VOL. 124 | NO. 149 | Friday, July 31, 2009
UPDATE: Lowery Promises 'New Day' for Memphis
By Bill Dries
Memphis Mayor Myron Lowery fired City Attorney Elbert Jefferson on his first day in office, apparently during a meeting in a City Hall stairwell.
After taking the oath of office Friday afternoon from U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays, Lowery told reporters he had offered Jefferson a severance and a chance to resign the appointed post. Jefferson refused and Lowery met with him in a City Hall stairwell after the swearing in ceremony. Lowery emerged without Jefferson and told reporters he had fired the attorney.
“The legal department has almost been a black hole for dollars,” Lowery said. “I think that we spend too much money on attorney fees. I think that our city attorney has allowed this to happen without adequate controls on this. And I’m looking for stronger controls in the city attorney’s office.”
Jefferson couldn’t be reached for comment, but he apparently contested whether Lowery could dismiss him.
“If the mayor pro tempore doesn’t have the power, who does?” Lowery said. “Of course I do.”
Lowery added that if Jefferson chose to contest his dismissal it could go to the City Council for a vote.
Lowery said he will nominate former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman Davis to the post. He also said he will nominate former council member Jack Sammons to be his Chief Administrative Officer, calling it the “worst kept secret at City Hall.”
Herenton CAO Keith McGee had retired effective July 4. But when Mayor Willie Herenton moved back his resignation date to July 30, McGee extended his stay on a voluntary basis. McGee is working with Lowery on a transitional basis. Lowery said he had hoped Jefferson would work under the same arrangement.
“He wanted to keep the title and the salary that comes with it. So I had to make a decision,” Lowery said. “I wish he had accepted it. … He’s forced me to take this action.”
Lowery said he wants Coleman Davis to examine past city legal bills and expenses.
“I have heard that several individuals have been hired … in the legal department to fill vacancies who were scheduled to start work Monday. I just found this out,” Lowery told reporters. “I want to make sure that we don’t have cronies of our former legal division director who have been hired.”
Those appointments will be examined.
“I don’t want any friends of the division director receiving dollars or any backroom deals outside the scope of the City Council. You know what I’m talking about,” he told reporters. “That is not going to occur under my administration.”
‘Hard work and enthusiasm’
Lowery will take the appointments to the City Council Tuesday for confirmation. He told reporters he has no immediate plans for other changes in his group of division directors.
As Lowery moved into the seventh floor mayor’s office at City Hall, council member Harold Collins moved into the council chairman’s office on the fifth floor as part of the transition in power following Herenton’s resignation.
“It’s a new day at City Hall,” Lowery told a crowd in the Hall of Mayors the day after Herenton’s farewell address in the same hall. Lowery’s guests at the ceremony were Herenton, former Mayor Dick Hackett and J.O. Patterson Jr., the city’s first African-American mayor who served in the top post for 20 days after the resignation of Mayor Wyeth Chandler in 1982. Patterson was City Council chairman at the time. Like Lowery, Patterson also ran in the special election that followed and lost to Hackett, who lost to Herenton nine years later by 142 votes.
“With new life, new individuals, comes hope and promise,” Lowery said. “As mayor, I will promote a moral philosophy of customer service – customer-driven government. … I’m here also to say that I’m going to promote ethical leadership in government.”
One priority will be a new crime fighting strategy, although Lowery was quick to say he likes the direction the police department and those efforts have taken under current Police Director Larry Godwin. The other immediate priority is a more aggressive city cleanup campaign.
Lowery didn’t refer to Herenton directly in any of his comments, but the contrasts were apparent.
“We will be energetic in city government – more productive There’s a phrase, ‘We need to be workhorses, not showhorses.’” Lowery said. “You will not get a lot of catchy phrases from me. But you will get a lot of hard work and enthusiasm.”
The remark came the day after Herenton’s farewell address and press conference in which Herenton repeatedly invoked what looks to be the campaign slogan “Keep It Real” in his bid for the Democratic congressional nomination in 2010.
“As everyone knows, we’ve lost many people during the past several years. I’m going to say come home to Memphis,” Lowery said.
The remark is in contrast to one of Herenton’s most cited quotes from his 18-year tenure. When asked about citizens moving out of Memphis for the suburbs, Herenton responded by saying he had no problem with that and adding “goodbye.”