Memphis Councilwoman accuses chairman of gender bias, calls him - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis Councilwoman accuses chairman of gender bias, calls him a bully

(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Councilwoman Wanda Halbert is accusing Council Chairman Myron Lowery of gender bias and calling him a bully. In response, Lowery says Halbert's lies are at the center of their tiff over travel expenses that went public at Tuesday's city council meeting.
It began when Lowery denied Halbert a money advance for an official council trip.
When Halbert questioned Lowery's authority on the matter, he put the debate on the agenda and everyone in the room got an earful.
"I was trying not to make this personal," Halbert said as the issue was being discussed before the council and those in attendance.

The matter did get personal during Halbert's exchange with Lowery over a trip to the National League of Cities conference in Washington D.C. last week. Click here to read the full email exchange.

"These bully tactics are used and women are not expected to stand up to the bullying," Halbert later said to WMC Action News 5 in the hallway outside the council committee room.
Halbert says Chairman Lowery treats the women on the council differently than the men. He required the D.C. trip be charged on personal credit cards.
"It just happens to be that when two women and the chairman go on a trip, the chairman decides to require you use personal credit cards," Halbert said.
Lowery begs to differ.
"The same rules apply to everyone,” Lowery told WMC Action News 5. “Councilman Ford went to the Tennessee Municipal League and he had to follow the same guidelines."
Lowery says his motivation was savings and transparency.
The city pays a $35 airline fee for trips and the airlines charge cities for all bags, whereas traveling as a private citizen can allow a council member one free bag.
Council credit card use was discontinued last year for unknown reasons, and Lowery said he wants to make sure all transactions are unquestionable.
“As chairman, I have the authority to approve all travel.”  Lowery explained.  “In this case, I made the decision the council member must put it on their credit cards."
Lowery says when Halbert told him she didn't have a credit card, he offered to put it on his.
"She lied,” said Lowery. “She told me in front of three people she does not have a credit card. She does have credit cards. She simply did not want to use hers."
Halbert said she felt Lowery's offer was unethical.
"If you put something on your personal credit card, you tend to benefit from your business travel,” she elaborated. “Bonuses, perks and mileage on your card."
Lowery found that suggestion laughable.
"Are perks on a card worth going through what I went through to help somebody?” Lowery chuckled. “No. I only wanted to help her by offering my card."
Lowery added that according to city policy, advance travel expenses over $300 are not allowed, and says had the advance been made, it would have been the wrong amount because Halbert only attended two days of the four-day conference.
"She sent an email to Pam requesting reimbursement before she took the trip. I did not allow it,” explained Lowery. “She sent it without filling out the travel form."
Council staff says council members can ask for a check to be sent directly to the hotel, and Halbert says that was her request.
Halbert says the change in procedure should have gone through the council.
"I'm not OK charging $2,000 and $3,000 and $4,000, whatever the cost may be for business travel on my personal card if I am required,” Halbert said. “I think of someone wants to do that, they need to do it because they choose to do it, not because they're required. Otherwise, it needs to be turned into policy."
Lowery said Halbert is wrong about that and he has the authority to make the call.
A city administrator, who was in the room at the time, said Lowery's philosophy requiring trips be charged and reimbursed has no bearing on the city travel policy. Halbert says she never had a conversation with Lowery about her credit card.

She says this is Lowery's third time being the chairman and the first time changes like this happened, only when two female council members were going on a trip. 

Halbert says the bottom line is Lowery changed procedures without council approval and she has confirmed with numerous city administrators that changing the procedure requires a council vote.

A council member could ask for the credit card procedure to be put in writing, but for now, it stands.
"In the grand scheme of all the issues we have before us, this was really petty and trivial," said Halbert.
 Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.
Powered by Frankly