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VOL. 132 | NO. 166 | Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Confederate Monuments Controversy Comes to City Hall

By Bill Dries

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The question of timing in removing two Confederate monuments from city parks arrives at City Hall Tuesday, Aug. 22.

A Memphis City Council resolution that would instruct the city administration to immediately remove and/or sell Confederate monuments in city parks is scheduled for discussion at the 2:15 p.m. executive session and could be added to the council agenda or voted on later at the first council session in September.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has said the immediate removal of the statues would violate state law. His administration is instead pushing ahead with an appeal to the Tennessee Historical Commission for a waiver to take down the monuments under state law.

And if the commission denies the city’s appeal, Strickland has said the city is prepared to go to Chancery Court on the issue.

The Nathan Bedford Forrest statue at Health Sciences Park was covered up by protesters Saturday, Aug. 19, and will be a matter before the city council. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But Strickland has been adamant that he will not order the immediate removal called for by those participating in a series of protests and demonstrations as part of a “Take Them Down 901” movement in the last week.

The council discussion Tuesday is likely to include the council’s role under the city charter as the final word on the sale and use of city property, including park land.

Like the city became involved in a multi-year controversy between the Memphis Zoo and Overton Park Conservancy over the zoo’s use of the Overton Park Greensward for overflow parking.

The council acted in 2016 to give the zoo use of a portion of the greensward during a mediation effort to come up with a compromise. And the council negotiated and approved the compromise to create 415 new parking spaces in a reconfigured zoo parking lot that was independent of a compromise Strickland had outlined.

Strickland, during the process, affirmed that the final decision was ultimately up to the council.

The council discussions on Tuesday also are expected to feature legal opinions on what would happen should a council decision violate state law. Strickland has said because of the oath that the mayor and council members take to uphold state laws, as well as the city charter, the results of actions taken could lead to an ouster lawsuit to remove them from office.

Strickland could also use a rare veto of any council resolution on the matter that might be approved, which could involve a discussion about the separation of powers between the mayor and the council.

City Council member Bill Morrison has advocated a special session of the Tennessee Legislature to repeal the state law protecting such monuments.

As council members meet to discuss these issues, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will be in the city for a press conference on local tourism’s economic impact and the announcement of the next group of inductees for the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Haslam is certain to be asked about how the state will proceed on the divisive monuments issue.

The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

Council members are expected to add to the agenda an eight-year lease agreement – three years with five one-year options – for the Southern Heritage Classic to continue to use Liberty Bowl stadium, starting with this year’s classic on Sept. 9.

The contract calls for a base rent of $56,000 per game.

The contract is similar to one the council approved earlier this month with the University of Memphis for use of the Liberty Bowl for Tigers football games. Both contracts include provisions that allow for construction and other changes at the Fairgrounds that may affect parking and tailgate areas – without the city being held financially liable for the affect those changes may have on box office receipts.

The council is awaiting a third contract for the stadium’s use for the annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda is $1.7 million in city capital funding for “I Am A Man” plaza, the public space south of Clayborn Temple that is part of the city’s observance next year of the 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The church was a center of strike activity and the streets by the church were the starting point for daily marches by the strikers to City Hall.

The money is for planning and design of the plaza.

Council members also vote on the second of three readings of an ordinance that takes the city’s property tax rate to six decimal places for an official tax rate of $3.271481, instead of the previously rounded rate of $3.2715.

In planning and development items, the council is scheduled to vote on a convenience store with gas pumps at South Parkway and Interstate 240 by Spire Enterprises. The council has delayed two previous votes on the matter – the Land Use Control Board has recommended the council vote down.

Council member get an update at a 9 a.m. committee session on the Bakery Development the week after the development team announced Orion Federal Credit Union plans to move its Bartlett headquarters to the project located between Downtown and the Memphis Medical District. The Downtown Parking Authority also approved last week a 481-space parking garage as part of the development. It is called the Bakery Development because part of the site is where the old Wonder Bread bakery sits vacant.

At the 2:15 p.m. executive sessions, council members get updates on the Bicentennial Gateway Project, the nine-block area between the Pyramid and the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well as Graceland’s recent expansion in Whitehaven.

The administration presents a Jackson Avenue improvement project to council members in an 11 a.m. committee session.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 51 223 1,152
MORTGAGES 55 189 861
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 25 45 144
BUILDING PERMITS 149 541 2,593
BANKRUPTCIES 24 120 581
BUSINESS LICENSES 14 65 264
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0