VOL. 130 | NO. 43 | Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Wharton's City Hall Shake-Up Has Ripples
By Bill Dries
The political timing of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s shake-up of his leadership team could have been worse – closer to the October city elections in which he is seeking a second full term.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., left, with CAO George Little, who is changing positions within Wharton’s administration.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
Potential challengers to Wharton can’t start pulling qualifying petitions to get on the ballot until April, but several are already declared and running.
In his still pending move to make Jack Sammons his new chief administrative officer while keeping Sammons as chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority board, Wharton’s critics including his potential and declared challengers will find some ammunition.
The criticism will be that Wharton is adding a chief operating officer position to the city management chart to be held by current CAO George Little. Wharton also is acting late in his first full term to resolve a recurring problem in which the administration launches initiatives that lose focus and urgency as new initiatives in different areas are launched after them.
The move to Sammons still isn’t a done deal. It will require a change in state law which currently bars an airport authority commissioner from holding a City Hall job. If that happens, the Memphis City Council will then be asked to approve Sammons’ nomination by Wharton.
The council is unlikely to rubber stamp Sammons’ nomination and at the least will have some pointed questions for Wharton.
“I’m CAO until such time as those moves are affected,” Little said. “There’s still a lot going on.”
Wharton has talked in the past of creating a chief operating officer’s position as well as a chief financial officer and just last month a division level director to focus on minority business growth.
The move of Little to the COO position will affect other positions within the administration.
Little said his new post would include functioning as a chief of staff to Wharton as well, a position currently held by Bobby White.
And Sammons, who couldn’t be reached for comment, will probably not assume the traditional day-to-day responsibilities over the running of city government that are the definition of the CAO’s position in both city and county government locally.
Instead deputy chief administrative officer Maura Sullivan will assume more of the day-to-day parts of the job, according to Little – a transition he added had already started before a return of Sammons to the job capped the changes.
“That’s frankly already been the division of labor. Truth be told I’d already started shifting things her way and already beginning to move in these directions,” Little said. “Although we had hoped that this wouldn’t have broken quite as it did, because there are some details that need to be worked out – the pieces were already moving into place to affect these changes.”
Little said Monday that the administration is prepared to move ahead with changes to police and fire operations as well as begin movement again on its bid to outsource more solid waste sanitation services.
All are areas Wharton has pushed over several years but which have lagged badly when other initiatives became the administration’s focus.
In the “managed competition” of solid waste services, the administration worked out an agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to outsource some garbage pick-up and increase pickups among fewer city sanitation crews. But the council refused to raise solid waste fees to citizens in the process. And the administration’s plan for city sanitation workers to form their own companies to contract with the city has made next to no movement.
The city will be consulting with former Indianapolis mayor Steve Goldsmith about solid waste, according to Little. And he said expect a request for proposal from Memphis Police in the next three months for police dash and body cameras as well as Global Positioning Systems – or GPS – for police patrol cars.
In the administration’s upcoming budget proposal, Little said there will be a request for some number of Police Service Technicians – civilians answering calls for fender benders and wrecks with no critical injuries that the city used in the 1980s and 1990s before those duties moved back to uniformed officers.
“Each of these projects are the kind that you really need to be able to think about on a daily basis,” Little said. “Whether it’s a specific task that may be related to advancing that project or whether it’s making sure that the tasks that have been assigned are addressed – it has been difficult for me to do that in putting out fires. You look and a couple of weeks have gone by.”
Sammons was chief administrative officer during the two-and-a-half month tenure of interim mayor Myron Lowery that followed the resignation of Willie Herenton in July 2009. Sammons remained in the position after Wharton was elected mayor in the October 2009 special election. Little was appointed by Wharton in March 2010, coming to City Hall from his former job as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Corrections.