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VOL. 124 | NO. 210 | Monday, October 26, 2009

Council Chairman Collins Readies For New Regime

By Bill Dries

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NO LAURELS TO REST ON: Memphis City Council chairman Harold Collins said the council doesn’t have to wait for the new mayor to present his plans to have an agenda. -- PHOTO BY LANCE MURPHEY

Memphis City Council Chairman Harold Collins will have a very good seat for today’s swearing-in ceremony of Memphis Mayor-elect A C Wharton Jr.

He already has a seat at the table for the transition of power.

Collins assumed the chairman’s post when Myron Lowery became Mayor Pro Tem July 31 following the retirement of former Mayor Willie Herenton. Lowery returns to his super district council seat with Wharton taking office. Collins remains chairman and told The Daily News the council has a role in the mayoral transition.

“I believe that the council could set an agenda as well as the mayor,” he said. “We can decide how the (Mid-South) Fairgrounds is going to look. We can decide how the riverfront is going to look.”

The comments are part of an interview in the latest edition of The Memphis News, sister publication of The Daily News. Collins commented minutes after Wharton made his first appearance before the City Council last week.

Councilmember Joe Brown welcomed Wharton to City Hall by referring to it as the “land of fire.”

Collins didn’t put it quite that way. And like past chairmen, Collins has had to make a special effort to reign in Brown’s comments and keep him on the specific subject at hand. But Collins agreed that Wharton will find City Hall different than his former post as Shelby County mayor at the Shelby County Building just across Main Street Mall.

“I make the joke that over at 160 N. Main they do their cooking with air. Over at 125 (N. Main), we do our cooking with oil,” Collins said. “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.”

Collins includes among his goals:

  • Victory for the city in the ongoing court fight over whether the city is required to fund the Memphis school system. Collins contends the city doesn’t have such an obligation.
  • Sheriff’s Department patrols within the city of Memphis.
  • Continued elimination of city funding for countywide services that city taxpayers already pay for through county property taxes.
  • A mammoth expansion of Graceland in Whitehaven that includes improvement of the Elvis Presley Boulevard corridor. Whitehaven is in Collins’ council district. The political importance of the voters who live in the neighborhoods on both sides of the boulevard was demonstrated during the mayoral campaign. Four candidates had headquarters along the boulevard: Lowery, Wharton, Charles Carpenter and Jerry Lawler.

“Everybody talks about our city being on the cusp of greatness,” Collins told The Daily News. “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.”

Collins is among 10 members on the 13-member council who are about halfway through their first four-year terms of office. Collins was elected vice chair at the start of the year. In the shuffle of council leadership that followed Herenton’s resignation at the end of July, he became chairman and council member Bill Boyd became vice chairman.

With four more council meetings left in 2009, Collins hopes to win a full one-year term as chairman in 2010, which has been the council custom in past events when the sitting chairman left early.

PROPERTY SALES 51 333 19,446
MORTGAGES 68 383 22,433
BUILDING PERMITS 138 688 40,004
BANKRUPTCIES 34 238 12,486