Bartlett’s embattled charter abolished multiple times

Bartlett Sesquicentennial logoEditor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.

In its early days, Bartlett had several saloons or grog shops. Late in January 1885 several of the town matrons convened to state their intense dislike of the whiskey trade and expressed a desire for it be outlawed in Bartlett.

According to state law, saloons could not be abolished in incorporated towns. The ladies advocated the repeal of the town’s charter, which met with heated opposition from 49 of the registered voters (men) of the place, while the remaining 11 said they sided with the ladies. Each of the 49’ers received a sarcastic Valentine’s card bearing a caricature of himself. The women and their advocates prevailed, and the state legislature abolished the Bartlett Charter on March 4, 1885.

To re-enforce their case, the anti-whiskey group also helped in establishing a chartered school, thereby making it illegal for “spirits” to be sold in Bartlett because by statute the sale of liquor was forbidden within four miles of incorporated schools.

Bartlett lost its charter and its circuit court that same year. Several of the lawyers and other professionals left Bartlett for Memphis, where they could better practice their professions. The town and environs shipped about $50,000 worth of pears and plums into the market each year, but within two years the town became a virtual graveyard so far as business was concerned.

Although there was a stir to re-charter the town, it wasn’t sufficiently strong to prevail for more than a decade.

Finally, the pro-charter advocates succeeded, and the town was reincorporated on Dec. 15, 1897. The town boundaries were essentially the same, and the city had the same form of government (mayor-alderman) that it presumably had earlier. Another bitter local struggle over 1iquor sales peaked a few years later. Residents held two separate elections, with one the “for” side winning one and the “against” side winning the other. The anti-liquor sales side prevailed with the legislature, which abolished the town’s charter again on March 29, 1905.

The Shelby County delegation in the legislature was vocally divided about the repeal of the Bartlett charter, and some made a concerted effort to re-charter the town. The new charter was granted just two weeks later, on April 14, 1905.

The new charter provided the same mayor-alderman form of government but stipulated that the city had the privilege “to pass and enforce ordinances not in conflict with the Constitution and general laws of this State.” Bartlett residents had gained the right to pass ordinances against the sale of liquor within their municipality.

The present or former officials of Bartlett were to hold office until their terms of office had expired, whereupon an election would be held to elect a new group of officials. The town’s boundaries remained the same.

On March 29, 1973, at the request of the city’s leaders, the state legislature extended the terms of office for town mayor and six aldermen from one year to four years, effective for the terms of office beginning Jan. 1, 1975.

There was a consensus among the mayor and aldermen that the aldermen’s terms should be staggered so Bartlett would never have all newly elected leaders in any given election. So on March 18, 1982, legislation was passed, providing that the mayor and aldermen would continue to be elected at large but by designated positions. Initially, Positions 1, 2 and 3 would be held for four years, and positions 4, 5 and 6 would be held for two years, creating staggered terms. At the end of these initial terms of office, all these positions would be held for four-year terms.

With the accelerated growth of Bartlett and the need for a more comprehensive charter, the city leaders received help from Rep. Dan R. Byrd (District 99) and Rep. Ed K. Haley (District 95) as they sought a new charter from the state legislature. It was granted and signed into law on April 14, 1993. This charter changed the legal title of “Town of Bartlett” to “City of Bartlett,” describing an area that encompassed almost 15.5 square miles.

The corporate powers of the city government (mayor-aldermen) were broadly defined in 46 sections. The mayor and six aldermen would continue to hold office for four-year terms with staggered elections.

The regular election in November 1994 chose the mayor and aldermen for positions 1, 2 and 3. The regular election in November 1996 chose aldermen for positions 4, 5 and 6. There was no limit set for the number of times individuals could run and serve in these positions/ offices.

Under the new charter, a vice-mayor would be elected from among the aldermen for a four-year term. In the event the mayor resigned, moved away from the city or was convicted of criminal behavior, this officer would assume the office of mayor for the remainder of that term. A register was also to be elected from among the aldermen for a term of four years.

The mayor was given broad powers, enhancing the authority of the office. A city clerk, appointed by the city board, would “prepare and maintain a full and accurate record of all business transacted by the Board.” A city attorney would be a vital part of city government, appointed by the Board “to represent the city in all legal matters and proceedings in which any of its officers is officially interested.” Fred Kelly, who had long been city attorney, continued in this position.

A city judge would be elected for a term of eight years, with jurisdiction concurrent with the General Sessions courts of Shelby County; in his or her absence, a judge-designate would serve temporarily. The fiscal year of the City would be from July I to June 30. Annual budgets would be prepared by the city’s finance director. The city was authorized to issue bonds or to borrow money in conformance with state law; it was granted authority to levy taxes on the property of the inhabitants of Bartlett.

The Board was authorized to establish departments, offices and agencies for the welfare of the city. Among the residual powers extended to the city was the decision in any given circumstance to provide firefighting equipment and personnel outside the city limits.

The City of Bartlett continues to operate under this 1993 charter.

Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, special to the Express.