The Law of Unintended Consequences

Yesterday, flying high on a series of events that have turned the possibility of a change in leadership at the City Mayor’s office for the first time since I left college into a possible reality, there was more political coverage, opinion, and conjecture floating around since I moved here over 5 years ago. Honestly, it was a welcome change.

In the wake of all this, I made a list of things I wanted to write about today. Instead, I spent the majority of the day suffering from the effects of a sugar binge that seemed like a good idea at 2am. Haagen-Daaz and Carmel Corn at 2am is a bad idea, no matter how much sugar you think you can consume.

Anyway, in light of the events of the past couple of days, I thought I would go through some of the coverage of City Government, starting with the City Council meeting on Tuesday that fanned the media firestorm.

First I’ll start with my coverage of the Council meeting Tuesday. Several TV stations have played the more explosive parts of the meeting, but in order to really get a sense of the climate, you have to listen to the whole thing. It all started with Councilman Strickland’s motion to suspend the rules. Now I understand that not everyone is familiar with parliamentary procedure. Thankfully, Wikipedia has a good definition:

A motion to suspend the rules, in parliamentary procedure, is used to allow a deliberative assembly to do something that it could not normally do without violating special rules of order, rules contained in the parliamentary authority, the standing rules of the assembly,[1] or rules of order contained in the bylaws.[2] (Source)

Basically, this was a successful attempt to add Strickland’s resolution accepting the resignation to the agenda.

What happened from there was 45 minutes of impassioned debate (large audio file) not about suspending the rules, but the merits of the issue that would be brought if the rules were suspended.

From that point, only 30 minutes were required to pass the resolution and vote on same night minutes.

Again, for those not familiar with parliamentary procedure, had the Council approved the minutes that same night, the resolution would have a binding effect in its current form. Because they did not, there is an opportunity to amend the resolution should there be any need. Ultimately, this is a good thing, as I noted yesterday.

After I published my post about the proceedings, a flurry of interviews with the Mayor started coming online. It started with Memphis Daily News reporter Andy Meek’s report that the Mayor was packing boxes in his office.

Then there was this interview by Fox 13 (direct link).

Since this interview hit the internet, there’s been more and more and more, heating up the speculation and causing one commentator to say I told ya so. I think it’s all, as Councilwoman Swearengen-Ware said multiple times yesterday, “premature”.

There’s this one nagging thing that’s been banging around in my head that goes back to this whole parliamentary procedure thing that I’ve been talking about throughout this post. As the CA reported on the same day he announced his retirement, the Mayor’s pension was approved by the Pension Board. Something that wasn’t reported is the process. Just like the City Council, the Pension Board must approve the minutes of their last meeting for those actions to have any impact. Since the Pension board did not approve the minutes on the same night that the pension was set, any pension arrangement is still up in the air. When is the Pension Board set to approve the minutes? July 30, the same day that Mayor Herenton says he will vacate the office. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’d be willing to bet that the Mayor saw a potential point of weakness in vacating before the minutes were approved, and wanted to shore up that position.

So maybe he will retire on July 30. We won’t really know until July 30.

Between now and then we still have another City Council meeting. At that meeting, assuming the majority holds for another 12 days, they will approve the minutes of the meeting, making the Strickland resolution binding. If the Mayor doesn’t present the Council with another letter of retirement/resignation we’ll have a resolution that is, at best, on shaky legal grounds as noted by Atty. Wade at the Council meeting. Not that I think that will be an issue, but it could…especially if the Pension Board does something that puts Mayor Herenton’s pension in limbo.

There are some other things that, admittedly, are less critical, but still interesting about the whole series of events. I personally find it interesting that the Mayor changed his date of resignation/retirement on July 6th. Also I find it interesting that the language used since the 6th seems more closely tied to “retirement” rather that “resignation”. Could it be that the bizarre resignation of Gov. Sarah Palin on July 3rd, combined with the issue of the Pension Board, gave the Mayor pause, and led him to make this clarification in language as well as the change of date? After all the pundits in America called her resignation a “political disaster”, perhaps the Mayor chose to do something that seemed less like a non-quitting quitter, ala retirement as he begins his run for the 9th Congressional seat. Ok, I’ll take off my tinfoil hat now.

What’s most interesting, aside for all the “will he/won’t he” back and forth, is that underlying all this is a campaign for an office that is still yet to be announced as vacant, that is fully underway. Here is the “candidate’s forum” from earlier today as reported by the CA.

For those of you just following the Cliff’s Notes, the Election Commission declined a bid to start the process for a Special election today. Why? From the article:

…there will be no preparations for a special election until there is a clear mandate from the City Council, adding that he doesn’t want to spend any taxpayer money on the process until then.

The Election Commission, rightly, recognizes the shaky legal ground the Memphis City Council is on, and doesn’t want to play. I can’t say as I blame them.

But there’s more! A group has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of powers that the Mayoral Succession charter amendment that passed last November with some 85% of the vote.

I wrote about this after Atty. Wade’s opinion was released. Unfortunately, this is just an opinion, in order for it to be anything more there has to be some case law to back it up, which there isn’t. The Charter Amendment we voted in last November hasn’t been around long enough to be litigated, so this will be it’s maiden voyage in the courts, should the lawsuit actually be brought.

If this seems chaotic to you, take a moment; walk around the block a couple of times, play fetch with the dog, maybe enjoy a good cigar and a fine single malt scotch. In any case, chill. This is all part of the process. Process is the thing that brings order to chaos.

The Courts are there to decide if the pending litigation has any merit. Since this is a new Charter Amendment, and the circumstances surrounding the situation are heatedly emotional and have little or no legal framework to stand upon, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with getting a decision to settle it. In fact, it’s a better outcome because in the future, we won’t have these problems. That doesn’t mean I agree with the legal position put forward by, really anyone in the process, that just means that by litigating it we can find out what reality is, and move forward from there.

Yes it’s gonna cost us money, and money is tight. There isn’t anything about a succession battle that isn’t going to cost money. In the end, I think the courts will side with Atty. Wade’s opinion on the resignation and succession issues, and we’ll move on. Admittedly, I’m not a lawyer. I’m a guy with an opinion and we know what else everyone with one of those has. But from my time of being a goob reading all the stuff that no one wants to read and listening to all the stuff no one wants to listen to, I think this will turn out just fine. We’ll get it decision and we’ll go from there.

Remember, the law is your friend, and process is the thing that got us out of the caves. You can get emotional if you want to…God knows I have, but in the end what will you have? Let the system work through our unintended consequences and let’s move on from there. At least, in the end, we’ll know where we stand so we can come up with an action from a position of understanding, rather than a position of emotion.

2 Replies to “The Law of Unintended Consequences”

  1. Woo you are good! You need a column in a newspaper – Thanks for explaining all that process/roberts rules stuff.

    Bottom lining it is always about money.

  2. Fixing schools and reducing crime apppears so far out of reach if this is how the community reacts when a mayor no longer wants his job. How sad is that?

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