Fullilove’s Funding Push Raises Legal Questioning

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Council member Janis Fullilove pushed hard for $1.5 million in city funding for the renovation of Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven.

FULLILOVE

So hard that as the council voted on the appropriation of the money earlier this month, she taunted Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. for not being present.

“Where is the mayor? Why is he not here?” Fullilove said numerous times at the Oct. 1 council meeting where the council voted to fund the project but made it conditional on a legal opinion from the City Attorney’s office on whether the federal funding for streetscape improvements along Elvis Presley Boulevard can be used for the mall as well.

The legal opinion is still a work in progress, which caused the council last week to pull it from the minutes of the meeting. An item isn’t considered final until it is approved as part of the minutes of a meeting.

Fullilove’s aggressive push for that and her continued vocal opposition to the Smart Meter program of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division are raising questions about whether she has crossed the legal boundary that separates the council’s legislative duties from those of Wharton and the city’s executive branch.

City Council chairman Edmund Ford appointed a three-member council ad hoc committee last week to look at council policies and procedures on the matter. The committee is to report in November on whether the rules should be changed or whether they need to be re-emphasized.

“It has been brought to my attention particular behavior and, as well, individuals possibly directing other administrators,” Ford said, referring to council rules that prohibit council members from ordering city employees to do something or pursue a course of action or interfering in a course of action.

If the misconduct rises to the level of formal charges in a court of law and a conviction, the council member can be removed from office.

Ford also specifically cited council rules that give the chairman, who assigns committee chairmen, the right to remove a committee chairman.

“I make the decisions,” he said. “But I want it to be known that we’re grown folks.”

Earlier in the day Oct. 15, during council committee session, Fullilove grilled MLGW president Jerry Collins in what has become a regular feature of the MLGW committee Fullilove chairs.

City Council member Janis Fullilove has been critical of the MLGW Smart Meter.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Although a negative committee recommendation cannot stop the full council from considering a measure, Fullilove has used her committee to delay votes on utility funding items including funding for the further expansion of the Smart Meter pilot program.

The full council approved the funding to expand their use in August.

When Collins responded to what Fullilove claimed was a case of an unnamed judge who got a Smart Meter but didn’t want it and had trouble opting out of the program, Fullilove pointed to his earlier hesitancy to answer the allegation.

“He couldn’t answer the question,” she said as council member Bill Boyd insisted she hadn’t given him a chance to answer. “It was like crickets. Duh.”

Collins said the allegation about a judge was “fictitious” and “patently false.”

“How do you know a judge has not received a Smart Meter?” Fullilove asked Collins a few minutes later.

“We checked every judge,” he said.

“A judge might have a girlfriend,” Fullilove replied. “How do you know who’s what? “How do you know I am Janice Chalmers?” she added, bringing up the disclosure earlier this year that Fullilove, whose real name is Chalmers, had a Smart Meter and that despite her claim that it caused her utility bill to go up, it did not. The utility disclosed her bills after a public records request from News Channel 3.

“That’s an invasion of privacy,” Fullilove said last week. “You don’t know who that judge’s name is … unless you guys are doing something that’s not right.”

“A false allegation was made,” Collins said at the end of the tirade.

“No, it wasn’t a false allegation,” Fullilove shot back. “It was an allegation. Are you like the CIA or the FBI and you sit up and check on people and you keep track of what they are doing?”

After the lively committee session, Ford expressed concern in general but did not mention Fullilove specifically or any other council member by name.

Others on the council, including Lee Harris, said the question of where council responsibilities end and the role of the executive branch begins isn’t always a simple matter.

“What does it mean to have decorum in a council committee meeting and who is responsible for enforcing decorum?” Harris asked. “I don’t know. Are there rules and norms of decorum?”

Ford named council members Wanda Halbert, Bill Boyd and Myron Lowery to the committee. Fullilove was absent from the executive session discussion.