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VOL. 126 | NO. 101 | Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mayors Launch Office of Sustainability

By Bill Dries

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When Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell launch their joint office of sustainability this week, it will be the latest move in a continuing realignment of both local governments.

The changes affect the way local government does business and who it does business with.

The two mayors will talk about the new joint office Tuesday, May 24. The office will carry out the “Sustainable Shelby” plan developed in 2008 to further green initiatives in the city and the county outside Memphis.

The recommendations in the plan range from incentives for reclaiming properties in existing neighborhoods to converting the local government fleets to alternative energy or hybrids to watershed management strategies.

The 2008 plan has 151 recommendations. The initiative began during Wharton’s tenure as Shelby County mayor.

Meanwhile, Wharton plans to launch an overhauled minority- and local-business promotion entity for city government in early June.

Wharton talked generally about the plans this month as Memphis City Council members pushed him for details and commitments on minority- and local-business participation in several economic development projects, including the Great American Steamboat Co. project. (For details on the steamboat project, see the Thursday, May 19, edition at www.memphisdailynews.com.)

Wharton’s effort will include an executive order on levels of minority business involvement for city contracts and in other spending of city funds with private businesses.

“You will have a program that you will not have to deal with this issue on a case-by-case-by-case basis,” Wharton told the council. “We’re going to have one entity responsible for this whole game of when we bring businesses in here.”

Council member Harold Collins pushed and got a commitment from Wharton to work to guarantee at least 35 percent minority- and local-business participation in the GASC project.

“I’ve voted on these things now for the last four years, and I assure you I don’t want to be voting on things like this anymore and then 60 days later, 120 days later or a year later, folks call me and say, ‘I never heard from these people,’” Collins said. “The needle is only at 1 percent,” he added, referring to the percentage of minority business done by the city.

“I’m not going to get defensive on this at all,” Wharton replied. “I am not satisfied with the color of economic opportunity in this town. And anybody who is satisfied ought to have his or her head examined. That’s the crux of so many economic problems in this town.”

Last week, Shelby County commissioners approved an ordinance on the second of three readings that would enact a local preference purchasing program for county government.

The program, proposed by commissioner Mike Ritz, would set up a procedure to qualify local businesses for the preference and verify they are local.

It was based on Cardinal Chrysler Jeep Dodge Inc., a car dealership in Louisville, Ky., winning and continuing to win bids for Memphis government vehicles.

“They try to make themselves look local because they literally rent an office somewhere in Memphis,” Ritz said. “They’re not local.”

The next day, City Council members came across the dealership in a list of three car dealerships from which Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division is buying cars. Council member Janis Fullilove asked if the company is local. She was told by MLGW president Jerry Collins the company “has a local office.”

The council approved the item.

Ritz’s proposal has a sliding scale of 1 to 2.5 percent variance in the cost difference to be considered between locally owned businesses and other businesses bidding for county business. The higher percentage is for contracts up to $500,000. The lowest percentage is for contracts of more than $1 million.

The commission amended the ordinance to give the county purchasing agent some discretion, including the ability to divide single-bid packages into several small-bid packages.

The Luttrell administration has pledged to work toward the goal.

“This resolution has potential to increase the cost of goods and services,” said county Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy. “However, the administration certainly is supportive of awarding as much business as possible to locally owned business.”

Some commissioners opposed the ordinance on second reading, saying it would increase bureaucratic paperwork for business owners.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159