Pam Murray stood up prior to the start of a Metro Council meeting last month and honored author C. William McKee for his recently published book about the history of the North Edgefield neighborhood.
A beaming Murray smiled as she described the rich history of her Council district and the changes it had undergone through the years. In that moment, Murray was like any other Council member — proud of her neighborhood and of the people who live there.
But if we flash-forward to last week’s Metro Council meeting, Murray was hardly the picture of neighborhood pride.
Dozens of her District 5 constituents arrived at the meeting wearing red T-shirts in protest of Murray and three controversial bills she had introduced. During the meeting, the councilwoman became indignant after she was forced to withdraw one of the bills (to allow mobile vendors on Cleveland Street) following a maneuver by Councilwoman Karen Bennett.
When the bill was finally withdrawn, the red-clad crowd applauded and cheered as if they were at a basketball game, causing a combative Murray to promise to bring the bill back again sometime soon.
At various points during the meeting, a fuming Murray ducked out of the chambers and into the adjacent hallway to plot and argue with fellow Council members, all the while calling foul over what had just transpired.
The tumultuous meeting may have been merely the latest manifestation of problems for Murray, who has been hit with a series of stinging accusations in this, her second term on the Council — the consequences of which are unknown.
However, this much is certain; Murray had a complaint filed against her last week with the state Ethics Commission, alleging she lied on her 2008 and 2009 ethics disclosure forms.
And while Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors has encouraged Murray and Bennett to work out their differences — some of which culminated in an ugly scene requiring a call to Metro Police outside a community center last month — the problems for Murray might only be beginning.
A group of District 5 constituents is considering an effort to recall Murray and force her out of office.
The whirlwind around her intensified two weeks ago when WTVF-NewsChannel 5 reporter Phil Williams did an on-air story indicating Murray lives a majority of the time in Detroit.
Murray is listed as the program director for the Sunshine Treatment Institute in Detroit. The institute offers treatment for heroine and opiate addiction. The councilwoman admitted she travels to Detroit for work, but downplayed the amount of time she spends there.
“I normally try to go up there, maybe if I’m lucky… about twice a month, about three days each [time],” she said.
But at least one of her constituents is using her employment in Detroit as fodder for filing a complaint with the state Ethics Commission.
Time for constituents
On her ethics disclosure forms in 2008 and 2009, Murray listed herself as self-employed. The complaint, filed by Terry Dale Vibbert, states that Murray lied because she is actually an employee of the Sunshine Treatment Institute.
Regardless of how much time Murray spends in Detroit, by law, that act, in and of itself, does not preclude her from serving on Metro Council. Murray’s official residence is 802 Stockell St. and according to Metro Water the home’s water is used regularly.
However, it appears that her time in Detroit does affect Murray’s ability to respond to constituent concerns and that has been accentuated in recent weeks when bills she filed received opposition from those constituents.
One bill would have allowed mobile vendors to operate on Cleveland Street, and in effect opting out of a Metro ordinance passed last year to restrict such mobile vending.
Residents also are concerned about Murray’s bill to re-zone a property on Cleveland Street that is being used as an apartment building. The zoning for the building, formerly a junkyard and auto repair shop, is not currently zoned as multi-family, but Murray’s zone change would alter that.
Neighbors though, complained that they didn’t want the zone change and allege that Murray ignored their complaints. That’s when they turned to Bennett, the Council member for District 8.
In response to the District 5 neighbors, Bennett attended a community meeting two weeks ago that ended in confrontation, according to a police report of the incident.
When the meeting ended, Bennett and attorney Jamie Hollin, who resides in Murray’s district, approached Murray to offer condolences for the recent passing of a family member.
According to the police incident report, Bennett was then surrounded by Murray and several other African-American individuals who became irate and yelled racial epithets at her. After feeling threatened, Bennett got away and called police, though Murray and the group were gone before responding officers arrived.
Murray responded by filing a complaint of her own with Metro Police, alleging that Bennett intimidated her.
Despite all of this, Murray does have her defenders, including District 29 Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite, who said Murray is passionate about her district and the issues facing her constituents.
“Council lady Murray is very engaging. She’s hard working,” Wilhoite said. “She loves her community, she truly does. She really ran [her first two campaigns about improving the district] and she gets very passionate about things she wants to see in her community as far as improving it.”
Wilhoite noted that some of the negative attention paid to Murray has been unfair and added that it was her belief that things could be sorted out.
‘So, what can I do?’
Murray has insisted that her recent problems stem from attacks coming from her former opponent for the District 5 Council seat Sam McCullough. Her 2007 re-election race was ugly — even including the news report that McCullough suspected Murray, or those close to her, had killed his pet dog.
“I know [the negative attention is coming from] Hollin and Sam [McCullough]. It’s the same ones who say I killed the dog,” Murray said.
McCullough said his beef is nothing personal, but added that the make-up of the East Nashville district has changed and Murray has not responded to her constituents’ needs.
“It doesn’t bother me, but it’s kind of sickening to think that some people would say you hurt an animal, but that’s how some people operate,” Murray added. “So, what can I do? I can’t do anything with that. But we’re working hard in our district so we’ll continue to work hard.
“Definitely we’ll continue to work hard. It doesn’t bother me.”
McCullough is the president of the Cleveland Park neighborhood association and he said residents are concerned with quality-of-life issues and want a more-responsive councilmember. He said the issue with the re-zoning on Cleveland Street highlighted Murray’s problems about being responsive. McCullough pointed out the Dickerson Road redevelopment area passed by Council last year shows that residents are working hard to improve their district.
“Our district is changing now,” McCullough said. “It’s changing to be a much more diverse group of people, the education level has changed. With that, you automatically are going to want accountability from your Council representative.”