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VOL. 130 | NO. 226 | Thursday, November 19, 2015

Memphis City Council Heads For Rocky End Of Term

By Bill Dries

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With only two meetings left, Memphis City Council members are on their way toward what looks to be a rocky end of their four-year term of office together.


And the council’s annual election of a new chairman Tuesday, Nov. 17, for the coming calendar year didn’t help matters.

“I’m so glad some of you are leaving I don’t know what to do,” council member Janis Fullilove said after losing her bid to become council vice-chairman.

The current council vice chairman Kemp Conrad was elected chairman without opposition Tuesday. And council member Edmund Ford was elected over Fullilove as the new vice chairman for the next year.

Fullilove said she was “disappointed” with the results, accused male council members of “disrespecting” her and vowed that she would be elected chairwoman in 2017.

“I knew the first four years that I was here that I had gotten myself in all kinds of trouble. I did it,” she said. “But I vowed to myself that I was going to straighten my act up and do what I was elected to do.”

“For those of you that remain, you watch out for me,” she added. “I’m going to embrace every one of these new council members, and I’m going to be council chair in 2017. You can take that to the bank.”

The other woman on the council, Wanda Halbert, agreed.

“I would hope in the upcoming year … that the members of the council can show a little more respect for diversity and inclusion,” she said. “It’s an insult. I hope the women of Memphis don’t stand for that in the future. I don’t know what the issue is.”

Meanwhile, the council delayed votes Tuesday on the Central Station redevelopment project as well as the Graceland West expansion in Whitehaven. They had questions about the details and received few answers from the administration of outgoing Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.

The two-week delay on a Central Station package, which included the lease and financing arrangements, was ultimately called for by the administration

The resolution also includes $600,000 in city funds for the $55 million project. The city funding would be a match for $2.4 million in federal grant funds that go toward public improvements.

Alex Turley, who arranged the project’s financing, said construction on a five-screen Malco movie theater as well as apartments is ready to begin, and developers are anxious to begin the work before the onset of winter. Otherwise, he said the major part of construction would have to wait until the spring.

Council member Harold Collins asked for the administration’s position, which wasn’t forthcoming, leading some council members to say that Wharton and his team hadn’t reviewed the agreements.

Demar Roberts, an aide to city chief administrative officer Jack Sammons, said the delay is to “allow us the opportunity to make sure all council members have been briefed appropriately and totally understand the project we are proposing.”

The council also delayed until Dec. 15, its last meeting of the calendar year, a vote on the Graceland West development – the third phase of the $250 million renovation, expansion and update of the Graceland campus by Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Graceland West refers to the plaza area on the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, across the street from the mansion.

The council delayed its vote on the planned development Tuesday after some homeowners near the site said they didn’t get notice of the project or its move to the council for approval.

Most said they approved of the project but wanted to know more about its impact on their homes.

The council also voted down a move to discuss in committee a recent call by the Shelby County Democratic Party for partisan primaries in city elections. The move would require a referendum, which the council would have to approve, to change the city charter and allow such primaries.

“We have partisan elections on the federal level. If you want Memphis to be more like Washington D.C. or Nashville, vote for partisan elections,” said council member Jim Strickland, who is a former chairman of the local Democratic Party. “It has not worked in the county. We have enough issues to deal with here.”

Council chairman Myron Lowery said with only two meetings left in the current council’s term of office, it’s not an ordinance it could approve in the required three readings.

“And if you are a new council member coming in, you are not going to take kindly to changing the process,” Lowery said.

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