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VOL. 129 | NO. 116 | Monday, June 16, 2014

County Commission to Weigh New Disparity Study

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners consider a start Monday, June 16, toward a new disparity study as a way to changing the county’s efforts in increasing minority business participation in government contracts.

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

On the agenda is a resolution by commission chairman James Harvey that originally called for $250,000 to hire special counsel for the county to guide the move to a new disparity study.

In committee sessions last week, other commissioners amended the resolution to take out the dollar amount and start the process with either a request for proposals or request for qualifications.

The move to a disparity study comes as African-American business leaders last week called for a renewed effort to improve minority business participation in general, as well as in local government contracts. Some leaders of the effort specifically said another disparity study is not needed to begin moving more aggressively.

But commissioners who expressed some of the same reservations also said county government policy can’t be changed without such a study.

“We cannot essentially change the way the county is doing business on this without a disparity study,” said Commissioner Mike Ritz. “We can’t just take action. … Probably most of us would prefer to do it that way, but we can’t. We need the disparity study, and it needs to be defensible. This county has a terrible history on this subject.”

Ritz was referring to successful legal challenges of county government quotas for minority participation by general contractors.

The resolution got the votes of all eight commissioners in committee Wednesday, June 11.

“If what we want to do is really impact it, I think we need to recognize the disparity study may not actually get us there and we need to take it to a deeper level,” said Commissioner Heidi Shafer, who favors a larger share of county contracts for minority-owned businesses.

Shelby County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Justin Ford confer on a matter.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

She complained that some businesses hire a few minorities to meet the technical qualifications in what she called a “discount straw-man business.”

“I’m looking for something meaningful to come out of this,” she said.

Also on Monday’s agenda is the second of three readings of two competing county property tax rate ordinances the commission is considering.

In one version, county Mayor Mark Luttrell’s administration is proposing doing away with the 4 cents extra on the property tax rate outside Memphis that pays off rural school bonds used to build Arlington High School. It would also lower the $4.38 rate by 1 cent.

The other version, backed by Ritz and Commissioner Steve Mulroy, would keep the 4 cents on the tax rate for property owners outside Memphis.

Mulroy is pursuing a related action that would use the sales tax revenue Luttrell proposes to use to pay off the school bond debt for an expansion of prekindergarten instead.

In other budget items, the commission takes a final vote on the Shelby County Schools budget, including recent amendments.

And an ordinance that would raise the pay of Shelby County Schools board members from $4,200 a year to $15,000 a year, with $16,000 a year for the chairman, is on Monday’s agenda for third and final reading.

The commission also votes on the Forest Hill Park Office Complex planned development on the west side of Forest Hill-Irene Road, south of Winchester Road.

The development calls for seven single-story office buildings, according to the concept plan submitted by Dan Walker Associates Inc. But the buildings could have a maximum height of four stories as the complex is developed in phases.

The 7.7-acre lot is residential with a single home surrounded by numerous old trees.

The land uses would include funeral services, a hotel, an animal hospital, an indoor self-storage facility that could be several stories tall and a contractor’s office with indoor storage.

The commission votes on $18,925 in legal fees from the federal lawsuit over the schools merger and demerger, as well as $140,213 for new audiovisual equipment for the commission chambers, which are undergoing a renovation and should reopen in September.

Another resolution includes $190,258 in funding for furniture and installation for the new Public Defender Juvenile Defense Unit at 600 Adams Ave. The unit, which handles independent legal counsel for indigent juveniles at Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court, is one of the major changes in Juvenile Court’s due process procedures.

PROPERTY SALES 69 119 21,696
MORTGAGES 64 113 16,530
BANKRUPTCIES 28 64 6,781