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CITY BEAT

CITY BEAT

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REJECTED! BUT WHAT NOW? It was pretty decent political drama when the City Council chewed up Mayor Willie Herenton’s nominees for division directors, you have to give them that. The questions were to the point and unflinching. Who knew genial E. C. Jones had a mean streak -- unless you remember that he used to be a police officer? He played tough cop to city attorney-nominee Sara Hall, ill-fated former finance director Roland McElrath, and especially to Darrel Eldred of General Services, all but accusing him of complicity in misuse of public property. Rickey Peete picked his spots, but his vigorous head-nodding or Buddha-silence showed which way several of the votes were going to go. Edmund Ford vowed that the council won’t play pushover for Herenton or anyone else. And newcomer Carol Chumney, a lawyer, was as dead serious and dead on as a prosecutor in cross-examination. “No more questions,” she said at the end of one foray. Class clow Brent Taylor and Personnel Committee Chairman Tom Marshall supplied the wisecracks, as usual. “Don’t bring us no mess!” could become the new Memphis mantra or at least a T-shirt slogan. Herenton’s insults and cockiness caught up with him. He may have won a fourth consecutive term, but the city council isn’t going to approve a slate of what it perceives to be yes-men and women and school board rejects. It was actually a little uncomfortable watching the council make McElrath and Human Resources nominee Inetta Rogers take their turns on the hot seat without a chance in hell of prevailing. How, you had to wonder, could Herenton have nominated them in the first place knowing they faced such opposition? McElrath, a soft-spoken guy whose biggest sin was refusing to be nickel-and-dimed by council members’ off-the-books funding requests, hardly got a kind word from anyone before being dispatched 12-0. Twelve to nothing! That will teach him to deny a councilman a favor. Adding insult to injury, some council members suggested McElrath’s core problem is that he wasn’t man enough stand up to Herenton like his predecessor Rick Masson and his successor Joseph Lee. So what now? Probably a stalemate for a while -- Lee has to stay on at finance, the MLGW presidency stays vacant while the sham of a national search is conducted -- followed by a Herenton counterstrike. Then a messy four years of tax increases, the second stage of the utility rate hike, cold war with the school boards, maybe even some layoffs of public employees. Fiery Joe Brown as chairman of the council. Already Herenton has reminded him, “you don’t run nothin’!” Top it all off with a big fat dose of holier-than-thou religious righteousness in public life, now bearing the official stamp of approval from the President, the mayor, and the daily newspaper. Bring us some mess for sure. The council was overdue to assert itself. It has watched the Center City Commission and Riverfront Development Corporation and Public Building Authority steal its thunder and much of its power. Individually, none of them can topple Herenton, but collectively they can show him who’s boss, or at least who’s not. Only three years and 51 weeks left to go in this term.

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