MEMPHIS, TN - Back at you; Memphis City Council is in a high stakes throwdown with the state legislature. Call it an insurance policy. Thursday night, city council approved the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter effective right now. It is a fast reaction to legislation passed in Nashville that would delay school consolidation for years.
Thursday night’s specially-called council meeting was the latest twist in the legal tug-of-war.
The only thing all sides agree on in the school charter showdown is that all this will eventually be in the hands of a judge. Still, both sides are trying to add weight to their court cases, and Thursday night, City Council hoped to tip the scales.
“I say that with a bit of anger because I’ve learned within just the past few days that in the matter of this particular matter here, that the rules change, the rules change,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.
Just a week ago this Mayor and this Council were using words like “compromise” and “trust” when referring to their colleagues in Nashville. Now, the gloves are off.
“When the people in Memphis do things that the gods in Nashville don't like, they change the rules,” said Mayor Wharton.
After bills that would delay the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County schools passed both the state Senate and House, the council took swift action.
“Memphis received a slap in the face,” said City Council Chairman Myron Lowery. “And we were disregarded.”
In a room full of charter surrender supporters, even young ones, kids carrying signs calling for unity, the vote was unanimous. 10 ayes, 2 abstained. It was a vote to make MCS no more.
“They would cont to exist only for the purpose of winding up their affairs,” said Council Attorney Allan Wade.
“Until we have them as one, this is not done,” said MCS Board Member Martavius Jones. “This is really just the beginning.”
The Council says this only happens if city voters approve the referendum approving charter surrender on March 8th. But does any of this really count?
“We gave them more credence to what they wanted and what will eventually wind up in court,” said Chairman Lowery. “Eventually a judge will make a final determination. We acted under current state law. We did not try to change the law in the middle of the game.”
“This is sort of an insurance policy,” said Jones. “We know that there is a lot yet to be determined. I foresee a number of different legal challenges from us, from the state and from Shelby County Schools, but this is just the start of everything. I think it's going to be a long legal fight.”
There's already talk of lawsuits from surrender opponents on the legality of Thursday night's vote. The minutes of the council meeting were also approved Thursday night. The city plans to file the resolution with the Tennessee Secretary of State Friday to make it official.
Meanwhile, the bill to hold off on consolidation awaits the Governor's signature.
The council's resolution calls for the school consolidation to be complete no later than June 30, 2012. The proposed state legislation delays a merger until 2013. Supporters say the time is needed for a smooth transition. Opponents argue it would give cities in Shelby County time to form their own special school districts.