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“One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” — Plato

Memphis and Shelby County Politics

Entering the mall in downtown Memphis

Local Politics 101 | Links to Gov't Websites

General Government

All free governments
“ are managed by the combined WISDOM and FOLLY of the people.” James Garfield

What topics are discussed at the meetings of local governing bodies?
There are usually three types of items on the agenda: ordinances, resolutions and discussion items. "Ordinance" is the term applied to local laws, just as "statutes" refers to state and federal laws. To become law, an ordinance must be approved by the majority of the governing body and pass three readings.

Resolutions, though not technically laws, are nevertheless powerful writs of a legislative body. They are formal statements of decisions or expressions of opinion adopted by such a body. Resolutions require only one vote by the governing body, as opposed to the three votes taken for ordinances. A "simple majority" of members present and voting is sufficient to pass a resolution.

Discussion items are exactly what the term indicates - items placed on the agenda by a member of the governing body for the purpose of discussion. No final action is anticipated and usually none occurs. The matter is simply one that a member believes important enough to warrant discussion.

How can a topic be added to the governing body meeting agenda?
Persons having business requiring approval by the governing body are strongly urged to schedule these matters with the appropriate municipal division so requests reach the governing body through normal channels. Requests for special consideration should be avoided. Most agenda items are discussed in committee before they go before the full governing body for a vote.

How does an ordinance become adopted and then become law?
In order for an ordinance to be adopted, it must first be read on three different days in open session of the governing body (City Council, County Commission, Board of Aldermen, etc.) and the minutes of the last reading must be approved. Most ordinances are adopted after receiving a majority vote of the membership of the governing body, but a few require a two-thirds majority vote in order to be adopted. A roll call vote is usually taken on all ordinances on third reading. Once an ordinance is approved by the governing body, it goes to the Mayor for his signature. If the Mayor signs the ordinance, it becomes law fifteen days after its passage unless a later date is provided for in the ordinance. Should the Mayor veto an ordinance, it is returned to the governing body for action within thirty days. A majority plus one vote by the governing body is necessary to override the Mayor's veto, except for ordinances that require a two-thirds majority vote which requires a two-thirds majority vote to override the Mayor's veto. If the Mayor chooses not to sign or veto an ordinance, it will automatically become law after a 10-day period or later if a specific date is contained within the ordinance.

Where can I get a copy of an ordinance?
For the City of Memphis, copies of proposed ordinances and recently approved ordinances can be found at the office of the Memphis City Council located at 125 North Main Street, Room 514 or online.

To view and search the Memphis City Charter and Code of Ordinances, go online.

For Shelby County, copies of all proposed ordinances are available during regular business hours at the office of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners located at 160 North Main Street, Suite 450 or online at

To view and search the Shelby County Charter and/or Code of Ordinances, go online.

How do I contact my local elected officials?
Elected officials phone numbers, email address, and mailing addresses can be found on the appropriate government websites.

Memphis City Council
Shelby County elected officials
City of Memphis School Board
Shelby County School Board

If you wish to address the governing body during an official meeting on a specific agenda item, you must fill out a comment card with the uniformed sergeant-at-arms. When the specific agenda item is up for discussion, the Chair of the governing body will ask those who filled out the comments card to address the body. You will be asked to state your full name and address and then will have a specific time frame, usually only a few minutes, to make your comments.