Attorney says Shelby County Commission has no authority to replace Ford

A prominent Memphis attorney says the Shelby County Commission has no authority to replace Ophelia Ford.

Allan Wade was the lawyer who took the Shelby County term limits appeal all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Now, Wade says the ruling - that upheld County term limits - also may strip the County Commission of one important and very timely power.

"That County Commission that's down there now does not have the power to replace Ophelia Ford or any other senator whose election is void," says Wade.

In supporting term limits, Wade says the Supreme Court re-affirmed the County Commission's special status as an alternative "charter" government, different from most traditional "constitutional" legislative bodies.

That difference - he says - means the Commission may not have the authority that other governments do, like filling vacancies.

Shelby County Attorney Brian Kuhn says he doesn't see the connection.

"I think the holding in that case - or what the court ruled in that case - dealt specifically and narrowly with the statutory authority to delegate to a charter form of government the right to set term limits," he says.  "I don't see how that really has anything to do with the constitutional section about replacing a vacancy of the state legislature."

Wade says it may.  And if he's right, he says a special election may be needed right away to ensure voters are represented.

"Otherwise they will be disenfranchised in the interim period that no one is appointed or some person who may not be lawfully entitled to act may be appointed," he says.

The County Commission plans to begin that process in two weeks.

Wade says that, at the very least, this issue might be something the Commission might want to consider clarifying down the road in a Charter amendment.