Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Council Rebukes Lowery; Conrad Defends Vote

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2009 at 3:12 PM

The Memphis City Council voted to let City Attorney Elbert Jefferson keep his job.

After a day of delays, private meetings, and tortured rationalizations, the council voted 7-4 to deny interim Mayor Myron Lowery's request to dismiss Jefferson, a holdover from the Herenton administration who became the summer's most improbable hot button issue.

Voting to oust Jefferson were Shea Flinn, Jim Strickland, Reid Hedgepeth, and Bill Boyd. Voting to keep Jefferson were Ed Ford Jr., Joe Brown, Barbara Ware, Wanda Halbert, Janis Fullilove, Bill Morrison, and Kemp Conrad. Harold Collins recused himself.

The vote may have been academic anyway. City Council Attorney Allan Wade said the city charter requires a majority vote of the 13-member council to uphold a mayor's decision to remove a division director. The council is down to 12 members while Lowery serves as interim mayor.

The issue was scheduled to come up during a morning committee meeting but was delayed. Morrison and Jefferson met for two or three hours, according to Morrison, and Morrison decided after that to vote against removal because Jefferson said he would take another look at a Herenton legal bill and charge some of it back to the former mayor. Morrison had been expected to introduce the resolution before the full council, but explained that he had changed his view. Flinn introduced it instead, saying he was acting at the behest of Lowery.

Conrad appeared to be probing for a way to support Jefferson too, and eventually he did. That made two white members and five black council members supporting Jefferson and rebuking Lowery.

The discussion was generally civil except for a testy exchange between Ware and Strickland over what he felt was an insult to his integrity. Ware said she meant no personal insult and apologized if he took it that way.

On Wednesday, Conrad sent out an email explaining his vote that took some of his colleagues by surprise.

"Many of you have inquired as to my thought process on the vote last night to retain City Attorney Elbert Jefferson. While I surely support the Mayor's right to have a team in place he trusts and thus support the request made by the Mayor Pro Tem to remove the City Attorney, a vote in support of the removal of Attorney Jefferson last night would not have accomplished this task but would have subjected the city to more of the wasteful legal fees and expenditures that I have been fighting since my election to the Council.

"Our legal counsel cautioned that a vote for removal without a vote for Jefferson's successor could have led to a complaint against the Council for violation of the original court injunction. Thus, while I may favor Jefferson’s removal, I believe that a vote for his removal without any vote addressing his successor would have been an ineffective vote with no clear results, opening the city to more of the excessive legal fees to which I am so strongly opposed.

"I have been a very vocal critic of the former administration and the recent reports relating to possible mishandling of funds concern me greatly. However, I believe whatever remedy we pursue in addressing these issues should not raise additional open-ended questions or cost taxpayers more money.

"On the council we are often called upon to make quick "game time" decisions based on limited, changing and imperfect information. My vote on the issue of City Attorney Elbert Jefferson’s removal was based on what I believe was right and legally sound."

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