Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Halbert, Lowery Feud in Angry Email Exchange

Charges of "Silly," "Unprofessional," "How Dare You!," and (the piece de resistance) "you are not well respected by your colleagues" fly back and forth. The subject? A Council vote to limit each member to five minutes' discussion on a given issue.

Posted by on Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 5:09 PM

Halbert (left); Lowery
  • Halbert (left); Lowery
An exchange of angry emails between two members of the Memphis City Council reflects not only a serious disagreement over a Council matter two weeks ago but larger discontents simmering on the Council regarding personalities, issues, and procedures.

The immediate argument is between District 4 Council member Wanda Halbert and Council chairman Myron Lowery, who holds a District 8 Super-District position. Halbert was one of two Council members whose early departure from the meeting of Tuesday, August 2, seems to have provoked a key rules change from the eight members who stayed behind to keep a quorum.

The rules changes, voted on as the last item of business at that August 2 meeting and approved 8-0, restricts members to a five-minute time limitation in their comments on any issue before the Council.

After reading about the rules change in the Flyer, Halbert dispatched an email to chairman Lowery and other Council members, accusing them of being “SILLY and UNPROFESSIONAL,” in the course of stating several other complaints about the Council’s action.

Lowery ‘s response to Halbert’s email was just as intense. He observed that Halbert had so far received no reply to her original email from other Council members and said, “That's because you are not well respected by your colleagues.” He also responded to criticism from Halbert concerning several Council members’ past action in recusing themselves from voting on specific items.

“HOW DARE YOU !!,” wrote Lowery, going the all-caps route himself. “… WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION YOUR PEERS ABOUT THEIR MOTIVATION ?”

Halbert's response to that was relatively restrained: "I simply would like to see a more professional approach to the method and not the madness but I digress to will of the majority.”

Below is the text of the original Flyer article which triggered the email exchange, followed by the text of the emails themselves:

Friday, August 5, 2011


"In So Many Words or Less?": City Council Decrees Less

Posted by Jackson Baker on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 1:30 PM

Considering all the attention that has been paid to the last several meetings of the Memphis City Council, it would seem impossible that fundamental changes in the Council’s procedures, which have to be voted on, could escape public notice.

But such was the case last Tuesday in the wake of the two main items on the Council agenda: disposition of city employees’ demand to revoke a 4.6-percent paycut contained in the current year’s budget (resolution of which was put off for at least 30 days); and the formal signing off on the Memphis City Schools budget and approval of a $78.5 million payment to MCS for the 2011-12 academic year.

Though the auditorium would fairly rapidly empty out upon the completion of action on these two issues, there were other items left to be discussed — some of which drew extended commentary from Council members.

Two other factors began to loom large. One was the fact that Tuesday night had been designated as “National Night Out” for Council members, an occasion for holding meetings out in their districts or otherwise dealing with constituents.

Another factor was that several items (importantly, the schools matter) required the kind of immediate implementation that needed the Council’s ratification by a procedure called “same-night minutes” — i.e., formal approval of the minutes on the night of the action rather than the customary two weeks later. And approval of “same-night minutes,” like the customary delayed kind, required a Council quorum of seven members.

The problem was that, for reasons of National Night Out or whatever, Council members began to leak out, endangering prospects for keeping a quorum. When the number of Council members got down to the bare minimum of seven, a few members began to resent that the entire burden of holding the fort — and thereby keeping things legal — had been left to them.

In the aftermath of it all, some of the stick-it-out seven would cite two Council members, who had spoken at length concerning their objections to the proposed handling of a Community Redevelopment Plan for the Greenlaw Community Center, then left the stage and the auditorium. The two members were Wanda Halbert and Joe Brown, the latter of whom has made one of his rhetorical catch-phrases, “in so many words or less,” famous in the course of many Council debates.

Later on, as the Council neared the end of its agenda, Councilman Ed Ford asked to speak regarding “a point of personal privilege.” The point turned out to be a complaint about the departed members. Said Ford: “I’m going to say this because I’m not going to bite my tongue. We should have more than seven council members here, and I really don’t appreciate it when our quorum cold be imperiled….Nobody’s better than the next person and if somebody cannot do that job they may need to step aside.”

Council chairman Myron Lowery seemed to agree and took something of a mea culpa: “If an individual goes on and on the chair should bring him in…Perhaps I should do a better job of reining him in.” Lowery would go on to say he understood the “frustration with members who spoke for long periods of time tonight and then left, leaving those of us here to complete the work of the Council.”

The chairman also made a point of noting that “we control our own rules.” After Councilman Harold Collins added his amen to what Ford had said, applying it further to absenteeism at committee meetings, Councilman Reid Hedgepeth responded to Lowery’s reminder concerning the Council’s prerogatives.

