VOL. 131 | NO. 42 | Monday, February 29, 2016
Council To Discuss Limiting End-of-Agenda Speakers
By Bill Dries
With six new members, the Memphis City Council’s committee sessions so far this year have included several briefings about various parts of city government and council procedures.
But when the council Rules Committee meets Monday, Feb. 29, there could be a move by some council members to change the rules that have allowed citizens to speak at the end of council meetings on any topic they wish.
There will at least be some discussion of that Monday during the meeting being billed as “an orientation session to review the rules of procedure and the city charter.”
The review follows a visit to Edmund Ford Jr.’s father’s funeral business by a uniformed Memphis Police officer whom Ford complained to police about.
The officer was the husband of Fran Triplett. She has attended all but one of the city council’s twice-a-month meetings for the last two years.
Triplett is a vocal critic of the council’s decision over those two years to change the pension and health benefits of city employees including police officers.
Police officers and firefighters have been among the most vocal critics at the council meetings over those two years, and have held large protests outside City Hall on council days.
Some speaking at the council sessions yelled and cajoled Ford by name as well as others on the council for not paying closer attention to them.
Triplett, at the Feb. 16 council meeting, questioned why Ford mentioned her by name two months earlier at the one council meeting she missed. In the comment, Ford said his constituents in council District 6 didn’t agree with Triplett. And Ford urged her to come to his district where they would “reciprocate.”
Triplett said she felt threatened and her husband took time on the job to see Ford at the funeral business.
“I already have a target on my back because I am an officer’s wife,” she told the council. “My husband was concerned for my safety and my well being.”
Ford wasn’t there. He later complained to police brass.
“You don’t come to a person’s place of business in uniform,” Ford said after Triplett spoke. “So if you want to talk about somebody threatening – you don’t do that because every person that I’ve talked to of a higher rank than your husband has informed me that your husband was out of order.”
He also invited Triplett to a town hall meeting in his district.
“The 72 percent of people who voted for me can’t wait to see you,” he said. “If you or your husband ever try that again. Oh, I will file charges. So, your next address could be 201 Poplar.”
Ford is the chairman of the Rules Committee. Current practices like speakers having the ability to give up their two minutes of speaking time to another speaker are likely to come up on Monday.
Triplett has been able to speak for up to 10 minutes from such a practice, as has Donna Bohannon, another frequent speaker at the end of council sessions.
Bohannon’s topic is Smart Meters that are about to be installed across the city by Memphis Light Gas and Water Division.
She believes the meters start fires and that opt-out provisions for citizens who don’t want the meters should be more stringent. Bohannon also liberally plugs her radio talk show on the topic.
Other elected bodies have a patchwork of practices for comments from citizens. Some allow other people to give a single speaker their allotted time. Some don’t.
The council is among the bodies that permits citizens to fill out cards to speak on agenda items before the council votes on that particular item.
The end-of-the-agenda speakers include citizens who believe in a number of conspiracy theories. Still other citizens speak at the end of the meeting seeking help for a particular problem, which can range from being unemployed to seeking speed humps on their street or a traffic light. And others speak on items that will be on the council’s agenda at future meetings.
Walter Broady, a regular at council meetings for several years, prays for the city and is often the last of the speakers. When he misses meetings, council members often call to check on him.
It’s a council tradition that dates back to the 1970s when Cornelia Crenshaw was the most notable of those speakers.
Crenshaw was a vocal critic of Memphis Light Gas and Water policies and rates. She had been involved in the sanitation workers’ strike of 1968, a dramatic chapter in the city’s history that often played out in confrontations at City Hall.
Before her death in 1994, the council honored its longest running gadfly much to Crenshaw’s surprise. A public library branch on Vance Avenue, the street where Crenshaw lived for a long time without utilities as part of her protest, is named in her honor.
Sukara Yahweh, another figure from the 1960s who as Lance Watson was a member of the militant group The Invaders, is among the current group of regulars at the end of the council sessions.
Yahweh is among opponents of the fluoridation of the city’s drinking water.
“We’ve got people who in fact have been poisoned, using the fluoride hazardous waste material that is being put in the water,” Yahweh told council members at the February meeting after Ford and Triplett exchanged words. “Little black boys get cancer in their bones because of this fluoride.”