VOL. 130 | NO. 63 | Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Sammons to Become Memphis CAO
By Bill Dries
Incoming city chief administrative officer Jack Sammons should arrive at City Hall on May 8, just a few days after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. presents his budget propsosal to the Memphis City Council.
Between now and then, Sammons will wrap up some business affairs as well as his job as chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, pending council confirmation in April of his appointment by Wharton. He will wrap up his involvement with Ampro, the ethnic hair products manufacturing business that has been his full-time job since shortly before his time on the council ended.
Sammons, a former council member and city CAO, will return to City Hall in what he described as “let’s see mode” when it comes to possible changes to the Wharton administration.
“It’s going to be similar to what we went through before,” Sammons said. “CAOs are like baseball pitchers. They are pretty predictable. There’s not going to be any drastic change from what I did before.”
Originally, Wharton wanted to make Sammons his second in command at City Hall as Sammons kept his position as the head of the airport authority, an unpaid position that is technically part-time.
But a state law specifically bars holding the two jobs simultaneously, and Wharton’s plan for legislation to undo the prohibition came after the deadline for filing bills in the Tennessee Legislature for this year.
The election year shake-up of Wharton’s inner circle, which by the mayor’s own admission is certain to feature other changes, also hit a rough patch when word of Sammons’ return to City Hall leaked early.
The administration was still talking with state legislators in Nashville, who already weren’t receptive to a bill after the filing deadline.
That left Sammons with a difficult choice.
Since he became chairman of the airport authority board in 2013, Sammons has been the front man and salesman-in-chief for the local effort to remake Memphis International Airport after Delta Air Lines dehubbed it in 2014.
The transition is not only a switch to domestic air carriers but is also a transformation of the airport from one dominated by connecting flights to one focused on origin-and-destination traffic.
Although it came with no pay, the board chairmanship was a role Sammons relished just as much as his seven-month role as chief administrative officer, starting under interim Mayor Myron Lowery following Mayor Willie Herenton’s resignation in 2009, and lasting into the first three months of Wharton’s tenure.
The chief administrative officer traditionally oversees the day-to-day affairs of city government and is a gatekeeper to the mayor. He’s also the person on the management chart who talks the most with division directors.
Before the first stint as chief administrative officer, Sammons served on the Memphis City Council from 1988 to 1995, and he returned to serve from 1999 to 2007. He was appointed to fill a council seat in 2008.
He said one of his goals is to try to repair the strained relationship between Wharton and the 13-member council in a city election year.
“In any organization, business or government, any time you can develop teamwork you are going to be more effective,” Sammons said. “They represent a defined constituency, and they are as close to that level of constituent needs as we can get.”
With Sammons’ return to City Hall, former CAO George Little will become the city’s chief operating officer, a new position in which he will oversee a realignment in the city’s police and fire departments.
Meanwhile, Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who appoint the airport authority board, are certain to have thoughts about who Sammons’ successor should be as chairman.