Somewhat unexpectedly, he moved as follows: “that each council member has five minutes to speak on an issue.” Upon Lowery‘s request for clarification, Hedgepeth said he meant for that stricture to co-exist with a standing restriction disallowing more than three comments on an issue by any given Council member. Councilman Jim Strickland seconded the motion, which would pass unanimously on a vote by the remaining members, who had meanwhile increased their number to eight — Lowery, Ford, Hedgepeth, Strickland, Collins, Berlin Boyd, Bill Boyd, and Shea Flinn.

Hedgepeth, normally somewhat taciturn himself, noted, “I think we will very rarely have to hit a stopwatch on this. We’ll know the times.” And he declined to ask for a “same-nights minutes” vote on his resolution, inviting input from the missing members on the occasion of the Council’s next meeting in two weeks’ time — said input presumably to be stated in integers of five minutes or less.


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Halbert responded via email to Lowery, with copies to other Council members, on Friday August 5:

This was really SILLY and UNPROFESSIONAL!!!!! Tuesday was NOT the first time council members have left meetings early yet, so why the expressed concerns now?

For the record, I had to leave for an out of town trip that was delayed so I could attend the meeting (of which rules were violated and attempted to eliminate some of the items ON THE AGENDA). Why was nothing said about that? Additionally, FOR THE RECORD, LET ME NOT BITE MY TONGUE (and expect for it to be respected the same); several council members having to consistantly recuse themselves from votes should not constitute a problem or need for others to stay in meetings, especially when they must leave to simply secure a quorum! If we can't perform our primary duty as a council member (voting on issues) why run?

Additionally, it is my understanding you all made a procedural change for the council. WHY WERE WE TOLD IN THE PAST PROCEDURAL CHANGES HAD TO BE SENT TO COUNCIL VIA EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE?!! There have been a number of procedural violations and absence of procedures that have caused concerns but it just appears the rules of council and our respect (or lack thereof) toward each other varies depending who the council member is (i.e. allowing the audience to talk disparagingly about some but not all).

This council should really stop this! Not only is it embarrassing, IT'S VERY UNPROFESSIONAL and shows we clearly are not a team (when we choose to not be).

W. Halbert,
Speaking up when someone should have Tuesday night!

Lowery answered her this week:

WH:

You have asked me a few times why some of your e-mails are not answered.

The one that you sent below is a good example of why.

First let me say that I waited several days before answering because I did not want to respond emotionally, as you often do and I wanted to give other Council members the chance to respond first. As you can see, like many others you have sent, no-one did.

That's because you are not well respected by your colleagues.

You have called the Council's action really "SILLY and UNPROFESSIONAL". Eight members of the Council made that decision so I guess if you are to be believed that's what we are. But your fellow Council members do not believe that.

And you know that everyone wanted to leave early to participate in National Night Out activities. Thats why the concerns were expressed at that meeting.

You seem to take this personally. It was not aimed at you. No-one cared about what you had to do. We all had plans for that evening. Some chose to leave while a majority remained.

No rules were violated. You seem to forget that after the request was made to delay some items on the agenda, I asked "without objection?" You were there. You said nothing, because you knew you were going to leave and you did not care.

And then you change the subject in the e-mail and critize Council members who recuse themselves from some votes.

HOW DARE YOU !!

No-one should question a Council member for utilizing their right to refrain from voting on any issue.

And then you question why they would run for office. WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION YOUR PEERS ABOUT THIER MOTIVATION ?

Regarding past procedural changes, you know any change can be made in any Council meeting. Rules can be suspended and seven votes rules the day. Thats what happened.

And when you raise the question of respect, please remember it must be earned, but NOT by sending the kind of e-mails like the one below.

You are right, we can never be a team as long as you are illogical and emotional.

Wanda, you will never earn your colleague’s respect as long as you continue to send emails like this. They will simply go unanswered and you'll contine to wonder why?

I am ready to continue this discussion with you personally if you wish.

Take care.

ML

And Halbert’s response to that email, also this week, went this way:

ML:

Respectfully, I can’t tell you how many times women (including those in leadership) hear that we are emotional so I am not surprised at your cursory opinion.

It doesn’t matter who the issue was targeted toward/about, what was important is, council members leave meetings early on a regular basis and nothing is ever said by colleagues, the media, etc. We lack consistency of council procedures, expectations, and rules/regulations without regard as to who or what it negatively affect (reminder of your vote against public comments during council meeting but (rightfully so) denying public sentiments of sanitation workers doing same) .

I simply would like to see a more professional approach to the method and not the madness but I digress to will of the majority.

Thank you,

WH


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