After 13 years of service as a state legislator, on New Year's Day I was sworn in as a new member of the Memphis City Council from District 5. Many tell me that in moving from the state legislature to the City Council, I have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. I am starting to believe them.
During the past two months, I have tried to conduct council business in a professional manner while sparks have been flying between the mayor and certain members of the council. We all know that politics can get hot, and the saying goes if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. However, the tone and name-calling by more than one elected official in this city have been divisive and unproductive. (Remember the saying: It takes two to tango.)
I was the only council member who didn't vote to override the mayor's veto of the ordinance to limit the funding of interim appointments. I did so for several reasons: One, because this issue of interpretation of the city charter is best put to the people for a vote, not a judge. Two, because a court battle would have cost tax-payer money and proven even more divisive and distracting. Three, and most importantly, because the national search for the new president of our billion-dollar MLGW utility was put on hold by the mayor while the dispute was pending. And four, because this feud is beginning to harm our city's image across the state and nationally, which can have long-range adverse implications for business development.
Apparently, the mayor has also decided that a court battle (and the feud) is not in the best interest of the citizens of Memphis. That doesn't mean there isn't still room for honest disagreement on important policy issues and continued debate and discussion. What it should mean is that the petty infighting stops and the real policy discussions begin.
Improving our schools, reducing crime, revitalizing neighborhoods, developing economically, and consolidating the city and county are hard issues that take thoughtful work and consideration.
Now, while the dust is clearing, it's time to take up these important issues and move ahead. Leaderless, MLGW is a time bomb ticking, waiting to erupt into a major problem -- with investor concerns over the bond issue, with no one in charge to handle another power outage, and without solid leadership to make important customer service improvements. My investigation has found that, almost without exception, every other utility in the nation has a leader with extensive utility industry experience. A search process needs to be commenced to find a new MLGW president who has solid and substantial utility and management experience.
As a new council member, I respectfully believe that, for the good of Memphis, the mayor and the council both need to stop the power struggle and focus on the real issues that will make a difference for the citizens of Memphis. The mayor's done his mea culpa. Only a few council members have followed suit. And if council members want to exercise greater powers under the charter, then the public should expect them to dedicate more time to the job with greater scrutiny of issues in committee hearings prior to any vote at a full council meeting.
Let's move ahead and make Memphis a better place to live!
Carol Chumney, who formerly was District 89 representative in the state legislature, now represents District 5 for the city.