Friday, March 21, 2008

Under His Own Terms

The detractors of the Mayor and those who don't like him are going to claim victory after his latest announcement.Their claims will range from the FBI being hot on his trail, to him having stole enough money and decided to quit. Neither of which are true. I think it's just the final piece of the upcoming puzzle. I say upcoming because, I think a lot is going to happen between now and then. The Mayor has already laid out what needs to be done. It doesn't take four years to get that done. He has already said "some bold initiatives will be introduced."

I think this whole move revolves around his effort to push consolidation. The mayor is the one person who has the power to make that happen. Those that don't want it to happen , claim it can't be done. I'm not so sure that I believe them though. That's wishful thinking on their part. Some people are basing their opinions on information given by the organizers of the recall effort and the charter commission. I wouldn't take that as law that would stand up in court. If it wasn't a possibility, as some would have you believe. It would have never been mentioned. I listen to some of these people and how they somehow expect him to kneel before he leaves. Just like he has for the last sixteen years. He will be doing things under his own terms,


Blogger Kelvin Oliver said...

When I first heard this on the news, I very suprised to see the this guy stepping down. I think he wants to give it a shot at working with Memphis City Schools. The only thing I'm curious about is the next person to step up and be a leader and mayor of this city.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's not gone yet.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Herenton: It's about schools
Denies grand jury probe influenced his decision
By Marc Perrusquia (Contact)
Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mayor Willie Herenton said Saturday his sudden resignation last week has everything to do with becoming the next city schools superintendent and nothing to do with an ongoing criminal probe at City Hall.

Herenton announced he plans to step down in July after 16 years as mayor, stirring speculation that he was targeting the top job at Memphis City Schools -- a post he held from 1979 to 1991.

The 67-year-old mayor left no doubt Saturday that his goal was to regain the superintendency. Herenton said he hopes to make a presentation to the school board within 30 days.

"That's all this is about. It ain't about nothing else,'' Herenton said.

The school board plans to fill the vacant job by July. And Herenton's planned exit from City Hall is not effective until July 31 -- raising the possibility that his resignation could be rescinded if he fails to win the necessary five votes from the school board.

Speaking to The Commercial Appeal in a phone interview, Herenton dispelled conjecture that he plans to run for Congress or that his decision was influenced by a federal grand jury investigating his ties to a city contractor.

As evidence, Herenton released a Feb. 7 letter sent to the school board that spells out his frustration with a school district troubled by state and federal investigations into a range of spending abuses, low student-achievement scores and the wounding of three students in separate on-campus shootings this school year.

The letter hints cryptically at his intention to return to the job he vacated in 1991 following a rocky tenure recalled best by many Memphians for a sexual-harassment suit filed against him.

"A product of the Memphis City School System, former classroom teacher, principal and superintendent of schools, I have sadly watched the deterioration of what was once a respectable school system,'' the letter reads.

"One contributing factor has been in the selecting of the superintendent of schools.''

In a shot evidently directed at recently departed superintendent Carol Johnson and her predecessor, Gerry House -- both of whom were hired from out of state -- Herenton wrote that "the selection of outsiders'' hurts the district because they "typically lack strong commitments to our community and our children.''

"National searches produce résumé builders and often candidates with no long-term commitments to a community,'' the mayor wrote.

The school board has hired an Iowa firm to conduct a national search to replace Johnson.

The letter closes with no literal declaration of a candidacy for the job, just two sentences:

"The future of Memphis will be impacted positively or negatively by our collective abilities to adequately educate our children. I simply want to help.''

If hired as superintendent, Herenton could expect to be paid as much as $260,000 a year, about $100,000 more than his current salary as mayor.

Though the letter is addressed to the "Board of Education Commissioners,'' it's unclear who exactly has seen it or been apprised of Herenton's intentions.

School board president Tomeka Hart said Saturday she met with Herenton several weeks ago about his renewed interest "in education'' but didn't know specifically he wanted to be superintendent.

Fellow board member Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. said he sent Hart an e-mail asking her to set up a public meeting with Herenton to "hear his proposals concerning his recent letter to us offering his help and how that relates to his announced retirement from the office of Mayor."

"If we have in our midst the most qualified, and logically, the best person for the position, it would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money to conduct a national search," Whalum told a reporter.

Hart said she was not authorized to do anything outside the search process unless the board approves it.

Board member Betty Mallott told The Commercial Appeal that terminating the search "would undermine the integrity of the process'' and said she needs to know more about Herenton's record as superintendent.

Over his 12 years as superintendent, Herenton complained bitterly of a lack of funding from city and county officials and launched bold initiatives, including a program that allowed inner-city schools more freedom in deciding how to teach poor students with special needs.

Before resigning in 1991 to run for mayor, Herenton was the defendant in a much-publicized lawsuit by a teacher who said they had an affair.

