VOL. 132 | NO. 197 | Wednesday, October 4, 2017
City Council Delays Final Vote on Confederate Monuments
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members delayed a third and final vote on an ordinance that would direct the city administration to remove Confederate monuments in two city parks if the state historical commission doesn’t allow it later this month.
The ordinance involving the statues of Confederate General, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederacy president Jefferson Davis will be voted on at the Oct. 17 council session. That is days after Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland goes to the Oct. 13 historical commission meeting in Athens to seek a waiver from the 2016 state law otherwise forbidding the removal of such monuments.
City council attorney Allan Wade said the delay is “contemplating additional legal action” over the monuments and gives the city the chance to explore “every possible avenue.”
Meanwhile, the council approved a $10 million advance of city funding to the renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center. The city funding goes to pay some expenses already incurred in the planning and design.
City Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen told council members that the renovation will be a $100 million-$200 million project financed with $5.5 million annually in hotel-motel tax revenue and another $6 million in sales tax revenue generated in the Downtown Tourism Development Zone. McGowen said a more specific cost estimate should be available once final bids are in this coming March.
The renovation, which would up the number of meeting rooms, put a new exterior on the building and offer river views on the west side of the center where there currently are none, is to be completed in September 2019.
The council also approved Tuesday third and final reading of an ordinance that allows homebuilders to work in residential areas on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Council member Frank Colvett said he heard from a homebuilder who had to stop work on a Saturday after neighbors complained. That prompted the move to a specific ordinance for areas that are considered residential.
The council also adopted on the first of three readings two sets of the latest amendment to the Unified Development Code – an regular process to take into account changing conditions since the passage of the original UDC in 2010. One of the two sets of changes in the standards are devoted exclusively to more specific standards for signs and billboards including those converted to digital displays.
Josh Whitehead, planning director for the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, estimated 95 percent of the signs across the city are out of compliance with sign regulations that he described as “Germantownesque.”
The more specific rules are designed to make the standards easier to understand and thereby get those owning the signs to comply.
Council members also got a look at Ranked Choice Voting that the Shelby County Election Commission is moving to put into use in the 2019 city elections.
And with 11 of the 13 council members present for the executive session briefing there was a mixture of confusion and outright opposition to the plan that would allow voters to rank their choices in the order of preference and then count votes for second and even third preferences if no candidate gets a majority in the initial vote count.
The voting method would do away with the need for separate runoff elections in those instances. The only offices in Shelby County politics with a runoff provision are those races for the seven single-member district seats on the Memphis City Council.
Council member Edmund Ford Jr. said he intends to call at the Oct. 17 council session for a first reading vote on a referendum ordinance that would put a question on next year’s ballot for city voters to consider repealing the 2008 city charter amendment that calls for Ranked Choice Voting – also known as Instant Runoff Voting.
Before and after the charter amendment was approved election officials at the time said it could not be implemented on the city’s touch screen voting machines.
Current Shelby County Elections Administrator Linda Phillips, however, quickly came up with a way to carry it out on the machines shortly after becoming administrators in June 2016. She used three side-by-side columns that each list the same candidates seeking a council district seat with the choice in the left column being the first preference of voters, the middle being the second and the right being the third.
Council members also got a first look at an administration plan to offer city benefits to part-time employees who work 20 or more hours a week and have been employed by the city for at least a year.
The enrollment period is this month and includes enrollment for group accident coverage, cancer assistance, critical illness insurance, term life insurance and individual disability coverage. Coverage would start Nov. 1.
Council members also reviewed a set of eight ordinances and resolutions that would bolster the Community Redevelopment Agency to specifically oversee redevelopment of Uptown and Binghampton with the Uptown area being expanded. No date was set for those items to start showing up on the agenda for council votes as the council works to coordinate its consideration with votes by the Shelby County Commission on the same measures.