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VOL. 126 | NO. 236 | Monday, December 5, 2011

Luttrell Proposes Employee Bonuses

By Bill Dries

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A one-time pay bonus for county employees the same year that jobs were cut in county government tops the Monday, Dec. 5, agenda of the Shelby County Commission.

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is proposing the bonuses show up in Dec. 15 paychecks. They would be a one-time use of $3.7 million of an $8.7 million surplus in the previous fiscal year.

The commission will also vote on the second of three readings of a redistricting plan that will change the structure but not the overall size of the 13-member body.

The commission would go from its current setup of four multi-member districts represented by three commissioners each and one single-member district to six multi-member districts represented by two commissioners each and one single-member district.

The version of the plan on second reading was amended in committee sessions last week to tweak some of the borders.

Six of the 13 commissioners have no political stake in the redrawing of the lines. They are serving their second consecutive four-year term of office and are term-limited to two terms by the county charter.

Two of the proposed districts have no incumbent in them who could seek re-election in the 2014 county elections. One of the proposed districts, District 5, has no incumbent at all within its boundaries, which take in parts of Frayser and North Memphis.

The plan is in line with a move by Commissioner Mike Ritz to have the districts be all within the city of Memphis or all in the county outside of Memphis.

Five of the seven districts would be 100 percent Memphis territory. One of the two remaining districts is all county territory outside Memphis. The other district is predominantly county territory with 0.1 percent of the area in the city limits of Memphis.

The county outside the city, including all six suburban municipalities, is now represented by the three commissioners in District 4.

The plan amended in committee last week is within the 10 percent deviation either way for the ideal equal district size. The previous plan approved on first reading had a 9.5 percent variance. The amended plan is 8.6 percent.

That number, however, was high enough to give some on the commission pause.

Commissioner Brent Taylor, who said he feared a court challenge, said 8.6 percent seemed like a lot.

“I’m not sure we could defend that this spread is necessary,” he said. “There are other plans we could adopt … that would reduce that variance.”

That would include a set of 13 single-member districts being advocated by Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who is among the term-limited commissioners.

“It’s permissible if it is necessary. I still have yet to figure out why it’s necessary,” Mulroy said. “We seem to be stuck on this notion of multi-member districts.”

Commissioner Terry Roland, who is not among those term-limited, however, likes the idea of two multi-member districts outside the city, which would give the county an extra representative.

“I’m under the belief that if you’ve got one that’s working and one that can’t be there, at least you’ve got one to fall back on,” he said.

Also on the agenda is first reading of an ordinance that would spell out a specific “standard of care” pet owners must meet in unincorporated parts of Shelby County. It’s modeled after a Memphis ordinance.

“There’s a gap in what our animal control officers currently can do,” said Assistant County Attorney Janet Shipman, who drafted the ordinance and works with the Shelby County Health Department. “When they go out there and see something … the animal control officer didn’t have the ability to cite that condition.”

But several commissioners were concerned that standards for having fresh food and water in dishes and for judging whether a dog’s fur is matted could be too subjective.

“I do believe this is an overreach the way it’s worded. I have very strong concerns about putting in another layer of law that makes us feel good but isn’t actually going to do anything,” said Commissioner Heidi Shafer, who questioned how it could be enforced with only three animal control officers. “I don’t want to have another busybody government bureaucratic office getting involved in people’s business and telling them what to do.”

PROPERTY SALES 56 295 6,392
MORTGAGES 26 180 4,035
BUILDING PERMITS 128 840 15,361
BANKRUPTCIES 31 153 3,270