Herenton delays retirement until July 30 - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Herenton delays retirement until July 30

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton

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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who announced last month that he was resigning to focus on his Congressional bid, is delaying his departure by nearly three weeks.

Herenton, who has been mayor for 18 years, said in a letter Monday to Memphis City Council Chairman Myron Lowery that he wants to delay his departure from Friday to July 30 because he needs additional time to complete "important city business matters."

Click here to download and read the letter.

Herenton hand-delivered the letter to Lowery early Monday afternoon.

"He said, 'Myron, I'm not resigning, I'm retiring. I'm just delaying my retirement,'" Lowery said.

As council chair, Lowery is supposed to take over as Mayor pro-tem in 90 days.  But the mayor's letter to Lowery says Herenton has matters that need extra time to complete, and that he plans to delay his retirement from July 10th to July 30th.

"The mayor has given his word and now he's changed it. Is he likely to change it again?  I have no idea," Lowery said.

The letter also calls for CAO Keith McGee to stay on, and infers Lowery appears to be violating separation of powers by acting as mayor pro-tem and council chair.

"I made that perfectly clear that as mayor pro-tem I would not attempt to take two salaries, or to even vote with the council on any issues," Lowery said.

The mayor also questions if the special election should also include Lowery's council position, saying a 'friendly lawsuit' may follow.

"If there's a 'friendly lawsuit' as the mayor says, then so be it. That will be resolved," Lowery said.

An opinion written by Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade says Lowery's council position would be frozen while he serves as mayor pro tem, and the council would function with 12 instead of 13 members. Once the special election is held, unless Lowery is elected as mayor, he would then return to the council as its chairmen.

Click here to download and read Wade's opinion.

Lowery inferred Herenton may be stalling to resolve two stalled projects: the Pyramid and Fairgrounds.

"Some people have inferred to me that perhaps that's one reason the mayor wants to delay: to take credit for this," he said.

"If you don't want the job you're doing, stop doing the job and go on to the next phase of your life."

Those harsh words came from Memphis City Councilman Shea Flinn after Mayor Willie Herenton delayed his resignation until to the end of July.

"Going by the charter, a resignation is effective upon delivery of a letter to the chairman of the City Council.  That letter was delivered a few weeks ago," Flinn said.

Political expert Bill Dries says the mayor's delayed resignation creates several legal questions.  For one, does the mayor have the right to call for Chief Administrative Officer Keith McGee to remain in office until July 30th?

"His retirement took effect July 4th, so if he remains as CAO is that a new appointment for the council to consider?" Dries asked.

And, is the process too far gone?

"How far has the paperwork gone in the city's bureaucracy?  Has it gone before the pension board or has it gone before the city's human resources department?" Dries asked.

Flinn says the mayor may be legally bound to leave on his original date.

"I know we have a resolution before the council tomorrow that declares the office vacant by Friday, so I assume we're proceeding with that resolution," Flinn said.

Flinn says something else appears to be going on here.

"This certainly has the look of a slap fight between the mayor and the incoming mayor pro-tem," Flinn said.

Insiders say the mayor may be reacting to concerns raised during a meeting with local lawmakers and ministers last week.  They've been watching Lowery's recent moves, and have concerns over the long lasting effects of Lowery's decisions over that 90 day term.

Insiders add a lawsuit is coming, and it may force Lowery to choose between his current council seat and mayor pro-tem.

The 69-year-old Herenton plans to take on Rep. Steve Cohen in the August 2010 Democratic primary for the 9th District seat.  He refused to comment for this story.

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