VOL. 132 | NO. 94 | Thursday, May 11, 2017
City Council to Hold Railgarten Hearing May 23; Uses Impasse Panels for First Time
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members will hold an evidentiary hearing in two weeks to sort out a Midtown restaurant-bar that ran afoul of approvals needed to open with annexes including intermodal containers and an outdoor area.
A busy council day at City Hall included a first use of the council’s revised impasse rules and setting a date to sort out the Railgarten controversy.
(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
The May 23 council session will include an evidentiary hearing specifically on the question of whether Railgarten’s special-use permit, granted by the council earlier this year, should be revoked.
Business owners got permission for the indoor bar on Central Avenue east of Cooper Street from the council. But the annexes of the same business were not approved by the council. Railgarten owners went to the Board of Adjustment later for those parts of the business, prompting some council members to question whether the business owners were trying to go around the council.
The Board of Adjustment delayed its decision last month on the matter at the request of the council.
Some council members voting for the evidentiary hearing at the Tuesday, May 9, council session hope the business will come to terms with its neighbors about parking and other issues before the hearing.
Meanwhile, the council put its recently approved rules for the impasse procedure to use Tuesday.
Impasse committees composed of three council members each were appointed to decide contract stalemates between the city administration and six unions representing city workers.
A seventh union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, did not submit its impasse notice within seven days of the mayor’s budget proposal as required by the impasse ordinance.
Union leaders sought an exception from the council.
Council attorney Allan Wade didn’t recommend how the council should proceed. But he noted all of the other unions had met the new deadline.
“This should not happen,” Wade said of the missed deadline. “This is not ambiguous.”
The council voted not to grant the exception. AFSCME represents several different groups of city employees.
The unions at impasse and the administration have until noon Monday to submit their final offers for consideration by the different impasse trios.
In other business, the council approved on the second of three readings an ordinance approving the Pinch District Concept Plan for the nine-block area between the Pyramid and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In committee, city Housing and Community Development Division director Paul Young told council members that the city is in the design phase of a pedestrian bridge between the eastern side of the Pyramid and Front Street.
The council also approved Tuesday on the first of three readings a third freeze in as many years of the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program – or DROP.
Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said the freeze on the departure of city employees, including police officers, who have set a fixed retirement date in the future, is necessary again as the police department builds its ranks toward a force of 2,300 to 2,400. The Memphis police force is currently under 2,000.
Without the freeze, Rallings told the council he will have to replace much if not all of his command staff in 14 months.
“That’s not so good for the learning curve,” he told the council.
The police department is scheduled to lose another 21 officers in July. In 2018, another 40 police officers are scheduled to retire under the DROP provisions as well as 39 firefighters.
Leaders of the Memphis Police Association and Memphis Fire Fighters Association say they are opposed to the freeze, citing its negative effect on morale among employees hoping for promotions.
“If it’s broke, let’s fix it,” said Joe Norman, vice president of the firefighters union. “This is a bandage.”
Rallings said the department can’t make promotions anyway until it bolsters police ranks because promotions would take officers off the street.
Council member Patrice Robinson said the police force could lose officers anyway.
“We are frustrating employees seeking upward mobility and they are going to leave anyway,” she said.
“It takes time to build the force,” Rallings said. “You have to build from the bottom.”