By Bill Short
The city of Millington is exploring an issue that arose after two municipal school system employees won alderman positions in the Nov. 8 city elections.
Missy Boyd Ervin defeated Position 1 Alderman Bethany Huffman, and Position 2 Alderman Hank Hawkins defeated Al Bell.
Ervin is a Special Education assistant at Millington Elementary School, and Hawkins is a teacher at Millington Central High School.
Section 3.04 of the Millington City Charter states that any city employee, other than an elected official, who seeks an elected city position must resign from that job no later than the date on which the candidate’s qualifying petition is filed with the Shelby County Election Commission.
And a Tennessee attorney general’s opinion states that employees of a municipal school system are employees of the city in which the system is located.
When Hawkins was first elected as an alderman in August 2012, he was a longtime employee of the Shelby County School System. But when Millington created a municipal school system by ordinance in 2013, he became an employee of that system.
During a recent telephone interview, City Attorney Charles Perkins said Hawkins’ service for the remainder of his initial term is “not in question,” because a “constitutional provision” prohibits that term from being “shortened.”
But he was asked how Hawkins could run for a second term this year, when he is an employee of the city. Perkins replied that he cannot tell candidates what to do, only inform them of their options.
“I don’t represent them, I represent the city,” he noted. “I can advise them of what the city’s position is, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Perkins said that, since the election, he has given a copy of the attorney general’s opinion to both Ervin and Hawkins and told them that they are prohibited by the Charter from serving as aldermen next year.
He said it would be a “correct supposition” that they will have to either quit their jobs with the school system or resign as an alderman and alderman-elect before the new Board of Mayor and Aldermen is sworn in on New Year’s Day.
“But that’s not my call,” he noted. “It’s their call. In each case, they wanted to think about it.”
Although the Election Commission was scheduled to certify the election results early this week, Perkins said it does not “handle” contested elections.
“I wouldn’t say the certification of the election is immaterial,” he acknowledged, “but it’s not the controlling factor here.”
Early this week, both Perkins and City Manager Ed Haley said they had not yet heard from Ervin or Hawkins what they will decide to do.
The city attorney said both he and his law partner Gerald Lawson have done and are still doing “lots of research” on this issue. But they believe school system employees are city employees.
“That’s our position, and that’s the attorney general’s position,” he noted. “So, we plan to follow that thinking.”
Perkins was asked how he anticipates that this issue can be resolved.
“We’re still working on that,” he replied. “I’m hopeful that it can be resolved amicably without any issues. And I think there’s a good chance it can be.”