VOL. 124 | NO. 210 | Monday, October 26, 2009
A story from The Memphis News
On newsstands throughout the city
Collins: Council Should Be Active Partner in City Business
By Bill Dries
Harold Collins is the chairman of the Memphis City Council, assuming the post as Myron Lowery became interim city mayor July 31.
Collins remains the chairman as Lowery returns to the council following the election of A C Wharton Jr. as mayor earlier this month. Like 10 of the 13 City Council members, Collins is about halfway through his first four-year term on the body.
We talked with Collins about the council’s role in the transition from Willie Herenton’s leadership to A C Wharton Jr.’s.
Q: So what do you feel is ahead in this time of political change?
A: Just like we were when we were first sworn in as new council members, this is an opportunity for us, in my opinion, to chart a new direction for our city. With regards to the transition, I believe that the council could set an agenda as well as the mayor. We can decide how the fairgrounds is going to look. We can decide how the riverfront is going to look. Just like we can decide that picking up old tires in our city can be a beautification plan and help people make money at the same time. I’m encouraging the council to be creative – not just be stagnant and waiting for the mayor to submit us things. … That’s the transition we could have. I know it’s a paradigm shift. But that’s the beauty of having 10 new people.
Q: This council came into office after the 2007 elections with a general agenda to change things. Does that remain?
A: We came in with an agenda to make our city whole. When I say whole, it means relinquishing some of these dual roles that the taxpayers of our city have been taking on for a long time. I think that’s about to take place. We already have gotten the health department off our back – off our plate. I’m confident that the judicial system will see that the city of Memphis should not be contributing to education as we do now in the form of maintenance of effort to Memphis City Schools – which is a dual taxation. I think there’s some other things that we can do. But we’ve got to have a commitment to do it. And we’ve got to have an understanding that it’s about all of us and not about our own individual desires. ... We can still have those things but we can work as a team. It’s unfortunate that politics and personalities sometimes take over. But I’ve been here now long enough to know who plays that game.
Q: And you believe there are still seven votes there for the agenda?
A: I wouldn’t call it an agenda. I call it a vision. I believe that there are still seven votes there for relinquishing the dual taxation that our citizens have, making the fairgrounds area viable and amenable to the stakeholders – the University of Memphis, the Southern Heritage Classic and the Liberty Bowl. I believe there’s still seven votes for the vision of making the Elvis Presley Boulevard corridor the place Graceland wants it to be and how it can go from 600,000 visitors to 1.2 million a year. I believe there is still a vision to develop the inner city in such a way that everybody can be proud and not displace residents without the proper training and education that they need when they get moved out. … I believe that there is a way to have the Sheriff’s Department patrol inside the city proper without infringing on the Memphis Police Department’s ability to do its job. We just have to have a will and a desire to do that. Everybody talks about our city being on the cusp of greatness. OK. What are you going to do to make that happen? I’m going to do my part. I know I’m going to make people mad when I do. That’s OK too. You don’t get fire unless you get close to the target.”
Q: What do you think the council’s relationship with the new mayor is going to be?
A: I make the joke that over at 160 North Main (the county administration building), they do their cooking with air. Over at 125 (North Main, City Hall), we do our cooking with oil. It can get real hot, real fast on this side of the street. I’m sure the mayor has no illusions. If he did, he doesn’t anymore. He understands that he has some incredible goodwill right now – some political clout, if you will. He can use it to get a lot accomplished if he becomes more assertive on it. … Because he nominated Herman Morris (for city attorney), council members – they were comfortable with that. It’s no surprise that the mayor can bring in good-quality candidates and good-quality leadership.