Behind the Headlines – October 12, 2018

Behind the Headlines – October 12, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind The Headlines is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Possible changes to term
limits, instant run-off voting, and more tonight on
Behind The Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, President
and Executive Editor of The Daily Memphian,
thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Steve Mulroy, former County Commissioner
and Professor of Law, at the U of M, thanks
for being here again. – Thank you. – And Martavius Jones
from the Memphis City Council, thank you for being here again. – Thanks for having me.
– Along with Bill Dries, reporter with
The Daily Memphian. So we’re gonna talk through
the charter amendments, is that the right term
Bill, the referendum, that are coming up,
a couple of weeks. – Amendments to the
Memphis City Charter. – Yes, that are coming
up in about three or four days before early voting starts. We’ll walk through each one. I’m gonna ask Bill, you
two are on different sides of the issue, different
perspectives of the issue. We’ll kinda walk
through all them. But I’m gonna
start with you Bill and the first which
is term limits, which probably
catches peoples eye, more so than maybe
the other issues, I’m not sure which
one’s most important. But we’ll start
with term limits. What’s on the ballot
and how does that differ from how things are
handled right now? – Alright, currently
you have a limit of two consecutive
terms that anyone elected to the city
council or serving on the city council can serve as well as the mayor,
they are limited to two consecutive terms. This charter amendment
would change that. It would say the
term limits are now three consecutive
terms for those elected to the city council and
those elected as mayor. It would also take
affect immediately. Which means that the
city council members, who and the mayor, who
are now term limited, or up against the term limits, which would be three
city council members, who have not been
elected to county office. They would be able
to run again in 2019 for a third term. – Okay and we’ll
go to you Steve. Where are you on this
term limit issue? – Oh I’m opposed
to this amendment. Memphis voters in 2008
debated all these issues, and overwhelmingly approved
two election reforms. Term limits was one of
them, instant run-off, which we’ll get to in
a moment, was another. And in all these
instances the city council is trying to undo the
will of the voters, before either election
reform has had a chance to take affect. This is clearly
incumbency protection. This is all apart of
a package designed to make it easier for
city council incumbents to stay in power longer. And part of this is
evidenced by the fact that this ballot referendum, that we’re talking
about right now, is misleadingly worded,
it makes it sound like if you’re for term limits
then you ought to vote yes, it says do you want
three term limits. But it doesn’t tell you that we currently
have two term limits. So actually if you
are for term limits, you ought to vote no. I think most Memphis
voters are for term limits. They want to stick
with the two terms that we have, if they
understand what’s going on despite the misleading
ballot language, then I think they would
be likely to vote no. Which is what I think
they ought to do. – Martavius, you are
current city council. You are in your second term? – (Martavius)
First, first term. – First term, okay. So this doesn’t
directly impact you. – (Martavius)
Immediately, no. – Immediately, but
would eventually. – (Martavius)
It would. – So we’ll fully disclose that. Where are you on this issue? – I’m for it. And the reason that I am, if
you look at a full time job, that’s typically
2,000 hours per year. If you take our responsibilities
as a city council person, we meet twice a month, 12
months out of the year, that’s 24 meetings,
times eight hours, that’s a 192 hours versus,
a full time job. Less than 10% that you are
supposed to be proficient in your job,
to me it’s mathematically impossible to do so. This measure is not
eliminating term limits it’s just saying
okay well, can you, if you were just doing your job, the job that you do right
now, just 10% out of the year, 10% of the time, out of the
year, could you possibly be proficient in four
years, eight years, whatever the case may be? From a budgeting
standpoint, I think I have everything, I’m on top of
things, when it relates to budget, finances,
those issues. – The city budget,
city finances. – City budget, yes. I’m on top of it there.
But this planning and zoning and public works
and fire, with the responsibilities
of a full time job I still have not in
two and a half years, well almost three years,
still have not gotten a handle on that, so I
think that just from a learning curve stand point,
in order for elected officials to do their job to the
best of their abilities, I think two years is not enough. – A little perspective
as I go over to Bill for questions, that terms are
four years for city council is that correct? – (Bill)
Yes. – The mayor also, city
mayor is four years. – (Bill)
Yes. – Prior to the
vote in 2008 to put these term limits in place,
was it unlimited time, were there no term limits? – There were no term limits. – (Eric)
For the mayor or the city council?
– No. – So back to people
remember Mayor Herenton was in for what
three or four terms, something like that. – Actually elected to five.
