A C Wharton Jr. is now mayor of Memphis, taking the oath before a packed Hall of Mayors at noon.
Wharton said a new city ethics policy and an open door policy will be his first priorities. And he said he intends to approach his goals in increments of 30 days – 45 days and 90 days.
He also called for an end to rancor and divisiveness “too often found in our politics.”
Wharton Jr. resigned as Shelby County mayor at nine this morning. That’s when Wharton signed his resignation letter. Joyce Avery, the County Commission chairwoman, then took the oath of office as acting county mayor at 10:30am.
This afternoon, the County Commission declared the office of county mayor vacant which is a first step toward filling the vacancy by appointment. The commission is scheduled to interview candidates for the appointment during committee sessions on Nov. 4 and vote at its regular Nov. 9 meeting. However, some commissioners are already talking about a special meeting a week later if no one can get the seven votes to claim the mayoral appointment.
The two leading contenders for the mayoral appointment are County Commissioners Joe Ford and J.W. Gibson. Gibson was absent today, but sent word that he won’t be able to attend the Nov. 9 meeting.
Under terms of the Shelby County charter, Avery serves for up to 45 days as the commission decides who it wants to appoint. During that time, vice chairman Sidney Chism becomes leader of the 13 member body which will be functioning with 12 members.
Avery is the first woman to serve as Shelby County mayor. She told supporters and well wishers today that her priority is “continuity” and that she will not offer “grand projects” or other major changes in county government.
During the ceremony, County Commissioner Steve Mulroy gave Wharton a broom for his use at City Hall. He gave Avery a large bottle of aspirin.
“It’s my hope that you won’t need it. But it’s my fear that you might,” he told Avery.
Once the mayoral appointment is made, Avery will go back to being chairman which is different than the procedure used at City Hall when Council chairman Myron Lowery became Mayor Pro Tempore. Lowery handed off the chairmanship to vice chairman Harold Collins and Collins remains chairman for the rest of this year even though Lowery returned to his superdistrict council position today.
Shelby County attorney Brian Kuhn told The Daily News the County Charter doesn’t specifically address such a change in power and that his legal opinion is that Avery returns to her post as chairman.