VOL. 128 | NO. 212 | Wednesday, October 30, 2013
EDGE Board Remains on Political Hot Seat
By Bill Dries
The next time Shelby County Commissioners gather to talk over funding for the Economic Development Growth Engine, they hope to have EDGE leaders and city leaders in their committee room.
The commission delayed action Monday, Oct. 28, on a resolution of intent that would have announced commissioners’ intention to block their confirmation of any appointees to the EDGE board by the city of Memphis.
The resolution, delayed to the Nov. 18 session of the commission and referred to a Nov. 6 committee session, would hold up county confirmation of the appointees until the city pays its full share of the cost to city and county governments of running the organization.
Commissioner Mike Ritz proposed the resolution to “send a message” to City Hall and specifically Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell pledged to put up $15 million toward the creation of EDGE, using funds the two governments split evenly from the sale of the old Defense Depot land.
Luttrell put up $7.5 million on behalf of county government, but Wharton diverted the city’s $7.5 million to other uses, with Luttrell and Wharton later working out what amounts to installment payments by the city.
The last of those payments is due June 30, 2015, the end of the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014. The EDGE board ratified the payment plan.
But Ritz and several other commissioners contend Luttrell didn’t have the authority to renegotiate terms without approval from the commission.
“It’s an incredibly bad precedent to set,” Ritz said.
Luttrell has said Ritz should take his disagreement to the EDGE board. Ritz is a non-voting member of the EDGE board.
Luttrell also argued Monday that holding up Wharton’s nominations for the board would inject politics into an economic development organization the two mayors worked hard to keep politics out of and away from the citizen board members.
“This pulls them into the political arena,” Luttrell said. “There are other ways to send the message.”
If the commission does not approve Wharton’s nominees, his existing nominees would continue to serve past their terms on the board. The EDGE board would continue to operate.
Commissioner Heidi Shafer termed the action “trivial” and a “one-way spitting contest.”
Commissioner Henri Brooks called for a “little diplomacy.”
“This is not China bashing the U.S., but that’s what it sounds like,” she said. “You talk like Memphis is a … deadbeat foreign country.”
Other commissioners saw the resolution as a way for the county to take complete control of the EDGE organization.
Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said he understood the city’s thinking because EDGE efforts would remain focused on Memphis even without the city’s participation or funding.
Commissioner Terry Roland linked the installment plan on EDGE to other money the city owes, including a court judgment on school funding and shifting city priorities, including a Beale Street expansion and Mid-South Fairgrounds renovation.
“If you’ve got all these ideas, why don’t you pay us?” Roland said. “They have failed miserably. This is sending a message.”
Ritz’s resolution encouraging the Shelby County Health, Education and Housing Facility Board to limit its financing to projects either within Shelby County or projects by developers from Shelby County was voted down Monday on a 4-5 vote.
Ritz fared better on a third resolution that would cap property tax increment financing approved by the Community Redevelopment Agency to a term of 15 years. It passed on a 9-0 vote.