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VOL. 124 | NO. 185 | Monday, September 21, 2009

Vote Wisely, Remember Mayor’s Post Is Temporary

The Memphis News

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Among the 25 people seeking to become Memphis’ next mayor, the ideal candidate does not exist. Even the more serious contenders, who are a minority in the record-setting group, lack the overall vision and ability to get things done.

Candidates who range in age from their early 20s to 60s talk of representing a new generation of Memphis voters. It’s an empty phrase.

Following in the footsteps of former Mayor Willie Herenton – or picking up the pieces after his departure – won’t be that easy. Love him or hate him, Herenton stood at the helm of the city’s business for almost 20 years. That’s a lot of patina to burnish or scrape away.

County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. talks of “one Memphis,” conjuring the ghost of biracial campaigns that occasionally have succeeded in past races for public office.

It’s a necessary change after years of calculated race-based political manipulation. But what happens if and when we come together?

The promise of new departments of vision and other ethereal concepts is troubling because it makes qualities that should be inherent in any government endeavor a new cog in the bureaucracy.

The last thing city government needs is county government’s tendency to expand like lava – slow but inevitable and rock hard once it’s in place.

Myron Lowery has done more to begin life post-Herenton at City Hall than anyone in the race. He offers the clearest repudiation of all that was wrong with the Herenton era.

But is not being Herenton enough? The botched firing of Elbert Jefferson doesn’t speak well of anyone involved. Being mayor is about leadership. And leadership is not throwing a choice to the City Council and walking away with a shrug after they reject the proposal.

Charles Carpenter has been the most specific of the candidates on issues that have been high on the list of voter concerns – crime, the economy and fixing a tax system that is broken. If he doesn’t win the race, whoever does should immediately hire him as chief administrative officer or at least a top adviser.

But his role as a close adviser to Herenton will be nearly impossible for many voters to ignore.

If he grew upset with what he saw toward the end of Herenton’s tenure, as he claims, it is legitimate to ask why he didn’t speak up while Herenton was still in power.

That said, voters don’t have to decide what comes next for all time. The winner of the special election has about two years in office before the next city election.

We think the choice in this election is among one of these three candidates. But probably just for the next two years.

Voters might have to view this as a selection of someone who will be a transitory political figure to repair as much political rot as possible and then step away. Gracefully.

If that’s not possible, voters can make that decision in 2011.

Here’s a list of goals the mayor you begin voting for next week should undertake on Oct. 16, the day after he or she is elected:

  • Appoint five qualified Memphians to serve on the metro charter commission, which will be tasked with drawing up a plan for city-county government consolidation. They should have open minds but definite ideas about consolidation, tax equity and single-source education funding.
  • Appoint a new city attorney and immediately establish specific guidelines for outside legal fees that include rigorous oversight by the City Council and through open records.
  • Restore public confidence in the motives of appointed as well as elected officials – the people who, after all, do the appointing.
  • Reduce the number of appointed positions, especially those outside established city divisions.
  • Repaint bright lines that unquestionably mark the boundary between what is ethical and what is improper, even if it isn’t illegal.
  • Put the public back in public records with a rapid response – no more than 24 hours – to any request for information or documents established as public records under state law. This includes uncensored e-mails sent using city e-mail accounts.
  • Cut the grass now. Declare a temporary lifting of the bureaucracy and excuse-making that takes weeks and months to get a city crew to cut overgrown lots as well as public median strips. This is what politicians are fond of calling a “quality of life” issue at campaign time and a “low priority” once the election year is over. It’s gone on too long.
  • Fix the garbage pickup problem that began this summer and still remains in too many neighborhoods. It is a responsibility that must not be ignored any longer.

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