VOL. 127 | NO. 202 | Tuesday, October 16, 2012
City Council to Vote on Discrimination Ordinance
By Bill Dries
With a legal opinion from City Attorney Herman Morris in hand, Memphis City Council members on Tuesday, Oct. 16, again take up an ordinance that would ban the city from discriminating in hiring and promotions based on sexual orientation.
The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.
The council delayed a vote on third and final reading last month after council attorney Allan Wade and then Morris questioned whether the proposal was a change to the city charter that would require approval by a referendum.
The question was raised after the council approved an amendment that specifically included sexual orientation along with national origin, ethnicity, age and disability as areas the city could not use in making personnel decisions.
Morris’ legal opinion is that the proposal is not a change to the city charter and it does not require a referendum.
The key, he and senior assistant City Attorney C.C. Drayton wrote, is in the part of the city charter and the city code that says “other non-merit factors” cannot be used to make such decisions.
“The plain and unambiguous language … indicates that the drafters intended to leave open the possibility of other factors beyond those listed in the charter and the ordinance,” they wrote.
The ordinance, sponsored by council member Lee Harris, does not extend the standard to firms or individuals doing business with the city by contract agreement.
There is expected to be lots of debate before the final vote.
The ordinance is one of three spirited discussions Tuesday at City Hall.
The other two will be during committee sessions.
At a 1:15 p.m. committee meeting, council members will hear more about the Vance Avenue Collaborative’s plan for revitalization of the area south of FedExForum.
The collaborative is proposing keeping the Foote Homes public housing development in place with no displacement of its residents. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration differs from the plan. It wants to demolish Foote Homes, the last of the city’s large public housing projects.
Ken Reardon, of the University of Memphis City and Regional Planning School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, who is leading the collaborative, has described the city’s goal as “a stealth plan.” He has also questioned whether federal money to finance the demolition and reconstruction would be better used to renovate Foote Homes and keep it in place for existing residents rather than relocate them.
As recently as last week, city Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb framed the administration’s direction on that and the issues of homelessness and poverty as a matter of “choices” for all citizens.
“We have to give everybody, not just somebody, but everybody choices,” he said to the gathering at Calvary Episcopal Church to announce the results of a survey to determine those among the homeless who are most vulnerable.
“We can resolve to tackle this problem of homelessness. We can tackle and resolve to eliminate public housing and we can tackle and resolve to eliminate poverty,” Lipscomb said. “Our real challenge is poverty. We have 160,000 people living in poverty here in Memphis. That’s unforgivable.”
Demolition of all of the other projects except one began in the late 1990s with federal funding over three presidential administrations. All of the developments have been converted to mixed-use, mixed-income developments with the federal funding used to leverage private investment.
The Lauderdale Courts development, now called Uptown Square, was among those converted to the model. But its brick buildings were not demolished like the others because the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The status prohibits the use of federal funds also for demolition.
Council members also will talk about the closing of the Whitehaven city golf course during an 11 a.m. session. The golf course is scheduled to close in November with its events center remaining open. The council made the decision during its budget season earlier this year. Last month, the Wharton administration told the council it wants to reverse the decision, keep Whitehaven open and instead close the Davy Crockett city golf course in Frayser.
So far, the council has left its earlier decision intact. No vote on the matter is scheduled Tuesday.
Also on the council’s agenda Tuesday is $873,027 in funding toward the construction of 834 curb ramps that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Dixieland Contractors has the construction contract, which is funded with a state grant that pays 80 percent of the cost while city government matches the remaining 20 percent.
And the council votes on a planned development at the old Annesdale mansion, 1325 Lamar Ave. at Snowden Circle. The planned development gives the owners of the 7.22 acres the ability to hold special events on the grounds and in the historic home.