– Five, five. – (Eric)
Elected to five. County right now
has term limits? – Yes, two consecutive terms for the county commission,
and for the county mayor, and for five of the
charter officers which are county wide officers, which
are sheriff, trustee, register, assessor…
– County Clerk. – and County Clerk, thank you.
– And then again, just so we get the full perspective
here of the local and state. The governor is
limited to two terms, but state reps and
state senators are not I don’t believe.
– They are not. – Okay, questions. – So, Steve Mulroy you’ve
been a county commissioner. – (Steve)
Yes. – You have served
under term limits, what about this thing
that Martavius has said that two terms, you’re
not that familiar with it that the body
could serve better with more experience by
allowing council members to serve three terms. – A couple of
points, first of all, my own experience
is I was a able to master what needed to
be done in the time. You don’t just spend
the hours in committee and on the floor,
there’s also other time on the side where you’re
supposed to be doing your preparation, so I don’t
think it’s unmanageable. Second thing is if we do
say that that’s the case then are we saying that
votes that are cast by members in their
first or second term aren’t quite valid,
that they’re not really up to the task, that their
making important decisions about city policy without
actually being qualified. I don’t think anyone
would really say that. And the third and final thing is I don’t say that
there is no validity to the idea that
Councilman Jones says that there is a learning curve, but I think at the
end of the day, the voters considered that
argument and rejected it. And they said clearly in 2008
that they wanted two terms. I think we ought
to respect that, and we ought to not try to
undo the will of the voters by misleadingly worded
ballot referendum. – Martavius do you hear
sentiment that people are saying yeah, we
approved two terms, but let’s go for three terms? – Well what we haven’t heard, or what wasn’t the issue
the voters could have said, going from having no term
limits, had three been presented, well they could’ve
approved three, had four been presented they
could’ve approved four. So it’s one of those
things, there was only just the alternative term
limits, two terms. So there was no
opportunity for the people to say well three would
have been sufficient, four would have been sufficient, or we don’t want
any more than five. – But there was some
precedent for that on the county side
because the county as we noted has a limit
of two consecutive terms. And there was a charter
amendment in 2008 packaged with other
county charter amendments that said, no let’s
increase it to three terms, three consecutive
terms, and apply it to these other five
county wide offices. And county voters rejected
that entire package all of the amendments
and voted it down, the county commission came back and presented all
of the other charter amendments as they had
been in that package and took it to two term limits. And it was approved. So is some of this in
how it’s presented, as opposed to what voters
may be thinking about it? Or do voters think about
things like term limits before they’re
brought up, like this? – Well I think that
remains to be seen. I think that any
time that you have well one example
that I’ll give you when this was first discussed
at the city council level Bill Morrison, who
you know, will be, I don’t know if you are aware,
but he turned in his resignation,
effective November 1st. But the whole Raleigh
Springs Mall project he said it has taken
him entirely the eight years on
this term to do so. And he barely got
within I guess, that window to do so. If you have rapid
turn over, as you do, with a two term limit,
that’s currently in place. You can have some projects,
that may not necessarily go to it’s full
fruition or expectation, along those lines. – Two things, how do these
get put on the ballot? – The council has, let’s
just say seven votes. – Seven votes.
