VOL. 132 | NO. 27 | Tuesday, February 7, 2017
County Commission Approves Planned Parenthood Grant
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners approved a $115,000 grant Monday, Feb. 6, to Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region on a 7-5 party line vote.
The vote on funding for a free condom distribution program that is a federal grant passed through the state drew a capacity crowd in commission chambers Downtown. Some of the partisans in the audience saw the controversy as a reflection of the country’s post-election political divide.
Some commissioners saw the same reflection while others insisted it wasn’t about that or Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.
“I’m not for this outsourcing of government,” commissioner David Reaves said. He and several other commissioners questioned why the condom distribution program spread across four grants to four agencies, including Planned Parenthood, couldn’t have been done by the Shelby County Health Department.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said it could be done in-house by county government. But Luttrell pointed to the grant being a continuation over several years bringing into play a state requirement that local governments approve the providers or face losing that grant and potentially others.
Planned Parenthood officials had also said if the commission voted down the grant, it would file a lawsuit in Memphis Federal Court.
The commission was to vote on the grant in January, but delayed the vote after Reaves was mistakenly listed as a sponsor of the measure.
“They’ve done their job,” commissioner Reginald Milton said of Planned Parenthood during Monday’s commission debate. “There’s not justifiable reason to vote this down.”
Commissioner Van Turner, who serves on the local Planned Parenthood board as a volunteer, reacted strongly to a speaker from the audience who called the organization racist and likened support of it to support of slavery. Turner said the allegation was false and that he resented it.
He also said abortion was not the specific issue involved. Turner defined the issue as preventing the spread of the HIV virus.
“This funding has nothing to do with abortion,” he said. “You know this is a life and death situation.”
Commissioner Walter Bailey, the sponsor of the funding resolution, took a middle ground of sorts in the commission debate.
He said opponents of the grant “have legitimate concerns.”
“You can’t just shrug them off,” he said, before adding that he would support the grant for the program because it is the “only game in town.”
Commissioner Terry Roland, who opposed the grant, introduced a resolution that would add wording to future grants of more than $50,000 specifying that acceptance of those grants is contingent on the commission approving it.
County chief administrative officer Harvey Kennedy said there could be “serious unintended consequences” and that he didn’t believe grants were one of the eight exceptions to the county mayor’s exclusive contract authority.
Roland referred the item to committee sessions for further discussions.
In the 7-5 vote on the grant, commissioner Mark Billingsley recused himself because he works for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, which is one of the agencies receiving one of the other grants that some regard as a package of four grants. Because of that connection, Bilingsley said he could have a conflict of interest.