VOL. 126 | NO. 237 | Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Commission Approves Flat Bonus, Moves Toward Redistricting End Game
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners approved a flat $650 bonus per county employee Monday, Dec. 5, after a lengthy debate about what to do with $2.5 million of an $8.7 million surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The Luttrell administration had proposed an across the board 1.5 percent bonus for all employees as its first preference. The flat amount bonus as proposed by Commissioner Walter Bailey and approved by the commission will show up on Dec. 15 paychecks.
The percentage bonus was a casualty of a wide ranging commission debate in which some commissioners said the county owed the bonus to employees, others said it wasn’t owed and still others said the money should be used to pay down the county’s debt or be parceled out to school teachers in both public school systems to use for school supplies.
The proposal for school supplies by Commissioner Chris Thomas fell by the wayside to concerns about whether the money would have to be split between the two school systems based on average daily attendance and whether it might create a maintenance of effort obligation.
“This is what we took away from the employees. This makes them whole,” said Commissioner Terry Roland referring to county government belt tightening measures that took effect in the current fiscal year. “This is not a bonus. This is what we took away from them.”
“We do not owe this money,” countered Commissioner James Harvey who argued for several other uses including money for the homeless or to restore some lost government jobs.
“We hurt people in order to create a surplus,” he added. “We didn’t earn it.”
Harvey compared the bonus to “corporate welfare” and “white collar gangsters that take from taxpayers.”
In other action, the commission set a special Friday, Dec. 9, meeting at 8 a.m. to take a vote on third and final reading of an ordinance that sets new district lines for the commission.
The redistricting plan would keep the size of the body at 13 members but create seven districts instead of the current five. The proposal that was approved on second reading Monday would create six districts with two members elected to each of those districts and leave a single member seventh district.
It passed with seven votes. But passage of any redistricting plan on third and final reading will require a nine vote two-thirds majority.
There didn’t appear to be nine votes present for the plan Monday as a new alternative emerged to adjust the district boundaries to account for the 2010 U.S. Census results.
The alternative proposed by Commissioner Heidi Shafer would keep the existing five district made up of four districts with three members each and a single member fifth district.
Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne said the commission has to approve a plan by Dec. 15 or the county could find itself vulnerable after that point to someone taking the county to Chancery Court over the failure to meet the deadline.
Some commissioners were concerned about the possibility. Others said they doubted such a legal challenge would remain if the commission was a week or two past the deadline.
“It’s not like the courts are going to automatically have jurisdiction,” said Commissioner Steve Mulroy, an attorney and University of Memphis Law School professor. “It’s not as dire as you think,”
Commissioner Walter Bailey, also an attorney, however, said he was concerned that once a lawsuit was filed, a judge might not dismiss it if the commission approves a plan just past the deadline.
If the seven district proposal that passed on second reading Monday were amended at Friday’s meeting to the five district proposal Shafer advocates, the vote would not be the final vote. An ordinance amended on third and final reading must undergo another vote before it becomes final.
Some commissioners are talking of another special meeting possibly during committee sessions on Wed., Dec. 14.
The commission agreed to an amendment by Commissioner Mike Ritz that if any commissioner resigns before the new county elections in 2014, the commission will appoint someone to the vacancy who lives within the existing set of district lines instead of the new lines that would be used in the 2014 elections.
Meanwhile, an ordinance establishing care standards for pets in Shelby County outside Memphis was also approved Monday on the first of three readings after more debate about the role of government in setting such standards. It is a companion measure to another proposed ordinance that also passed on first reading that requires the sterilization of dangerous or vicious dogs.