Changing the Charter – Updated

Update: New information about Instant Run-off Voting below that section…

Last night, the Memphis Charter Commission wrapped up it’s business before the November 4th election. The Commission is proposing 6 changes on a range of topics. If you want to read the specific language that was adopted, go to the ChangeMemphis site and click on the items to the right of the main column.

MLGW – MLGW is this community’s greatest asset. People here in Memphis don’t know just how good they have it. When I lived in Little Rock I got 3 bills for utilities; Water, Gas and Electric. For my 600 sf ,1br apartment in Little Rock, these bills could add up to $150 – $200. Mind you, during that time I was on the road 225 days a year, and always turned everything off. That’s a lot.

In the 4 and a half years that I’ve lived in Memphis, my utilities bills have averaged 20%-30% less than the ones I had in Little Rock, plus it’s one bill. This is a huge advantage for Memphis. Anyone who thinks selling MLGW is a good idea is nuts. I’m glad to see this on the ballot, and support it fully. I only wish that they had included other assets that shouldn’t be sold off willy nilly to developers…the Fairgrounds and Pyramid come immediately to mind. Maybe next time.

Mayoral Vacancy – This would straighten up the Mayoral Succession problem that Memphis has lived with for some time. Basically, if the Mayor quits or dies, or in any other way vacates the office, it gives the City more time to schedule an election (up to 180 days) and provides for the City Council Chair to become interim Mayor until a new Mayor is elected. Really, this is a no-brainer.

Ethics Amendment – This proposal is probably in direct response to the corruption charges that haunted City Government last year. The amendment states that “Any elected or appointed official charged with official malfeasance shall be suspended with pay pending resolution of the charge.” Simple and easy. Another no-brainer.

Staggered Terms – Under the terms of this proposal we would vote for the entire City Council, Mayor, and other elected city officials in 2011. Then in 2012 we would vote again for districts 1-7 for a 4 year term. In 2014 we vote for the 6 Super District seats, Mayor and other elected city officials for a four year term. Wash, rinse and repeat.

This is smart. Setting our municipal races with normal federal elections is a good idea to keep turnout high. There will need to be a good deal of voter education, to ensure they actually vote the entire ballot, but the savings to the City will pay off in the future.

Instant Run-Off Voting – This is an idea whose time has come. Basically, on City elections voters will rank their choices. If no one gets a majority of the vote, the lowest person in the results is taken off the ballot, and those who voted for him get their second choice. This process continues until someone gets 50%+1. The result is one election and a whole lot of money saved for the city in limiting special and run-off elections.

It may take a little voter education to get people to embrace this idea, but the technology is out there to make this easy. It will be interesting to see how Memphians react to this amendment.

Update:
Brad at ChangeMemphis sent this information about IRV

Sadly, the implimentation of Instant Runoff Voting would NOT effect the plurality rules system used in Mayoral or Super district elections. I will see to it that this is explained on the website.

I’m not sure about the rationale for this, but I’ve asked the question and will post the information as soon as I have it.

Term Limits – By and large, I’m not a big fan of Term Limits. When Term Limits were instituted in Arkansas back in the 90’s, it turned the State House into a sideshow. People like Jim Bob Duggar got elected and took the opportunity to introduce some 12 bills criminalizing abortion in the State House. None of them got far, but it was really over the top.

Another indictment of Term Limits is that it arbitrarily turns away good leaders. If people think someone sucks, they should put them out in the next election.

Finally, this amendment will not stop people from running in a single member district, then once term limited in that district they could run for a super seat. If staggered terms are approved, it would give us 2 years without that individual, but that’s little comfort. I’m on the fence with this one, until someone comes up with a really good argument. Just wanting troubling people out after a specific period of time isn’t good enough.

That’s all folks! The Memphis Charter Commission is planning a 3pm presser to answer questions and officially announce and answer questions about the amendments.

2 Replies to “Changing the Charter – Updated”

  1. I’m sure some of the amendments will do some good but the meaty stuff isn’t there.

    I have the same concerns as you for the term limits and staggered terms. Nothing will change there.

    As long as we have the so called “Super Districts” the Council be controlled by special interests.

    The idealistic groups that are coalescing to support the amendments basically bailed out when faced with advocating real change.

  2. dwayne – The reality is that without a real grassroots campaign with some money and voter education, incremental change is all we can expect.

    I’m good with the proposed changes. Would have liked to see the referendum thing come up, because that WOULD give the public the opportunity to drive the debate. We need that.

    I just seems that getting anything done in Memphis is like passing Vatican II.

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