– Seven votes. – (Eric)
Seven votes on the city council? – Yes. – To put virtually
anything to go on there. – (Maratvius)
Yes, yes. – Does that make
you uncomfortable? That you’re voting
to extend your term? – It doesn’t because
the ultimate decision will be made by the voters. It’s not a unilateral decision, just that’s made by the
Memphis City Council. – But it is an oddity right? I’m not accusing you of
or anyone of malfeasance. I’m just saying that
it’s a strange thing to vote on your own
extension possible extension. – But the ultimate decision
is made by the voters. – (Eric)
It is and it is. – Right. – But you word it to
affect your, I mean it’s like when you guys
vote on your own pay. – (Martavius)
Right. – There’s a real, I’m
not sure who else should vote on your pay but, it
creates some appearances that are odd. – It makes me uncomfortable. For this reason, there
was no public outcry to change from two
terms to three terms. There was no public
outcry to repeal instant run-off
voting, both of them… – Yeah but one of the
issues, just to say one of the other issues,
we’ll get to here. – We’ll get to in a moment. All of them have a potential
conflict of interests, in that they’re all
ways of making it easier for city council incumbents
to stay in power longer. In fact with respect to
the instant run-off voting matter there was a huge
public outcry against doing this, 100 people showed
up at the city council meeting begging them not to do this
and they did it anyway. And then when you couple
that with the idea that the ballot referendum
is misleadingly worded to try push people
towards a yes, it makes me very uncomfortable
about what’s going on. It seems to be disrespecting
the will of the voters. – Where did you all get
the wording for these ballot questions? – Well, I would say they
either came from the city council attorney
Mr. Wade or very well could have been the
individual sponsors who came up with
the wording of it. It could have been
the council staff. – Do you think it’s confusing? – No, I don’t think that
it’s confusing at all. – Let me ask you, you
talked about that, the learning curve
and you get in and you’ve gotta
begin to master issue. Bill Morrison, others,
and other issues and city councils, we have
members, county commissioners we’ve had on this
show who are pursuing very complicated issues
of reform or a project or something like that. Is a different
answer to that the, and this is just a thought, does the council need
to meet more often? Does it need to go
from, what is explicitly a part time job now in
terms of the compensation, in terms of how often you meet. is that a different way
to get at that learning curve if the issues
are so challenging, and I don’t think anyone,
I don’t think Steve’s saying they’re not
difficult issues. But has it moved to a time
where this is no longer a part time job? – Well in many respects, it’s
not a part time job anymore. And what the
council has done and what the commission
has done as well, each body has delegated
some of the authority that used to rest with
the elected bodies to outside independent
boards and commissions. So I think that if there
could be an expectation, if there more frequent
meetings, then some that delegation of
authority, would revert back to the council, revert
back to the commissioner or any other elected
body to loan those. I still think that, a
lot of the authority that we have delegated should
rest with the elected bodies. People that are
directly accountable to the voters and the taxpayers. – An example of boards
and commissions, that things that are being
delegated to is what? – First one that comes
to mind would be EDGE. First one would be EDGE. – If we have time at the
end, we’ll talk a little bit about EDGE. You were nodding that, you
were county commission for eight years? – (Steve)
Correct, eight years. – Is it beyond the time
where it’s a part time job? – Oh I definitely think
it is getting to the point where it is more
than a part time job. It may already be
there and I certainly see some merit in converting
it to a full time job. For all the reasons that
councilman Jones describes. But also for the
other reason that, it would level the playing field so that people who have, are of more limited means, might still be able to afford
to devote the time necessary, so people that are very
very well off, or retired, or have the kind of
job where they can earn a comfortable living
and still devote a lot of their time to their avocation
of being a city councilman or county commissioner,
they’re advantaged in a way that I think
working class people aren’t. So it might help with that
as well as the problem that councilman
Jones articulated. – And since I brought
it up what are council people paid right now? – (Martavius)
$29,000. – $29,000 a year, are there other benefits
that go with that? – Well there’s health benefits. – Are you in the city, you’re
eligible for the city plan? – (Martavius)
Yes. – Like any city employee? – (Martavius)
Yes. – (Eric)
Okay. – There was pension
reforms so the whole idea of council person
serving 12 years, for instance if it’s
extended to three terms we won’t get that
12 and out pension. – Do you know off hand
what county commission is right now? – It’s the same.
– It’s the same. – Same amount.
– Because our pay is tied to the county commissions.
– Yes. – And that was another
charter amendment that voters approved. – Right, right. You mention, Steve
Mulroy you mentioned that instant run-off
voting, let me get Bill to describe that and then
again the third issue the third charter amendment
or ordinance referendum here, I’m sorry I’m screwing
