Shelby County Commissioners voted Monday, Jan. 9, to renew a contract with attorney Julian Bolton after some debate about whether Bolton’s position is necessary.
The $65,000 professional services contract runs through the end of the current calendar year.
Bolton has been acting as the commission’s legal adviser under another name since the commission pushed in 2016 for its own attorney independent of the county attorney’s office.
Commissioners favoring the arrangement cite the Memphis City Council’s use of legal counsel outside of the city attorney’s office.
“I don’t think this is a mission-critical spend for our organization,” commissioner David Reaves said. “I think we have all of the institutional knowledge we need.”
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell contends the Shelby County Charter makes the county attorney, who is appointed by the mayor, the sole source of legal advice for all of county government including the commission. But the administration said nothing pro or con on the resolution at Monday’s meeting.
But some on the commission have questioned the independence of whoever holds the county attorney’s position because they are appointed by the mayor.
The resolution, sponsored by commission chairman Melvin Burgess, refers to Bolton, a former commissioner, as a “legislative policy adviser.”
It was approved on a 7-4 vote with commissioners Reaves, Mark Billingsley, George Chism and Steve Basar voting no.
Funding for the contract comes from the commission’s budget for consulting services.
The commission also approved a $75,000 agreement between the Shelby County Health Department and WHBQ television to air weekly stories and promote events of the health department under the banner “Fox13 Family Focus.”
The agreement is for calendar year 2017 with half of the money, $37,500, approved Monday to fund the effort to June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
In other action, the commission delayed a vote on $407,000 in grant contracts for HIV prevention services using state grant money that passes through county government to four providers.
Some commissioners object to a $115,000 contract with Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region for a condom distribution program.
The commission also approved a list of recommendations on legislation it would like to see the Tennessee Legislature pass in the Nashville session that begins Tuesday.
The list includes a new civil warrant procedure recommended by the General Sessions Court Clerk’s office and General Sessions Court civil judges; a call for the state to fully fund the Basic Education Program formula; continued state funding of pre-kindergarten classes; and a different distribution of state incentives for movie and television production among Memphis and the state’s three other large cities.
Commissioners delayed a vote on other plans for the legislative packet that would have favored a medical marijuana bill pending in Nashville; alternative sentencing for those convicted of possessing a half ounce or less of marijuana; eliminating the state beer tax on microbreweries; changes in how appeals of property tax assessments are heard; and a move to put members of local legislative bodies on local industrial development boards including EDGE – the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine.
Commissioner Terry Roland also pulled his call for a state law that would require the board of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division and the city of Memphis to include representatives of the suburban cities and unincorporated Shelby County on the utility board. Roland said he will pursue the change through the Tennessee Regulatory Authority instead.
The planks of the packet approved Monday were positions that commissioners agreed on unanimously.