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VOL. 130 | NO. 69 | Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sammons Gets Good Look at Mayor-Council Relationship

By Bill Dries

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There was a moment Tuesday, April 7, at City Hall when outgoing chief administrative officer George Little paused in the middle of his grilling by the council to look over at incoming CAO Jack Sammons and smile.

Memphis City Council member Harold Collins challenged outgoing chief administrative officer George Little on Tuesday, April 7, one day before Collins announced his plans to run for city mayor.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Council members were questioning the administration’s plans for moving the police department and two other city divisions into the old Donnelly J. Hill state office building next fiscal year even though the council still hasn’t approved the move.

Council member Harold Collins was insistent that state government’s move to One Commerce Square from the Civic Center Plaza building – which came with parking spaces the city controls – was to ensure better terms for the city’s new use of the old state office building.

Little said it was part of the deal but not the entire deal, which is still being negotiated when it comes to the city’s move in.

When he acknowledged not knowing specifics of the ongoing contract talks, Collins saw it as another example of the man holding the No. 2 position at City Hall being out of the loop.

“There’s more to the deal than that,” Little said.

“I believe you don’t know,” Collins replied. “And that’s unacceptable.”

“It’s not out of ignorance,” Little responded evenly. “It’s out of an abundance of caution.”

It was one of several good looks Sammons got Tuesday at the work ahead of him in trying to mend the council’s relationship with Mayor A C Wharton Jr. in an election year.

Council member Jim Strickland, who is challenging Wharton in the October race for Mayor, abstained in the vote on Sammons’ appointment after terming his selection by Wharton “clearly political.”

“It’s costing the taxpayers’ money by creating more six-figure jobs at City Hall and more pension costs,” he said, referring to Little remaining with the administration at his present salary while Sammons is paid $155,012 a year.

Wharton has said hiring Sammons and retaining Little will not result in any net increase in spending by the mayor’s office because he plans on eliminating other positions.

“But that raises the question why were those jobs filled in the first place if they can be eliminated so easily,” Strickland said. “The answer is because the mayor’s budget is bloated.”

Sammons, who served on the council for more than 20 years and as chief administrative officer previously for eight months, told the council, “It’s my intent to come in to this job as a listener.”

“A lot has improved and a lot needs to be addressed,” he said of changes at City Hall since he last left five years ago. “I understand well how difficult your jobs can be and look forward to working with you.”

Sammons goes on the city payroll May 9.

Earlier Tuesday, Sammons watched as council members questioned Little closely about city retirees’ complaints about the city’s efforts to audit the number of retirees remaining on its health insurance plan after benefit changes.

The administration estimated the one year of extended health insurance coverage would be for about 300 retirees and their spouses. But approximately 1,000 signed up for the plan and had an April deadline from an auditing firm hired by the city to submit proof they qualified.

Later, the council approved delaying the proof submission deadline to the end of May.

Council member Kemp Conrad made the proposal after saying he called the telephone number the outside firm is giving retirees and was promptly put on “eternal wait.” Council member Berlin Boyd said he had the same experience.

“There’s always some kind of excuse,” Boyd said of the administration. “I don’t have that much confidence.”

PROPERTY SALES 64 151 1,493
MORTGAGES 45 105 1,152
BUILDING PERMITS 201 410 3,466