Whatever accommodations may ultimately be reached between Mayor Herenton and the City Council on matters of funding and reorganization of the schools, or between the council and the school board, or between all of the above and state government, we are going to chance this categorical judgment: The mayor's plan for assuming control of local education, announced in typically peremptory fashion at a Monday-afternoon press conference, is a non-starter.
And that's pretty much for the same reason that the school board, in effect, disregarded Herenton's cavalier public recommendation of himself for another stint as school superintendent. At this stage of his public career, it is hard for us to imagine anyone — individual or agency — that could comfortably serve in a position of even quasi-independent authority under the mayor's titular control.
Granted, the mayor's plan to make his office the appointive authority for both superintendent and school board provides for a measure of council concurrence and oversight. As for how well that system would work, we need only remember the off-and-on trench warfare waged between himself and the City Council over the last several years, as well as Herenton's tendency to change police directors as often as he changed his shirt.
Even Herenton's apparent concession to public opinion — his call for a referendum on the plan this November — seems peremptory and fails to allow for the kind of systematic evaluation that such a sea change in school administration would entail.
And his reiteration, at the close of his remarks on Monday, of an unwarranted slur against the reputation and abilities of Kriner Cash, the newly named superintendent of schools, was beneath contempt.
Our message for the new superintendent is: Disregard that obstreperous, imperious man behind the curtain. He is not (or is no longer) the wizard he thinks he is, able to scarify the rest of local government into submission. And he seems to have forgotten the storm of controversy that greeted his own designation as superintendent in the late 1970s. When he finally gained a grace period, he was able to do some wondrous things. Give him that. And he should be willing — as we are, and, as we believe, the Memphis community at large is — to grant Cash the same opportunity to arrive here and thrive without being unfairly sabotaged.
More Road Kill
Periodically, it would seem, Tennessee seems determined to humiliate itself in the eyes of the world. Examples abound — all the way from the anti-evolution Scopes trial of the 1920s to the serious legislative proposals just a few years ago for legalizing road kill as proper cuisine.
Not long ago state Republican spokesman Bill Hobbs was upbraided by his own party for nationally publicized attempts to make Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, a Christian, look like a Muslim fanatic. Now one Fred Hobbs (apparently no relation) — a member of the state Democratic executive committee, no less — has suggested out loud that Obama might have "terrorist" connections. Ultimately, public opinion forced him to recant, but not before the nation got another peek at just how weird we are.
Even the aforesaid Bill Hobbs professed to be embarrassed by this latest caper, and that's saying a lot.
My first trip to Memphis was in May 1992. I was in town for a job interview, and I came in a day early to take the measure of this mysterious (to me, anyway) Southern place ...