VOL. 133 | NO. 17 | Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Boyd Says Reprisals For Removal Of Monuments Possible
By Bill Dries
The city is bracing for some kind of backlash in the Tennessee Legislature for the December sale of two city parks to a private nonprofit and the removal of Confederate monuments in those parks.
Memphis City Council chairman Berlin Boyd says state officials could retaliate by refusing to approve the city’s request for an expansion of the Downtown Tourism Development Zone.
“We’re hearing that they may hold state funding,” Boyd said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.” “They may deny our application as far as expansion of the TDZ. It’s all about who can gain the most media attention as to retributions on Memphis.”
The TDZ is an area where an increment of sales tax revenue is captured to finance public infrastructure projects in the area related to tourism. The city wants to expand uses of TDZ revenue in the Downtown area to include financing part of the Bicentennial Gateway project and Memphis Cook Convention Center renovations.
The State Building Commission would vote on that proposed expansion.
Boyd said the city is “optimistic” about its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill in Nashville and will continue to push its priorities and make its case to legislators.
“The one thing that we’ve been doing is just trying to reach out and be proactive and let people know all about Memphis. We’re telling the Memphis story,” he said. “A lot of those legislators have never been to Memphis. They don’t know. They only base Memphis off what they’ve heard.”
If the state, either through the building commission or the Legislature, turns down the TDZ expansion, Boyd said the city is prepared to find other ways of financing the signature project that is to be completed in time for the city’s bicentennial in 2019.
Boyd also said he has no regrets about the council’s Dec.20 decision to sell the two city parks for $1,000 each to the nonprofit Memphis Greenspace Inc., which had Confederate monuments removed hours after the council vote.
The council decision followed months of delays in a two-pronged process to get a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission to have the monuments removed, while pursuing a ruling from an administrative law judge. That process also included a request by the state for the city to enter mediation talks.
“We went through the process the proper way. They set parameters. And the sad part is they were beaten by their own game,” Boyd said. “We abided by the parameters. Nobody reached out to allow us an opportunity to mediate this item. And so the court dates were even denied. So what else could we do?”
“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
Boyd’s comments were part of a wider ranging conversation that included Shelby County Commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer.
Shafer said the state should consider changing the requirement that local funding of public school systems cannot be reduced except for documented drops in school attendance.
The requirement is known as “maintenance of effort.”
“I think we have outgrown the mandatory same level of funding every year without any ties to performance,” she said. “All it does is it sets up a school system that can be totally unresponsive to the taxpayers who fund it. … It might have been appropriate at the time. But I think a more suitable funding mechanism that is somehow tied to performance is something we definitely need to look into.”
Shelby County government funds all seven of the county’s public school districts. The six suburban districts also receive additional local funding from the suburban governments. Shelby County government is the sole local funder of Shelby County Schools, which consists of public schools in Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County.
Before the merger and demerger of public education in Shelby County, the Memphis City Council in 2008 reduced city funding to what was then Memphis City Schools prompting a lawsuit by the school system. The school system prevailed, with two court decisions affirming the maintenance of effort requirement in state law.
But city maintenance-of-effort funding ended in 2013 with the schools merger although city government made payments to Shelby County Schools following the merger under terms of a settlement over the 2008 funding cut.
Boyd said council members are still considering revenue streams for an expansion of prekindergarten funding in Memphis to be mapped out by April. He said that includes possible county government funding as well as putting a sales tax hike of some kind on the November ballot for prekindergarten.
Shafer said the county already funds some pre-K initiatives.
“I think we’ve got our hands full because the city gave us the schools,” she said. “Honestly, our K-12 mission still needs work and we really have to focus on that like a laser beam.”