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VOL. 132 | NO. 207 | Wednesday, October 18, 2017

City Lays Out Numerous Options in Confederate Monuments Controversy

By Bill Dries

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The city administration and Memphis City Council laid out numerous paths forward in the Confederate monuments controversy Tuesday, Oct. 17, that include closing Health Sciences Park entirely or building a memorial to lynching victims in the park plaza where a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest is now the centerpiece.

The likeness of the Confederate General, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard is at the center of the city’s efforts that went to the Tennessee Historical Commission this month for a hearing.

That hearing prompted a denial by the commission to hear and act on the city’s request to let the city remove Forrest’s statue. But the commission sent another challenge to the waiver process to an administrative law judge for a November hearing.

With the council’s unanimous approval of the ordinance, the city administration has until Nov. 21 to deliver a plan for the removal of a statue of Forrest to the council.

The ordinance approved on third and final reading is a substitute version from the original and lays out numerous paths forward in the controversy for the administration and council.

The memorial to lynching victims would come into play if the city cannot find a way to remove and relocate the statue.

“One of the other options for us is to speak volumes about how blacks were lynched,” said council attorney Allan Wade, who is also representing the city administration in the two-track legal effort out of the Historical Commission that is likely on its way to Davidson County Chancery Court. “If we cannot come to a permanent solution for removal then you have an alternative path to repurpose that whole plaza to minimize his impact.”

The other paths include the city starting the process with the Tennessee Historical Commission to remove the statue of Confederacy president Jefferson Davis from Memphis Park and the city closing Health Science Park where the Forrest statue has stood for more than 100 years.

Council member Patrice Robinson proposed the closing option during council committee sessions Tuesday.

“I’d like to see the park closed for the safety of our community,” she said. “The council opened it. We need to close it. I just need to know the process.”

Wade said the city would also pursue mediation with those opposed to the statues removal and field offers from those interested in buying the statue for relocation. That would happen even as the city keeps all of its legal options open including litigation at several levels. And he expressed hope that the city would prevail with the administration and the council acting together in a process Wade described as “Confederate hell.”

“If not then I think we are going to be presenting something powerful to minimize and repurpose that whole area,” he said.

The council also has Wade drafting a referendum ordinance to repeal the city’s move to ranked-choice voting in the 2019 city elections under an earlier city charter amendment. First of three readings on the ordinance would be at the first council meeting in November.

Council member Edmund Ford Jr. also wants Wade to offer options for eliminating the runoff provision in races for the seven single-member council districts that are the only surviving runoff provision left in all of Shelby County politics.

“It looks at the legal points of the 1991 decision by (Federal) Judge Jerome Turner, which eliminated runoffs in particular races,” Ford said of the ruling that eliminated the citywide or at-large council seats as well as the runoff requirement in the Memphis Mayor’s race when no candidate got a simple majority of the votes cast.

Turner’s ruling left in place runoffs in the single-member districts and Turner left it up to the council on what to replace the at-large council seats with. The council established two super districts – each taking in a half of the city with three council members elected to each super district with no runoff provision.

“Many of my council members asked about that because they did not want their single-member districts singled out, especially when that group of individuals could be susceptible to a process that is different from everybody else,” Ford said.

Former Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy argued the council should not scrap the ranked-choice voting charter amendment without at least trying it. RCV is also referred to as instant-runoff voting.

“If the city council succeeds in repealing instant-runoff voting they will essentially be diluting minority voting strength,” said Mulroy who is a former civil rights attorney for the U.S. Justice Department and currently a University of Memphis law professor. “People asked for it. Try it once. The city council is trying to stop it -- I think, respectfully, they don’t full apprehend how instant runoff voting works.”

In other council action Tuesday, a 21-lot single family residential planned development at 6610 Messick Road by Kircher-Uhlhorn Development LLC on part of the Emmanuel United Methodist Church property was approved by the council.

The council approved an allocation of $4.4 million in federal Choice Neighborhoods grant money for capital improvement projects in the South City redevelopment area which includes the former Foote Homes and Cleaborn Homes public housing developments. Another $700,000 in city capital funding was approved and moved into place for a renovation of L.E. Brown Park in the Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing development that is on the site of Cleaborn Homes.

And the council approved $498,800 in federal grant funding toward studying and planning for a roundabout at or near the intersection of West Georgia Avenue and Riverside Drive.

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