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Memphis' top legal officer to testify in mayor residency lawsuit and provide legal opinion

Outgoing Mayor Jim Strickland was not subpoenaed and will not be required to testify in the lawsuit.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis City Council voted to request another legal opinion in the uncertainty over mayoral residency requirement. This time, requesting the opinion from City of Memphis Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Sink.

The request for a legal opinion on the mayoral residency doesn’t come as a surprise to the council. Three previous conflicting opinions left residents and council members unsure of what the residency requirement is, so Sink’s opinion could be the fourth and likely final opinion on the matter.

She's one of a few attorneys involved in the issue who hasn't spoken up on the matter. Now, she's being subpoenaed and will testify at the May 1 hearing. 

Mayor Jim Strickland was also being looked at as a potential subpoena on the case but the Shelby County Election Commission ultimately decided not to subpoena the outgoing mayor. At the moment, it’s unclear why they changed their minds, but Chief Sink is expected to testify regardless.

Councilman Jeff Warren voted against requesting a legal opinion from Sink, adding that if she wanted to issue an opinion, she would have already – especially considering she is now having to testify in the lawsuit.

“I think if there’s a reason that the City Attorney needed to make an opinion or wanted to make an opinion, she would’ve made one so she must not be,” Warren said. “It’s in a lawsuit, so to ask someone to speak in a lawsuit before they get to the judge sometimes doesn’t make much sense.”

On the other hand, some councilmembers believe that of all the legal opinions needing to be heard, the city attorney’s is a priority.

“It’s gonna be important for us to have the opinion of our city attorney, see what decision she has made and go from there,” Councilwoman Jana Swearengen-Washington said.

Van turner, Willie Herenton and Sheriff Floyd Bonner could all be impacted by the controversial legal opinions on Memphis mayor and council residency requirements. Whether or not they meet those requirements would depend on if the final decision on residency requires living in Memphis for 5 years, 2 years or 30 days prior to the election.

Councilwoman Swearengen-Washington saying she voted for Chief Sink to give her legal opinion to make sure the right decision is made on who is allowed to run.

“I just wanna make sure that we are making the decision that would be best for our constituents,” Swearengen-Washington said. “We want it to be fair. We do want to make sure that whoever runs for mayor has been in the city has worked in the city has a true heart, a true love for the community. So, you know you just wanna make sure you’re making the right decision.”

To prevent any future debates over mayoral residency, the council approved a new measure going on a 2024 ballot. City voters will determine whether or not there should be a two-year residency requirement for mayor and council positions in august 2024.

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