Tuesday, July 24, 2007

City Council Votes To Appoint Its Own Staff, Setting Up Court Battle With Mayor

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Maybe Councilman Brent Taylor was remembering when Mayor Willie Herenton invited him to step outside. Maybe he was thinking about when the mayor took on boxing great Joe Frayser in the ring.

Whatever the reason, even Taylor seemed wary of fighting City Hall. "This issue is not worth going to court with the mayor," said Taylor, of a motion this morning to give the City Council direct authority over its staff. "If we ultimately adopt this, what is the mayor going to do?"

In what could be seen as a burgeoning power struggle between the council and the mayor, Councilman Dedrick Brittenum proposed letting the City Council appoint its own staff members. Currently, the City Council's office workers are appointed by the mayor.

"It boils down to basic separation of powers," said Brittenum. "We have that authority."

Even if the council approves the change, the mayor could veto it. Then the council could override the veto, and in all likelihood, it could end up in court.

Brittenum's proposal was supported by Carol Chumney and council chair Tom Marshall, who called it a "bold and correct initiative."

In the past, the council has been told they have no employee oversight, per the city’s charter. But, as Marshall said, they've "heard that from people beholden to the mayor." City Attorney Elbert Jefferson argued that the charter would have to be amended before the council could appoint its staff. And, perhaps demonstrating the need for Brittenum's recommendation, said that the issue had been presented to the City Council attorney Allan Wade and "he agreed with me."

Marshall quickly countered, "He's your attorney, too."

Later Marshall added, "The council has been brainwashed over what its authority is."

E.C. Jones also questioned where the council attorney's loyalty was. "When we have a council attorney who is beholden to the mayor," he said, "is that attorney looking out for my best interest or the of the mayor?"

In the end, the committee passed what Taylor called "the main motion: Going to court with the mayor."

Stayed tuned for Round Two.

--Mary Cashiola

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