The Memphis City Council has given final approval to a resolution declaring a vacancy in the Memphis Mayor’s office effective July 31.
The 7-6 council vote Tuesday afternoon was to approve the minutes of the council meeting two week ago and it didn’t come without a fair amount of council debate and some parliamentary maneuvering.
The part of the minutes dealing with the vacancy resolution was voted on separately from the rest of the minutes of the July 7 meeting.
‘The mayor says why don’t we believe him,” Council member Shea Flinn said as he called for making the vacancy declaration final.
In June, Herenton announced he would resign effective July 10. But he later changed his resignation date to July 30. He then sent another letter that seemed to some to rescind all resignation dates despite Herenton’s repeated declaration, including one as recently as Monday, that he still plans to make July 30 his last day as mayor.
Some council members argued it was premature to declare the vacancy until Herenton’s last day in office had come and gone.
Council member Joe Brown said three council members who are weighing a run in the special election — Myron Lowery, Jim Strickland and Kemp Conrad — should not have voted on the matter. All three voted to affirm the vacancy resolution.
“I’m telling you that three of you can’t vote on anything up here. Basically, you are corrupt,” said Brown who excluded Wanda Halbert. Halbert is the fourth council member to either consider a bid for mayor or announce they are running in the special election to come. Halbert opposed approving the minutes making the vacancy resolution official.
The Shelby County Election Commission will meet Wednesday afternoon to accept the council resolution and set a filing deadline for candidates to file their qualifying petitions and set a date for the special election. The election date is expected to be in late October.
Grumblings about too many contenders in the coming special election for Memphis mayor have turned into sit down meetings to talk some of the contenders out of running.
Shelby County Commissioner James Harvey told The Daily News that he met this week with Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. Harvey said he was unimpressed with Wharton’s pitch to get Harvey out of the race. Wharton reportedly had a separate meeting scheduled this week with former Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Sr.
Harvey said the large number of possible contenders, at least 15, is an indication of dissatisfaction with established black political leaders. Harvey, a first term commissioner, counts himself among political newcomers who are challenging the results and records of leaders like Wharton and outgoing Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
“We’ll see how it unravels,” he told The Daily News. “Who knows what could happen?”
No filing deadline for candidates or election date has been set by the Shelby County Election Commission. The commission is waiting on the Memphis City Council to approve the minutes of the July 7 council session. At the session, council members approved a resolution declaring the mayor’s office vacant on July 31, in keeping with the later resignation date set by Herenton in June after he initially announced plans to resign on July 10.
Since the council session, Herenton has reaffirmed that he intends to leave office on July 30. The council meets again on July 21.
Under terms of the city charter, the city council chairman — in this case Myron Lowery — becomes mayor pro tempore of the city for three months after the office becomes vacant. And the election is to be scheduled by the city council for 90 days after the office becomes vacant unless there is a regularly scheduled general election within six months of the vacancy. There is no election already scheduled for the six months from the end of July.
Attorney Charles Carpenter walked across Beale Street from his law office to Church Park Thursday to declare his candidacy in the coming special mayoral election.
He also crossed a line from campaign manager and strategist to candidate. Carpenter has been a close political advisor to outgoing Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and ran all five of the Herenton campaigns.
Carpenter said citizens are “tired of the same old recycled ideas and professional politicians.”
“They have told us, we don’t need the same old process filled with stale ideas, inflexible thinking and mediocre results,” he said. “But for the suffering that the citizens of Memphis are enduring and but for the lack of leadership that we see with our current staff of elected officials, I may not be here today.”
Asked if he was excluding Herenton from the criticism, Carpenter said: “I don’t think I qualified my remarks by excepting anyone. I’m talking about as a whole. I wasn’t pointing out any particular elected official and I wasn’t excluding anyone.”
Carpenter’s campaign chairman will be CME Church Bishop and Tennessee Valley Authority board member William H. Graves. His campaign treasurer is accountant Stan Sawyer. Also among the group of 30 supporters standing with Carpenter in the park were business leader Frank Banks and former city treasurer Osby Howard. Banks and Howard were a critical part of the fundraising engine that complimented Carpenter’s tactical management of Herenton’s historic 1991 upset election win by 142 votes.
Carpenter said Herenton urged him not to run for mayor. Earlier Carpenter said he had questioned why Herenton wanted to run in the 2010 Democratic Congressional primary.
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.