Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has made official his intention to hire Jack Sammons as the city's chief administrative officer.
The confirmation came in a news release Tuesday morning that he has appointed "the business leader and former city councilman," effective May 8.
Wharton said the opportunity to hire Sammons was like "(University of Memphis Football) Coach Fuente finding out that there’s a five-star quarterback who is willing to join his team.
"I said in my State of the City speech that this is a transformative year for Memphis because we have laid the foundation and set an agenda for accelerated progress.
"This appointment guarantees that we will make the most of these opportunities to dramatically move Memphis ahead.”
Wharton said his responsibilities will include the day-to-day operational control of the city.
“He will put together his team; he will lay out the operating structure for the administration; he will work on relationships with the (Memphis City Council) and the state legislature, and he will have authority for the management of all city divisions,” Wharton said.
The news release said that in the coming weeks, Sammons will wind down his personal business affairs (as CEO of Ampro Industries, his haircare products company) and will meet with internal and external "customers, including the city council, labor, retirees, the business community, neighborhood leaders, and more."
“The mayor is bringing me in to run the business, and that’s what I will do,” Sammons said. “I’m not there to be political. I will do whatever it takes for city government to be one of the best in the nation. I’m not a 9-to-5 kind of person, so I will do whatever it takes and stay as long as I can make a difference.”
Here are some reactions to the announcement from some members of the city council:
• Memphis City Council member and mayoral candidate Jim Strickland
Strickland said he did not expect Sammons’ hiring to affect the upcoming mayoral election or the current relationship between the Wharton Administration and the city council.
“A C Wharton has admitted in the announcement to (The Commercial Appeal
) why he needs to be replaced — his failure to act,” Strickland said. “First, he admits that he has failed to do much. And that's been the missing link: follow through. Not just on one or two things."
Second, Strickland said, “(Wharton) admits he’s known this for five years.” He pointed to the CA
story that said the change in the CAO position has been ongoing since 2010.
“You can shuffle the staff all you want,” Strickland said. “But until we replace the man at the top, Memphis will not have leadership and change.”
• Memphis City Council chairman Myron Lowery
Sammons served as Lowery's CAO during his term as interim mayor. Lowery said he has seen some in the Wharton administration that “haven’t been 100 percent in what they’re doing.”
“Jack has been where councilman has been for many, many years and served longer than many on the council currently here,” Lowery said. “He understands the role of the council and the mayor and the oftentimes conflicting nature of what we do but the necessity of working together.
“Because he understands this better than most, he is the perfect individual to bridge the gap of communication and trustworthiness between the council and the mayor. Every organization needs a touch of new blood to give it new life and just some new perspective. Jack will come in with that.”
• Memphis City Council vice chairman Kemp Conrad
“We need more business people in government and I'm glad Jack is once again answering the bell,” Conrad said. “This move is good for Memphis although the mayor should have kept him in board from the get go.
“It will be good to have a results-oriented, energetic, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer, go-getter running the operations of city government and collaborating with the council.”
• Council member Bill Boyd
Boyd said he would not support Sammons’ appointment if it meant a big increase in Mayor Wharton’s budget.
“Jack is a very capable person to fill the position,” Boyd said. “I have no problem personally business-wise with Chief (George) Little. I thought he was a good representative for (Mayor Wharton). (Little) has always been ready for presentations and honest and forthright with me.
“It’s an internal thing that the mayor has to call. Sometimes you second-guess a coach for using a player or not using them but you’re really not sure of what going on during practices.”
Next steps for the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority
Scott Brockman, president of the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority, said he and his staff will carry on but “Jack will be greatly missed as chairman.”
“I don’t think we’re losing Jack,” Brockman said, “his role is just changing. He’ll remain a tremendous asset to the airport authority, just not as a voting member.”
Should Sammons be confirmed as the new CAO, Brockman said he expected him to immediately resign his post as chairman of the airport board.
The election for a new board chairman could come during the board’s meeting on April 17. If not, Brockman said vice chairman Pace Cooper will convene the May meeting as the board chairman.
The newly elected chairman will serve out the remainder of Sammons’ term, which ends on December, 31, 2016. Sammons was serving out the remaining term of Arnold Perl, who left the board in 2012.
Sammons could have sought a new five-year term as the airport’s board chairman. The newly elected chairman will be able to fill out the term left vacant by Perl and, perhaps, Sammons and then seek another five-year term at the end of 2016.
“We are going to continue and press on with our mission and devote our energies into advancing the ball for the this airport every day,” Brockman said. “We’ll continue on and embrace the next chairman and move on.”
The Sammons back story
News of the high-ranks shuffle has simmered for more than a month but it broke yesterday. Sammons told the CA that he had accepted the position as the city’s chief administrative officer and will leave his post as chairman of the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority, according to numerous media sources.
His appointment is subject to a vote by the Memphis City Council next Tuesday, April 7. Should council members approve his appointment, he’ll take a leave of absence from the airport. He would take his new job as second in command to memphis Mayor A C Wharton in May.
Wharton offered Sammons the job in February. But he would not talk on his motivation to hire him. But that didn’t stop many around Memphis to speculate that it was a political move.
Even more wondered how Sammons would split his time between city hall, the airport, and his haircare company, Ampro Industries.
State law prohibited Sammons (or anyone) from serving both at the Airport Authority and at Memphis City Hall. Wharton tried to change that bill to change it failed before the Tennessee General Assembly.
Sammons will replace George Little in the CAO slot. Little will turn his attention to special projects, like re-aligning the Memphis Police Department, cutting costs in the city’s solid waste division, bringing efficiencies to the Memphis Fire Services Division, and spearheading the city’s new Division of Minority Business Services, which Wharton introduced in his State of the City address in January.