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VOL. 130 | NO. 68 | Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sammons Nomination Approved By Testy Council

By Bill Dries

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With an 11-0 vote, the Memphis City Council approved Tuesday, April 7, the return of former council member Jack Sammons to City Hall as the city’s new chief administrative officer.

Sammons will start his duties May 9.

But Sammons got a good look Tuesday at the work ahead of him in trying to mend the council’s relationship with Mayor A C Wharton Jr. in an election year.

Council member Jim Strickland, who is challenging Wharton in the October race for Mayor, abstained in the vote on Sammons after terming his selection by Wharton “clearly political.”

“It’s costing the taxpayers’ money by creating more six figure jobs at City Hall and more pension costs,” he said, referring to outgoing CAO George Little remaining with the administration at his present salary while Sammons is paid $155,012 a year.

Wharton has said hiring Sammons and retaining Little will not result in any net increase in spending by the mayor’s office because he plans on eliminating other positions.

“But that raises the question why were those jobs filled in the first place if they can be eliminated so easily,” Strickland said. “The answer is because the mayor’s budget is bloated.”

Earlier in the day at City Hall, Sammons watched as council members questioned Little closely about complaints from city retirees that the city’s efforts to audit the number of retirees remaining on the city’s health insurance plan after changes to the benefits.

The administration estimated the one year of extended health insurance coverage would be for about 300 retirees and their spouses. But approximately 1,000 signed up for the plan and had an April deadline from an auditing firm hired by the city to submit proof they qualified.

Council members wanted to know more about the process and when Little said he didn’t know, the council members were vocal in their criticism.

Later, the council approved delaying the deadline for submitting the proof to the end of May.

Council member Kemp Conrad made the proposal after saying he called the telephone number the outside firm is giving retirees to call and was promptly put on “eternal wait.” Council member Berlin Boyd said he has the same experience.

Council member Harold Collins, who announces whether he is in or out of the mayor’s race Wednesday, was also sharply critical of the administration over a $6 million truck stop at Lamar and Winchester that Speedway LLC called off Tuesday.

Speedway’s attorney said the company called off the project because city officials notified them last week that the city needed the property for right of way construction of improvements to Lamar Avenue. That was after the developers had already spent $200,000 on plans and paid several thousand dollars in city fees for a project that cleared the Land Use Control Board and the Office of Planning and Development.

The council approved special use permits for a new boutique hotel conversion of the Scimitar Building on the southeast corner of Third Street and Madison Avenue as well as a recycling site at Fullen Dock and Warehouse in Frayser.

A resolution to create a 5 percent Graceland Tourism Development Zone surcharge was approved on the first of three readings by the council. The measure had been a resolution but became an ordinance on the advice of council attorney Allan Wade who said there might be more amendments to the proposal by third and final reading next month.

The council also approved a $1 a year lease deal through Sept. 30, 2033 for the public boat ramp north of the A.W. Willis Bridge between Mud Island and the mainland. The U.S. Coast Guard, whose Memphis headquarters is also at the boat ramp, will lease and maintain the ramp “for the benefit and use of the general public.”

And the council approved $5.2 million in construction funding to repair sanitary sewer piping beneath the Wolf River.

PROPERTY SALES 64 151 1,493
MORTGAGES 45 105 1,152
BUILDING PERMITS 201 410 3,466