Amid charter surrender battle, key lawmakers meet face to face - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Amid charter surrender battle, key lawmakers meet face to face

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A court battle is imminent between key lawmakers in the fight to surrender the Memphis City Schools charter.  But as their attorneys brace for battle, those lawmakers are forced to carry out other government business as usual.

Monday, after Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced Mitsubishi Electric is coming to Memphis, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton addressed the elephant in the room.

"We brawl and we fight, but when it comes to initiatives like this, we come together,' Wharton said.

Valentine's Day was the first time Haslam, Wharton, and State Senator Mark Norris were in the same room after a nasty school merger vote in the Tennessee State Legislature.

Last week, Haslam signed Norris' bill into law. It says if Memphians vote to transfer city schools to Shelby County, a transition team cannot carry out the merger before a two and a half-year planning period.  The plan includes Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell, and excludes Memphis Mayor AC Wharton.

"I am so glad I was trained as a lawyer, because I can fight you like hell in the courtroom this morning, and then you and I will go out and kick it.  You just have to learn how to separate things," Wharton said.

Haslam and Norris said there are no hard feelings.

"Mayor Wharton and I have a great relationship," Haslam said. "We talk probably everyday on the phone."

"We did what we needed to do to try to stabilize the situation," Norris added.

Delay or no delay, Norris believes the transition will happen.

"The referendum will be held on March 8th and depending on that vote, I think it could move forward very smoothly," he said.

The transition might happen, but the new law also lifts the ban on special school districts. Several suburban school systems are taking steps to create their own special school districts to remain separate from Memphis schools.  So it could all end where it began.

Haslam said if it happens, he hopes people of Memphis and Shelby County go forward with the transition in earnest, and not in fear.

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