Herenton said Saturday he never planned to serve out the full four-year mayoral term he was elected to last October, but moved up his decision to quit when the school board set a July deadline to pick a new superintendent.

"If they had not set this July deadline I would not be talking (now) about retiring,'' he said.

Herenton said he told the district he would like to return as superintendent "under certain conditions,'' though he wouldn't say who he has talked to or elaborate.

Herenton said he was motivated to spell out his reason for resigning in part because of persistent questioning about an ongoing criminal probe involving his relationship with city contractor Elvin Moon.

That connection, now the focus of a federal grand jury probe, hinges on $50,000 that Moon paid Herenton in a 2005 real estate transaction. The payment came after the businessman landed no-bid city contracts valued at $702,000.

Herenton passionately defended the deal, saying he has done nothing wrong.

"I never had a discussion with him about his contracts,'' Herenton said. "Nobody that's ever worked for me will say that Willie Herenton has influenced a contract.''

Federal agents have peppered private and public offices with subpoenas and other written inquiries in recent months following an investigation by The CA that detailed Herenton's land transaction with Moon.

The land deal involved a one- third-acre lot where Herenton built a $236,000 two-story home. In 2005, Herenton sold the then-vacant lot in Banneker Estates for $50,000 to Moon. Months later, Moon quit-claimed the still-vacant property back to the mayor for just $10, according to deeds filed with Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood's office. Herenton has since built the home on the lot.

Both Moon and Herenton said last spring that the mayor still owed the $50,000 to the contractor. Herenton said he intended to repay it and hoped to even sell the then-vacant home to Moon. Both denied wrongdoing.

In November, the FBI delivered a letter to City Hall seeking copies of contracts and payments involving seven city contractors, with Moon's name at the top of the list.

Then, in December, a federal grand jury subpoenaed records from the Memphis Area Transit Authority surrounding the awarding of a $300,000 engineering contract to Moon in 2006. The records in question involve hundreds of e-mails involving nine MATA officials.

An attorney for MATA said as recently as this month that he was reviewing the e-mails to protect attorney-client privilege under a deal with prosecutors and that they still hadn't been turned over to the grand jury. A request by The CA under the Tennessee Open Records Act for copies of the e-mails also hasn't been filled.

Herenton said Saturday that authorities also have seized closing documents and other private papers related to the real estate deal.

He declined to say whether he has ever repaid the $50,000 to Moon, but insisted the transaction is legal and proper.

"The issue is really not about $50,000. You don't know what really has transpired,'' the mayor said. Insisting there is a rational explanation to the deal, he offered at one point that he's involved in real estate development in another state, yet declined to elaborate.

"I don't mix my public life with my private business,'' he said.

Though Herenton has the city's sole contracting authority and signs all substantial city contracts, he said his signing largely is a perfunctory duty. The actual decisions are made by staff professionals, with plenty of checks and balances, he said.

He said he finds it curious that among some 12,600 contracts valued at more than $2 billion that he has signed over the years, federal authorities and the news media have chosen to scrutinize a handful of contracts with African-American businessmen. Like Herenton, Moon is black.

"Ninety-five percent of the contracts were with white folks,'' he said. Contracts with minorities have been targeted because of "selective prosecution and slanting,'' he said.

Nonetheless, the federal investigation is only intensifying.

Former county commissioner John Willingham said FBI agents visited him days before Herenton's announcement, asking about the building of FedExForum -- and also about Herenton. Willingham said he spoke to the agents for seven hours about his belief that Herenton and other local officials deceived the public when they accepted a $20million federal grant to put an intermodal bus transfer station at the Downtown arena and then reneged on the plan.

Despite the mayor's assertions, Willingham said he finds the timing of the resignation puzzling:

"I don't know really what to believe. It's too strange.''

--Marc Perrusquia: 529-2545

Reporter Kristina Goetz contributed to this report.


Below is the full text of Mayor Willie Herenton's Feb. 7 letter to the city school board:

The most important investment this City can make is in its' public school system. I am deeply concerned that currently there is no community-wide strategy or action plan to move our school system forward. This is not a criticism directed at anyone or a specific group.

A product of the Memphis City School System, former classroom teacher, principal and superintendent of schools, I have sadly watched the deterioration of what was once a respectable school system. One contributing factor has been in the selecting of the superintendent of schools. The selection of a school superintendent is one of the most important decisions a Board of Education can make. In my opinion, the selection of outsiders typically lack strong commitments to our community and our children. National searches produce résumé builders and often candidates with no long-term commitments to a community.

I respect the role of the Board of Commissioners and the Interim Superintendent. I also, recognize that there are not simply solutions to the myriad of challenges that face our school system. However, I truly believe we can make some improvements in operational areas and student achievement.

The future of Memphis will be impacted positively or negatively by our collective abilities to adequately educate our children. I simply want to help.

Yours truly,

Willie W. Herenton

2:58 PM  

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