The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Resignations and Declarations

Reference Number: MTAS-1018
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: November 30, 2016
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Resignations and Declarations of a Vacancy
MTAS frequently responds to inquiries concerning the “correct” way for a board member to resign his or her office. Surprisingly, few if any city charters specify a process for its municipal officers to resign their positions. 

For any municipal official, the best and most responsible way to resign their position is to put it in writing. Elected officials wanting to leave office in a professional, dignified and helpful fashion would do well to submit a written statement addressed to the mayor and board. As a minimum, the resignation should state the title of the office being resigned, the date on which the resignation is effective and bear the notarized signature of the resigning office member.

It is permissible, but certainly not necessary, for the written statement to enumerate the reasons for the resignation. Usually, a short, politely worded statement is sufficient to dispel any rumors about the causes of the resignation.

Some public officials resign their offices by making a simple verbal statement. Such resignations are sufficient to effectively terminate one’s participation on the board, but they are clearly not the most professional and courteous way to do the job. Verbal resignations can be misunderstood by the board, the employees and the general public – including the people who voted for and supported the official. They can create legal headaches for the municipality and should be avoided whenever possible.

In the case of verbal resignations, the municipality should document the names and addresses of any witnesses to the resignation – ideally including other members of the board and/or the city staff and noting the time and place of the resignation. If the verbal resignation was made at a meeting of the board, the city recorder’s minutes should clearly state the name and title of the resigning official along with the effective date, if possible.

When does a vacancy legally occur?
Whether a resignation is written or verbal, it does not take effect unless and until the board votes to accept it and declares the seat to be vacant.

As with the resignation itself, it is best that the acceptance and vacancy declaration be made in writing, by passage of a short resolution. The resolution should indicate the name and title of the resigning official, as well as a statement declaring the seat to be vacant. A sample resignation acceptance resolution is included in the addendum to this pamphlet.

The board may accept a resignation by adoption of a motion made at a properly convened meeting. Here again, the motion should specify the name and title of the resigning official. The motion should also declare the resigning official’s seat to be vacant. The motion and resulting vote should be clearly stated in the city recorder’s minutes.

Once the resignation has been accepted by the board and the office declared vacant, a copy of the resignation resolution or the minutes reflecting the board’s acceptance should be delivered to the county election commission.

Problems relating to retracted resignations
It is not unusual for a board member to change his mind and want to retract his resignation. This is most likely to happen when the member resigns in the heat of a contentious debate or after a board decision has not gone his way. It is not unusual for board members to reconsider their resignations the morning after they announced they were quitting.

An elected official may retract his or her resignation at any time before the board has voted to accept it. However, after the board has voted to accept the resignation, it may not be retracted. See State ex. Rel. v. Bush, Sheriff, 141 Tenn. 229 (1918).

The time between an official’s resignation announcement and the board’s acceptance of it can be crucial. Any delay in accepting the resignation and declaring a vacancy increases the opportunity for the member to change his mind – creating a potentially chaotic situation in city hall. Retracted resignations can lead to confusion and worse in city government. If for no other reason, municipal boards should act quickly to accept the resignation of a member. 

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