We like Mayor A C Wharton. We appreciate his unmatchably reassuring presence as the head of city government. We are grateful for the sigh of relief he allowed us to take after the several stormy years we experienced under the latter phase of the Willie Herenton administration. But, increasingly, we find ourselves wondering: Can he govern our city as well as he represents it?
The question has acquired some currency of late, both among citizens at large and in local civic and governmental circles. One city hall denizen surprised a Flyer reporter recently by saying: "If [former Mayor Willie] Herenton announced for mayor tomorrow, I'd go door to door for him."
There is no likelihood of that happening, of course; the former mayor is wholly invested these days in a charter-school enterprise, which he's struggling to make work, and he seems to be burned out on electoral politics. Moreover, our confidant was and is no Herenton partisan: His point was that the current mayor, for all his initial promise, seems unable to govern effectively.
To preside over ceremonies, yes. To announce exciting-sounding initiatives, clearly. To churn out resonant and quotable sound-bites, sure. (TV reporters, especially, love him for that.) But to get results? Let's look at the recent record. There was the extravagant signing ceremony last August, on the eve of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Martin Luther King-led March on Washington, in which the mayor met the media in the company of AFSCME union representatives and the honorably grizzled veterans of the sanitation strike of 1968. His purpose was to announce, at long last, a pension arrangement for the city's long-term sanitation workers. The only problem was that he hadn't disclosed any of this to members of the Memphis City Council, who weren't on hand for the ceremony, didn't know the details of the proposed arrangement, and were faced with having to unravel them from scratch. Just last week, the council finally brought the pension matter to a vote but found itself unable to approve the increased user fees involved. And without them there would be no new equipment and none of the savings needed to pay for the pensions that were dependent on them and were actually voted on, and ... you get the idea.
Add to this fiasco the several recent development projects brainstormed by city housing chief Robert Lipscomb and ballyhooed by the administration but, once again, without the full revelation to the council of the details, some of them debatable, that could make these projects work. Further, there were few responses to the council's requests for more information.
Now there's the matter of a proposed purchase by the city of AutoZone Park. From the administration was heard the usual cry of "Act now! There's no time to waste!" But the council has been there and done that so many times by now that, once again deprived of all the advance details needed to make a decision, it has wisely chosen to postpone the decision.
Mr. Wharton, we like you, but in the wake of these events, it is now incumbent upon you to demonstrate — especially since you intend to run again — that you know how to work with the council to get things done in a collegial, timely, and fully transparent manner.