Shelby County Commissioners approved Monday, Sept. 24, a change in the lease for FedExForum to the new Grizzlies ownership group headed by Robert J. Pera.
But the 9-4 vote came after commissioners criticized Pera’s representatives for not providing basic financial statements about Pera or his ownership group.
The commission action replaces Hoops LP, the Memphis Grizzlies ownership group of Michael Heisley, with RJP Group LLC, Pera’s ownership group, on the forum lease.
Pera’s representative, David Carlock, told commissioners the price reported by multiple media outlets for the team is “accurate.” But he said he was “not at liberty” to disclose investment amounts. He also said published lists of local investors are accurate but that final agreements for their participation have not been signed. He specifically named J.R. “Pitt” Hyde and Staley Cates as the top two local investors in a group that represents about a third of the ownership.
“This train left the tracks 10 or 15 years ago,” said commissioner Sidney Chism as he pushed for a vote on the lease change which changes no terms of the contract other than who leases the building from city and county governments. “Where is the gamble? Where is the roll of the dice?”
“It doesn’t matter how rich somebody is,” commissioner James Harvey countered. “If these guys were so rich, they wouldn’t be asking us to sign off on something.”
The Memphis City Council approved the same lease change last week.
In other action, the commission deferred for two weeks a vote on accepting a $200,000 federal grant for the construction of a new air monitoring station. Some commissioners want to negotiate for a new site for station that monitors “near roadside air pollutants.” The site proposed is near interstate traffic.
The commission also approved accepting two federal grants totaling $146,627 for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Commissioner Henry Brooks voted against the items because of the name of the grants which are awarded as Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants.
Byrne was a rookie New York City police officer shot in the head five times in 1988 while guarding the Jamaica Queens home of a drug case witness. His murder was ordered by a drug dealer, according to New York police, because the drug dealer had been convicted in a weapons case.
Brooks linked Byrne to “the Reagan-era war on drugs.”
“I just don’t believe we need to be engaged in a non existent war on drugs,” Brooks added saying the grants “incentivize” local police departments to go after “little guys” in the drug trade to “get the numbers up.”
The commission also approved the appointment of 12 people to an Election Reform Advisory Board to be chaired by Commissioner Steve Basar. The group is to report on its recommendations to the Shelby County Election Commission by the end of March. The formation of the group follows problems in the Aug. 2 elections that are now under state investigation. The board was proposed a year ago but members were never appointed to it.
The election commission is under no obligation to accept or act on the recommendations, although election commissioners Steve Stamson and Norma Lester are also on the committee.