At Weekend Retreat, Herenton, Council Reasoned Together About Forthcoming Austerities 

Given the import of Saturday morning's "retreat" at the University of Memphis Technology Center - one at which Mayor Willie Herenton and members of the city administration and city council saw austerity looming in the year to come -- the mood was somewhat upbeat.

"I think he and his staff appeared to be addressing the financial crisis in a realistic way," said council member Jim Strickland, who added he thought he and his colleagues would be prepared to make cuts and even approve layoffs - provided, Strickland said, "that they aren't in the public safety arena."

Herenton released a six-point agenda of "initiatives to control costs." These were: (1) proposed reductions in personnel, through buy-outs and severance packages; (2) reduction in capital expenditures; (3) "outsourcing opportunities"; (4) "consolidating opportunities"; (5) amendments in the city's long-term liabilities with respect to pensions and health-care obligations; and (6) "fiscal prudence" in an effort to maintain a financial surplus.

No details were provided, but Herenton promised them within the next 90 days.

Several council members and administration employees were heard from, in an atmosphere that was free from the rancor that has sometimes plagued mayor-council relations. In his own remarks, the mayor called for a spirit of cooperation and challenged past criticism from council and media sources regarding alleged absenteeism on his part. "I've been on the job every day. When have any of you needed to see me and couldn't find me?" he asked, without being contradicted.

Herenton seemed to be in an accommodating mood throughout the day's conversations and engaged in friendly give-and-take with council members on all subjects that came up -- like that of how the mayor used his contracting authority, for example. (See video of brief discussion with council member Wanda Halbert.)

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