They're former colleagues, but on Tuesday they were chippy, suspicious, abrupt, overly courteous, uncompromising, and not quite sure what to call Myron Lowery.
The interim mayor for another two and a half months, Lowery patiently answered questions in a committee session, in a full-council session, and a couple of impromptu press conferences. At the end of the day, his choice for chief administrative officer, Jack Sammons, was approved by the council. But his choice for city attorney, Veronica Coleman Davis, was put on hold for two weeks, during which time she will be a deputy city attorney.
The weird battle of the first week is over Elbert Jefferson, of all people. The city attorney resigned, but his resignation was not accepted by former Mayor Willie Herenton, who wants him to remain as his pawn in the legal department. A low-profile position that has nothing to do with criminal prosecutions, the city attorney was politicized by Herenton and is now being defended by his allies on the council.
"Allow me to have team members who support me," Lowery asked the council, saying that Jefferson's loyalties "will remain with the former mayor."
Jefferson supporters led by Barbara Swearengen Ware got the council to agree to wait two weeks to act on the appointment of Coleman Davis, a former United States attorney, during which time a chancellor will decide whether or not Jefferson can be ousted. While Lowery was trying to explain all this, Ricky Wilkins, the attorney who represents Jefferson against Lowery watched in silence. If Jefferson has anything to say about it, the meter was probably running on the city's tab.
After a couple of snippy comments, council members decided to postpone the vote on Coleman Davis a couple of hours until they met downstairs in full session. Lowery attempted to kill them with kindness — "the council needs to exercise more strength and power" — but Ware and Wanda Halbert were having none of it. Things got off to a bad start when Edmund Ford Jr. was introduced as Harold Ford. On top of that, several members stumbled over calling Lowery mayor or interim mayor or councilman. When the full session began, it took only a minute or two for the motion to pass that delayed the whole thing for two weeks.
"This is in the spirit of compromise," Lowery said.
Halbert, who plans to run for mayor in the special election, said "the community has been up in arms and very confused" by the flap over Jefferson, possibly because 99 percent of them have no idea who he is. She called for a hold on "all" Lowery appointments, but a colleague, Jim Strickland, pointed out that the interim mayor has made only one other appointment requiring council approval — Jack Sammons as CAO. Media spokesman Donna Davis, former televison anchor for WMC-TV, does not require council approval.
The next big question was over the residency of Coleman Davis, who lives in Millington. Lowery said the charter gives her six months to move into the city. Ware said that doesn't apply to temporary employees. Lowery said Coleman Davis is not a temporary employee, but a full-time employee working as city attorney during an interim mayor's administration.
Sammons, whose Memphis residency is not in dispute, got the approval of all but two council members, former colleagues Joe Brown and Ford.
After taking another round of questions, Lowery called it a day. He left the city hall garage in a minivan.