Despite a narrow majority of the small April election turnout voting against a proposal to eliminate the election of a city marshal, the Memphis City Council has been forced to address the issue with the resignation of the recently elected head of the city police force.
Memphis Marshal Bill Holland resigned from the post on April 25th.
The marshal position is governed by state statue. One provision requires the office holder to be a resident of the city.
Holland is moving to a new home outside of the city limits, and thus was forced to resign from the post.
The Memphis City Council voted 4-0 to hire Holland as an officer, with the designation of captain, and authority to head the department.
With the move looming, the council had sought voter approval to eliminate the marshal position and to replace it with a police chief, that would no longer be elected, but would be hired by the city.
Proposition 1 was defeated in the April 3rd election by a 131 to 95 margin. Only 13% of registered voters in the county turned out for the election.
The city council announced plans to resubmit the ballot issue, either in August or November.
The aldermen cited some public confusion on the marshal requirements, as well as the low voter turnout as rational to seek a second run at voters.
Several public comments were received, suggesting the city simply remove the residency restrictions. However, because it is governed by state statue, not local ordinance, the city has no power to make changes, and thus can only seek voter revocation of the position. The only power the city council has over the position is financial. The aldermen control the budget process for the police department and also establish the marshal salary prior to each election.
State statute 79.050. states “The board of aldermen may provide by ordinance, after the approval of a majority of the voters voting at an election at which the issue is submitted, for the appointment of a chief of police, who shall perform all duties required of the marshal by law, and any other police officers found by the board of aldermen to be necessary for the good government of the city. If the board of aldermen does not provide for the appointment of a chief of police as provided by this section, a city marshal, who shall be twenty-one years of age or older, shall be elected.”
With the declining number of law enforcement applicants seeking employment with the city, the council expressed concern that if the ordinance is unchanged, an unqualified marshal could be elected simply by being the lone candidate on the ballot. The city has been operating at half force, with just Holland and sergeant Zac Campbell to fill out the desired four officer staff.
“This is not about not trusting the public to elect the best candidate,” said Alderman Chris Feeney. “This is about trying to prevent the city from being forced to elect a bad candidate, simply because he or she is the only one on the ballot.”
State statute allows for non-certified individuals to seek election, noting the required training must be completed within six months of taking office but also requiring the city to pay the individual at the marshal salary while the training is ongoing.
State statute 85.005. reads “Mayor and police authorities can appoint none but residents. — The mayor, chief of police and members of the board of police commissioners of any city in this state shall be governed by the same restrictions and subject to the same penalties as a sheriff of any county, under the provisions of section 57.117.”
Currently, a replacement marshal could be appointed by the council, but the new office holder must be a resident of the city. The council indicated a desire to retain Holland as the head of the police department, regardless of his residency, meaning it will not likely appoint a replacement, but instead will allow Holland to act as the head of the department in his current captain capacity.
If the issue is not decided in August, or November, a special city election would be held in April 2019 to fill the remaining three-years of Holland’s current term of office.
This is not the first time the city council has been faced with this type of situation. Several years ago, when the city began contracting with the county to provide its tax collection services, the council sought voter approval to eliminate the city collector position from the election roll.
Despite the fact that the office would no longer have any official duties, voters still rejected the ballot issue seeking to remove the office from future election ballots. Only after the council eliminated the salary for the post and no one ran for the office, did voters finally follow through at the next election and approve the proposal to eliminate the elected office.