Colvett elected Memphis City Council chairman, Jones explains his opposition

Updated: Nov. 22, 2020 at 5:12 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis city council members elected a new chairman last week.

By an 8-5 vote, members elected councilman Frank Colvett, Jr. to the chairmanship.

The District 2 councilman will replace the outgoing chairwoman, councilwoman Patrice Robinson, next year.

“It’s a huge honor to be voted on by your peers to lead the City of Memphis from the council standpoint,” Colvett said. “It’s truly an honor and I’m humbled.”

Colvett said he looks forward to working to continue the progress Memphis has made.

“Obviously, we’re going to have a very challenging budget that’s going to come up, several things like the next police director. That’s going to be a very important issue to Memphians,” Colvett said.

He also said he wants to help bring more businesses to Memphis.

“Making sure that Memphis is open for business, to make sure that we’re the city that companies want to relocate to, where people want to start up their new business, and that we become the most attractive city for investment that we possibly can and the best place to live,” Colvett said.

But there was strong disagreement about who should serve as the next chairman.

As the recent election showed, Memphis is an overwhelmingly Democratic stronghold.

Councilman Martavius Jones says that ought to be reflected by the city council.

“In order for us to move in a progressive direction, if we feel we need to be making progress, we need to have progressive leadership,” Jones said.

That’s one reason he ran against Colvett, a Republican.

Another reason Jones ran was because of how he says Colvett and a couple of other council members treated Rhonda Logan two years ago, blocking her appointment to a vacant seat.

Jones implied race had something to do with it.

“They did not look her at qualifications. They did not look at her experience or her ties to that community,” Jones said.

Logan would later be elected to that seat.

But Jones says he’s not forgotten who stood in her way.

“To me, those three gentlemen, as long as I’m on the council, forfeited the right to lead the city council,” Jones said.

Colvett says race had nothing to do with his opposition to Logan’s appointment.

He says his victory over Jones for chairman is evidence of that.

“Councilman Jones is certainly entitled to his opinion and his opinion to the facts as he sees them,” Colvett said. “A strong majority of the council disagrees with him and is very comfortable, obviously, with my leadership.”

Despite their disagreement on this issue and other issues, both men said they get along just fine.

“Martavius is my friend,” Colvett said. “I enjoy hanging out with the guy.”

“I enjoy working with all of my colleagues on the Memphis City Council. I do,” said Jones.

Jones’ decision to run for council led to a back-and-forth between Jones and councilman Edmund Ford, Sr.

Ford argued the vice-chair, in this case, Colvett, would normally assume the chairmanship the next year. Ford said it had been the tradition.

Jones disagreed, pointing to Ford’s son, former councilman Edmund Ford, Jr., not assuming the role in 2017 after he served as vice-chair.

That upset Ford, who then lobbed personal insults at Jones during the virtual meeting.

Robinson ordered the microphones muted.

The next day, Councilman J.B. Smiley, Jr. filed an ethics complaint against Ford.

“I have witnessed a pattern of verbally abusive behavior toward the administration and our very own colleagues. Enough is enough. I am asking you and the rest of this body to put an end to this blatant disrespect and dishonor for individuals and the offices we hold,” Smiley wrote in a letter to Robinson.

He’s also calling for an ethics review of Ford’s behavior on the council.

Ford has not provided a public response to Smiley’s complaint.

Robinson has not responded to Smiley’s complaint, but she dismissed the idea of censuring Ford or any council member.

“What does censuring actually mean to you? They still get to serve. They still get to come to the meeting. They still get to participate, so why would we even go through that?” Robinson said.

Robinson also reflected on her year as chairwoman. It was dominated by issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a labor of love all year from one problem to another,” Robinson said. “I have had to deal with more on the ground issues running an office than anyone has in the years of being the council chair.”

Council members also elected councilwoman Jamita Swearingen as the next vice-chair of the council.

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