City Council calls six a quorum, as four hire attorney

By Updated: December 12, 2018 3:19 PM CT | Published: December 12, 2018 8:41 AM CT

Six Memphis City Council members on Tuesday, Dec. 11, approved 39 resolutions from the delayed Dec. 4 agenda as the four members not present sent their lawyer to the special session at City Hall.

Council chairman Berlin Boyd was unable to get a quorum of seven members to transact business on three attempts last week to call a meeting.

But City Council attorney Allan Wade opined Tuesday that since the council has three vacancies and is left with 10 members, a majority of the 10 “duly elected” members under terms of the city charter would be enough to transact business and pass resolutions but not ordinances.

“You have 10 members who have been duly elected,” Wade told the council. “You had three empty chairs. … The majority of 10 is six. You do have a quorum in my opinion.”

Wade said the charter language on a quorum is modeled on the U.S. Constitution, with an exception being the Constitution allows for imprisonment of members of Congress in the case of a walkout that prevents the body from having a quorum. There is no such provision in the charter.

Wade said the charter language is different on what it takes to approve an ordinance.

“That is a majority of the members composing the council, which is different than a majority of the members duly elected and sworn,” he said.

The routine items, having nothing to do directly with the stalemate over filling the vacant District 1 seat, represent a new front in the council’s gridlock.

The actions set the stage for the regularly scheduled Dec. 18 session where all 10 members are expected to attend for the first time since the Dec. 4 walkout by Martavius Jones, Patrice Robinson, Jamita Swearengen and Joe Brown left the council without a quorum of seven.

BILL DRIESCouncil Chronicle: A Memphis City Council timeline

The first items on the Dec. 18 agenda are expected to be the District 1 appointment as well as appointments to fill the seats vacated by Edmund Ford Jr. and Janis Fullilove, whose resignations took effect after the Nov. 20 session. They and District 1 member Bill Morrison resigned following their elections to county offices in August.

Morrison’s resignation was effective Nov. 1. All three remained on the council after the Aug. 22 deadline to put the council seats on the November election ballot. The council has never in its 50-year history had three appointed members serving at one time.

“We had a lot of items to handle and we were able to get this done,” Boyd said just before adjourning the Tuesday morning session. “I will say that this is one of those situations where tensions are high but again, we are still trying to conduct ourselves in a professional manner to make sure all we do. We are servants. We are public servants.”

BILL DRIESCity Council gives quorum call another try Tuesday

Attorney Ricky E. Wilkins was hired by council members Jones, Robinson, Swearengen and Brown Monday evening as copies of Wade’s legal opinion were sent to all members.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that this council proceeds properly in accordance with the charter and all of the rules and regulations that govern council activity. We have a serious question as to whether or not that’s happening right now,” Wilkins said after Tuesday’s session. “And we simply want to put this body on notice today that there are serious issues out there. There is opposing legal authority out there. And we will flesh it out.”

Wilkins also said the council is past the 30 days in the charter for it to fill the vacant District 1 seat by appointment and that Raleigh Community Development Corp. director Rhonda Logan, one of the six applicants for the appointment, should get the seat by virtue of getting the most votes – six.

BILL DRIESTreadaway out of City Council appointment standoff

“We think that Rhonda Logan should be seated right now by this council,” he said. “She was the highest vote getter. This council had 30 days. … There’s an argument that at the end of that 30 days they lost the power to fill that vacancy.”

Wilkins said on the 10th of more than 100 separate roll call votes on the appointment at the Nov. 20 session, one council member used the status of “not voting” instead of abstaining in the vote between Logan and Flinn Broadcasting sales manager Lonnie Treadaway – the second highest vote getter among the six applicants. By that standard, Wilkins asserts the six votes Logan got should mean she is the appointee.

Wade said the appointment requires seven votes under terms of the charter. And Boyd has said the council extended the 30-day period for the appointment by recessing the Nov. 20 meeting first to the Dec. 4 session and then to the upcoming Dec. 18 session.

Wilkins didn’t say his clients would seek to contest the actions taken by the six other members Tuesday.

“We are looking at all of our options,” he said. “My folks are not interested in litigating – quote-unquote. We want to make sure this council acts properly and is fair to everybody, including Ms. Logan.”

He also said his clients were unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting. “These guys choose to proceed regardless,” Wilkins said.

The council delayed votes Tuesday on a set of resolutions proposing Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division rate increases for electricity, gas and water until the Dec. 18 session along with a resolution approving MLGW’s budget for the coming year.


Memphis City Council Allan Wade Ricky Wilkins Berlin Boyd
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.

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