The Memphis City Council doesn’t get around to this until around two this afternoon during executive session. But Mayor Willie Herenton’s delayed resignation on July 30 surfaced suddenly at a morning committee session.
The council was discussing a proposal by Council member Kemp Conrad to require more detailed reporting of travel expenses by city employees. Conrad, at one point, asked City Finance Director Roland McElrath what the administration’s position on a particular detail might be. McElrath said he would have to check with the city’s Chief Administrative Officer.
“We don’t have a CAO,” Conrad replied.
“Yes, we do,” said council member Janis Fullilove, referring to Keith McGee whose resignation was to take effect July 4 but whom Herenton indicated this week would be returning for his three week extension in the mayor’s office.
The exchange opened the political flood gates.
“For him to come back to that position, he needs to come back through the process,” Council member Shea Flinn said speaking of a new confirmation vote for McGee to continue.
“My understanding is he was never separated from the city,” replied City Attorney Elbert Jefferson. “He has not been separated from payroll.”
“At some point, a resignation has to actually mean someone retires, or resigns or something,” Flinn said. “This is ridiculous.”
Jefferson took exception to that. “I can be professional without being condescending. We are educated. You’re a lawyer. I’m a lawyer. We couldn’t do that in court,” he said to Flinn.
City Human Resources Director Lorene Essex said other city employees over the years have withdrawn their retirements or resignations before being separated from the city payroll.
“This is no different from what we’ve done with others,” Essex said noting that minutes of a pension board meeting last week at which McGee’s and Herenton’s resignations were accepted had not been approved.
“We need to respect the process called for by the charter. We throw it out when you don’t like what the council’s doing,” Flinn said.
“A lot of my colleagues are taking this very personal,” said Council member Janis Fullilove. “I’m just asking my colleagues to be open minded. … People change their minds all the time about things.”
“But the charter doesn’t change,” Flinn replied.
Also this morning, a group of ministers representing Operation PUSH-Rainbow Coalition and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference called on Herenton to push back his resignation date even further to Feb. 20 of next year.
Rev. LaSimba Gray of the local Operation PUSH-Rainbow Coalition chapter said the group is considering filing a lawsuit in Chancery Court over what it considers to be “unresolved issues of separation of executive powers from legislative powers.”
A February 20 resignation date by Herenton would mean council chairman Myron Lowery would not be mayor and there would be no special election exclusively for mayor. Under that scenario, a mayor’s race would go on the August 2010 county ballot along with the race for Shelby County mayor and races for the Shelby County Commission.