VOL. 132 | NO. 47 | Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Council to Discuss Police Retention Bonus Grant As Union Objects
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members review a $6.1 million four-year grant for police retention bonuses Tuesday, March 7, during council committee sessions.
The grant from the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission was announced last week by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Crime Commission president Bill Gibbons.
It drew fire from leaders of the Memphis Police Association, who accuse the city of trying to circumvent the contract negotiation process between the city and the union that began a day after the announcement.
“Requiring officers who would like to take advantage of the bonus to sign a contract to stay for a four-year term violates the terms and conditions of employment in the MOU (memorandum of understanding) between the city and the MPA,” union vice president Essica Littlejohn said.
The grant comes from private donations through the crime commission, according to Linda Russell, vice president of communication and development for the crime commission.
“It is various individuals and entities in the community,” she said. “They contribute those funds to the crime commission and then the crime commission will send the money to the city for the MPD.”
The council must approve acceptance of the grant, which is the case with other grants awarded to the city.
No council vote is scheduled for Tuesday’s council meeting, just the 9 a.m. committee discussion. But it could be added to Tuesday’s council agenda for a vote.
The council meeting is at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. Follow the meeting @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, for live coverage and for updates from committee sessions earlier in the council day.
Council member Worth Morgan, who is chairman of the public safety committee, is critical of the union for its position on the grant and its most recent billboard noting the city’s record homicide count in 2016.
“I think at the end of the day we are trying to do what’s right for the city and what’s right for law enforcement,” Morgan said. “All you have to do is look at the billboards and see what the police union is doing. That’s not in the city’s best interest. That’s not in the police union’s best interest.”
Grant funding and private donations to police and other parts of the criminal justice system for specific uses has become more common in the last year or so. It has also been controversial on occasion.
For the last year, SkyCop and other cameras linked to the Memphis Police Real Time Crime Center have been funded by various neighborhood groups and businesses specifically for their neighborhoods and businesses.
The funding goes through the Memphis Police Foundation to the city with approval from the Memphis City Council.
There are other examples of private funding within city government.
Shelby County District Attorney General John Pierotti had to backtrack after he accepted private funding specifically for a crackdown on strip clubs in the late 1990s. He had hired former assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Parrish as a special prosecutor and Parrish’s salary was paid with the private funds.
Business leader Nick Clark was bankrolling an undercover office within the MPD’s Organized Crime Unit that was revealed in a 2012 audit of the unit.
The council just last month delayed a vote on $25,000 in funding to the Memphis Police Department from the Beale Street Merchants Association.
Council members want to know if the money comes from the Beale Street Bucks program the merchants association implemented last summer. Patrons pay a $10 cover charge to enter the district during late night weekend hours and get $7 worth of coupons that can be used at Beale businesses.
That is another matter to be discussed at the 9 a.m. committee session.
The issue for council members is whether the $10 cover is a source of revenue that belongs to the city and whether city elected leaders should determine the use of those funds.
MPA President Mike Williams said the crime commission grant is another attempt by business leaders to set priorities for a public agency.
“They still need to come to the table and we need to talk about what additional moneys they have. … But we are not going to start allowing them the ability to operate outside the contract. This is becoming the norm,” Williams said. “We’re not going to continue to allow the business community – if we just really want to get down to it – to manipulate the police department.”
Williams said the union will consider “all legal remedies.”
He and other union leaders would rather see retirement and health benefits that were cut several years ago get restored instead of the one-time bonuses that the grant funds.
Strickland said he will also be proposing a pay raise based on experience for police officers in the budget, the third city pay raise in two years.
Williams said that’s not enough to make up financial ground lost by officers. He contends that has fueled the drop in police ranks to below 2,000 officers.
But there doesn’t appear to be a majority of votes on the council to reverse the benefit cuts.
Morgan said the union is being “unproductive and unprofessional.”
“This is a grant. This is a gift to the city,” he said. “What they are asking for is completely different scale in terms of size and cost.”
In other matters Tuesday, the council will hear from the U.S. Postal Service at the 1:45 p.m. executive session on its plan to close and move the post office at 4233 Louis Carruthers Drive, on the south end of Memphis International Airport.
The council also votes on the first of three readings of an ordinance that would change parking meter rates for on-street parking to reflect game-day parking rates in lots near FedExForum.
The council takes second reading votes Tuesday on an ordinance that would change the rules for the city’s impasse procedure for labor stalemates and new regulations for dealing with false burglar alarms.