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VOL. 130 | NO. 50 | Friday, March 13, 2015

Sammons 'Very Interested' in Wharton's Chief Administrator Job

By Bill Dries

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The Memphis City Council and the chief administrative officer both have offices in City Hall.

But to Jack Sammons, who served on the council for more than 20 years and was Chief Administrative Officer for eight months, there is no contest over which job is better.


“That is the single worst job in government,” Sammons said of serving on the council.

“Being on the council is like being in the joint. You are just confined,” Sammons told a group of 100 people Wednesday, March 11, at the Rotary Club of Memphis East. “But when you’re the CAO, it’s like you’ve been in the joint for 20 years and you get out and get a call one day: ‘You want to come back and be the warden?’”

The Rotary event marked Sammons’ first public comments on Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s plan to make him his new chief administrative officer while he continues to serve as chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board. Sammons said he would like to return to the position he held for the three months in 2009 while Myron Lowery was interim mayor and for the first five months of Wharton’s tenure as mayor.

“I’m very interested in that job,” he said. “I think it’s an opportunity to be very impactful for the community.”

Meanwhile, Wharton defended Sammons serving in both posts and said Wednesday that there is no rush to take the formal nomination of Sammons as his second-in-command to the Memphis City Council for approval.

And Wharton indicated for the second time in as many weeks that he intends to make other changes in his administration during this election year.

“There are other decisions that will be made,” Wharton told reporters Wednesday. “This is one of the critical decisions – changes that will be made. We’re not rushing on this.”

Sammons was an aggressive chief administrative officer who signaled an abrupt change from the administration of outgoing Mayor Willie Herenton, who was mayor for most of Sammons’ first 20 years on the council.

“I knew where a lot of the so-called bodies were buried,” Sammons said. “We arranged to shuffle the deck a little bit in the interim time I was there.”

Wharton said the executive division’s budget will not increase if Sammons becomes CAO and current CAO George Little moves to the newly created position of chief operating officer.

“There are a number of vacancies that will not be filled or if they are filled, they will be filled at a lower level,” he said.

Wharton also pointed out that Sammons’ current service on the airport authority board is an unpaid position.

“He will not be holding two jobs. It’s not at all rare for even elected officials to serve on boards even while they are in elected positions,” Wharton said. “He will have one job. He’s giving up his business activities. So he will have one job and one board membership. We have folks throughout city government who work for me but who serve on various boards and commissions.”

But Sammons is not the usual civic board member who attends a meeting a month and votes on items after a quick briefing from airport staff. Since becoming chairman in January 2013, Sammons has been point man on the airport’s turnaround following last year’s dehubbing by Delta Air Lines.

Sammons travels extensively in his airport duties, selling air carriers on extending service to Memphis International Airport and building a new service network that also includes staying in touch with leaders of other airports.

Wharton cites Sammons’ previous tenure as CAO which coincided with Sammons’ move into the leadership of the FedEx St. Jude Golf Classic. The golf tournament was “tanking” following the loss of financial backing and sponsorship from Stanford Financial.

“Who pulled it out and who served as CAO at the same time?” Wharton asked. “And they both worked. He can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Before Sammons can be formally nominated, though, state law will have to change to remove the current restriction that prevents an airport authority board member from working for either city or county government.

The city is seeking such a change in state law, but so far there is no sign of a bill in the hopper in Nashville.

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