VOL. 127 | NO. 253 | Friday, December 28, 2012
Memphis Standout Profile
Ford Jr. Ready for Ascent to City Council Chairman
By Bill Dries
If you didn’t know that Edmund Ford Jr. teaches mathematics, there would be clues.
He can almost sense a percentage that is wrong and he prefers not to “ballpark” numbers.
The precise numbers are part of the story of his entry into politics.
When his father, Edmund Ford Sr., was elected to the council in 2003, the younger Ford’s path to the council began.
He attended the twice-a-month council meetings for the last three years of his father’s tenure while still a student at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
“My car’s got 260,000 miles on it,” he said before noting that he made the Tuesday trip to Memphis and back to Nashville 72 times.
Ford is about to begin a yearlong term as chairman of the Memphis City Council after serving as council vice chairman in 2012. He succeeds council member Bill Morrison in a post that traditionally rotates among council members for a year at a time.
Ford sat in for Morrison a few times as chairman.
“I got a taste of it,” he said. “But now that I have to do it 24 consecutive times it’s different than a sporadic one or two at a time.”
Ford Jr. is the fifth member of the Ford family to hold the District 6 council seat since his uncle, John Ford, upset James Netters in the 1971 city elections.
With his election in 2007, Ford Jr. became part of the largest turnover of council seats in the 44-year history of the mayor-council form of government in Memphis. He was re-elected in 2011 as part of the largest return of incumbents to council seats in the history of the mayor-council form of government.
The core group of council members who came onto the council in 2007 have made a point of questioning city priorities and methods of operations first under Mayor Willie Herenton and now under Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
“If you take the contractual responsibilities out, we have very similar civic responsibilities to the people that we represent,” Ford said of differences between the mayor and current council. “There are some things through our checks-and-balances system that we’re not able to go to another boundary with. But we do share that same civic responsibility.”
Ford was one of several council members who in the last two budget seasons have come up with budget proposals of their own. As chairman, Ford’s role will include being a moderator and facilitator of the body. But he hopes the trend will continue.
“I would love to see council members who may be critical of other ideas to come up with their own particular ideas so that they can also be considered as well,” Ford said.
The move to such plans is important because it is an effort to break the council’s continuing philosophical deadlock between council members who favor such alternative plans and those on the council who have said they can’t support tax hikes to fund the city budget but also cannot support cuts in the city budget.
Ford has reappointed Jim Strickland as budget committee chairman, always a key committee assignment. Ford said he chose Strickland because he has “showed impeccable fairness and ingenuity when it came to the budget.”
Ford plans to continue the council’s move in recent years to make council discussions more focused and more concise. Council rules enforced more stringently in recent years permit council members to speak twice on items with an overall time limit on how long each may speak.
“I want to make sure that we are following all of our procedures and that we treat everybody in the same impartial manner,” he said. “I will really play the role of a mediator of making sure that all individuals are heard within a respectable amount of time and that council members are able to have great deliberations on important items.”
For all of his time spent watching the council as an outsider, Ford said the experience of being a council member is different.
“Prior to 2007 I was able to watch what council members did on a regular basis. But I didn’t have that tangible outlet to constituents like my father did,” he said. “Being in the position with the hands-on experience made a complete difference. It gave me a different yet better perspective on what the position entails and its responsibilities.”