Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Lots of pending appointments and some new faces will get the mayor's attention.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 15, 2003 at 4:00 AM

HERENTON'S NEXT FOUR YEARS The election is almost a week old, so obviously it's high time to chart out the next four years. The fate of Herman Morris and The Pyramid, those frisky Fords, Dr. Carol Johnson, taxes, consolidation, some key staff vacancies, and a gender gap are some of the issues facing Mayor Willie Herenton as he winds up his third term and looks forward to his fourth.
  • MLGW: Remember the big wind storm in July? Some people at MLGW would just as soon you didn't. Two months after the big blow, MLGW still hasn't produced a simple explanation of total costs, overtime, and impact on rates for its customers or a detailed report on its storm response. MLGW instead chose the time-tested option of appointing a committee -- packed with its own employees, no less -- to buy time until the storm is a distant memory. The committee has not yet met. Herenton has the power to extend the expired contract of MLGW CEO Herman Morris. The terms of most board members have also expired, and Herenton must decide whether to reappoint them. In the days following the storm, the mayor seemed a bit distant from Morris, but the longer he holds on, the better his chances.
  • Box out future rivals: Sure, the next city mayoral election is four years away, but that's within the planning timetable of serious politicians. And there are some serious politicians on the City Council or involved in runoffs. Republican George Flinn and Democrat Carol Chumney, vying in District 5, have both already made runs for county mayor and would likely use a council seat as a stepping stone to something bigger. Current members of the council who, based on past behavior, also might harbor mayoral dreams include Myron Lowery, Jack Sammons, and Brent Taylor.
  • Groom a successor: Again, assuming this is his last term, Herenton could give a potential successor a leg up with a key appointment in his administration, favorable treatment on the council, or some kind words and contributions from his well-stocked campaign larder. The mayor's sons Rodney and Duke are successful businessmen. Neither has expressed an interest in politics yet, but it's not as if genes don't matter in Memphis where names like Ford, Hooks, and Bailey show up with regularity.
  • Make appointments: Four city division directors have announced they are leaving: Donnie Mitchell of Public Services, Clint Buchanan of Emergency Management, Chester Anderson at the Fire Department, and Butch Eder at General Services. Others could be asked to leave. Chief administrative officer Keith McGee still has that nagging "interim" attached to his title and has had a hard time following veteran Rick Masson. The CAO is the mayor's liaison with the council. Last week, the council rebuffed McGee on a big Motorola contract, a police firing range, a downtown tax proposal, and a collective bargaining measure. At the Park Commission, Wayne Boyer seems to be popular with the mayor but he has health problems and his job has shrunk due to privatization. Playground and golf-course maintenance, anyone? Look for some action on the long-dormant fairgrounds and for the Skinner Center for the Disabled to move downtown. There is a notable shortage of women in the top ranks of the Herenton administration. Gail Jones Carson is the mayor's spokesman and Sara Hall heads the personnel department. That's it. Herenton is too good a politician to leave it that way.
  • Reach out to new MCS superintendent Carol Johnson. Herenton can't continue to make disparaging cracks about the school board and insist that the only solution is consolidation with Shelby County. On second thought, he can, but the board survived the election pretty much intact and Johnson has to work with them. One giant consolidated school system headed by Johnson and four or five assistant superintendents? Maybe some day, but Johnson has more immediate concerns, and a decade of diplomacy and acrimony between city and county have produced nothing.
  • Big downtown decisions. The City Council voted 12-1 against a plan to create a special tax district for downtown, but the Center City Commission and their friends at the daily newspaper seem to think the proposal should come back. Herenton stayed in the background, in contrast to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, who wrote a supportive letter that was passed out to the City Council. Council members noticed and voted accordingly. The Pyramid could be starting its final season as home of the U of M Tigers. There will be council resistance to letting the Tigers out of their lease, assuming there is no alternative user. In the crunch, the question could be whether the mayor or council has the power to enforce the contract.
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