VOL. 130 | NO. 179 | Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Lipscomb’s Exit Prompts Delay in EDGE Merger
By Bill Dries
A move to merge two Memphis economic development agencies has intersected with the exit of Robert Lipscomb as the city’s Housing and Community Development director.
A Memphis City Council committee moved Tuesday, Sept. 15, to put on hold the merger of the Community Redevelopment Agency into the Economic Development Growth Engine.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton in March proposed folding CRA, currently part of the city-county Office of Planning and Development, into EDGE.
Several council members saw it as a shift of Lipscomb’s considerable power and federal funding for redevelopment, in his two roles as HCD director and Memphis Housing Authority director.
Lipscomb resigned in September following an accusation of sexual misconduct made directly to Wharton, which prompted an ongoing police investigation.
“It looks like you guys want that power,” council member Janis Fullilove said to EDGE president and CEO Reid Dulberger. “You have enough power already. And now you want more and more and more. It’s like we’ve created a monster here and it has to be controlled somewhat.”
Council member Wanda Halbert also was suspicious of Lipscomb’s exit and Wharton’s move to get council approval of the merger prior to Shelby County Commission approval.
“All we know is what we’ve seen in the media,” she said of the Lipscomb investigation. She called for a private briefing for council members.
The set of four ordinances would give EDGE control of the Uptown and Highland Row trust funds now administered by the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Dulberger argued the transition would make the agency more active in redevelopment funding and loans. CRA currently has funded just the Uptown and Highland Row projects in the last 15 years. He envisions upping that to three to four a year.
Council member Berlin Boyd said perception is as important as reality. And he cited questions he fielded Monday, Sept. 14, at a council candidates’ forum about government incentives for development.
Boyd called the merger a “watered down effort to dilute the power” of the council, saying EDGE is “becoming a Loch Ness Monster” and “one of the most powerful entities in the city.”
Council member Alan Crone called for the delay to hold public forums. He also said the ordinances should be acted on either by the existing council or the new council that takes office in January, but they shouldn’t “straddle” the two council groups.
“This seems to me to be too big of a decision on how this community is going to handle economic development,” Crone said. “We need to do something outside the box because we need to go far beyond where we are now. And we need to go far beyond where we are now in places other than the places in the core of the city. It needs to start spreading out.”