Mayor Wharton Anxious for School Merger Action

On January 11, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris
January 11, 2011

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Memphis Mayor A C Wharton might be ready to take off the gloves and personally jump into the school consolidation fray if efforts to reach a settlement fail.

Publically he has pronounced his neutrality. But, that doesn’t mean A C Wharton isn’t taking an active role behind the scenes to bring about a cease-fire in the school consolidation battle.

With such an emotionally-charged issue as school consolidation, traveling the road of neutrality figured to be not only bumpy and unappreciated, but destined to end. As each day brings new escalation of tensions, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton sees the proverbial writing on the wall.

“It may be that we have come to that point where there’s no hope for folks such as myself and Mayor Luttrell trying to say ‘let’s work together,'” lamented Wharton.

Ever since the hours just before the December 20th vote by the Memphis City School Board members to surrender the system’s charter, Wharton had been hopeful about buying time so a deal could be worked out to avoid the contemptuous aftermath he knew would come if the vote passed. An 11th hour appeal by Wharton and Luttrell to MCS Board members didn’t work. A week ago, both Mayors sought clarity in introducing the idea of going to the state legislature to create what they called a “framework for an enforceable plan” of action if a city-wide referendum vote to abolish the charter passed.

Instead of interest, they generated a letter accusing both of “over-stepping” their authority by Shelby County Commissioner, Sidney Chism. Wharton sees the criticism as a misunderstanding of the Mayors’ intentions.

“Here’s a process that’s been recognized in 94 other counties. You can use this process in Shelby County. We had a process not a product,” Wharton said.

As for the “process” of staging a charter referendum, Wharton appears to agree with the latest interpretation by the State Attorney General whose legal opinion asserted the Shelby County Election Commission should proceed with setting a date to hold the election.

“I think it’s pretty cut and dry now that it’s time for the folks to go on and vote on it,” said Wharton. “Anything that gives the appearance of begrudging the right of the people to vote does raise a lot of questions.”

The referendum impasse has had another “limbo” effect by delaying Wharton’s efforts to reach a final settlement on the city’s multi-million IOU to MCS.

“I’m not upset that we’re not talking about the money. It is much more critical that we talk about a system in which we get our money’s worth, whether it’s 50-million, 80-million or whatever.”

Wharton said he did talk by phone with State Senator Mark Norris Tuesday morning, who said he will delay any legislation in Nashville he would bring up on the consolidation issue until Wednesday.


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