The Memphis City Council’s longest serving member and the plans review manager for the Shelby County Code Enforcement Department are the two winners of the 2012 Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards.
Myron Lowery and Ted Illsley will be honored Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the annual awards luncheon by the Rotary Club of Memphis East at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn at 11:45 a.m.
The Daily News and the University of Memphis are sponsors of the award.
The keynote speaker at Wednesday’s luncheon is Brad Martin, a FedEx Corp. board member and founder of The Martin Institute, a nonprofit foundation that works in the professional development of teachers.
Jonathan Frase, chairman of the Rotary committee that along with a member of the Dunavant family selected the two winners, said the committee had a lot of nominations to work from this year. Lowery and Illsley were nominated multiple times.
Each year the committee picks one elected official and one non-elected official based on a set of specific criteria associated with Dunavant, the longtime Probate Court clerk who died in 2003.
“It’s a local prestigious honor and it carries the name of someone who was a public servant that no one had anything bad to say about,” Lowery said. “And no one could criticize his work ethic or what he did for this community. To be associated with that … is a tremendous high honor.”
Lowery is the longest serving current member of the Memphis City Council, elected to the body in 1991 after two previous unsuccessful bids for the council. When Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton resigned in July 2009, Lowery became mayor because he was City Council chairman.
He served until after the special election that October won by current Memphis Mayor
A C Wharton Jr. Lowery finished second in the special election to Wharton and was re-elected to a new four-year term on the council in the 2011 city elections – his sixth term.
Lowery still recalls his introduction to council life when a developer took him on a tour of a site whose development the council would soon vote on. Lowery didn’t see any problem and pledged to vote for it. But when the case got to the council there was neighborhood opposition and Lowery began to realize the developer hadn’t told him the whole story.
Lowery kept his word but also vowed to not be so quick to commit his vote in the future.
“Since then, I very rarely make commitments before an issue is heard downstairs,” he said referring to the twice-a-month sessions of the council at City Hall. “That keeps me out of trouble because when you listen to both sides of the argument before you vote on it, you’ve got a fresh perspective and all of the information is there.”
After more than 20 years on the council, Lowery concedes that he has rubbed some people the wrong way.
“I try not to talk too much and I try not to say something I can’t back up. … I’m not as flamboyant as others but I mean what I say and people know my heart is in the right place,” he said. “Even those folks who may not like my personality, they know my heart is in the right place. They may not agree with me. I don’t expect everybody to agree with me.”
Illsley has been with the code enforcement office for 27 years working with contractors and construction companies on meeting local code standards with an office that holds the line on meeting those standards.
“I’m keeping some pretty good company. I was taken by surprise,” Illsley said of the honor. “It’s part of a day’s work. I’m just kind of dumbfounded that I was recognized for something I’m doing that I should have been doing anyhow.”
Frase said Illsley was nominated by a coworker who wrote on the application: “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people return to code enforcement to sit down with Ted and tell him how their project turns out.”
“It really struck us,” Frase said of the comment.
“It’s a pretty unpopular place to be,” Frase said of code enforcement. “It’s a place where contractors and architects and other folks in the construction industry typically dread having to deal with code enforcement.”
Illsley acknowledged his office isn’t the most popular government agency.
“Working in this office, it’s not often you have good news to tell anybody,” he said. “We try to make it as easy as possible. We realize that we have a responsibility to the community and we need to do this in harmony.”