VOL. 133 | NO. 18 | Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Council Reopens MLGW Rate Hike Consideration, Approves Term Limit Referendum
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members decided Tuesday, Jan. 23, to take a second look at the gas and electric rate hike proposals they rejected two weeks ago. But they put off any new votes on the matter until the first council meeting in February after what is expected to be a lengthy discussion in committee earlier that same day at City Hall.
Memphis Light Gas and Water president Jerry Collins told council members he has a set of 8-10 options for rate hikes beyond the multi-year 9 percent rate hike the utility proposed for the gas rate and the 6.9 percent rate hike for electricity.
Meanwhile, the council approved the appointment of Jarl T. Young as the new president and CEO of MLGW effective in March and the appointment of city comptroller Shirley Ford as the city’s new chief financial officer.
One of the scenarios for a rate hike compromise floated by Collins, who retires at the end of January, has been a modest one-year rate hike with the new MLGW leader assessing whether a further hike is needed in future years.
“We’re going to find out what you are made of quickly, my friend,” council member Frank Colvett told Young after the council vote on his nomination.
Like Ford, Young was approved unanimously. But several council members complained about the rapid vote on Young. The administration added the nomination of a new MLGW president to the council agenda last week but didn’t disclose Young’s name until the day before the council session.
“I think it’s incumbent on the administration not to think of this body as a rubber stamp,” council chairman Berlin Boyd said. “You’ve got to do a better job communicating and at least let us know what’s coming up. Don’t expect us to approve it at the last minute.”
In other action, the council approved on third and final reading a second city charter ballot questions for the November ballot – extending the current term limits of two consecutive terms for the mayor and council members to three consecutive terms.
The proposal by council member Bill Morrison had eight other council members as cosponsors. Council member Worth Morgan cast the only no vote.
Morrison said two consecutive terms is not enough for council members to be effective and get things done for their districts.
If city voters approve the change the terms of the new provision would permit those council members now serving their second consecutive term to run for one more term and those serving their first term to run for two more terms.
Six council members are currently serving their second terms.
The two-term limit was approved by voters in 2008 as part of a set of city charter amendment recommended by a charter commission.
Sylvia Cox, a member of that group, criticized the council for undoing what the public voted for.
“If it takes anyone four years to learn how to perform their job properly then they are not competent to hold the job,” she said. “Even the president of the United States only gets two terms.”
Council member Edmund Ford Jr. favors doing away with term limits altogether.
“Term limits should be whether you get the majority of the votes or not,” he said. “None of you should apologize for winning your race because others lost their race.”
The referendum item joins a November ballot question to repeal ranked-choice or instant runoff voting, another 2008 charter amendments.
The council delayed a final vote Tuesday for two weeks on another ballot question that would eliminate the runoff provision in the seven single-member district council races.
And council member Martavius Jones withdrew his ordinance that would have allowed open containers of alcohol on Main Street from Exchange to E.H. Crump Boulevard. The ordinance would have mirrored the ordinance that allows those in the Beale Street entertainment district to walk the street between Second and Fourth with alcoholic beverages bought in the nightclubs.
Jones said he got more emails about his proposal than he got about the Overton Park greensward controversy. And he said a lot of them came from citizens who don’t live in the city.
“Where was all this concern for Memphis when we had Tennessee Senate and House members working against Memphis?” Jones asked referring to the legislation that allowed the creation of six suburban public school districts.
Jones, a former Memphis City and Shelby County Schools board member also referred to the earlier discussion about a single separate school system in the county outside Memphis that prompted Jones to propose a merger of the city and county school systems instead in 2010.
“What the legacy Shelby County Schools board tried to do in creating a special school district would have caused more harm than any open container ordinance,” he said.
The council approved a resolution of intent to start the process of de-annexing two parts of the city – a flood plain area in southwest Memphis that is uninhabited and an area of Eads on the south side of Highway 64 where 172 people live.
The tentative plan is for a final council vote on the terms of the de-annexations in May including the effective date with a 75-day period for any residents of the area to formally object.
The council also voted Tuesday to restore $350,000 in city funding it withheld from the UrbanArt Commission last year. The council changed the rules for commissioning public art to include more local artists and input.
In planning and development items, the council approved the Dwell at Shelby Farms mixed use development on Raleigh-LaGrange Road near the dead end of Trinity Road by Crews Investment Holdings and Elmington Capital Group. And the developers of an 11-lot subdivision in Southwind on the north side of Tournament Drive withdrew their plans.