Citizen watchdog says mayor's power over contracts should change - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Nick Kenney

Citizen watchdog says mayor's power over contracts should change

The FBI is investigating the city of Memphis and Mayor Willie Herenton.

Back in January, Action News 5 reported the FBI was looking into certain city contracts.  According to Tuesday's edition of The Commercial Appeal, the FBI is still looking, leaving some to argue the problem has seeped into the structure of local government.

Built years ago, and long since in use, a downtown parking garage project is under scrutiny.  According to published reports, it's part of a federal investigation into certain city contracts.

"I think it has its roots in the mayor's assumed powers in the charter," said citizen watchdog Joe Saino.

In an interview Tuesday, Saino said the city charger should change.

The mayor retains authority to negotiate and sign all city contracts.  At its last meeting the Memphis Charter Commission considered a referendum that would change the charter, allowing the city council oversight powers in city contracts worth more than $100,000. 

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton showed up to tell the commission it was bad idea.

"You cannot manage effectively an urban complex like Memphis if you manage by committees and everybody participating in the decision once budgets are set," Herenton told the group.

The charter commission left the contract issue alone.  Tuesday, Saino said he hopes it reconsiders.

"It's more cumbersome that way, but at least it's aired in public and people can look at it and read the contracts before it's signed," he said.

Saino argues that change could alleviate future federal cases.

The Mayor has repeatedly decline interview requests on the subject, but he told the commission the structure isn't the problem.

"The system works now," he said. "The individuals who occupy certain leadership roles within the structure sometimes create the problem within the structure."

Herenton also argued that there is no need for city council oversight into city contracts, because the mayor's office doesn't have any real influence.   Herenton said there is a series of checks and balances, and he's actually the last person to sign a contract.


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