VOL. 124 | NO. 241 | Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Kuhn Proposal Lifts Commission Mood
By Bill Dries
ROMANTIC RELIEF: Shelby County Commissioner Matt Kuhn proposes to Heidi Verbeek, deputy director of the Community Services Division, during Monday’s commission meeting. It was a rare moment of levity in what has been a tense four months for the government body.
PHOTO BY BILL DRIES
Shelby County Commissioners needed some levity this week as the year neared its end and the 2010 election season waited in the wings.
The body slogged through a battle for the chairmanship in September, 26 rounds of voting for an interim county mayor in November and more bad blood this week, including dueling motions to honor a former commissioner and a proposal to run a bus shuttle for county employees that workers on foot could beat.
So when Commissioner Matt Kuhn got down on one knee in the chamber and proposed to the deputy director of the county Department of Community Services, Heidi Verbeek, commissioners were happy to find unanimity in wishing the couple well.
Then they got back to business.
Less joyful tidings
Two resolutions are pending to rename the Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court and the Shelby County Administration Building in honor of late commissioner Vasco Smith. Both proposals were delayed this week to the Dec. 21 meeting. They will be discussed during Dec. 16 committee sessions.
Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed the Juvenile Court renaming. But Commissioner Henri Brooks said such a move clashes with plans she and other commissioners had made with the Smith family to rename the office building on the Main Street Mall where the commission meets and has its offices.
Commissioners also voted down a proposal by Commissioner James Harvey to study the idea of hiring a bus shuttle service to ferry county employees several blocks from surrounding parking lots to the administration building.
Harvey claimed it is unsafe for the employees to walk. In committee sessions last week, Harvey talked tentatively of a shuttle system that might pick up workers every 15 minutes and could cost an estimated $125,000.
Ritz accused Harvey of trying to create a contract for a specific company, although he didn’t name it.
“This is clearly an attempt by a commissioner to get a particular vendor new business with Shelby County,” Ritz said. “I think I ought to call it for what it is, Commissioner Harvey. … I don’t think the commission should be running interference for vendors. … And I’m going to call it out anytime I see it.”
Harvey said Ritz was “desensitized” to the needs of county employees because he and other commissioners have parking spaces in the county building garage.
“Crime is getting worse. We can expect anything from rape to vagrants to robbery.?Who knows?” Harvey responded. “With the time change, we have employees who are actually walking in the dark.”
Those pointed comments followed another heated debate over a move by Brooks to delay a resolution that would authorize the county Airport Authority to refinance $300 million in bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates as the year comes to an end.
The refinancing would probably be handled by Morgan Keegan, said Airport Authority attorney Sara Hall.
“We’ve made Morgan Keegan rich,” Harvey said as he and Brooks pushed for involving other financial firms to allow “other interested parties to have a chance to take an active role.”
“We hear it all the time. Sometimes I just get tired of hearing the same warmed-over stuff. ‘We’re under a timeline and we need to move this,’ when we are an over 70 percent population,” said Brooks, referring to her estimate of the black community in the county. “We have a number of individuals who come before us who look like me, who are of diverse ethnic backgrounds with the appropriate qualifications to do this; however, they are shunned and turned away.”
The move to delay was voted down and the resolution gives the green light to the Airport Authority to move on the refinancing.
Matter of perspective(s)
Meanwhile, the land deal in which developer Harold Buehler gets 140 parcels of tax-delinquent land in North Memphis was put to rest as the commission finally approved the minutes of an October meeting.
Brooks held up approval of the minutes for more than a month, claiming rules for public notice weren’t followed. She had hoped to void the earlier vote on those grounds. She also asked a commissioner who voted for the resolution to move for reconsideration.
Brooks has referred to Buehler as a “slumlord” and said the issues she raised about the process amounted to “substantial unanswered questions.” She also claimed Buehler arranged public financing to develop the lots “on false premises.”
Brooks also said there was a “substantial unanswered question about the validity of the title held by the city” that could lead to a lawsuit.
Commission Chairman Sidney Chism said the commission had already approved the item and the commission voted 8-2 to approve the minutes.