Council Seems Ready as Lowery Calls Anew for Jefferson's Discharge


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Lowery at opening of campaign headquarters
  • JB
  • Lowery at opening of campaign headquarters
Indications are that the Memphis city council, stalemated on the subject a month ago, is now ready to approve the firing of city attorney Elbert Jefferson. Key council members appear to have been swayed by new disclosures that Jefferson okayed and expedited taxpayer funds for the potential criminal defense of former mayor Willie Herenton.

The revelation that Robert Spence, then employed as a private attorney by Herenton, received $55,000 on Jefferson’s say-so has apparently altered the thinking of at least two council members who were considered supportive of Jefferson when newly installed mayor pro tem Myron Lowery attempted to discharge the city attorney more than a month ago

Council chairman Harold Collins, one of several council members attending the opening of mayoral candidate Lowery’s campaign headquarters on Elvis Presley Boulevard Sunday, said “it doesn’t look good” for Jefferson, adding that the council would meet with the city attorney on September 15 and demand an accounting for a procedure which, Collins said, appears to have been improper.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, also present at the Lowery headquarters opening, agreed, saying that, on the basis of the facts as she currently understands them, she would be compelled to vote for discharging Jefferson should the matter be brought to a vote.

On July 31, the date of his formal swearing-in as mayor pro tem, former council chairman Lowery attempted to fire Jefferson and had him escorted from City Hall by police. Jefferson was able to get a preliminary injunction from Chancellor Walter Evans staying the action, however, an, after hearing the matter, Evans would later prohibit any firing of Jefferson without approval by the council and no suspension of the city attorney without appropriate “cause.”

Jefferson’s sanctioning of public money for Herenton’s private legal defense may turn out to be due cause, especially if other council members follow the lead of Collins and Fullilove. After the hearing in Chancellor Evans’ court, the matter appeared to have reached what Lowery referred to Saturday as a “stalemate,” with six council members, all white, presumed to be in favor of Jefferson’s departure and the other six, all African American, defending his tenure.

Speaking with reporters after he had addressed supporters at the headquarters opening, Lowery said the new disclosures amounted to a vindication of his original intent to discharge Jefferson. “Citizens need to know that there are certain things I can’t say publicly until I have absolute proof,” Lowery said, characterizing the revelations of the payments to Spence as “the tip of the iceberg” and pointing out that the FBI now apparently was investigating Jefferson.

“I think you will see more in the coming weeks, and I want this issue resolved as soon as possible,” Lowery said. Noting that his original effort to fire Jefferson had “the support of only half the council,” the mayor pro tem said, “If I’m going to run the city the way I want to run it, with open transparency and high ethics, this has got to be done.”

Among other things, Lowery said one of his reasons for wanting to fire Jefferson was that of security of information. “I’m concerned with the safekeeping of city records. Files may not be there. I’m looking for an original contract with Mr. Rickey Wilkins that no one seems able to find.”

"I guess this proves we were right the first time," said Dale Tuttle, one of Lowery's attorneys on the Jefferson matter.

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