City Council chairman Myron Lowery says Willie Herenton assured him Monday that he still intends to "retire" as mayor even though he suddenly pushed the date back from July 11th to July 30th.
Lowery, who would become mayor pro tem for 90 days if Herenton actually does leave office, met with reporters in his office at City Hall.
"I'm going to take a positive spin," he said. "There's more time for the transition."
Asked why believes the mayor, who has now said twice that he plans to resign only to change his mind, Lowery said "You have to take an individual at his word." He said Herenton met with him Monday and "reaffirmed to me he's committed to resign," although Herenton says he is "retiring" not resigning.
Asked why anyone should believe Herenton this time, Lowery said, "That is up to each individual to make up his own mind."
The latest Herenton bombshell raises more questions about mayoral succession. Herenton is not yet halfway through his fifth four-year term.
"This is uncharted territory, folks," Lowery said.
Other City Hall veterans did not know what to make of the latest Herenton surprise, except to say that it is actually no surprise because the mayor has changed his mind so many times before.
"Unfortunately, he's got the ball and there's not a lot anyone can do about it," said former councilman Jack Sammons, who has been mentioned as a possible chief administrative officer in Lowery's interim administration.
Earlier Monday, Allan Wade, attorney for the Memphis City Council, said Lowery would not have to forfeit his council seat but must be a full-time mayor pro tem if and when Herenton resigns.
Wade issued his opinion before Herenton announced that he is "delaying [his] retirement date to July 30, 2009," instead of leaving this Friday.
In a five-page letter, Wade answered several questions about mayoral succession. He based his opinion on the City Charter, including charter revisions made in 2008 and approved in a public referendum. Among the questions his letter addressed:
When would a special election be held? "Since the next general or municipal election is scheduled to occur more than 180 days from July 11th, (the charter) requires a special election to be held to fill the office of mayor on or before October 11, 2009."
What should the City Council do next? "The council should adopt a resolution on this coming Tuesday with an effective date of July 11, 2009, requesting the Election Commission to hold a special election."
Can Lowery serve as both mayor and council member? "The mayor pro tem cannot serve simultaneously as city councilman and mayor pro tem."
Does Lowery have to give up his council seat? "Myron Lowery does not lose his seat on the council ... however, his status as a council member is frozen as of the date he takes office as mayor pro tem." The council will be comprised of 12 instead of 13 members.
Can Lowery appoint division directors? "As the mayor pro tem, Lowery would be authorized to fill any division director vacancies subject to approval of the City Council."
At his press conference, Lowery said he has been a "catalyst" for changes that have already occurred since Herenton made his original announcement. He was alluding to the retirement of CAO Keith McGee and three other Herenton appointees.