VOL. 133 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 19, 2018
Republican Contenders for Mayor Say City Paying for Monuments Misstep
By Bill Dries
The three Republican contenders for Shelby County Mayor believe the city of Memphis acted improperly in removing Confederate monuments from city parks last year and is, in effect, paying the piper for challenging the Tennessee Legislature.
“Let me tell you something, until people here in town quit poking the bear in Nashville ain’t nothing going to change,” Shelby County commissioner Terry Roland said at the Wednesday, April 18 candidates forum in East Memphis at the monthly membership luncheon of the Associated Builders and Contractors West Tennessee chapter.
“When you thumb your nose at them, they have the power to do whatever they need to do,” he told a crowd of 200. “Taking those statues up the way they did was absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
Roland said he and others were working on a privately-funded effort behind the scenes when the city made the decision Dec. 20 to sell the parks with the monuments to a private nonprofit and then the nonprofit, Memphis Greenspace, had the monuments removed.
“Like a thief in the night they come on a holiday weekend and took those statues down and nothing could be done about it,” Roland said. “And that was clearly, clearly political.”
The comments by Roland, Shelby County trustee David Lenoir and Shelby County juvenile court clerk Joy Touliatos came the day after the state House voted to cut $250,000 in state funding for the city’s 2019 bicentennial observances out of Governor Bill Haslam’s state budget proposal.
None of the three contenders in the May 1 Republican primary for county mayor termed the removal of the statues illegal.
“I believe in limited government, local control,” Lenoir began. “The way it occurred, late at night on a Friday night under the cloak of darkness, I think that no doubt sent the wrong message not only to many that live in Shelby County but also in Nashville. … But in many ways we need less of Nashville in Shelby County business.”
Touliatos said the removal of the monuments was “handled inappropriately.”
“But now they (legislators) are trying to pass measures to avoid that from happening again,” she said. “Sometimes you have to follow state law in order for our local government to succeed itself. … If you are going to go against state law there are going to be repercussions.”
With early voting in advance of the May 1 county primary election day underway, the forum was likely the last appearance together by the three contenders. State Senator Lee Harris, who is running with former county commissioner Sidney Chism in the Democratic mayoral primary, also on the May 1 ballot, was expected at the forum but remained in Nashville Wednesday as the legislative session there nears its end.