Council shouldn’t use the law to quell concerns about vote
I saw this film nearly a generation ago. In September of 1989 in Jacksonville, Florida, the three African-Americans on the City Council walked out of a council meeting to protest a budget that contained virtually no money for their districts.
But the City Council president, Tillie Fowler, who later was elected to Congress and died of a brain hemorrhage in 2005, didn’t use compassion to coax them back into the meeting.
She used a cop — who arrested them and dragged them back into the room so that the council would have a quorum to pass the budget.
Snippets of that film of nearly three decades ago — one in which threats of using the law to force AfricanAmericans to acquiesce to things that may worsen their predicament — are playing in Memphis now.
Tuesday night Memphis City Council members Joe Brown, Jamita Swearengen, Patrice Robinson and Martavius Jones, four of five African-Americans on the 10-member council, walked out of the meeting and deprived it of a quorum when it deadlocked on whether to appoint Rhonda Logan, who heads the Raleigh Community Development Corporation, or businessman Lonnie Treadaway, who recently moved back to the area after living in Mississippi for 15 years, for the District 1 council seat. Logan is black. Treadaway is white. It’s easy to understand the concerns of the council members who walked out. Logan, who has lived in Memphis most of her life, would make the most sense to represent that mostly black area even if she wasn’t African-American.
Said Jones: “We would rather walk out and not be part of a sham to put somebody in that position who is not entrenched and not invested in the community.”
But now the rest of the council, acting on a motion by council member Worth Morgan, asked the city attorney to file action in Chancery Court to force Brown, Swearengen, Robinson and Jones back into the room.
In other words, they were considering using the law to compel the black council members to be present for a decision that they believe is bad for the constituents of District 1. That shouldn’t be. “Logan is the most qualified person for that position,” said state Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat whose legislative district includes District 1. “She’s who the people of that district have asked for, and she’s already been on the ground doing the work. So, it’s not like she just showed up. … “My concern is that the people aren’t being heard.” Truth is, the people could have been heard last month if Bill Morrison, the council member who represented District 1, and council members Edmund Ford Jr. and Janis Fullilove had resigned after they were elected to countywide offices Aug. 2. Had that happened, Logan and Treadaway would have been on the city ballot on Nov. 6. But it didn’t. Treadaway, however, spared the council from immersing itself in a racially-tinged standoff by withdrawing his name for the seat.
His decision was announced Wednesday, when the council was forced to postpone its meeting again when Jones, Brown, Swearengen and Robinson didn’t show.
But Treadaway’s choice — which one spectator, Marvis Rodgers, hailed as heroic — also helped the council avoid the potential for court action.
That’s a relief because, as it was in Jacksonville in 1989, that action led to marches and protests — and a black eye for the city nationally. And with Memphis being 64 percent African-American, that won’t be a good look.
Memphis City Councilman Martavius Jones speaks to reporters after he and council members Joe Brown, Jamita Swearengen and Patrice Robinson walked out of a City Council meeting on Dec. 4 over the District 1 City Council seat appointment. JAMIE MUNKS / THE