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Council quagmire deepens; walkout forces suspension and invoking of special provision; lawsuit looms

“We had to make a statement that we were not going to go along with the okey-doke,” said District 3 City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson, one of four Memphis City Council members who walked out of Tuesday’s session and left the body short of a quorum.

“Sometimes as a community and as an elected official we have to stand our ground and this time we decided we had to stand our ground.”

Robinson left the chamber in the company of council members Jamita Swearengen, Martavius Jones, Joe Brown and Robinson – move that forced Council Chairman Berlin Boyd to suspend a vote on who will fill the seat left vacant in District 1 by Bill Morrison. Morrison was elected Shelby County Probate Court Clerk, leaving the seat vacant since Nov. 1.

The four council members walked out of the meeting of 10 council members after two rounds of voting did not produce a winner between challengers Rhonda Logan and Lonnie Treadaway, and after there was a call for opening up the voting to include other qualified candidates.

What happens next is linked to a private huddle that the six council members had later with Allan Wade, the council’s attorney. After the consultation, it was announced that there would be a called council session at 4 p.m. daily – beginning today (Dec. 5) until there is a quorum. And there is the specter of a lawsuit to from Brown, Jones, Robinson and Swearengen to show up. The council members that got back together in session did so using an aspect of the home rule charter.

A marathon meeting where over 100 separate votes were taken Nov. 20 ended in a deadlock between Logan, who is the Raleigh Community Development Corp. executive director, and Treadaway, Flinn Broadcasting’s national sales manager.

Neither was able to get the majority necessary to win the council seat Tuesday.

There were only 10 council members in session Tuesday after the departure of Edmund Ford Jr. and Janice Fullilove, who left the council to become a county commissioner and the Clerk of Juvenile Court respectively.

After the voting and motion to open the election to other candidates who had qualified for the post, Swearengen, Jones, Brown and Robinson exited, making brief statements during the exodus.

Swearengen said it would be “a disservice” to the citizens of Dist. 1, which encompasses Raleigh, to participate any further in Tuesday’s voting. Jones called it “patently unfair.”

“We have one person (Logan) who for most of their life has been connected to this district. We have another person (Treadaway) who some point in their life chose to live in Senatobia, Miss. and then decided to relocate here,” said Jones. “If we did this in a blind type of way, there’s no one, based on the two candidates that we have right now, but Ms. Logan that we should vote for.”

Councilman Frank Colvette Jr. said it would be good to open the voting up to all the candidates to “see what’s out there. …I’m curious to see what’s out there.”

After the walkout, Swearengen said, “We realized that it was a very partial process. …It was unfair to District 1. …It was unfair to the African-American ommunity and we were not going to participate in that process.”

Robinson said, “We saw where this was going. This happened two weeks ago, the exact same process of pass, pass, Treadaway, Treadaway.”

Robinson said she had hoped Treadaway would have withdrawn from the competition, adding that would have been his best course of action if he wanted to seek office in the future here.

Brown said the Raleigh community had indicated that they wanted Logan to be their leader.

“…It was probably getting down to be a racial conflict,” Brown said. “The majority of that area are Democrats and they are African Americans. So they (other council members) want us to put a Republican in that seat who has not lived in the district for quite some time, not even in Memphis and who ran for public office in Senatobia, Miss. and he lost.

“We made a stance that’s going to make history to let other public officials know that strength is unity.”

Jones agreed that the election process was not headed in the right direction.

“We have rules and procedures in place,” he said. “ I’m proud to stand with these folks who say we were going down the road to where it (election) was not going to be fair or consistent.”

The Rev. Earle Fisher of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, said, “From a grassroots and community perspective, it is refreshing to see council members who recognize they have been elected to represent the broadest scope of our community.”

Fisher said he is associated with some groups that he thinks will partner with the council memers in their efforts to achieve better representation for the citizens of Memphis.

If Logan wins, the 13-member body will for the first time have an eight member African-American majority. The council has maintained a seven-member black majority for 22 years.

Treadaway ran for an alderman’s seat in Senatobia, Miss., a year and a half ago then moved back to Memphis last July.

Election Commissioner Norma Lester said she is a long-term resident and taxpayer and is “appalled for our voices not to be heard.”

“It sends a message that the council is turning a deaf ear to this community,” she said.

Boyd said each council member has to answer to their own group of constituents and act accordingly. He said he understands why his fellow council members walked out of Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s ultimately their decision,” Boyd said. “That’s the action they chose to take. I’m behind them 100 percent”

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