Pot Ordinance, County Ambulance Service Top County Commission Agenda

By Bill Dries

There are seven no votes on the Shelby County Commission against an ordinance allowing Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies to write a civil summons with a $50 fine for possession of a half ounce or less of marijuana.

Shelby County Commissioners meet Monday with a final vote scheduled on the ordinance that would permit Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies to write a civil summons with a $50 fine for possession of a half ounce or less of marijuana.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

And the ordinance is up for third and final reading Monday, Dec. 5, at the commission’s regular meeting.

The ordinance would apply to the unincorporated areas of Shelby County. Deputies would retain the option of arresting someone with that amount of pot on a misdemeanor criminal charge.

The commission meets at 3 p.m. at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, 125 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, for live coverage.

The county ordinance mirrors an ordinance approved by the Memphis City Council that applies to the city of Memphis only. But use of the option has been suspended by Memphis Police following a November legal opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

Slatery said the ordinance is not legal because it conflicts with state law and the powers of the Tennessee Legislature. He also opined that it limits the power of the district attorney general in such matters.

Nashville’s Metro government has a similar ordinance on the books and has decided to continue using it as it disputes Slatery’s legal opinion.

The Shelby County ordinance had seven no votes in committee session last week – commissioners Willie Brooks, Mark Billingsley, Terry Roland, Steve Basar, Eddie Jones, George Chism and Heidi Shafer.

That vote is not binding on Monday’s decision by the full commission.

Commissioner Reginald Milton, the co-sponsor of the measure with commissioner Van Turner, was the only yes vote in committee. Turner was absent.

The measure has failed on previous readings by the full commission.

The commission also takes a third and final vote Monday on Roland’s ordinance that would make assistant county attorneys part of the county’s civil service system and thus more difficult for a county mayor to dismiss.

The final vote on that ordinance comes after voters countywide in the Nov. 8 elections approved a county charter amendment that gives the commission the final say should the mayor decide to dismiss the county attorney.

Roland’s ordinance on assistant county attorneys failed on prior votes. But under county commission rules, a proposed ordinance can fail on first and/or second reading and still advance to a final vote on third reading.

The measure had three yes votes in committee with only three commissioners in attendance.

The commission also votes on the second of three readings on an ordinance that is an interlocal agreement with Millington, Lakeland and Millington to provide emergency ambulance services through the Shelby County Fire Department.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell moved to establish the ambulance service, including unincorporated Shelby County, as part of the county fire department after the company providing the service under contract – AMR Inc. (American Medical Response Inc.) – sought an increase in county funding three years into its contract with the county.

The commission approved in October a set of resolutions that establish the ambulance service for a total of $7.5 million. The service includes 60 new positions and a contract to buy or lease 12 ambulances – all by the new year. Those resolutions included a 12 percent increase in the county fire fee.

The interlocal agreement establishes initial financial contributions of $306,799 from Arlington, $356,133 from Lakeland and $538,533 from Millington, with another $2.7 million from county fire fees.

The interlocal agreement requires a two-thirds vote by the commission for approval and it also must be approved by each of the legislative bodies in Arlington, Lakeland and Millington. Lakeland explored establishing its own ambulance service before becoming part of the county agreement.

Some commissioners were also preparing resolutions to deal with increased costs from problems with the local criminal justice system’s new computer program. The Odyssey system replaced the JSSI system earlier this month, but there have been lots of problems, from glitches to criminal justice system employees learning how to use the new system.

General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton told commissioners last week he will need more money for overtime pay and to hire three temporary employees after General Sessions judges issued a court order requiring him to print out thousands of pages each day of court records and dockets.

Commissioners met in a private attorney-client session with county attorney Kathryn Pascover about the matter after some talked about litigation over problems with the new system.