VOL. 128 | NO. 46 | Thursday, March 07, 2013
State Delays Auto Inspection Takeover
By Bill Dries
The state of Tennessee has told the city of Memphis it will probably take two years for it to take over auto inspection duties in Shelby County.
But city funding for the auto inspection stations and employees runs out when the current fiscal year does, at the end of June.
The middle ground is the latest wrinkle on a politically volatile topic among those on the Memphis City Council. But talks of an interim solution are under way.
City Chief Administrative Officer George Little told council members Tuesday, March 5, city talks with the state Department of Environment and Conservation and with Shelby County government continue on the future of auto inspections.
But Little said state officials have said they want to wait to assume responsibility for auto inspections until new federal environmental standards take effect in two years.
“From our end, we would take care of our employees and be prepared to adhere to the wishes of this body,” he said when asked by council member Myron Lowery what would happen at the end of the fiscal year if nothing is worked out.
Because of the developments, the council put off a discussion Tuesday on a resolution that would establish a severance package for city employees who work in the auto inspection bureau.
“We made the determination before we completed our budget that we were going to be out of this business by the end of the year.”
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has talked with the group of 50 city employees who work at five stations several times and the city has sent them a memo indicating their jobs will not exist as of July 1. Little said Wharton recently met with the employees again to update them on the possibility they will still be working in those jobs after July 1. But the memo remains in effect.
“We made the determination before we completed our budget that we were going to be out of this business by the end of the year,” Lowery told Little. “We gave adequate time for everyone … to figure this out. … Somebody should have been ready. It is not our responsibility.”
But council members Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland, who sponsored the budget resolution last year that ends city funding on June 30, say the cut-off remains in effect as all three governments look for an interim solution before the new fiscal year.
“In all of those conversations … the city’s position did not change,” Flinn said. “Now what we are figuring out is given the different time frames and the different controlling authorities, what can be done to meet everybody’s interest including the notice we gave them of our intentions.”
In other action, council members delayed final votes on two ordinances involving permanent name changes for three Confederate-themed parks.
The delay was to give a committee on renaming the parks time to come up with a set of recommendations.
But council member Lee Harris argued the council should have taken the final votes to send the message to the committee that the council wants different names.
“The committee has been given no real direction from this council,” he said. “I think we have to go on record that we want change.”
The council stripped Confederate, Jefferson Davis and Forrest Park of their names and gave them temporary names because of pending state legislation that would forbid the renaming of parks commemorating wars or military leaders.
But Harris said the bill also includes a provision that forbids the removal of any markers from those same parks. And that part of the legislation, which has already cleared the state House, could apply to the three parks, he argued.
“There’s an argument that if we didn’t take the signs down immediately then this bill could prevent us from ever doing that,” said City Council attorney Allan Wade. “I don’t agree with that.”
Meanwhile, city crews had removed signage with the old park names Tuesday from all three locations. The administration’s initial plan was to leave the signage in place until the council decides on new permanent names.
City Council member Bill Boyd, co-chairman of the committee, said he anticipated it would take no more than 60 days for the group to report its recommendations.
The other co-chairman, council member Harold Collins, said the goal was to have recommendations and action by the council on new names by the end of the current fiscal year.