VOL. 129 | NO. 160 | Monday, August 18, 2014
Commission Reopens Anti-Discrimination Debate
By Bill Dries
Six of the 13 Shelby County Commissioners attend their last meeting Monday, Aug. 18.
The finale of the four-year term of office will feature renewed discussion about a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance and attempts to make the residency requirement for county commissioners more specific.
The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols.
Commissioners Walter Bailey and Steve Mulroy are revisiting one of the most contentious commission debates of the previous term of office.
In June 2009, the commission – after lots of debate, rewriting and compromise – adopted a non-discrimination ordinance that did not expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. It banned discrimination by county government in its hiring and personnel practices based on non-merit factors.
Bailey and Mulroy are proposing a change that would specifically include sexual orientation, gender identity or expression as areas in which the county cannot discriminate.
Meanwhile, Mulroy, who is among those leaving the commission at the end of the month, has a pair of resolutions that would set new guidelines and procedures for the commission whenever the residency of a commissioner is questioned.
That has happened twice this year with challenges to the residency of commissioners Henri Brooks and Justin Ford. The Shelby County Attorney’s office investigated both claims.
County Attorney Marcy Ingram concluded that Brooks did not live in the district she represents but that her office could not conclude where she currently lives.
Brooks contested in court the attempt by the commission to act on the report and Ingram’s recommendation that the commission immediately declare her seat vacant and appoint a replacement.
Chancellor Kenny Armstrong blocked the commission from taking either action pending some kind of finding by the commission itself. The commission was about to undertake such a finding when a special prosecutor sought by District Attorney General Amy Weirich announced he was investigating the residency claim, stopping any further action by the commission.
Brooks is among the six commissioners leaving office at the end of August.
In the other case, Ingram concluded that although the apartment Ford lists as his residence had not had utilities for two years, there was not adequate proof that he lives outside his district.
The proposed standards on Monday’s agenda would apply to all county elected officials.
Mulroy’s resolution setting guidelines for the commission to use in evaluating such reports from the county attorney defines residency as “where the elected official regularly sleeps, as opposed to a place where an official merely owns or leases property, receives mail, pays taxes or work.”
“While owning or leasing property, paying taxes, receiving mail, working at a place of employment, and the like may be relevant evidence in any factual dispute regarding where a person resides, the determining factor is where one sleeps,” the resolution reads.
The resolution makes exceptions for a certain number of nights per calendar year and in the four months left in the calendar year after county officials begin their terms of office.
The county attorney’s office still investigates residency challenges under Mulroy’s proposal. But the next step would be for the commission to hold a hearing on the matter if the county attorney recommends declaring a vacancy.
At such a hearing, the burden of proof is on the county attorney’s office to prove its belief that the commissioner doesn’t live in his or her district and the standard is a preponderance of the evidence.
The commission could conclude an elected official does not live in the district they represent and excuse the absence provided the official has a “sincere intention” to return to the district and has notified county officials within 30 days of moving of their change of address.
Mulroy’s other proposal is a residency certification form every county elected official would fill out that states the address given is their “primary residence and actual place in which I reside.” It that isn’t the case, the form includes wording that failure to comply “shall result in the vacancy of my elected office, by operation of law.”
Also on the commission’s agenda Monday is a $2.2 million state grant for a new pedestrian bridge over the Loosahatchie River at Benjestown Road in Frayser.
The local match to the federal funding that comes through the state is $750,000 to make the project a $3 million undertaking. Construction of the bridge is $2.7 million of the total with the rest of the money allocated for environmental work, design, right-of-way costs and engineering services from the state.
The bridge will be a link for future pedestrian and bicycle trails in Downtown Memphis and in the Shelby Forest area.