VOL. 129 | NO. 121 | Monday, June 23, 2014
Roland Challenges Brooks’ Votes
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland began taking steps last week to make a formal challenge of commission matters that have included votes by Commissioner Henri Brooks.
As the commission met in special session Thursday, June 19, Roland challenged her ability to vote, citing allegations that Brooks does not live in the district she has represented for the last eight years.
The Shelby County Attorney’s office is investigating Brooks’ residency.
Roland said his challenges were not an attempt to stop Brooks from voting but were made for a later challenge, on the advice of his attorney.
Brooks said the challenges were “inappropriate.”
“It does not serve the public well. We are talking about something that has not occurred,” she said of findings from the county attorney’s office.
She also likened the challenges to a “high-tech lynching.”
The latest chapter in the mounting challenge that could lead to Brooks’ ouster for violating the county charter provision on residency came as the commission met to deal with three matters left over from their budget deliberations.
With those votes, approving all three items, the commission has one decision left in their budget season.
When the commission meets in July it will settle the matter of the county’s property tax rate. It could approve the recommendation of county Mayor Mark Luttrell and lower the tax rate by 1 cent to $4.37 and take off the 4 cents extra on the rate paid by property owners outside the city of Memphis to pay the debt on bonds used to build Arlington High School.
Or the commission could keep the 4 cents on the tax rate outside Memphis and use the sales tax revenue from unincorporated Shelby County that Luttrell wants to use for the bond debt to instead fund prekindergarten classrooms.
At the special meeting Thursday, the commission approved a request for qualifications for an attorney or a consultant, which is a first step to conducting a new Shelby County disparity study.
The commission took the step after a coalition of local business leaders called for more aggressive action earlier this month for a larger share of county and city government contracts as well as private business opportunities for minority-owned firms.
The call is one of several reactions that followed Brooks’ confrontation with a Hispanic business owner in which Brooks criticized him for comparing the plight of Hispanics as minorities in Memphis to the plight of African-Americans.
The business leaders who called for more aggressive action were adamant that they didn’t believe a new study was necessary or would speed action on the issue. But several county commissioners say a new study using recent data is the only way that county government can legally change its program for minority business participation.
The commission also approved a $3 million one-year contract for the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center to operate the West Tennessee Regional Forensics Center. The university had the contract for 50 years but for the last eight years, a Nashville for-profit has operated the center for Shelby County government.
The contract is to take effect July 1 with the start of the new fiscal year and will include the development of forensic pathology scholarships at the university.
The contract has three one-year renewal options beyond the first year.
And the commission approved a resolution by Sidney Chism to grant MapSouth Inc., a nonprofit that provides food to the poor, $50,000 in the coming year.
If the residency investigation determines Brooks doesn’t live in her district and Roland pursues invalidating her votes on the budget items, Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a law professor at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, said he doubted it would invalidate the decisions themselves since taking Brooks’ vote out would not change the outcome of the decisions.