Jones: Decision on Conyers' unfilled House term could come 'this week'

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones arrives.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones said Tuesday she could decide as soon as before week's end whether she will serve an unfilled seven-week term for former U.S. Rep. John Conyers.

The Detroit Democrat won the primary to the fill the remaining two months of Conyers' term after the longtime Democrat resigned in December 2017 amid accusations of sexual harassment by female staffers. But former State Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit won the primary race to fill the two-year term for the 13th Congressional District seat starting Jan. 3 and become among the first Muslim women serving in Congress.

The primary victory ensured Jones would win the general election contest to serve out the unfilled term since no Republican is running. But congressional ethics rules might force Jones to resign her powerful council seat to fill the remaining seven weeks left in Conyers' two-year term — a sacrifice some Detroit experts question whether she would make.

"Probably within this week you'll hear an announcement," Jones said after the Goodfellows Tribute Breakfast where she presented Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan with the Edward H. McNamara Goodfellow of the Year Award.

At a Tuesday afternoon media session, Jones said she has asked the U.S. House Ethics Committee and "other establishments" whether she can serve as both a member of Congress and Detroit council president. The House Ethics Committee declined Monday to comment.

"I have reached out to several establishments to get another opinion," she said. "Of course, I’m not going to say that it matters or doesn’t matter, but I do want to know everything before I make a decision.” 

The House Ethics Manual is unclear on whether Jones could serve in Congress and council.

"...Questions regarding the possibility of a Member holding a local office rarely arise," according to the manual. It is unclear whether a council president would be deemed a "high state office" that would be incompatible with serving in Congress.

"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,’ " the ethics manual said.

"Any House Member considering holding a state or local office should first consult with the (Ethics) Committee and, when there may be a question of whether the office involved is a ‘high state office,’ the House Parliamentarian.”

The Detroit Law Department found that no Michigan laws bar Jones from simultaneously serving in Congress and the City Council, but suggested there would be "complications" with federal rules.

"Practically speaking, the logistics involved in holding dual offices would be complicated and they should be deliberately considered in advance of taking office and often thereafter," Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence T. García wrote in a memo delivered to the City Council in mid-August.

"With that said, my review has identified no ban against a member of Congress holding local office, and the House's own publication suggests it is possible."

There is a possibility that Jones might mount a surprise write-in battle for the full two-year term that Tlaib is seeking. But it would be an uphill battle with Tlaib's name is automatically on the Nov. 6 ballot for that position, but Jones' is not.

But at the Goodfellows breakfast, Jones noted how Duggan mounted a write-in campaign for mayor in 2013 after getting thrown off the ballot and secured a seemingly impossible victory in the primary over Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, whom he also would defeat in the general election.

Detroit News staffer Richard Burr contributed