up my terminology. Overlaps to some degree
with instant run-off voting. – (Steve)
Yes. – So why don’t I get
you to T those up. – Okay so instant
run-off voting. – (Eric)
Instant run-off voting. – Also known as Rank
Choice of Voting. You go to vote and
instead of picking one candidate on that ballot, you pick your first preference,
you pick your second, and third, and some systems
you can go beyond that. However, many choices
you want to make. When you have a race that
where the run-off requirement is triggered, meaning
the winner has to get 50% of the votes cast plus one,
instead of in that race it going to another
run-off election, what happens is the
initial vote count is done. Then you go to okay,
nobody got a majority. So you take the candidate
with the lowest vote total, and you look at that
candidates ballot and say okay who is his
number two choice. Those votes go to that candidate who is still in the running. You do that until
you have a candidate that has a majority count. – Without going back
to the voters again? – Without going back
to the voters again. – So again it’s almost
a scoring system. This is just so
people follow here, if the three of you are running and I rank you as Bill,
Steve, and Martavius, no offense to Martavius
there, and you don’t get 50%, no one gets 50%, you
go back to all the ballots, and you add up those second
and third place choices. – (Steve)
Excuse me, not all the ballots. – (Bill)
Not all of them. – I don’t mean to interrupt you. – Before we get into
it, let’s make sure we’re all on the same
page about how this works. – So if one candidate
gets a majority, just as Bill said like in
any other election, they win. And just as Bill said if no
candidate gets a majority then you take the
weakest candidate, the candidate that has the
fewest first place votes and you eliminate them. And then you look at
just those ballots, not all the ballots,
but just the ballots for that eliminated candidate. Which is, I think what you
were going to say. And then you take a
look at those ballots and then you say
alright, this voter their second choice was here, this voter their second
choice was there, and you redistribute. And then you step
back and you say, now does anybody
have a majority. If so they win. If not you do it
again taking out the next weakest candidate. And then you take a
look at only the ballots for that next weakest candidate. – And when you say weakest… – Fewest first place votes. – The lowest performing. – (Steve)
Correct. – The lowest ranked,
the lowest voted. – (Steve)
Correct. – Is that your understanding
of how it works? – (Martavius)
Yes. – Okay. – And so I saw your
eyes glazing over. – No my eyes were
not glazing over, no I mean it’s
complicated stuff. – (Martavius)
Exactly. – I just want to make sure
that we lay it out to people. Before we get to the… This was voted in, was this
also voted in ’08 Bill? – In 2008, yes. – (Eric)
But it has not been used. – It has not been used,
because election commission officials at the time said
that the voting machines we still have the
touch screen machines, were not able to
handle rank choice or instant run-off voting. Linda Phillips when she became the county elections
administrator in 2016 I believe, she looked at it and
said no there is a way to configure the machine
so that you can do three of these across,
the same listing of the same candidates three across, so you could have this
under that scenario. And under terms of
the charter amendment she said that would
then have to take place with the 2019 city elections. – (Eric)
Okay. Martavius back to you. Just again I want to
make sure I lay out some of the history and so on.
You are opposed to this. – I am opposed to it. Before I was seated
on the city council, I ran for the county commission. And lost by 25
votes, I challenged, this was a democratic
primary and I presented a challenge before
the primary board. And in that we still had
an election commission that admitted that they
did not follow certain respects of state law
in tabulating the votes. We have had issues with
this election commission year after year after year
after year after year. Even before I got into politics. Since I’ve been in
political office. So I still say an
untested system with an election commission,
how do we think that this election commission
can adequately and accurately account
for this system when we can’t get
the regular system that we have now in place. – If you, hypothetical,
if they were able to guarantee you it
was a 100% accurate, would you be in
favor of the system? – I would say let’s have a
hitch free election first, perhaps this November
could be a good test of it. Let’s do that first. But let’s, so going back to
the instant run-off though or the rank choice voting. Politics, it’s a
popularity contest. Whoever gets the
most votes, wins. So to come with
some other iteration that says okay, perhaps
the fourth or third most popular candidate
wins but it has to be some machinations of
numbers manipulations of numbers to arrive at that, is that what the people
of Memphis really want is that what they voted for? I would say not. – And this is applying again
to we just get this right. This is applying, this would
apply to the city council and to the mayor’s office
or just city council? – No this applies to
the seven single member district city council seats. Not the super district seats. So you have 7 of the
13 city council seats that this would apply
to if no candidate in that race gets a
majority of the votes. – And with that we
are officially in the wonkiest show we have ever done.
