Bringing Closure 

Several pending and overdue issues were dealt with in a busy political week.

It took a good deal of jawing, maneuvering, and bargaining back and forth, but the Shelby County Commission ultimately passed a Living Wage Ordinance Monday.

The vote was seven ayes, four nays, and one recusal. What the ordinance does is mandate a minimum wage of $10.02 (with benefits) or $12.01 (without benefits) for employees of county government as well as "of businesses receiving service contracts" from county government.

The ordinance, sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy, was amended by its author to exclude locally owned small businesses employing fewer than 10 employees. "That was the best way to ensure passage. It's not perfect, not ideal, but it was a matter of being realistic and getting something done," Mulroy said.

The measure requires only the signature of county mayor A C Wharton to become law.

• The newly elected chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission is Myra Stiles, who was returned to the commission as a Democratic member last month, following the second of two brief intermissions in her longtime service, which began in 1987.

Stiles has been administrator of the law firm Farris Mathews Branan Bobango & Hellen, PLC since 1982 and previously served as special assistant to the late William Farris, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party in 1978-81.

She has also been president of the Democratic Women of Shelby County and of the Tennessee Federation of Democratic Women.

• Though some consider as evasive his action last week in deflecting a move to purge lawyer Richard Fields from the local Democratic committee, others grant new party chairman Keith Norman points for finesse.

What Norman did was, first, allow committee member Jennings Bernard to make his case against Fields (for previous actions benefiting Republicans, essentially) and member Fields to respond — both briefly. Then, committee members were allowed to ask point-blank questions of either.

Afterward, Norman cited local party bylaws and state Democratic Party rulings to the effect that Fields' alleged offenses occurred prior to his election to the committee in late March. The chairman then declined to allow a vote on Bernard's resolution of expulsion. In effect, what Norman had done was allow a pro forma venting of opinions before closing out the potentially explosive issue.

• Though Jeannie Richardson is compiling an impressive endorsement list, and both she and her chief sponsor, activist David Upton, are going door to door in her special Democratic primary campaign for the vacant state House District 89 seat, opponent Kevin Gallagher got a major boost to his campaign last week.

Confirming what Gallagher had long predicted, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen made his own endorsement known by posting a Gallagher campaign sign prominently in his front yard. Cohen is also said to have made a major financial contribution to Gallagher, who managed the congressman's own campaign last year.

• Some call it a masterstroke for Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, some call it an acknowledgement of a major blemish on his administration, and others merely note that Herenton did what he had to do last week by firing both MLGW president Joseph Lee and the utility's general counsel, Odell Horton Jr.

Already an albatross after months of various accusations against him for an assortment of alleged misdeeds, Lee became the subject of renewed controversy during an imbroglio over whether taxpayers should pay his legal fees. (Horton's evident openness to that prospect proved fatal to his own tenure.)

But the last straw for Lee was MLGW board member Nick Clark's formal complaint that Lee had attempted to blackmail him. Compounding that, a crime in itself if true, was that the alleged threat was based on patent misinformation about Clark's past.

Two of Herenton's mayoral opponents acted quickly to prevent the issue from ultimately going away, as a few observers predicted would happen.

Former MLGW head Herman Morris called a press conference to propose a "moratorium" on filling Lee's position (held provisionally by former city CAO Rick Masson) until after this year's mayoral election, while City Council member Carol Chumney issued a reminder that a much-discussed recent resolution of hers that was not acted upon by her fellow council members had specified that only Herenton could discharge Lee.

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