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VOL. 132 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 21, 2017

Boyd Drops Beale Contract, But Says It Wasn’t Conflict of Interest

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council chairman Berlin Boyd ended his company’s fundraising contract with the Beale Street Merchants Association Tuesday, Sept. 19. But he again insisted the contract was not a conflict of interest in his duties as a council member voting on items involving the entertainment district.

Berlin Boyd

In a written legal opinion, city council attorney Allan Wade drew the same conclusion, reiterating his position that no conflict of interest existed.

“I believe the public has this perception that we have so much control over Beale Street, which we do not,” Boyd said to council members. “It’s all the administration. … I don’t like this body being in the news for anything. If my name is mentioned in the news, it affects each of you. So I do apologize to you guys. I had no intention that this was going to go this way.”

Wade read his formal legal opinion aloud at Tuesday’s council session saying it was drawn along “strictly legal” lines.

The city’s ethics ordinance, he said, doesn’t require a council member to recuse himself or herself for “a personal interest that affects or that would lead a reasonable person to infer that it affects his vote on a measure.”

“Recusal is not required, but is within the discretion of the officer voting on the measure,” Wade wrote. “Indeed, state law only requires disclosure even if it is a conflict.”

But Wade opined there is no conflict because the council only controls access to Beale Street and its use as a street – including access through the cover charge – backed by the merchants association but carried out by the Downtown Memphis Commission.

In an agreement with the city administration, the DMC is managing the street and controls how the money from the cover charge is dispersed to pay for security.

“We do not believe there is any conflict in you discharging your obligation as a councilman to preserve the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and pedestrians that use the street on Saturday nights,” Wade wrote. “This is an issue that is not intended to benefit the Beale Street Merchants. … As I understand it, no council member has any financial interest in the vendors hired by the Downtown Memphis Commission to provide security on Beale Street on Saturday nights. Thus, there is no conflict in any council member using his or her vote to appropriate accumulated access and security fees for security measures that will protect the health and safety of citizens.”

Both actions came as the council took back an item it approved two weeks ago on the disposition of money collected since June from the $5 cover charge the council set for getting onto Beale Street on Saturday nights after 10 p.m. in the spring and summer.

The money goes to the city and not the merchants association. The resolution directs the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to disperse it directly to pay security expenses, with the council having no line-item control over that.

Boyd said he intended to recuse himself two weeks ago from voting on the resolution, but voted for it, saying he forgot to recuse himself.

The council removed the item Tuesday from the minutes of that meeting, setting the stage for Boyd to then change his vote and recuse himself.

Before he could, council member Worth Morgan moved to delay the revote for two weeks, to the Oct. 3 council session. Morgan and other council members indicated they had questions about how the resolution works and not necessarily any potential conflict of interest Boyd may have. That’s when Boyd announced he was dropping the contract with the merchants and joined seven other council members in voting for the delay.

PROPERTY SALES 93 424 6,970
MORTGAGES 42 281 4,410
BUILDING PERMITS 196 704 16,619
BANKRUPTCIES 38 174 3,570