New Council Chairman Could Have New Rules

By Bill Dries

The new chairman of the Memphis City Council in 2014 could be overseeing the council under a different set of ground rules.

Jim Strickland was elected chairman by his fellow City Council members Tuesday, Nov. 5, to start his one-year term in January.

Meanwhile, three council members have been meeting since October as an ad hoc committee examining council rules of procedure. And by the end of its second meeting last week the group already had two changes it intends to recommend to the full council later this month.



Council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr. last month appointed the committee, led by Wanda Halbert and including Bill Boyd and Myron Lowery, saying he is concerned that some on the council aren’t following the rules as closely as they should.

The chairmanships of every Memphis City Council committee would change each year under the first change approved by the ad hoc committee.

Lowery suggested the rotating chairmanships for the nine committees, saying he tried to implement the change when he was chairman and faced opposition from no fewer than eight of the 13 council members.

Lowery was elected vice chairman for 2014 by the council Tuesday, Nov. 5, in a race with Halbert.

Halbert challenged Lowery with his call for changing committee leadership on a frequent basis.

Lowery is the council’s longest serving member, elected in 1991. Halbert was elected to the council six years ago and pointed out that during those six years, Lowery has been either chairman or vice chairman for four of those years.

“I hope he believes in sharing in leadership,” she said. “We have a diverse council. There are 11 men and two women and it is time for us to step outside the norm and respect the diversity of the council.”

Committees have been a part of the council’s political infrastructure since the early 1980s. Prior, council members met in an executive session before their voting meeting to ask any questions they had about any item on the council’s agenda.

The council’s budget committee is unique among the set of committees. It is a committee of the whole and its chairmanship normally does not rotate because some council chairmen have said the committee that oversees budget deliberations should have some consistency in its leadership.

The trio of council members also expect to have more discussions about the council’s time limits on the amount of time and the number of times a council member can speak on a motion in committee and at the full council session.

Halbert pushed for some change in the rules, saying she could accept limits in committee sessions or at the full council session but not both.

“I understand but I don’t like the control factor,” she said. “I feel very limited as an elected official.”

Halbert’s problem is also that when a council member asks a question of an administration official or someone not on the council, the time that person takes to answer the question counts against that council member’s time limit.

“Where you can, don’t ask an attorney a question,” Boyd said.

The second recommendation approved by the committee wasn’t a change in the rules but stronger enforcement of the existing rule on the deadline for when items on the council agenda are due in the council office.

The deadline remains 10 a.m. Thursday before the Tuesday council sessions, which are held twice a month. The committee is recommending that council staff enforce the deadline by refusing to add items to the agenda after the deadline. In most cases, those are items requested by the administration.

“That is unacceptable,” Halbert said. “You know the date. You know the time.”

Items could still be added after the deadline but only by a majority vote of the City Council.

The committee is also talking about some kind of fiscal consent agenda with routine items that normally don’t generate much if any discussion like grants awarded to the city, which the council has to formally accept through resolutions. The council has a version of that with a fiscal consent agenda for funding items for Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division.