Governing the city's governors is the task before a new Memphis City Council committee charged with creating rules on how the council conducts business and how its individual members comport themselves.
Rules governing the 13-member board during meetings have been ignored, and caustic criticisms of city staffers and other members of the council have become too common in council deliberations, according to some on the new rules committee. The time for such behavior has come to an end, committee member Bill Boyd said.
"It's just a lack of dignity, I guess you'd say," Boyd said. "Misbehavior on the council is a reflection on the entire council ... supposedly the leaders in the community."
Council chairman Edmund Ford Jr. created the committee during last Tuesday's executive session of the full city council. He said he would no longer tolerate the criticism some council members hurl, especially at members of Mayor A C Wharton's administration, and other procedural infractions, such as having votes recorded after the official vote has been taken.
However, Ford said he wouldn't "name drop" the members of the council who have created problems. The committee met for the first time Monday and plans to have recommendations to send to the full council for a vote within 30 days.
Members of the committee talked about specific instances of misbehavior but did not (and said they would not) name the offending council members. But councilwoman Wanda Halbert, the committee's chairwoman, wanted to remind council members that "we are all adults here."
"This is not a playground," Halbert said Monday. "This is a government. It's a government environment, and we're doing government business. We have a responsibility as adults to respect each other, and no one should have to be told to mind their manners."
Halbert said she wants to find out whether or not the council members fall under the city's ethics rules and wants to set clear divisions in the roles of the council (the legislative branch of the local government) and the mayor's office (the executive branch). She wants to ensure uniformity in the way committee chairs conduct meetings. She also wants simple language, rather than confusing legal jargon, to be used to describe the council's business on agendas, calendars, and other city documents.
Boyd's agenda for the committee focused more on the conduct of individual council members, and he said Monday that he asked Ford to convene the committee. While he never mentioned a name on Monday, it was clear Boyd was talking about councilman Joe Brown in describing an incident he hopes to correct with new rules.
"A very well-respected gentleman from Memphis, who usually sits in this seat right here," Boyd said grabbing the seat to his left, which is usually taken by Brown in committee meetings, "called a gentleman 'a liar.' And there are never any apologies when things like that would happen."
Boyd said he'd like to put an end to "unfounded" accusations against administration staffers and others in council committee meetings. He suggested making council members offer proof to back up their criticism or be subject to some kind of penalty.
Councilman Myron Lowery is the third member of the rules committee. He did not come to the table with any proposals but said the job before the committee could be a tough one.
"This discussion has brought in a lot of things that are going to be very difficult to put into writing," Lowery said.
The committee is scheduled to meet again next Thursday.