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VOL. 124 | NO. 253 | Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 Year In Review

A tumultuous 12 months, at a glance

By Bill Dries

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Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton drops a political bombshell when he announced his July resignation. -- DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO

2009 was a year without a script – and plenty of improvising on the political stage.

It was supposed to be an off-election year except in Arlington and Lakeland.

2008 ended with voters in the city and county approving a series of changes to the charters of Memphis and Shelby County governments. Those changes were supposed to set a new direction for both entities, kicking into high gear in 2010 and ultimately culminating two years later.

2009 was to be the year before that transition.

Instead, the year’s political events could render moot the carefully plotted points of transition in 2010 and beyond.

2009 became the year of the domino effect: One event would trigger another, which would trigger yet another.

The Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission each approved forming a Metro Charter Commission to draft a proposed government consolidation charter. At this point, it’s doubtful that 2010 will see a merger between both governments.

And, as ever, former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton played the wild card in ’09, and his expected but unplanned departure in late July was the biggest domino to fall.


  • General Sessions Criminal Court Judge Anthony Johnson and Circuit Court Judge Rita Stotts die on the same day.
  • The County Commission appoints attorney Lee Wilson to fill the Johnson vacancy.
  • Retired Circuit Court Judge Charles McPherson becomes interim Circuit Court judge pending an appointment by Gov. Phil Bredesen.
  • Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist announces he will not run for Tennessee governor in 2010, setting off a series of announcements by GOP hopefuls, including Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons.


  • The new Republican majorities in the state Legislature appoint County Commissioner David Lillard as state treasurer. He resigns from the commission, which appoints Democrat Matt Kuhn to the vacancy, giving Democrats an 8-5 majority on the body. Kuhn pledges he will not run for the seat in the 2010 county elections.


  • The five-member Shelby County Election Commission goes majority Republican as part of the shift in the state Legislature. Veteran local election administrator James Johnson loses his job.


  • Attorney Lorrie Ridder, one of three finalists recommended in one of the last acts of the state's Judicial Selection Commission, is appointed by Bredesen to the Circuit Court judge’s position formerly held by Stotts.
  • Herenton delivers the most deadpan budget address of his nearly 18 years as mayor. After a quick question-and-answer session with reporters, he has an aide hand out a sheet of paper on which he announces he might run in the 2010 Democratic congressional primary against incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen.


  • Herenton announces he will resign sometime in July.


  • Herenton resigns two weeks later than originally planned. City Council Chairman Myron Lowery becomes mayor pro tem. Lowery’s council seat goes into limbo and the council is down to 12 members. Lowery relinquishes the chairmanship to Harold Collins, council vice chairman.
  • The County Commission holds its regularly scheduled election for a new chair to begin a one-year term on Sept. 1. Because of the possibility of Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. winning the coming special election for Memphis mayor, some Democratic commissioners back Democrat Deidre Malone for a second term as commission chair. Malone is a candidate for county mayor in the 2010 elections. Still other Democratic commissioners join Republicans in backing Joyce Avery, the Republican vice chairwoman under Malone. Avery wins. Sidney Chism, one of the Democrats who supported Avery, is selected as vice chair.
  • Republican state Sen. Paul Stanley of Germantown announces his resignation from the Legislature effective in August after admitting to an affair with a legislative intern and an alleged blackmail attempt by the young woman’s boyfriend. Since the Legislature isn’t back in session until January, the County Commission will not appoint someone to fill the seat. The timing of Stanley’s resignation makes it possible to put the special primary election on the same Oct. 15 ballot with the Memphis mayor’s race.
  • Republican state Rep. Brian Kelsey resigns his state House seat to run for Stanley’s state Senate seat. Kelsey times the resignation to put the primary elections for the open house seat on the same Dec. 1 ballot as the general election for the Senate seat.


  • County Commissioner Joe Ford considers a bid for interim Shelby County mayor should Wharton win the Memphis mayoral election in October. But Ford tells The Memphis News he isn’t actively trying to round up the votes on the commission. However, other commissioners are.
  • Herenton pulls a petition for the city mayor’s race, raising the possibility that he will run for the vacancy he created. Herenton never files the petition.


  • Arlington and Lakeland elections are highlighted by Lakeland Mayor Scott Carmichael being re-elected without opposition.
  • Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey resigns. His vacancy is the first to be filled using the new Judicial Nominating Commission. McPherson returns to the bench, serving in the interim.
  • Shelby County Trustee Paul Mattila dies after a recurrence of cancer. The County Commission appoints Democrat Regina Morrison Newman to serve through the 2010 county elections, in which she is expected to run for a full term.
  • The County Commission and City Council approve the formation of a Metro Charter Commission in separate votes – the most significant step toward local government consolidation in nearly 40 years.


