VOL. 131 | NO. 242 | Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Commission Votes Down Pot Ordinance
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners voted down Monday, Dec. 5, an ordinance that would have matched the city of Memphis ordinance allowing police the option of writing a civil summons or ticket with a $50 fine for possession of half an ounce or less or marijuana.
Third and final reading of the ordinance which would have applied to unincorporated Shelby County failed on a 4-6 vote by the commission. It had failed on the first two readings but advanced to final reading under the commission’s rules of procedure.
Commissioners Van Turner and Reginald Milton, the sponsors of the measure, were joined by Walter Bailey and chairman Melvin Burgess in voting for it.
“I think we all know where we are on this,” Turner said at the outset of the commission discussion which was more agreeing to disagree than a debate.
Turner and Milton said they wanted to take a step that would reduce arrests for misdemeanor possession that they contend disproportionately affects African-American citizens.
Commissioner Willie Brooks, however, said he visited the Shelby County Corrections Center and there was no one there doing time for misdemeanor pot possession as the only offense they were jailed for.
“This doesn’t send a positive message,” Brooks said of the proposal.
Commissioner Terry Roland said he understood the goals of Turner and Milton. But he said legislators in Nashville who plan to push to legalize medical marijuana next year believe the passage of similar ordinances in Memphis and Nashville will make it more difficult to pass the legislation.
Milton help up a half an ounce of a green leafy substance in a plastic bag as he disputed the claim by fellow commissioner Mark Billingsley during a November debate that half an ounce of marijuana sells for $3,000 on the street. Billingsley got the figure from local law enforcement.
“He was in that world of fantasy,” Milton said without naming Billingsley.
He added that critics of the measure are living an “Alice in Wonderland” existence that is “contrary to reality” about pot.
“I am right on the commission and you are wrong,” Milton said as he concluded his remarks.
In other action Monday, the commission approved $185,692 in additional funding for the General Sessions Court Clerk’s office to pay overtime as well as hire more employees to print court records including dockets for judges and the Sheriff.
The printing of the court records are by a court order the judges issued last month as the roll-out of a new computer system for the local criminal justice system went askew.
Commissioners sought assurances from clerk Ed Stanton that the increase in funding and positions would be temporary and not last into the next fiscal year. Stanton said he anticipated that would be the case. But neither he nor other county officials were willing to commit to a date when the problems might all be ironed out.
“We think about things in a little different way,” county chief information officer John Halbert said, framing the question as when will the new system “stabilize.”
His original estimate was January and that is still his best guess, he added under intense questioning from commissioner Eddie Jones.
“But I am deathly afraid of you holding me to that,” he said.
Halbert said the problems are a mixture of data entry errors that are decreasing as county employees become more familiar with the new Odyssey system and bugs in the software that have to be corrected.
Commissioners set a special meeting for Dec. 14 to vote on the second reading of two ordinances that would change county purchasing procedures to both enhance the amount of locally owned small businesses that get county contracts and establish a minority and women business enterprise program.
The delay comes as commissioners and business leaders debate the precise terms for the county government contracting. That includes whether the enterprise program should have language that sets specific standards for contracting with black-owned businesses instead of minority and women owned businesses in a single standard.
The commission and administration’s goal is to have the policies approved by year’s end. That’s why commissioners moved to have a special meeting on the matter next week. That would set third and final reading of both ordinances for Dec. 19, the final commission meeting of 2016.
With the delay, the commission then voted down a $1.3 million contract for security services at local county government facilities with Allied University Security Services.
Commissioners specifically questioned why a local business didn’t get the contract in a bidding process overseen by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. SCSO officials said they followed county procedures in the bidding.
The defeat of the contract means Allied will continue to provide security services on a month to month basis as they are currently. As that continues the county administration will rebid the contract.
Meanwhile, Turner and Roland pulled the third and final reading of their ordinance that would have made assistant county attorneys part of county government’s civil service system and thus more difficult for a county mayor to fire them. Turner said he wanted to perhaps redraw the measure.
The commission approved the second of three readings of an ordinance setting up interlocal agreements with the cities of Millington, Lakeland and Arlington for emergency ambulance service by the Shelby County Fire Department.