This story has been corrected to accurately explain the timeframe of mayoral elections.
The editorial board of The Tennessean called Wednesday for Mayor Megan Barry to resign. Leaders of the daily paper wrote that they no longer believe she has acted in the best interests of the city in how she carried out a 2-year affair with a security officer.
The mayor has thus far rebuffed the suggestion that she step down.
And while four investigations are underway, there’s not been a formal effort to oust the mayor, nor has an elected official explicitly called for resignation.
Amid the uncertainty, the process is clear for filling the mayor’s role, should a monumental change occur, even though no mayor has resigned since the consolidation of Metro Government in the early 1960s.
The Metro Charter outlines how the vice mayor — who is elected to lead the Metro Council — would assume the role. Currently the position is held by David Briley. The charter calls for anyone filling in for the position to do so for less than a year, so if Briley were needed soon, he would hold the position until an election in August.
If he were called on after that, then he would serve out the remainder of the term, until an August 2019 election.
Other than voluntarily stepping down, legal analysts consider Tennessee a difficult state to remove elected officials:
- The Metro Council can’t fire a mayor, but could issue a request to resign.
- A recall petition would need close to 60,000 signatures (15 percent of registered voters).
- The Tennessee Supreme Court has warned that ouster lawsuits be used sparingly: “Shreds of human imperfections gathered together to mold charges of official dereliction should be carefully scanned before a reputable officer is removed from office...”
- And a criminal indictment isn’t sufficient — only felony convictions trigger removal from office.
For an authoritative explanation of the state’s ouster law, the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service has a concise write-up. The Memphis Daily News has a round-up of ouster efforts in recent decades, including former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, who ultimately was removed after federal criminal convictions.