13. Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery’s scheduled meeting with City Attorney Elbert Jefferson will have to wait until next week at the earliest.
Jefferson and Lowery had been scheduled to meet Tuesday, but the embattled city attorney called in sick. He also called in sick Wednesday and indicated he would be out for the rest of this week.
Jefferson’s fate appears to be in question after last week’s revelation that he authorized a more than $55,000 payment to the lawyer of former Mayor Willie Herenton shortly before Herenton retired at the end of July. At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Lowery declined to say what he planned to talk about with Jefferson.
Jefferson’s future is also likely to be a hot topic at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Councilman Bill Morrison appears set to introduce a resolution authorizing Lowery to immediately remove Jefferson from office. The draft language of the resolution cites Jefferson’s “approval of a rushed payment of city funds” to Herenton’s attorney “in a private matter” and Jefferson’s failure to notify Lowery and Lowery’s chief administrative officer, Jack Sammons.
The resolution reads, in part:
“Whereas, recent revelations that the current city attorney and chief ethics officer Elbert Jefferson is being investigated by federal authorities about his approval of a rushed payment of $55,000 of city funds to an attorney hired to represent Willie W. Herenton in a private matter; his failure to notify the mayor pro tem and CAO that he had been questioned by the FBI about such actions; and his failure to notify his superiors, Mayor Pro Tem and CAO, that records involving the aforementioned payment were recently subpoenaed by the grand jury, cause great concern about the city attorney’s abilities and judgment.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Memphis City Council urges Mayor Pro Tem Lowery to immediately remove Elbert Jefferson from the Office of City Attorney based on these questionable practices.”
In an interview with The Daily News Tuesday night, Herenton took issue with the description of the payment to Robert Spence as “rushed.”
The word "RUSH" is stamped on a check request Jefferson approved for Spence's payment. But Herenton said many of the contracts he left unsigned or requests unauthorized were rushed by various city division directors.
“In my 17 years, I bet you I've signed hundreds of rushed (requests). But in the newspaper it became 'Herenton's trying to get his legal fees paid,'” Herenton said.
Jefferson was the last of four city attorneys Herenton worked with in his more than 17 years as mayor. Herenton praised Jefferson’s work and said he has become a victim of “ruthless, reckless politics.”
“I have nothing but respect for Elbert,” Herenton said. “It is unfortunate that he finds himself caught up in the political arena, where Mayor Pro Tem Lowery is exercising some vindictiveness.”
Lowery told The Daily News Tuesday night that Jefferson’s recent questioning about the Spence payment by FBI agents backs up Lowery’s actions and comments.
Spence’s work involved representing the former mayor during an investigation whose subject appeared to wander over the past year.
It included Herenton's one-time option to buy the land where the Greyhound bus terminal now stands on Union Avenue. Some recent grand jury testimony focused on money paid to Herenton aide Pete Aviotti by business leaders for Herenton's annual Christmas party.
Spence told The Daily News earlier this week his client has not received a letter from prosecutors or any other type of notification that Herenton is the target of the investigation. Prosecutors sometimes make such a notification, but it is not required.
Jefferson, meanwhile, is not the only person who may be on the hot seat Tuesday before the City Council. Another resolution has been drafted that seeks to vacate Councilman Bill Boyd’s seat.
That resolution, sponsored by Councilman Joe Brown, reads:
“Whereas, it has been reported that council member William Boyd has attempted to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the authority of the mayor of Memphis and the city attorney to settle a lawsuit; and whereas the charter prohibits any council member interfering with the mayor’s administrative powers; and whereas the charter provides that any council member that interferes with the mayor’s administrative powers may be removed from office.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the position held by William Boyd, councilman, District 2, be declared vacant for violating the city charter or, alternatively, that the city take such court action necessary to have him removed from office.”
Boyd has filed a motion to intervene in a bitter court fight involving a legal settlement between the city and former Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division chief Joseph Lee. In a motion to dismiss the complaint Boyd wants to be part of, Jefferson said the city was appropriately exercising its authority in settling the suit Lee filed.
Boyd disagrees and thinks the more than $426,000 paid to Lee should be recovered by the city.
“The plain language of the charter gives the mayor and city attorney exclusive power and authority to settle lawsuits if the city is a party to such suits,” Jefferson’s motion reads. “This power is not subject to approval of the Memphis City Council or the public.”
Without mentioning Boyd’s request to intervene in the case, Jefferson’s motion to dismiss also cites a section of the city charter that prohibits council members from interfering with the operation of the city’s administrative departments.
The charter goes on to stipulate that the office of any council member found to be in violation of that part of the charter could be vacated....