Memphis mayor A C Wharton got in some smack talk last Wednesday, in response to Shelby County commissioner Joe Ford's critical remarks earlier in the week about the financial prowess of Wharton's recent administration as county mayor.
Ford made the remarks in the course of his then still-unresolved contest with fellow commissioner J.W. Gibson to become interim county mayor.
Midway through the nearly 30 ballot-marathon that failed to produce a winner, both Ford and Gibson bridled at Commissioner Deidre Malone's attempt to break a recurring five-five impasse in the voting by nominating a would-be compromise candidate, current county CAO and finance director Jim Huntzicker, who occupied that position under Wharton.
Gibson, the beneficiary of Malone's votes up to that point, seemed mildly put out, saying to Malone, "You never cease to amaze me." But Ford used stronger language, suggesting that the "former administration" was guilty of outright fiscal mismanagement that could result in "disaster," if its financial practices were to be continued for the next several months.
When asked about Ford's criticism, Wharton responded, "He doesn't even know enough about the question to have any idea whether what he's saying is ill-founded or well-founded."
Which is a way of saying that the current city mayor and former county mayor can't get shed of his former venue, whether he wants to or not. And, as a well-known exponent of city/county consolidation, Wharton may not want to.
Reflecting later in the week on the then ongoing stalemate in selecting an interim county mayor, Wharton had this to say:
"If you want something to talk about, one way to get out of that dilemma would be for them to say, 'Well, we really don't need anybody to do anything. A C's been over here. Why don't we sign an inter-local agreement? We can sign a contract with the city to run this thing for a year.' And, bingo, consolidation!"
Sporting one of those patented Wharton half-grins that suggest a thought part-whimsical, part-serious, the mayor continued: "Go to the lawyers. You can sign an inter-local agreement to do anything. And I wouldn't charge anything, because, see, under the charter I'm not supposed to have outside employment."
Since the ultmate resolution of the interim-mayor situation was due to be resolved late Tuesday afternoon — some hours after our deadline — we cannot say whether the new city mayor's doubtless whimsical proposal was acted upon or even taken seriously. All we can say is that it should have been.
At press time, we didn't know, either, whether the estimable Mike Carpenter, a county commissioner lately serving as chair of Wharton's city transition team, might become a permanent part of that transition. Rumors have been a-bounding about Carpenter's shifting venues to hold the city CAO job or some other job of consequence in City Hall. We have publicly entertained some of those rumors ourselves — mainly because we'd like to see it happen.
The ongoing dialogue between city and county governments, along with the back-and-forth shifts and rumors of shifts of the two governments' personnel, are continuing signs of the inevitable consolidation, we think. And this is a consummation that bears serious consideration.