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VOL. 124 | NO. 197 | Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Metro Charter Appointments Win Recommendation

Questions Remain About Gibson Appointment

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners Wednesday recommended all 10 of County Mayor A C Wharton’s appointees to a metro charter commission.

The commission, which will include five people appointed by the Memphis mayor and confirmed by the City Council, will draft a charter proposal to consolidate Memphis and Shelby County governments.

The charter draft would go to voters in a November 2010 pair of referenda. The proposal must win in each of the separate votes – one inside Memphis, the other in the parts of the county outside the city – for consolidation to happen.

But there was a lot of discussion in the Wednesday committee session about the appointment of one of their own to the charter body.

Wharton included County Commissioner J.W. Gibson among his appointees and Gibson won the recommendation of the committee on a 5-4 vote.

The full commission votes Monday on all 10 appointees, including Gibson, and Commissioner Sidney Chism vowed, “I’ll have the votes Monday” to stop Gibson’s appointment.

Chism and others are opposed to Gibson’s nomination because Gibson and fellow Commissioner Joe Ford are trying to round up the votes to become interim county mayor should Wharton win the Oct. 15 election for Memphis mayor.

“I don’t want to see anybody espousing to reach a higher position,” said Chism, who is among those favoring Ford for the interim mayoral appointment.

One thing at a time

Gibson abstained from voting on any of the appointments, including his own. He also said if he’s approved for the charter commission and later is chosen to be interim mayor, he will give up his seat on the charter commission.

“Emphatically, I say to you again I do not look to serve in both positions,” Gibson told commissioners. “This commission seems to feel very strongly that you are going to be our next mayor,” he said to Wharton. “The first step before us is in dealing with this charter commission and then we see what happens following that.”

If Gibson were selected for the charter commission and then resigned, the remaining charter commissioners would fill the vacancy without any vote by the County Commission or City Council.

Commissioner Mike Ritz opposed Gibson because he doesn’t believe any elected officials should serve on the charter commission. That includes Millington Mayor Richard Hodges and former Collierville Mayor Linda Kerley, whose nominations also cleared the committee Wednesday.

Trial by ordeal

Hodges was quizzed by several commissioners about his earlier statements expressing opposition to consolidation. He and the five other suburban mayors in Shelby County are the most vocal opponents of the concept.

Their towns and cities – Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Millington and Lakeland – would remain intact under a consolidation proposal. But there would be changes in some services the six municipalities receive currently from Shelby County government.

“I’ve said if this is going to be a packed deck … I don’t want no part of it,” Hodges said, recalling his conversations with Wharton. “(Wharton) said, ‘Yan you make an open-minded decision.” Hodges said he can. “You get what you get,” he told commissioners.

Attorney Chris Patterson works at the law firm Wiseman Bray PLLC of Germantown, co-founded by Lang Wiseman, chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party and brother of Arlington Mayor Russell Wiseman.

“I don’t think that would influence my decision-making in any way,” Patterson told commissioners. “I’ve known them my whole life. Russell doesn’t carry a lot of influence over Lang. … They happen to see eye to eye on most things.”

Another nominee, Castalia Baptist Church pastor Randolph Meade Walker, said the county is too polarized.

“I do believe that a major impediment to our progress is that as a metropolitan area we spend too much time beating up each other,” he said.

County Commissioner Mike Carpenter cautioned against a consolidation litmus test at the outset of the process.

“I don’t think we ought to make assumptions about what city or county voters want,” he said. “Keep your powder dry and see what the charter Commission comes up with.”

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said he was “impressed” by the slate.

“I’m not naïve enough not to believe that this is heavily weighted with people in favor of consolidation,” he said. “That being said, my only concern is with Commissioner Gibson.”

Weighed, measured

The other appointees winning a committee recommendation Wednesday were:

•Lou Etta Burkins, project engineer for FedEx Express;

Julie Ellis, senior counsel at Butler Snow PLLC law firm and a former counsel to the city of Jacksonville, Fla.;

Andre Fowlkes, Memphis Small Business Chamber executive director and son of Criminal Court judge and former county Chief Administrative Officer John Fowlkes;

•Billy Orgel, president of Tower Ventures who is an active contributor to local political campaigns;

•and Rufus Washington, retired Marine and president of the Southeast Shelby County Coalition.

Memphis City Council members voted last month to go along with the creation of a charter commission, but included an amendment that forbids the council from voting on the mayor’s charter commission selections before its Oct. 20 meeting.

That means whoever wins the Oct. 15 special election would send a list of five names to the council as one of his or her first acts in office. Should Wharton win the special election, he has said he would find a way not to make the other five appointments.

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