Jones may have to resign City Council seat to serve two months in Congress

Brenda Jones works the crowd after the  "People’s Candidate Forum" for the Michigan's 13th congressional district at New Providence Baptist Church in Detroit on June 9, 2018. (file)

Detroit — City Council President Brenda Jones may be forced to step down from council if she wins the special election for a partial congressional term to serve the two-month stint in Washington, D.C.

The state lists Jones as defeating Tlaib, 37.75 percent to 35.85 percent, in unofficial results from the county. The Wayne County Clerk's Office hasn't posted any unofficial results in the special primary on its website. 

If Jones prevails, she is supposed to finish out the two-month term of former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., who held the seat for nearly 53 years until stepping down in December amid allegations of sexual misconduct. 

U.S. House ethics rules wouldn't require Jones to quit the council, but she would need to get special approval for the dual arrangement from the House Committee on Ethics because holding a local office could conflict with her congressional duties.

"While the Constitution does not prohibit House Members from simultaneously holding state or local office, the House has determined that 'a high state office is incompatible with congressional membership, due to the manifest inconsistency of the respective duties of the positions,'" according to House ethics guidelines.

'Any House Member considering holding a state or local office should first consult with the Standards Committee and, when there may be a question of whether the office involved is a 'high state office,' the House Parliamentarian."

The city's legal staff is reviewing "a number of questions" tied to Jones' unofficial win of the partial term, Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia told The Detroit News in a statement.

"The election results for the U.S. Congress 13th District race pose some interesting and unusual questions," Garcia said. "The Law Department is reviewing these matters."

Jones would not indicate what she might do.

"“We are still reviewing the results," she said in a Thursday text.

It's not clear if the dual arrangement would conflict with state law. 

"The Secretary of State’s Office would not be the agency determining that. It’s a question more for the U.S. House or the city’s legal counsel," Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said in a Wednesday email.

Attorney General Bill Schuette's office might get involved, Woodhams said. If so, the office likely would "refer this sort of hypothetical question to private attorneys to provide legal counsel," he said.

Tlaib of Detroit won in the bid for the full two-year term that begins in January, earning 33.2 percent of the vote to Jones' 29.2 percent, according to unofficial results.

The roughly two-month term would start after the Nov. 6 general election and expire when Tlaib assumes office in early January.

Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party, said he will be meeting with state party officials and attorneys to discuss options. 

“But as far as I understand it, the election law is very clear on when and how a name can be replaced for the general election," Kinloch said Wednesday.

"We’re at a quagmire because Council President Jones is an important part of the City Council, and I cannot fathom the idea that she would be willing to resign from the council in order to serve for such a brief moment, even though the privilege would be an august privilege.”

Kinloch hopes the matter does not further delay filing the 13th District seat, which has been vacant since early December when Conyers resigned.

Running a write-in candidate for the special election in November is not realistic, he said, because Jones' name would still be on the ballot, and she would benefit from straight-ticket voting. 

Jones and her lawyers “really need to consider the fallout” of any decision she makes, Kinloch added.

Jones has been a "stabilizing force" on Detroit's council, political consultant Greg Bowens said, adding it would not make sense for Jones to step down to serve a couple months in the congressional seat.

The fact she's apparently unable to walk away from the win could create challenges for the city, he said.

"That’s a devastating blow to Detroit," Bowens said. "Elections have consequences, unfortunately. It's a shame, really. You need all hands on deck to keep Detroit moving forward."

If Jones does step down, the remaining council members would appoint a new member to fill the vacancy. The panel adopted a process for the selection in 2014 with the resignation of ex-council member Saunteel Jenkins.

The appointment would be approved by a two-thirds majority vote

It appeared that Tlaib lost the special primary election for Conyers’ unfinished term to Jones because voters skipped that box on the ballot. 

Nearly 2,476 fewer people voted in the special primary election for the partial term than the over 89,000 who voted in the election for the two-year term won by Tlaib, according to unofficial state results. 

Matt Grossman, an associate professor of political science at Michigan State University, said voters were “obviously” confused by having two similar races on the ballot. 

“It’s not surprising that that confusion affected some people, and made some people only vote on one of the questions,” he said.