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CITY BEAT

Peace has broken out at City Hall, but how long will it last?

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A SIMPLE PLAN The team isn't playing together. The fans are restless or apathetic. The coach has been there too long. The players aren't listening. Most of them want another coach. Some of them think they should be coach. If politics were sports, we would all know the next step in the brawl at City Hall. Mayor Willie "Coach'" Herenton would be fired or players would be traded. But it isn't, so that's not an option. Still, something had to be done. So in the end, Herenton yielded to the cries of his constituents begging for peace and said that, for all practical purposes, he is calling off the war. If the mayor didn’t hit all the right notes Tuesday, he hit a lot of them. He mentioned the Bible, his own stubbornness, the virtue of listening, and the importance of looking ahead and working harmoniously with Nashville and the Memphis business community. There is still, however, some unfinished business and some possible stumbling blocks that could turn good mayor into bad mayor in the remaining three years and ten months of his fourth term. There are three things the mayor and the council can do to permanently defuse the situation. Returning to the sports metaphor, they may not be able to do them without shaking up the coaching staff. The mayor’s chief administrative officer, Keith McGee, must gain the respect of the council. The council’s attorney, Allan Wade, must regain the respect of the mayor. And the mayor and council must replace the entire board of Memphis Light Gas & Water and empower a new one to find a new MLGW president. First, the chief administrative officer. The CAO is the link between the mayor and council. He -- and it has always been a he -- is the mayor's man. The current CAO, McGee, is the mayor's man. He didn't come up through the ranks or head a division of city government like his predecessor Rick Masson did. For reasons not entirely his fault, McGee doesn't have the ear of the council, largely because he is seen as Herenton's man. Second, Wade must get on the same page as the mayor, or vice versa. Despite or maybe because of his 12 years of government experience, Wade has become a stumbling block. He helped the city win some big, big cases, but lately he has been viewed by the mayor as a partisan player loyal to the council, not the city attorney. The mayor said there is room for disagreement on how the City Charter is viewed. That is apt to be a continuing sore spot. Third, the mayor should formally dismiss the current five-member board of MLGW. All of their terms have expired anyway. Thanks and goodbye and a hearty handshake for one and all. But it's time for a new board and a new kind of board member. Nobody's going to get a building named after them, ala James Netters. Nobody's going to do consulting or apply for a job with TVA on the side, ala Franketta Guinn. And nobody's going to have this job because of their political connections to the mayor. One four-year term on the board and you're out. Let past MLGW presidents Larry Papasan, David Hansen, Bill Crawford, and Herman Morris suggest nominees. They're all civic-minded enough to know now is not the time for cronyism. Let Herenton make the formal nominations, and let the council formally approve them. This time they're both taking one for the team. The board's first order of business is to work with a search firm to find a new MLGW president within 60 days. Resolve these three issues and the peace could last. Tempers will cool. Easy targets are gone. The media will have to find something else. Hard feelings will remain, but it's a start. The alternative is more of the same.

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