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Recalling Herenton

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If you're thinking that the headline of this editorial seems a bit ambiguous, you're on the same page as we are. We're not sure which meaning of the verb "recall" should predominate in our thinking, either. In fact, the whole direction of

Memphis city government, so vital to the future of all of us in Shelby County, is in a state of confusion that could take months — even years — to unravel.

And all of that is the work of one man, Mayor Willie Herenton, whom we at the Flyer set out last week to recall — in the sense of "remember" — and whom we now find ourselves wondering about in the sense of governmental recall, that seldom-used mode by which an electorate can exercise its collective judgment and remove from office — exorcise, if you will — an official whose effect on the public welfare has become deleterious.

We are not alone in so pondering. Should Herenton employ so much as one more bait-and-switch on his now-you-see-it, now-you-don't offer to resign, we predict that a recall movement will surface for real, and that it should do so. The public business is too important to be placed on indefinite hold while the head of government insists on sabotaging the governmental machinery and embarrassing himself and his constituents in the eyes of the world.

In last week's Flyer and this week's, we and the rest of a spellbound city were treated to Herenton's awesome self-revelations resulting from senior editor Jackson Baker's exclusive sit-down interview with the mayor. An "exit interview," we called it — perhaps prematurely. More of the same is featured in this week's Politics column.

Here's a sample of even more verbiage that didn't make Baker's final cut. Herenton: "Have you ever been to a school board meeting? Do you think I really wanted to do that?" Inasmuch as the mayor fairly explicitly said he "wanted to do that" — i.e., resume the superintendency of Memphis City Schools — at the time of his first false "resignation" in February 2008, yes, we did think so. So did most other people.

Herenton continued: "The thought of dealing with school board members. Do you think I wanted to do that? Hell, no."

What is more certain is that those school board members didn't want to deal with Herenton. With virtual unanimity, they rejected his potential candidacy and looked elsewhere for a superintendent. That, it now appears, left Memphians at large with the short straw — the further mayoralty of a man, once regarded as able and even far-sighted, who now doesn't administer government so much as trifles with it.

Enough. We learned with astonishment this week of a sham committee of diehard Herenton supporters who petitioned him to stay in office until February. We are not ungrateful for the mayor's 18 years of service, during which he performed some outstanding works, but our response is rather to say, in the words of Emily Post protocol: Thank you, no.

And, if necessary, we can see ourselves joining another committee of citizens determined to get the right answer.

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