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VOL. 127 | NO. 2 | Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wharton Keeps Most Division Directors, Shifts Some Duties

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is keeping the same team of division directors except two for his full four year term of office that started Sunday.

But the administration’s lobbyist in Nashville, TaJuan Stout Mitchell, is retiring and the position will change to be more of a contact person with the Memphis City Council instead of state legislators in Nashville.

Wharton submitted to the council Tuesday, Jan. 3, the names of 13 appointees to key positions including city chief administrative officer George Little.

The only change in the line up is the long talked about merger of the parks, public services and community enhancement divisions. Janet Hooks, who now heads public services is Wharton’s choice to be director of the merged division to be known as parks and neighborhoods.

The division will include the Memphis Public Library and Information Center, the Music Commission, Code Enforcement, the Second Chance program for convicted felons and the City Beautiful Commission.

Wharton said Hooks will work with three deputy directors including one specifically for the city’s set of parks. But he and Little said there would be no net increase in paid positions and no increase in the administration’s budget.

The council votes on the line up of returning division directors in two weeks. The council took the first of three votes Tuesday on the ordinance that sets up the merged division.

And Wharton said there will be some shifting of duties among other divisions to come.

One of the shifts is the retirement of Mitchell, a former council member and Memphis City Schools board member, which had been expected.

“We really don’t expect to get much out of Nashville. … The focus will be more so on working with this city council than with the (Tennessee) legislature,” Little said, citing what is expected to be a short legislative session because all 99 state house members and part of the state Senate are on the 2012 ballot. “We will still have a presence in Nashville. … We will not devote as much energy to Nashville.”

The position had been part of the city attorney’s office. It now becomes part of Little’s office. Little will also have direct supervision of a person who will coordinate the city’s response to blight as part of an “office of clean and green.” The coordinator will be a code enforcement official with a different job description and not the equivalent of a division director, he added.

Little said the moves are a reaction to an often fragmented city response to routine items like cutting grass in public rights of ways and on city-owned lots which has been spread across divisions “based on history rather than thinking it out.”

Meanwhile, the council approved a 20-year contract of a five year initial term and three five year renewal options with the non-profit Tri-State Youth Baseball Academy Inc. of Memphis to manage, operate and rebuild the baseball diamond at Jesse Turner/Bellevue Park in South Memphis

Tony James of the academy said his group will put up $60,000 upfront that it raises from private sources for the ballfield renovation. The non-profit will also pay all operating costs and charge fees for the use of the field. The city of Memphis will still run the rest of the park and will fund maintenance of the ball field at $2,450 a year.

The council delayed a vote on a formal contract for Memphis City Schools to manage and operate Halle Football Stadium in East Memphis. The 25-year contract makes formal what has been an informal arrangement for almost 40 years between the school system and the parks division.

A vote on the contract Tuesday was delayed for council members to get more answers about what happens to the contract when MCS merges in the summer of 2013 with what is now the separate Shelby County Schools system.

Also on the consent agenda for first reading with the parks division merger was a resolution to raise the hotel-motel occupancy or bed tax by 2.7 percent.

Also passing on first reading was a referendum ordinance that would change the city charter to convert budget planning to a six-year budget that consolidates the now-separate operating and capital improvements budgets. If approved two more times, the ordinance would put the charter change to Memphis voters on the Nov. 8, 2012 ballot.

The council gave final approval to a pair of ordinances that raise fees for the Memphis Animal Shelter to reclaim pets from the Memphis Animal Shelter that are caught running loose as well as to board animals deemed dangerous or vicious.

The retrieval fee goes from $7 to $15. The boarding fee is $68 each day.

Council member Wanda Halbert questioned why cats running loose aren’t rounded up the way dogs are.

“I don’t want dogs discriminated against,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to catch a cat,” council member Janis Fullilove replied.

The council delayed for two weeks setting a vote on plans for a 68-acre scrap and junk facility at Thomas St. and Royal Ave. in North Memphis.

The land south of the Wolf River on the east side of Thomas includes one standing building but is mostly vacant land that was once the site of much of the industrial infrastructure that defined the North Memphis economy for decades. It is the former site of the old Humko and E.H. Bruce plants.

The plans are opposed by the Uptown Neighborhood Association and council member Lee Harris requested the delay to get answers to questions about the environmental impact.

The area includes several scrap metal plants and the same stretch of Thomas includes the old Lazarov Salvage Yard.

The council voted down an attempt to reconsider its rejection in December of plans for the construction of a convenience store at Southern Ave. and Ellsworth St. The corner now has a gas station that would have remained with the new store building. Residents of the area near the University of Memphis opposed the development.

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