Coun­cil shouldn’t use the law to quell con­cerns about vote

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - Tonyaa Weathers­bee Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

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

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