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VOL. 128 | NO. 39 | Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Schools Questions Dominate County Commission Agenda

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners approved on the second of three readings Monday, Feb. 25, an ordinance that gives Memphis City Schools teachers living outside Shelby County five years to move within Shelby County.

They also approved on first reading an ordinance that would put the question of eliminating any residency requirements in county government to voters across the county on the August 2014 ballot.

The two items were part of an agenda in which issues related to the coming schools merger dominated commission debate and discussion.

The five-year grace period ordinance was stripped of an amendment that would have exempted all teachers currently working for both school systems from having to comply with the residency requirement. But the commission left intact a second amendment that exempts teachers and staff hired before Sept. 1, 1986. That was the date the county home rule charter took effect. The home rule charter includes the residency requirement for county government employees that includes Shelby County Schools teachers.

Memphis City Schools does not have a residency requirement.

The commission also approved Monday a resolution delayed at two previous meetings to transfer $300,000 from the commission’s contingency fund to pay legal fees from the municipal schools court case.

And the body voted down a resolution that would have instructed attorneys for the commission to drop that part of the two-year old federal court case.

The county commission’s action in federal court seeks to have the state laws governing the establishment of municipal school districts in the suburbs declared in violation of the Tennessee Constitution as well as a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The commission action on the two resolutions came the same day that attorneys for all sides in the court case appeared in a closed status conference before Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays.

While Mays’ focus was on possibly appointing a special master to supervise the work toward a consolidated school system, commissioners offered varying interpretations of how long Mays might delay a ruling on state laws governing the creation of municipal school districts.

Some commissioners said Mays will delay his ruling until the Tennessee legislature acts on new legislation that could make his ruling on the existing statutes moot. But other commissioners said Mays was not definite about when he might rule on that part of the case, and just indicated that he wanted to see the merger plan move faster than it has to date.

Mays has heard all of the proof from all sides on the question of the two remaining state laws. He struck down a third law on the matter last November.

The written court order Monday from Mays on the possible appointment of a special master does not deal at all with a delay in ruling on the municipal schools district laws.

In other action, the commission approved paying $239,665 in county capital funding for the local match on the $7.1 million realignment of North Parkway and Jackson Avenue at their intersection with Danny Thomas Boulevard in Uptown.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation project was a 50-50 split with the state with the city of Memphis being part of the local half.

The $239,665 is the latest in a series of payments of the county’s part of the local match over several fiscal years totaling nearly $1.8 million.

The city of Memphis share of the local match has been $1.7 million so far with an additional $91,555 due.

The commission also approved a $88,700 contract with Allen & Hoshall Inc. to develop a facility master plan for the Shelby County Health Department.

And the body approved $42,000 in funding for acquisition and closing costs for right of ways and easements for the Woodland Hills detention basin project in the Grays Creek area. The project site is east of Houston Levee Road between Humphreys and Macon Roads.

The commission also approved a resolution urging the state to improve its share of funding to the Shelby County Public Defender’s office.

Meanwhile, the commission approved the appointment of eight citizens to a Juvenile Justice Consortium that is part of the settlement among Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court, county government and the U.S. Department of Justice over due process problems at the court.

The consortium is outlined in the agreement as the citizens group that will keep the community informed of the progress Juvenile Court makes in implementing the reforms.

One of the major reforms is creating a juvenile defender’s office within the Shelby County Public Defender’s office to represent indigent juveniles. Juveniles who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys are currently represented by attorneys picked by a panel that is connected to the court.

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