Everybody Goes Legal



Today's troubling trend: Throwing problems into the courts that ought to be resolved by leadership, compromise, debate, common sense, and a vote in a public meeting by elected officials.

The latest for-instance is the hearing Wednesday afternoon in Chancery Court over Myron Lowery's authority to replace Elbert Jefferson as city attorney.

Previously sent to various courts: school funding from the Memphis City Council, assignment of students in Shelby County schools, the management of Beale Street Historic District, and the payment of Joseph Lee's legal bills. The question of how much, if anything, the Memphis City Schools are due, and from whom, is pending. So are the Beale Street management issue, which has been hanging fire and racking up legal fees for years, and Lee's case. The Shelby County schools were left to their own devices after U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald's ruling on desegregation was overturned by the appeals court.

Chancellor Walter Evans will hear the arguments about the city attorney. This tempest in a teapot should never have wound up in court. Jefferson, and his former boss Willie Herenton, triggered it when they couldn't agree on the game plan and timing for Jefferson's resignation. Whatever Evans does, it won't end the enmity between Herenton and his guys and interim mayor Myron Lowery and his appointees.

The City Council invited a lawsuit from the school board last year by cutting school funding and putting the money into other programs to give the impression of a tax cut. Any court decision on additional taxes for city and or county property owners is likely to be appealed. The same goes for the outrageously high legal bill for Joseph Lee submitted by his private attorney (and former city attorney) Robert Spence.

Memphis and Shelby County are already plagued with two governments, two mayors, two legislative bodies, and two school boards comprised in part of mayoral wannabes. Add to that an attitude of "let's pass this to the courts" and you have a recipe for gridlock.

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