphis government has been led by a mayor and a council of thirteen members. A new districting plan in 1995 changed the city council composition to what we know today: seven members from each of the city’s seven districts and three members from each of two super districts (Super District 8 encompasses all of Districts 6 and 7 along with parts of Districts 3 and 4; Super District 9 encompasses all of Districts 1, 2 and 5 along with the parts of Districts 3 and 4 not included in Super District 8). City council terms are four years long, so Memphis citizens have the opportunity to cast their vote for four council members (1 district + 3 super district candidates) every 4 years.

In 2006, Councilman Jack Sammons introduced a plan that would limit the number of consecutive terms a council member could serve. Sammons had served on the city council for over twenty years and told the council that this is what his constituents wanted. Instead of a term limits referendum going on the November 2006 ballot, the plan was voted down by the city council in a 6-6 vote (ties are considered a deal breaker), and Memphis voters lost the opportunity to make their voice heard regarding term limits.

Two years later, a term limits referendum (2008 Referendum No. 1) DID make it onto the 2008 ballot, and more than three-quarters of Memphis voters approved to limit the mayor and city council member terms to two consecutive four-year terms. In a move sponsored by Councilman Bill Morrison earlier this year, the current city council voted 11-1 (NO vote by Councilman Worth Morgan) in favor of a term limits referendum to extend the term limits from two to three terms, so Memphis will be voting on this issue again in November 2018.

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Council members generally feel it takes three terms to be effective: the first term is spent getting to know the constituents and learning the legislative ropes; the second term is spent delving deep into the legislative work; and the third term is spent completing projects and preparing for the next council member. Proponents of the term limits extension feel that if the leader is a good leader, then they deserve to stay in office longer. Opponents, however, feel that long-serving legislators are more self-serving rather than citizen-serving. They feel that having two terms will start the clock and encourage our mayor and council members to come up with bold approaches to problem-solving. Notably, Mayor Jim Strickland, whose term limit will also be affected by the referendum, has stated that regardless of how the vote goes in November, he will not seek more than two terms.

The next city government election cycle is 2019, and this term limit extension referendum on the November 2018 ballot will certainly shape those races. It is up to every registered voter in Memphis to make your voice heard. If the President of the United States is expected to affect change in 8 years, so can the Memphis City Council.

 

Written by Racquel Collins

Robert Donati