Tuesday, April 13, 2004



Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Minutes after hearing himself extolled Tuesday afternoon by city council member Ta Juan Stout-Mitchell and experiencing a standing ovation in the City Hall auditorium, city finance director Joseph Lee was asked if he might, as Mitchell suggested, revive his on-again/off-again candidacy for the directorship of Memphis Light Gas & Water Division.

A clearly pleased Lee’s answer: “I’m not ruling anything out.”

What Mitchell had said to a packed auditorium that had just heard Mayor Willie Herenton’s presentation of his fiscal 2004/5 budget was that Lee, whom she seemed to credit for much of the no-new-tax aspects of the mayor’s budget, should “reconsider” his decision, announced only Monday, to withdraw as one of five finalists to become MLGW head.

“If you can do this...” Mitchell said. She then paused for emphasis, prompting a standing ovation for Lee. She then resumed, advising the city finance director to “pray over your decision again.”

Mayor Herenton himself declined afterward to offer his own explicit encouragement, however. After telling a group of reporters that it was harsh treatment by “the media” that had likely impelled Lee’s withdrawal on Monday, the mayor said only that he was prepared to receive the council’s recommendations on four other finalists, and, if not satisfied with one of the four would “go on from there” --- presumably to reopen competition for the job. The mayor seemed to be implying that Lee might keep his options open until then.

Council member Edmund Ford, contacted after the mayor’s speech, agreed with Mitchell that Lee should re-enter the field. His colleague E.C. Jones had said before the speech that the finance director might have sensed he didn’t have the votes on the council and withdrawn in a spirit of gallantry, to spare himself and allies on the council embarrassment.

The mayor’s budget drew initial -- though, in some cases, qualified -- praise from council members in the aftermath of his presentation. Without raising taxes, it proposes to increase funding for youth employment and fire and police services, to provide pay raises for city employeees, as well as to pursue a variety of neighborhood “revitalization” programs, riverfront development, and a stepped-up urban-transportation network.


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