Thursday, July 9, 2009

Etiquette Lesson

How to respond to the mayor's latest announcement.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2009 at 4:00 AM

In the unlikely event that Mayor Willie Herenton actually retires or resigns or whatever he wants to call it on July 30th, Hizzoner says there will be a "retirement reception in my honor" in the Hall of Mayors on July 31st from 2 to 4 p.m.

In the even more unlikely event that you should be invited to attend that reception, you should respond properly.

On page 400 of her book Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, author Judith Martin offers some advice. The acceptance should say "Mr. and/or Ms. (your name) accepts with pleasure your kind invitation."

Tell him you're coming. Then change your mind.

It's not like there won't be other options. There will be plenty of partying on the day Herenton finally leaves office. Memphians will celebrate in homes, bars, block parties, and restaurants like it's an NBA championship, an NCAA title, and a new millennium.

The question is, will that day ever arrive?

City Council chairman Myron Lowery, who would become the interim mayor, said, "You have to take an individual at his word." But what if the individual already has unresigned twice?

Then "it is up to every individual to make up his own mind," said Lowery, who appears to be resigned to waiting it out. As former city councilman Jack Sammons said, "Unfortunately, he [Herenton] has got the ball, and there's not a lot anyone can do about it."

The mayor who has been in office since 1992 suddenly discovered last week that "there remains some important city business matters that I need additional time to complete."

Then he finally got around to the nature of that important business. The new city charter is "silent on some important issues," like whether or not the mayor pro tem can hold an executive and legislative position at the same time.

"Should the citizens in a special election vote for a mayor and your vacant council seat?" Herenton asked. "We need answers. An immediate friendly lawsuit may be necessary."

There it is. The way out of getting out. A friendly lawsuit filed with a friendly judge so Herenton can say his departure date depends on the court. This sudden concern for the separation of powers is as phony as everything else about Herenton's charade.

"The charter is carefully written," said Steve Wirls, a political science professor at Rhodes College and adviser to the Memphis City Council and Memphis Charter Commission. "Had the authors thought that the chairman of the council would need to vacate his seat in order to become the interim mayor they would have said so clearly. They clearly did not say so."

Wirls said that neither the charter nor the amendments approved by voters in 2008 say anything about the council chairman's seat being "frozen" if he or she becomes mayor pro tem, as city council attorney Allan Wade wrote in an opinion this week.

"I was appalled and angry at Wade's opinion," Wirls said. "It is not a good-faith reading of the charter. It is a convoluted attempt to get around the charter's clarity on this point. He is acting more as Herenton's personal attorney than as a public servant."

In his opinion, Wade wrote:

"Myron Lowery does not lose his seat on the council because of the mandate of the charter that he become mayor pro tem; however, his status as a council member is frozen as of the date he takes the oath of office as mayor pro tem until he returns or becomes mayor."

Wirls said the charter language on the interim mayor is "an exception to take care of an exceptional circumstance." It does not require him to resign or devote his entire time to mayoral duties.

"It says, in plain language, exactly the opposite," Wirls said. "The language clearly states that he will be both at the same time."

The issue is complicated by the fact that Lowery was an elected member of the charter commission that drafted the amendments and is an announced candidate for the job of mayor if there is a special election.

"I have no fight at all with the mayor," Lowery said. "I didn't encourage him to resign."

No, he didn't. Herenton did that all by himself. Not that it makes any difference.

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