VOL. 133 | NO. 38 | Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Election Methods and Murals Dominate Light Council Day
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members doubled down Tuesday, Feb. 20, on calling for a cover-up of six murals near Lamar Avenue. And the council’s attorney said ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting isn’t needed in Memphis.
The two issues dominated a council day at City Hall that came with a short agenda but lots to talk about.
The council passed a resolution by council chairman Berlin Boyd that declares six of the murals that are part of the Paint Memphis program’s annual set of murals on Willett at Lamar “offensive to the community.”
“This council does hereby deem the murals … to be objectionable and offensive and requests the administration take immediate action to remove or cover up the images,” reads the resolution approved on an 8-0 council vote with council members Worth Morgan and Martavius Jones abstaining.
Boyd put the resolution on the agenda following a presentation by Paint Memphis founder Karen Golightly that she said was to “educate” the council.
Council attorney Allan Wade defended the city’s use of a lobbyist in Nashville to push for a bill that would ban instant-runoff or ranked-choice voting statewide.
The council has already put a referendum item on the November ballot that would repeal the city charter amendment calling for ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting.
“We do not like legislation that is pre-emptive. It takes away our right to have local control,” Wade said. “But by the same token we understand that the General Assembly had concerns about IRV. … The problem is IRV takes many forms. And I think the consensus in the General Assembly is that they want some uniformity. Their uniformity is to just do away with it.”
Wade said the city might be willing to back some kind of uniform standards with a local opt-in for the use of the multiple choice voting system that eliminates runoffs and distributes second and third choice votes to the top contenders instead.
He also questioned how it would accomplish fair representation beyond the seven black city council members on a 13-member body that represents a city that is 67 percent African-American.
“We have already achieved their No. 1 goal,” he said of the group FairVote, which is pushing for keeping ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting.
“I don’t mean to harp on this race thing. But when it comes to voting rights, race is everything,” Wade said of the drawing of district lines that is crucial to representation by race in Memphis and which is part of the legal consideration. “It’s all about race. In most other contexts in civil law when you bring the race card out, you lose. I don’t use it. I don’t advocate my clients using it. But when it comes to this context, it means everything.”
The council resolution on the murals was approved after the second executive session meeting between council members and Golightly.
“Today I want to educate you just a little bit,” the arts professor at Christian Brothers University began.
Council members began shaking their heads almost immediately and continued as Golightly said the mural images were not “satanic” as council member Joe Brown said last month. When she said some of the descriptions of the murals by the council last month matched the early criticism of Elvis Presley, Boyd interrupted and began by apologizing for city public works crews painting over other murals on Willett other than the ones the council specifically called on the city to paint over.
“We’ve been respectful,” Boyd said. “But for you to come here and say we need to be educated -- the community reached out to us with a concern. It’s our responsibility and job to represent those that need representing.”
Golightly says the council and the city could be sued by the artists.
“The city council may not know the federal law that protects these artists,” she said after the stormy encounter. “The artists have to give permission to have their works buffed.”
“You’re done. And I’m going to see how we can get out of the contract with you,” he told Golightly. “It’s supposed to be pulling the community together. And somehow we are idiots and need to be educated on art. … I find that to be offensive. I’m just relaying what my constituents are telling me.”
In other action, council members heard plans in Tuesday committee sessions from Memphis Fire Director Gina Sweat to close the city fire station on the northwest corner of Union Avenue and Front Street and build a new fire station on the northeast corner of Danny Thomas Boulevard and Adams Avenue. The new fire station would be on an open lot with Danny Thomas frontage next to the fire department maintenance shop on Adams.
The current fire station at Front and Union which also houses fire services headquarters is part of the site planned for the new location of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, along with the existing parking garage next to the fire house on Front.
The council will vote at its March meeting on $470,000 to buy the land at Adams and Danny Thomas.
The administration is also proposing to close Fire Station #1 at 211 Jackson Avenue by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as well as Fire Station #6 at 924 Thomas. They would be replaced with a new fire station in the area of Chelsea Avenue and 5th Street to cover the same area as the two existing fire houses.
The existing fire station on Jackson would be sold by the city to St. Jude as part of its campus expansion. The hospital has already provided a letter of intent to the city for the purchase.
The council also votes in March on the city condemning land at 1287 E. Holmes Road in Whitehaven as the site of a new Fire Station #43 and paying the owner $38,500. The existing station at 1253 E. Holmes would be part of the site for the new structure to replace the building the city took over from the county when Whitehaven was annexed in the late 1960s.
In planning and development items, the council approved an infill development of 10 residential lots on a half acre of land at Elzey Avenue and Tanglewood Street in Cooper-Young by Apple Partners LLC.
The council also set March 6 for a public hearing and vote on The Grove at White Station commercial planned development by Gill Properties in what was a part of the White Station Road residential corridor north of Poplar Avenue.