Four Memphis City Council members walked out of the body's Tuesday meeting after the council voted to open the floor back up to all six candidates vying for the vacant District 1 seat.
Resuming its November 20th meeting, the council began its 108th round of voting, deciding between the top two vote-getters from the previous meeting: Rhonda Logan, executive director of the Raleigh Community Development Corp., and Lonnie Treadaway, sales manager for Flinn Broadcasting Corp.
After one round of voting, the council appeared to be following a pattern similar to the November 20th meeting. Council members Ford Canale, Kemp Conrad, and Chairman Berlin Boyd passed, while Councilmen Worth Morgan, Frank Colbert, and Reid Hedgepeth voted for Treadaway, and Council members Joe Brown, Jamita Swearengen, Patrice Robinson, and Martavious Jones supported Logan.
Two rounds in, Conrad made a motion to open the process back up to all candidates, but that idea was shot down by Robinson and Jones, who both said that would be “unfair” and inconsistent with the council’s rules.
“We have a candidate here that the community has asked for,” Robinson said. “The community deserves to have the candidate they want no the one that we want.”
Jones encouraged his colleagues to be “fair and consistent” in how the council appoints new members, saying that when Canale was appointed to the council in May, the process was simpler. “We didn’t even ask questions of Mr. Canale or any of the other candidates.”
“So for us to apply different standards here is unfair and inconsistent,” Jones said. “We are not in a position to vet who the people want.”
Looking blindly at the candidates on paper, “taking names and faces away,” Jones said “there is no way that anybody would not vote for Ms. Logan.”
The motion to open up the floor to the other four candidates again passed, prompting Jones, Swearengen, Robinson, and Brown to simultaneously pack their belongings and leave the council chambers. Members of the audience cheered and applauded, as the meeting was forced to suspend due to there no longer being a quorum present. Seven members are needed for a quorum.
Outside of the chambers, Jones said the council’s vote to open the floor back up “goes against all the rules that we set forth as a rule-making body.”
“Instead of participating in what we feel is a sham process, we just chose to walk out,” Jones said. “You have a person that has been entrenched in this community practically for all her life. Let’s take race and gender out of it and look at these candidates on paper.
“How could any of my colleagues support someone who just eight months ago was living in an entirely different state and think that person is the best to represent District 1? It’s an insult to all of the voters.”
Jones attributed the council’s inability to reach a decision to the disproportionate representation of African Americans on the council. In a 65 percent African-American city, Jones said there should be at least eight or nine African American council members.
“Our current structure allows for us to have a very thin 7-6 majority,” Jones said. “I don’t know how much this is being motivated by race.”
"At the very least," Jones said the seat should be filled by someone who has lived in and is invested in the community rather than someone “who decided to relocate just to be an opportunist.”
“If any of my colleagues could articulate why on paper Treadaway is the better candidate than Ms. Logan in a clear, concise manner, it may change my mind,” Jones said.
As of press time, the four council members had not returned in order for the meeting to resume. This means the council’s meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 4th has not yet been called to order.
After meeting with the council attorney Allen Wade, the remaining six council members returned to the chambers. Morgan made a motion to ask attorneys for the city and Memphis Light, Gas, and Water to take the issue to Chancery Court in order to compel the four council members who walked out to attend a subsequent meeting and attend to other council business. Legal action could be taken later this week, Boyd said.
In the meantime, the council will have a standing meeting every day beginning Wednesday until there is a quorum. The standing meetings could extend into the weekend, Boyd said.