  • Wharton wins the special Memphis mayoral election, topping a record-setting field of 25 candidates. Some get fewer votes than signatures on their qualifying petitions.
  • Lowery, who finishes a distant second, returns to the City Council, although Collins remains council chairman.
  • Avery becomes Shelby County mayor through Dec. 10, serving 45 days. Avery is the first woman ever to hold the highest office in county government. Her move to the mayor’s office takes the commission to 12 members, and Commissioner Sidney Chism becomes chairman in her absence.
  • Herenton announces he has received a “target letter” from federal prosecutors, indicating he is the target of a grand jury probe into an option he once held to buy the land where the Greyhound bus terminal stands Downtown. Herenton had sold the option for $91,000.
  • As the Shelby County Election Commission certifies the results of the special mayoral election, Shep Wilbun announces his resignation from the five-member body to run for Juvenile Court clerk in 2010.
  • Republican Brian Kelsey and Democrat Adrienne Pakis Gillon run unopposed in the state Senate District 31 primaries and advance to a December general election.


  • The County Commission chooses Ford to serve as interim county mayor for the rest of Wharton’s term of office, approximately eight months. The decision is a contest between Ford and fellow commissioner J.W. Gibson. Neither emerges with the seven votes to become mayor until the 27th round of balloting. Ford pledges not to run for county mayor in the 2010 elections. He is term-limited from seeking re-election to the commission.
  • State Rep. Larry Turner dies over the Thanksgiving weekend after a long illness. With no time for a special election, county commissioners plan to fill the vacancy.


  • Kelsey easily wins the general election to claim the District 31 state Senate seat.
  • Republican Mark White and Democrat Guthrie Castle advance to the January special general election for Kelsey’s District 83 state House seat.
  • County commissioners interview seven candidates for Ford’s soon-to-be vacant County Commission seat, including Ford’s son, Justin. The commission instead appoints Edith Ann Moore.
  • The elder Ford takes office as county mayor and announces he has appointed County Commissioner Matt Kuhn as his policy adviser. Kuhn says he will resign his commission seat, leaving two commission vacancies to be filled by the commission.
  • Avery returns as chairwoman of the County Commission.
  • Eighth District U.S. Rep. John Tanner announces he won’t seek re-election in 2010. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Herron drops out of that race and announces he will run for Tanner’s seat instead. Nashville businessman and gubernatorial candidate Ward Cammack drops out of Democratic scrum entirely. The rest of the Democratic pack stays, including State Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis.
  • The Tennessee Election Commission appoints James Johnson as the newest Shelby County election commissioner.
  • The federal grand jury investigating Herenton’s personal financial dealings for more than a year adjourns for 2009 without filing any charges against him. Herenton says, in a written statement, he is ready to open his campaign for Congress.

2009: Life After Herenton and Other Stories

Poplar Tunes, the city’s oldest music store, closed in 2009.
It was a post-World War II institution and a full-service record store when music still came on thick discs that played at 78 revolutions per minute.
The store supplied jukeboxes and small record stores all over the tri-state region and was the distributor for locally recorded artists from rock to rap to gospel.

The crisis at the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center (MSARC) was triggered in March when a psychotic rape victim was transferred to the center improperly and attacked a nurse and an advocate.
The center’s acting director, Judy Pinson, was ordered to fire the nurse and advocate. Pinson gave her 30-day notice and other nurses began resigning in protest.
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton told the City Council MSARC would remain a city agency as long as he was mayor.
Tension between Herenton and then-county Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was palpable days later when MSARC became a county agency. They kept a wide distance between themselves, so much that photographers had difficulty getting them both in the same frame.

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin briefly considered a bid for Memphis mayor after Herenton announced his resignation.
Instead, Godwin began campaigning for the survival of his Blue CRUSH crime-fighting strategy, let alone his future as police director.
He didn’t have social networking experts on hand, but Godwin had something difficult to quarrel with – a 17 percent drop in crime since Blue CRUSH went
citywide in 2006.

Memphis City Schools Supt. Dr. Kriner Cash gained some traction in his effort to reform the school system.
In November, it was awarded $90 million over a five- to seven-year period by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle.
“We’re studying what … we agree to be the elements of effective teaching," Cash said. "We are going to reach a common definition for the first time."

The Dalai Lama came to Memphis in September to accept a Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.
The Tibetan monk's first formal stop in the city was a visit to Tom Lee Park to see the Mississippi River. He was accompanied by a Memphis delegation that included Wharton and Myron Lowery.
Lowery greeted the Dalai Lama with a fist bump. The spiritual leader appeared puzzled at first but then tried it several more times and apparently enjoyed it.

2009 was a year of mixed signals for the economy.
The Shelby County unemployment rate topped 10 percent at one point.
The year also saw major announcements of industrial expansions, including the decision by Norfolk Southern Corp. in March to build a $2.5 billion intermodal facility in Fayette County.

Federal agents descended on the East Memphis Crescent Center in February, seizing records from the Stanford Financial Group offices there.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged the companies and their founder, R. Allen Stanford, with running an “$8 billion Ponzi scheme.”

PROPERTY SALES 56 295 6,392
MORTGAGES 26 180 4,035
BUILDING PERMITS 128 840 15,361
BANKRUPTCIES 31 153 3,270