We have crossed a line. It’s important stuff. – (Steve)
I’d like to address… – (Martavius)
Think, think, think about this I’m against, but it
doesn’t affect me. – And that’s a fair point. Let me give Steve, cause
you have strong feelings about this and
thoughts about it. So go ahead and respond. – So there have been a couple
of different points made. So I’d like to address all the
points that have been made. – (Eric)
Absolutely, please do, yeah. – First of all, it will…
– In five minutes here. – It will affect
councilman Jones, not in this next election. But the election after
that we’re phasing in implementation
the clear language of the charter amendment
does say that it applies to all city council. – (Eric)
Eventually. – Eventually. Second of all he mentioned
eyes glazing over. If you were to ask Bill to
explain to an average voter how there are seven
single member districts with run-offs and then
there are overlapping super member districts,
super districts with three numbered posts
and they don’t have run-offs. The average voters
eyes would glaze over, but councilman
Jones would not say, have the voters were
too confused to cast an intelligent vote when
they voted for him, right. With the respect to the
election commission’s ability to do this, if
you are concerned about election integrity
then you ought to be for instant run-off
voting for this reason. Right now the chief problem
with our election integrity is that we’re trusting
the computers, because we don’t have a
voter verified paper trail. The way that Linda
Phillips plans to do this, is to actually print
off paper ballot images and do a manual count in a
transparent open process. The press will be invited, campaign observers
will be invited, everyone will watch
it and it will not be trusting computers
and in terms of it being untested that
is precisely the way that it has been done in
Minneapolis in St.Paul for numerous elections, rank
choice voting elections, instant run-off voting
elections have occurred over the last 20 years,
over 200 different elections in 12 different cities,
including the entire state of Maine, none of
the election administration problems that have
been discussed by councilman Jones have
occurred and because of the paper ballot
image advantage, if you’re concerned about
this election commission all the more reason
why you should be for instant run-off voting. – And the voting
would still take place on the machine but there
would be a print out? – (Steve)
Correct. – Just so I’m clear. – Then everyone would be
looking at the print out in a transparent process, yes. – Do you have
concerns though that doing the rank choice voting,
the instant run-off voting could take the vote
count into another day or two beyond that? – It might very well take it
to a count another day or two. First round results will
be up election night, all those elections in
which they got a majority, will be up election night. But for those that
require a run-off it might take a couple of days, but that’s certainly
quicker than the four to six weeks that
you currently have to wait to find out who
won the election. Cause you’ve gotta
wait for an entirely separate, expensive,
ridiculously-low turn-out unnecessary run-off
election, in order to decide who won. – We’ve got just a
couple minutes left. We got a third item that
overlaps a bit with this on the ballot, you wanna
go ahead and do that? – Yes this is perhaps
the simplest of the three provisions. It would eliminate
the run-off provision for those seven
single member district city council districts. It would say whoever
gets the most votes in those races wins. – So what is the
difference then between those two, so if
I vote yes on one and no on the
other, or, I’m lost? – The other question
is okay what if instant run-off voting
survives in this election? – (Eric)
The second question, yeah. – Yes. And then the provision
here that abolishes run-offs. – Just in the interest of
time, I’m not advocating I’m explaining and
then you can… – (Eric)
Yeah, please, thank you. – If you like instant
run-off voting, then you ought to vote
no on both of them. Because either one
of them by itself would kill instant
run-off voting. They just kill it
in different ways. – Is that your take,
just objectively, is that your take? Either one a no
vote on either one, let alone both would
kill instant run-off, rank choice voting. – Well I still say
this, the main argument that Mr. Mulroy we’ve
discussed this on a number of occasions,
main concern, a concern has been the drop-off
between the election turn out in a general election
and the run-off. if the big issue is
that drop-off, eliminate the run-off and you
don’t have that drop-off. – And then what do you do,
you just take the person who gets the most votes. – Whoever gets the most. – (Eric)
Isn’t that the way the mayor’s done now?
– Yes. – So we’re just talking
about city council. So Jim Strickland did
not win the majority, 51% of the vote, he got
the most of the field. – So with the rank
choice voting, it can be an outcome
where the fourth vote getter…
– That’s never happened. – Hypothetically,
it could happen. – 200 elections in
the United States. – It could. – It’s never happened
once in 20 years. – But you could have
a scenario right now to where the mayor
Jim Strickland, didn’t get the
majority of the votes or the second or
third person, could. – Why is that then
an option here? To go to the highest
ranked voter wins. – (Steve)
That is the third one. – That is the third one. – That is the third one. And I absolutely need
to respond to that. – (Martavius)
For a single member district. – For a single member district. – Yes. – Okay, so quickly
on that third one. The problem there is the
vote splitting problem. Okay, so for example, you
have too many republicans running in a republican
majority district a democratic candidate sneaks
in with 35% of the vote and is the least preferred
candidate of the majority. That’s how Donald
Trump went from being a novelty candidate to
the nominee in 2016 because the anti-trump
vote was split. And it also happened
right here in Memphis in August when Ford
Canale the incumbent won with much less
than 50% of the vote because the progressive
alternative vote was split among
three candidates. – (Eric)
A couple seconds, a couple. – I think people are
satisfied with Steve Cohen because that’s the
same thing that we got. – He would have won under
instant run-off voting. – Alright early voting
starts a couple days from when this show airs,
whatever you do vote. Whatever you vote for. Thank you both for being here.
Thank you Bill. Thank you for joining us.
Join us again, next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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