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VOL. 126 | NO. 70 | Monday, April 11, 2011

Wharton Orders All Impound Lot Employees On Leave

By Bill Dries

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All employees of the city of Memphis impound lot have been ordered to take paid leave next week and the Memphis Police Department will run the city facility for at least the next three months.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. took the steps Friday after months of an internal investigation of the lot where stolen and wrecked cars are taken. State and federal authorities are also believed to be investigating how the lot is run.

The city has been investigating thefts from cars on the lot, often after the car owners were already the victim of a crime that prompted their cars to be towed to the lot in the first place.

Memphis police set up cameras on the lot recently and caught a suspect breaking into a car. That suspect named a lot supervisor as his inside contact for the car break-ins. That supervisor has been charged in the break-in.

Wharton ordered all 26 employees of the lot in Frayser to take a week of paid leave. During that week, they will be interviewed by personnel supervisors and attorneys with the city attorney’s office. Those cleared after the interview will be transferred out of the impound lot, probably to the city’s parks and public works divisions.

“I am highly inclined to outsource that whole operation down there,” Wharton said during an afternoon press conference.

“If this were my private business, I could have gotten to the bottom of it much sooner. But there are certain rights that we have to recognize,” he added. “We are recognizing those civil service rights. But at the same time, we are going to get to the bottom of it.”

Wharton said the Memphis Police Department, along with two impound lot employees and a temporary employee, will run the lot for at least the next three months.

The step, he added, was necessary because corruption in the running of the lot was “so embedded and entrenched” that he felt the city has to take “broader steps.”

City chief administrative officer George Little said two full-time employees and one temporary employee would be available to assist police in running the lot. He also said the action does not imply that all employees of the lot are corrupt.

“Once the interviews are completed, the employees will be assigned to another department of city government for up to 90 days, assuming there are no serious infractions that are found,” he said of the others. “The allegations that are before us at this time are pervasive enough and serious enough that we feel that this rather … unprecedented action is indicated at this time.”

Since the probe of the lot began, Little said several private companies have contacted the city with offers to run the impound lot for the city. The city will at some point issue a formal request for proposals from any business to make an offer “to see what the market has available,” Little added.

PROPERTY SALES 91 158 16,219
MORTGAGES 98 179 18,735
BUILDING PERMITS 136 349 33,738
BANKRUPTCIES 63 115 10,429