Wharton and Haslam React To Schools Legislation

By Bill Dries

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. reacted angrily Thursday evening to the state House vote earlier in the day approving school consolidation legislation.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam gave no indication Thursday evening in Nashville about what he will do with the legislation now on his desk.

And the Memphis City Council approved a resolution dissolving the Memphis City Schools system immediately but specifically preserving the March 8 citywide referendum on schools consolidation.

“As of this speaking, they have not repealed the (state) law under which the council just acted,” Wharton said after the council vote when asked the impact on the state legislature’s decision. “I say that with a bit of anger because I’ve learned in the past few days that in this particular matter the rules change. The rules change when people in Memphis do things that the gods in Nashville don’t like. They change the rules. I don’t know. They may change the rules tonight.”

The council took its action, on a 10-0 vote, based on a disputed interpretation of state law that they believe completes the MCS charter surrender approved by the MCS board Dec. 20 without any need for a referendum.

Wharton acknowledged that interpretation could be challenged. But he said until such a challenge and court ruling backing it up he will attempt to negotiate a transition plan for a merger with the Shelby County schools system.

In that plan, the city of Memphis would run MCS until a transition to a merged school system was completed or rejected by Memphis voters next month.

Meanwhile, speaking with reporters after an appearance at the Tennessee Press Association meeting in Nashville, Haslam said he wasn’t sure if he would sign the bill or veto it or let it become law without his signature.

The comment mirrors what Wharton said was Haslam’s response by telephone just five minutes before the council session.

Haslam also committed to making his appointment to a transition committee established in the legislation a Memphian. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has made a similar commitment.

At the TPA event, Haslam also again predicted the controversy would eventually be resolved in a courtroom.