Council members learn about city charter at retreat

Friday was the first day of the Memphis City Council's retreat. Attendees included the City Council, division directors, the president of MLGW and board members and a scholar of the City Charter, a college professor who told Council members they have much more power than they thought.

Rhodes College Professor Stephen Wirls told council members that, on many issues, the charter says the Mayor answers to them, and not the other way around.

"For so long, we've been under the assumption that we had a strong Mayor-Council form of government," said council member Rickey Peete, "and now it has flip-flopped and we're being told that we have a strong Council-Mayor form of government. Which is quite interesting. It shifts it 360-degrees."

The Mayor, a scheduled participant, did not attend. Division heads said he was busy, working at City Hall.

Wirls told Council members that the Mayor cannot fire an appointee without direct approval from the Council. It's a power that keeps the Mayor from getting rid of people Council members think are doing a good job.

But Council Chairwoman Tajuan Stout Mitchell said it can be difficult to exert that authority.

"The problem with that is one can resign, one can die, one can retire, and then you're not removing anybody from office," she said.

Wirls also told Council members that they must approve the appointments of commissioners to the MLGW Board and that the utility President reports to them, not to the Council or Mayor.

City attorneys didn't agree with everything they heard from the charter scholar Friday. Council members said they hope to put together a meeting soon to help dig through controversial gray areas.