VOL. 132 | NO. 103 | Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Council Sets Stage for Raise, Keeps Railgarten and Cuts Beale Cover
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved Tuesday, May 23, a 1 percent across the board pay raise for all city employees setting the stage for a final vote on budget matters at the June 6 council session.
The pay raise is being paid for with a $2.7 million cut in police overtime the council budget committee recommended at the outset of the budget season and both have the backing of the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.
The deal also led to all six of the city employee contract talks at impasse being resolved Tuesday just before the council was to vote on resolutions recommended by six separate council impasse committees. In each case the impasse panels sided with the administration’s final offer.
If the police department needs more overtime pay beyond its budgeted amount, police brass have the option of going back to the council for approval of it with the administration identifying where the additional money will come from in the city budget.
Also at a busy Tuesday council session, the council’s evidentiary hearing on possibly revoking the special use permit it granted earlier this year for the Railgarten restaurant in Midtown ended with the council affirming the special use permit with new conditions.
The conditions include parking agreements for the restaurant-bar, limits on live music and the ability of the council to again consider revoking the special use permit if there are the kind of problems with noise and parking that came with Railgarten’s opening in March.
Railgarten’s owners go to the Board of Adjustment Wednesday for approval of other permits that take in the intermodal containers and outdoor parts of the business. Those areas weren’t part of the special use permit considered by the council, but council members felt they should have been included so the council knew the full impact of the business on the area at the outset.
And the council voted Tuesday to drop the Beale Street Bucks cover charge for Saturday nights in the Beale Street entertainment district from $10 to $5, rejecting for now a move to abolish the program.
Council member Jamita Swearengen proposed the cut in the fee, arguing that the rest of the cover charge goes to Beale Street merchants and should be limited only to security costs in the district. She also moved for and the council approved an accounting of the money from the cover charge that the merchants association has been keeping that will now go to the council.
Swearengen made the proposal after a closed attorney-client meeting between the council and its attorney Allan Wade. Wade’s legal opinion requested by council members is that the bucks program is legal despite concerns by some on the council about charging for admission to a public street.
Wade also said the council should “ratify” the program and that the cover charge should be “reasonably related to the cost of public safety” – the stated reason for the cover.
The council voted to discuss the legal opinion in open session but Wade declined to provide a written copy of his opinion citing pending litigation – a federal lawsuit filed by Beale Street Development Corp. director Lucille Catron and other plaintiffs against the city that claims Beale Street Bucks of racially discriminatory.
The council also voted Tuesday to form a Beale Street Task Force to consider alternatives to the crowd control measure and report to the council by the first council session of September.
The proposal by council chairman Berlin Boyd came after a council committee discussion in which Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings showed videos of three stampedes on Beale Street before the bucks program was implemented on a regular basis.
Council member Joe Brown said the stampedes showed backers of the program has “conspired to keep Beale Street Bucks going.”
Council member Worth Morgan called on Brown to show proof of the claim.
“The evidence is in the proof,” Brown replied.
Boyd said there remains a perception that the $10 cover charge that comes with $8 in coupons that can be used at Beale Street businesses is a form of racial profiling. Proponents of the program, including Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, denied that is the case.
Strickland said after the council vote that he approves of the task force but doesn’t agree with dropping the cover charge to $5.
“It’s the massive overcrowding that is the challenge,” Strickland said. “A significant alteration of the program, I think, puts the public safety at risk and will cost the taxpayers more money because more police officers will have to be down there.”
In other action Tuesday, the council approved on third and final reading the Pinch District Concept study that is framework for future development of the nine-block area between the Pyramid and the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Half of the land in the area is owned by St. Jude with plans for a mix of retail, hotels and residential fueled and leveraged by a $9 billion expansion of St. Jude in not only capital spending but also in research programs.
The council also approved closing an alley between Vance and Pontotoc Avenues and part of Pontotoc west of Danny Thomas Boulevard as part of the Forum Flats apartment development by ECG Development of Nashville. ECG next secures its FHA financing for the project and expects to break ground at the site in October.