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Mayoral Warning of Jurisdictional "Gray Line" Only Discordant Note in First Get-Together with New Council

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Though the grins were plentiful as Mayor Willie Herenton and members of his council-to-be in 2008 got together for lunch at The Rendezvous on Wednesday, the smiles may have tightened up a little when His Honor climaxed the get-acquainted event with a speech that warned of a “grey line” and of “certain areas where either branch decided to get into the other branch’s domain.”

A shot across the bow it seemed, a recap of sorts of the mayor’s troubles with past councils -- most recently on council staff appointments -- on matters where, as Herenton indicated, the legislative and executive branches of city government may have had conflicting ambitions.

But that was as contentious as things got Wednesday as former councilman and Rendezvous owner John Vergos, along with another former council member, the Rev. James Netters, co-hosted the luncheon in which nine newly elected members came together for the first time with the four holdover council members.

Oh, Joe Brown made special mention of “divisiveness,” and Netters referred to even worse times of the past, like the late ‘60s, when he and other members of the city’s first elected council had to deal with “riots, violence, and murder,” in the context of a prolonged sanitation strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

But mostly talk was of the upbeat sort, beginning with Vergos’ mention of a Rhodes College brochure touting Memphis’ virtues and continuing with mutual pledges all around of cooperation in the New Year.

Afterward, the mayor, who announced he would not hold the annual New Year’s Day prayer breakfast on which, customarily in recent years, he would issue policy thunderbolts, gave reporters a list of objectives which included such familiar (but unachieved) standbys as Metro government and bringing the city school system into municipal government as such.

Herenton also pledged to resolve financial and jurisdictional disputes in the operation of the Beale Street tourist quarter. He deferred to the council on the matter of whether it should pass its own version of a county commission ordinance on topless clubs, but it is taken for granted he wants a more lenient ordinance than the county version, which bans beer sales in such establishments and requires pasties of dancers.

Ironically enough, a wall of the basement room in which council members, staffers, and the mayor contained objets d’art, including a rendering of a reclining nude, sans pasties.

The entire complement of the 2008 council membership was on hand, with the exception of new member Reid Hedgepeth. Mayoral aides Keith McGhee and Pete Aviotti also attended.

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