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VOL. 10 | NO. 39 | Saturday, September 23, 2017

Editorial: Beale Street and The Line for City Leaders

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When he was mayor, Willie Herenton had a saying that was his answer to speculation about whether he had crossed a legal line. Like the time when he bought an option on land fronting Union Avenue near AutoZone Park that was being considered as a possible site for a new convention center or hotel.

“I know where the line is,” Herenton would say. An FBI investigation ultimately resulted in no action and no public conclusion.

Memphis City Council chairman Berlin Boyd didn’t say that in this month’s controversy over his business’ contract with the Beale Street Merchants Association. But he insisted there was no conflict of interest, even after he ended the contract with the merchants. And city council attorney Allan Wade backed that up with verbal and written opinions.

A council member, Allen opined, must declare a possible conflict of interest but is not required to recuse himself or herself from a vote.

Boyd’s critics argued that having the contract for three fundraising events for merchants in the district gave the perception of a conflict of interest, especially considering the vocal opinions of council members about the affairs of Beale.

Many remember that Rickey Peete was the executive director of the merchants association when he was elected to the city council.

Peete was instrumental in getting state legislation passed that allows the district to remain open and serve alcohol until just about sunrise. Peete also served prison time twice on federal corruption charges.

The gap between the appearance of a conflict and an actual conflict is dangerous political and ethical ground.

Nowhere is the slope on either side of that gap as slippery as it is when it comes to Beale Street, especially when there is a question about who is going to control it.

And we are now in a period when that question is being determined. That’s why council members have been so vocal in their opinions about Beale.

Wade made it clear that the mayor’s administration carries out contracts, picks a manager and controls other administrative interactions. The council’s only control is over the use of the street itself.

But the council certainly has influence and occupies a bully pulpit that was able to reach out and abolish the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority – the entity the council helped create to be the leaseholder of what is city property, then in turn it selects a management firm for the district. All of the mayor’s nominees for it went to the council for approval as well.

See what we mean about lines and Beale Street?

It’s time to set some specific conditions that require a recusal when these questions arise.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 8 52 151
BUILDING PERMITS 0 541 2,593
BANKRUPTCIES 37 157 618
BUSINESS LICENSES 12 77 276
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0