Is there no way out of the mess Mayor Herenton and the Memphis City Council have gotten themselves into? Not so fast. Things could be worse. It's not life and death. It's not a business meltdown. It's not a criminal investigation, at least not yet.
The Flyer asked political spin doctors, corporate consultants, mediators, lawyers, former politicians, and other professional advice-givers to make a few suggestions about where to go from here. Here's what they said.
Wyeth Chandler, former Memphis mayor, judge, city commissioner, and now a professional mediator with Resolute Systems.
"The first thing that needs to be done is the mayor needs to sit down individually with every member of the council. He should say he regrets anything he said that demeans their activities as members of a legislative body, and that he considers their rank equal to the executive branch and he intends to deal with them. Then he needs two things from them: First, [they should] let him know what their priorities are. And, second, he needs to have from them the names of some people they feel would render good service as members of boards and commissions.
"Hopefully, that at least establishes with each of them a new relationship.
"At the same time, council members need to tell him they made some statements that impugn his integrity, and they regret it. On this bond deal, they are not doing an investigation as a personal vendetta but as part of their job. The city comes before any of them personally. That's a way to start over. And that's what they need to do."
LaSimba Gray, minister of New Sardis Baptist Church and leader of a group of Memphis ministers trying to resolve the controversy.
"The glowing image of Memphis will be tarnished if this war of words continues. We have pulled together a group of ministers with training and skills in negotiation. We sat with the mayor last Friday and met today with three council members on an individual basis for three-and-a-half hours. We have invited all of them to meet with us.
"I would do an assessment of what has happened and then call all the parties together for ownership in what has happened. What role did they play -- good, bad, or indifferent. Second, look at alternatives to behavior or actions that may have caused this situation. Then look at possibilities of resolution and have those thrashed out in discussions. You reach a proposed set of solutions and have those implemented immediately. Over 90 days you revisit them to see if they are working. That has to be done in the environment of a covenant of resolution."
Mike Cody, attorney, mediator, and former city councilman, candidate for mayor, and Tennessee attorney general.
"This has an adverse effect on the community regardless of who's at fault. I would go back and analyze how the dispute arose and what are the factors that brought us here. See how many of those situations could be dealt with by sort of easing over the frustration that resulted from certain statements.
"Then I would go to a major confidant of both parties. With the council you'd probably have to find somebody well respected by three or four of the most vocal ones. Do the same with the mayor. Put those people in a room without the major players, and I would try to explain to them that the public feels -- regardless of whose fault it was -- that it's time to move past this situation. How do you think that is best done?
"After the general meeting, put them in separate rooms and ask each side what are the things that disturb you most and what could the other side do to move you to an understanding. Then go to the other side and ask them what would you think if this could happen. Then in private -- and I don't know how the Sunshine Law would work here -- a mediator would get the major players and make suggestions as to what could be done."
John Bakke, veteran political consultant.
"You've got to find your common goals is number one. And make a recommitment to goals you committed to when you took your oath of office. I think it's big-picture time. Time to understand the effect this is having on the community. Because I have heard it said outside of Memphis and Shelby County that real estate agents are getting calls about people moving and businesses relocating.
"This happens any time there is any controversy in Memphis. But population trends are something to pay attention to. We've had far more serious crises in this city than this one, but this is something people don't want to see in their leadership."
Mother Wit, morning radio personality on WRBO FM-103.5.
"I would clean the slate. Start all over again. There is such a thing as saying I'm sorry and such a thing as forgiveness. I firmly believe in apologizing and coming out with a clean slate. It's the city that is important, not petty issues or egos or words that have hurt the city. We have to stay focused on what is important. Our children are watching this. They see too much insanity as it is. Memphis is a stable place if we let it be."
John Malmo, business marketing consultant and author of the book When on the Mountain There Is No Tiger, Monkey Is King.
"When you have a problem like this in business it's a lot easier to work out than it is in politics. Because even though egos get involved, there are usually overriding issues, and in business you have an ultimate authority, either the boss or customer. That makes it easier for two opposing parties to bury the hatchet. In politics, the media makes it so messy because you add the element of public posturing by the individuals involved.
"They are going to have to get together, probably the mayor and a small group of three to five council members at most. First of all, what are the consequences and potential consequences of this situation? How long can the city go without division directors? I'm not sure, knowing the parties involved, that they are going to be able to solve this problem."
Benjamin Hooks, minister, former president of the national NAACP, and former Criminal Court judge.
"It's time for them to sit down together. I don't think it's out of hand at this point. I believe firmly that the council has its powers and the mayor has his prerogatives. They have to work together. I have not been able to meet with this group of ministers trying to act as mediators, but sometimes an outside group respected by both sides can do more. It might be well if a group met with the mayor and then the council before meetings were held together. I think it is newsworthy now because it has not happened here before. But I have lived in cities where this is a common thing. It was not as surprising to me as it was to some people in Memphis."
Ralph Berry, president of Thompson Baker and Berry public relations firm and former vice president of corporate communications for Holiday Inns, Promus, and Harrah's.
"The first thing they have to do is step back and put all the comments and insults and criticism aside. I would start by saying that it seems like an awful lot of things have been done in the heat of the moment. Everybody needs to get a little self-discipline when it comes to saying the first thing that comes to mind. They need to start talking as people, not as politicians.
"A lot of business folks step back and make a personal list: Here is what I would like in an ideal world; here is what I am willing to accept. If everyone is willing to accept what is not the perfect choice but still moves the agenda forward, then everyone will benefit. From a PR standpoint, they ought to keep in the back of their heads what the things they're saying sound like to someone outside the city. Because ultimately what this is about is making Memphis an attractive place to live and work."
Spence Byrum, vice president of sales and customer service for Crew Training International, which trains people ranging from combat pilots to surgeons to make good decisions under stress.
"The job you do handling a crisis is determined by how you prepare. The focus should be on what's right rather than who's right. If you are caught up in who's right, it keeps you from listening.
"What strikes me in this particular situation is that as soon as one party starts talking, the person on the receiving end starts thinking how they are going to respond. We call this rehearsing your rebuttal.
"If I was going to start from scratch, I would focus on what's right. That takes the personal-ownership factor out of it. It's difficult to let go of a concept if it's yours. As I read about these volleys back and forth, it appears the listening is what's missing."
Joe Hall, partner in the Ingram Group, a government relations firm whose clients include the Public Building Authority.
"First, look to the closest allies of both the mayor and council and feel out how much they're dug in and determine the interest in either or both sides of settling this. If there is resistance to that, you have to look to the part of the community with the most at stake, which is the private and civic sectors.
"They have had a terrific working relationship with both Mayor Herenton and the council for a while. And then take a look at what the next four years would be like with a fractured relationship. It jeopardizes progress and opportunities. For example, if the Grizzlies deal was just beginning, it would be absolutely jeopardized. Who knows what opportunities could be lost if this fracture remains for a long time?"
Suzanne Landers, divorce attorney.
"It's not unlike a divorce. If things are so hot that stability is not possible, they may need a cooler head to help facilitate. What they're doing now is what I call triangle building. The council goes to the press, then the mayor goes to the press and responds. Triangle building is treacherous business."
Which leads me to put on my Dr. Phil face and say what has to be said: It's time for Memphis and Shelby County to start seeing other people. We've tried for years to patch things up, to come to some sort of mutual understanding, but we need to admit that we have irreconcilable differences. We don't even know each other any more ...