VOL. 133 | NO. 97 | Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Commission Reappoints Bolton As Advisor Amid Questions About His Role
By Bill Dries
Shelby County commissioners reappointed former commissioner Julian Bolton as their legislative policy advisor Monday, May 14, sending the reappointment to the end of September to county mayor Mark Luttrell who vetoed an earlier version in April.
But some commissioners regard Bolton as their attorney while others say he’s a policy advisor with no authority in court matters.
“I think he’s advised on legal issues but he has not technically served as our attorney,” said commission Van Turner, who drafted the amendments and like Bolton, is an attorney. “Anything he does as a policy advisor still has to be reviewed by the county attorney’s office.”
“If he’s a consultant fine,” said commissioner Walter Bailey, who is an attorney. “But if he’s putting on the attorney’s hat, I always rely on the county attorney.”
The version Luttrell vetoed last month was the un-amended original version – not the version the commission approved. Therefore, the veto had no effect since that wasn’t the version the commission approved.
So commissioners approved Monday the version with the earlier amendments and added some new amendments that are on their way to Luttrell.
The new amendments included extending the reappointment by chairwoman Heidi Shafer to the end of September. Initially the reappointment was to run to the end of August which marks the end of the current commission’s term. Commissioners added the extra month to have Bolton on hand for the transition to a new commission that takes office Sept. 1 with at least eight new members.
The commission voted down an amendment by Bailey that would have specifically barred Bolton from acting as an attorney in any way – “spell out emphatically that he has no legal authority,” Bailey said.
Bolton will be paid $250 an hour under terms of the resolution.
“To me, $250 an hour is a very good attorney,” said commissioner Mark Billingsley. “You have to choose. Is Mr. Bolton an attorney for this body or is he a policy advisor? Basically you are paying him like an attorney for this body but you are calling him an advisor.”
Billingsley noted that the commission has treated Bolton’s past legal bills to the commission as privileged communication between an attorney and client in refusing to make the bills public record.
“We are not using him as a policy advisor and if we are, we are way overpaying him,” Billingsley said.
The reappointment does not apply to Bolton’s role as the commission’s attorney in pending Circuit Court litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Meanwhile, commissioner Terry Roland continued to make an issue of attorneys hired by Trustee David Lenoir and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos – Roland’s two rivals in the May 1 county mayoral primary won by Lenoir.
“They are not policy advisors and they don’t ever show up for work,” Roland said – an allegation denied by Lenoir and Touliatos who have each said they are allowed under terms of their respective offices to hire attorneys.
“That’s crooked. That’s stealing,” Roland continued, two days before he is scheduled to make an endorsement in the August county general election for mayor between Lenoir and Democratic nominee Lee Harris. “Can you sit there and legitimately debate me over what we are doing to Julian when you are allowing these other two people to steal?”
In other action Monday, the commission gave final approval to a referendum question for the August ballot that, if approved by voters, would automatically raise the pay of county mayor, sheriff, assessor, county clerk, trustee and register whenever state employees get a pay raise.
The raise in pay could be in addition to any pay raise the county commission might give the same elected officials. And while the automatic raise would be based on raises granted by state government, the raises for the six countywide positions would come from county government revenues.
The automatic raises would not apply to Shelby County commissioners. Commissioner Reginald Milton attempted to amend the ordinance to apply to the commission. But legally the referendum measure cannot be amended to include them.
“I think it sends an unusual message,” Milton said. “I question that and I feel uncomfortable with that.”
The first commission vote totals on the referendum ordinance to show up on the commission’s electronic board showed the measure was one vote short of the nine needed to pass. But before the gavel fell and the total could be announced several commissioners changed their votes to give the measure 10 votes.
Commissioners also approved Monday $75,000 in county funding for a Memphis Area Transit Authority seasonal bus line from now through Nov. 3 between Downtown and Shelby Farms Park.
The commission has delayed the funding several times over questions about the city’s role in the initiative called for four years ago by a different county commission concerned about access to the park by inner-city children with no other way to get there. The Memphis City Council approved the receipt of the county funds last week as part of an interlocal agreement between the city and county.
“I’m not against kids going to the park. But you look at these schools now,” Roland said of his concerns about unsupervised children taking a bus to the park. “The teachers can’t do nothing with them. What do you think a bus driver will do with them.”
Later Roland questioned the funding.
“It ain’t for no kids. It ain’t free for no one,” he said. “Your kids have got to go through hell to get there. … This is to prop up MATA. It stinks.”
Shelby Farms Park Conservancy executive director Jen Andrews said the park has employees, volunteers and Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies in the park to handle all types of situations.
The service began this past weekend, although MATA planning director John Lancaster told the commission that the transit authority would shut down the route immediately if the commission voted down the funding.
“We are extremely averse to being considered a rubber stamp,” Shafer responded. “Do not ever bring something like this to us again.”
The commission also approved $1.5 million in funding for ongoing renovations at Southbrook Mall. The county funding is to go through EDGE – the Economic Development Growth Engine – to the mall owners in an arrangement several commissioners described as EDGE being a “conduit” for the funding.
Commissioner Eddie Jones said the Whitehaven mall would serve as a “town center” that includes government services as well as retail and meeting space.