VOL. 133 | NO. 149 | Monday, July 30, 2018
Council Chairman Pushes Back Against Criticism
By Bill Dries
The end of Memphis City Council sessions has long been the place for issues and complaints not on the council agenda. The time reserved for citizens to speak their mind is where some of the broadest criticism is leveled at city leaders. There is also no level of detail that is considered too great for some of the speakers.
Some are regulars and some give it a try once but can get discouraged after waiting several hours to speak as the council moves through sometimes lengthy, complex agendas. Some who return are there to argue the same issue twice a month for years.
In that cycle of unbridled political criticism, sometimes council members push back.
That was the case at the Tuesday, July 24, council session when council chairman Berlin Boyd had Fergus Nolan removed from council chambers after Nolan criticized Boyd for having a conflict of interest in voting on a cell tower owned by Billy Orgel, one of Boyd’s partners in a Midtown apartment development.
Boyd had recused himself from the council vote on the apartment project at 1544 Madison Ave.
Before the exchange Tuesday, Boyd and other council members were looking at social media posts by Nolan along the same lines.
“I’m at a point where I’m about to file a restraining order against you,” Boyd told Nolan after Nolan timed out at two minutes in his comments to the council.
“You are becoming excessive and stalker-ish,” Boyd added, going through a list of allegations by Nolan as Nolan insisted Boyd wasn’t accurately reflecting what he had written.
“I’m going to go on record as saying I’m going to put a restraining order on you because somebody’s going to get hurt and it won’t be me,” Boyd said, prompting Nolan to question what Boyd meant.
“Sir, I’m going to get hurt, am I?” Nolan replied.
Boyd accused Nolan of driving by his house, which Nolan denied.
“I have cameras at my house,” Boyd replied. “That’s all I’m going to say. And your behavior is excessive and you are stalking me.”
Nolan tried to continue, but Boyd had police escort him out of the council chambers.
“Send him out. Get your facts straight,” Boyd said. “No, get him out.”
Nolan was followed by Steven Simmons, a former city employee who has been appearing before the council for years claiming he is owed a settlement for his injuries on the job. Boyd and other council members have looked into Simmons’ complaint and found a settlement he signed turning over the $210,000 settlement to someone else.
“You released yourself and that’s the check that you signed,” Boyd said, pointing to an overhead projector display of the check. “The documentation you signed released that money to your wife or whoever Ms. Vivian is.”
“This is not the document that I signed,” Simmons replied. “When they changed it up I don’t know.”
Simmons has also said in previous council meetings that he signed what his attorney told him to sign.
Council attorney Allan Wade read from the release, “’No payment shall be made from the city of Memphis to Steven Simmons.’”
“Then you look at the signature page. My goodness, look who signed it,” Wade said, pointing to Simmons signature. “Case over.”
Two weeks earlier, Theryn Bond, who is one of several citizens calling on three council members seeking county office in the Aug. 2 elections to declare in advance when they will resign if they are elected to the county offices, got a letter from Boyd saying he was using his authority as chairman to “suspend your presence” at the July 10 and July 24 meetings.
Bond did not attend either meeting, saying she toyed with friends bringing a cardboard cut out of her. She said she will be back at the first council meeting in August.
At the June 5 council session, Bond questioned the city’s priorities.
“Where are the city’s priorities – jobs for the youth – not just 2,000 or so … or bringing more people in to a crime-ridden city where you want police raises to be based on their performance, yet city leadership fails to be accountable for theirs?” she asked. “Yet you give a green light to get kickbacks, a green light to develop one part of town and a green light for someone to vote on issues they don’t know about, could care less about and aren’t genuinely interested in finding out about.”
Boyd said in his July 9 letter to Bond that his action was a reaction to an exchange between Bond and Ruth Rawlins-Banks, another citizen speaking at the end of the June 19 council meeting in support of the three council members on the August ballot remaining on the council. The exchange continued after the meeting was adjourned.
“I have personally warned you on several occasions not to disturb, disrupt or otherwise impede the orderly conduct of our council meetings,” Boyd wrote. “In each instance, you have ignored my warnings and continued to engage in disruptive behavior from the audience. … Of particular significance to me as the chairman is your confrontational and intimidating behavior towards constituents.”
At the July 10 council session, Aaron Fowles, who has spoken at the end of council sessions in favor of keeping instant runoff voting as well as calling for advance word on the plans of the three council members on the August ballot, said Boyd’s reaction to Bond was “inappropriate.”
“As chairman of this body I will not permit anyone to come up and disrespect any council member behind this dais or me,” Boyd responded. “It’s amazing how people come into this chamber and talk to us like we aren’t even human beings and expect us to respect them.
“I’ll be damned as the chairman if I will allow you guys to disrespect us,” he added. “We’re not dancing to the beat of your drums.”