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VOL. 133 | NO. 88 | Wednesday, May 2, 2018

County Commission Urges Haslam to Veto Immigration Bill

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County commissioners approved a resolution Monday, April 30, urging Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill that would require local and state law enforcement agencies to work with federal immigration and customs enforcement agents on immigration matters.

The resolution sponsored by several commissioners passed with the votes of seven of the eight commissioners present. Commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer did not vote on the matter, saying she needed to know more about legal issues surrounding the legislation.

 Mark Billingsley

Commissioner Mark Billingsley, who raised the issue last week, said if signed by Haslam the new state law would, in effect, be “racial profiling” and would amount to detaining people without a warrant or probable cause.

“We’re not prepared for this,” he said of local law enforcement.

The commission also discussed but took no action Monday on a request by Graceland for an increase in its draw on tax increment financing for its planned campus expansion.

Graceland Holdings managing partner Joel Weinshanker sought last week to mobilize support in the Whitehaven area for a move to have the commission and the City Council support the plan, contingent on a court ruling that says the financing plan does not violate a noncompete agreement both governments have with the Memphis Grizzlies to run FedExForum.

The Economic Development Growth Engine – or EDGE – board has given conditional approval to the Graceland plan, which includes a convention center as well.

Weinshanker, who has encountered strong resistance to the plan from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, was not at Monday’s meeting but a group of about two dozen supporters from Whitehaven were.

Graceland’s plan would increase its draw on city and county property tax increment financing (TIF) on the Graceland campus from 50 percent to 65 percent. Graceland would use that increase to change the financing on its existing Guest House at Graceland hotel-resort and Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex.

Graceland would then take what is essentially the additional TIF funding to finance several new pieces of its campus expansion, including a 6,200-seat arena in Whitehaven.

Strickland and his administration say that still amounts to public funding of the arena and would thus violate the Grizzlies’ noncompete, which forbids city and county government funding of any indoor arena with more than 5,000 fixed seats.

Weinshanker disagrees and has accused Strickland of not being open to talk about it. Strickland has said Graceland can build the arena on its own if it wants to.

Graceland’s position found some support on the commission.

“I’m tired of going to Southaven, Mississippi, to see a concert,” said commissioner Terry Roland, referring to the noncompete as “that crazy deal.”

“I’m ready to sponsor the resolution as soon as we can,” he added.

But several other commissioners said they wanted more discussion in future committee sessions about the arrangement Graceland is proposing and more detail about the manufacturing jobs Weinshanker has talked about adding as part of the expansion. Several commissioners wanted to know what Graceland considers a “living wage,” which Weinshanker has said those jobs will pay after a pay raise to come later this year.

James McLaren, the attorney for Graceland, confirmed that Weinshanker recently bought the company that makes “The Clapper,” a hand clap-sound activated electrical outlet, and Chia Pets plant sculptures and intends to move the manufacturing of both products and others to a site to be leased off the Graceland campus.

Those items would be sold in an outlet mall planned for the Graceland expansion directly across Elvis Presley Boulevard from Guest House.

Several commissioners were specifically cautious about the terms of the noncompete.

Walter Bailey

“I think we should be cautious about putting up anything that would compete with it,” commissioner Walter Bailey said of FedExForum.

In other business, the commission approved on the second of three readings a county charter change that would go to voters on the August ballot if approved on third and final reading in May. The charter change would allow county elected officials to receive any pay raise state government gives rank-and-file employees automatically.

The measure, sponsored by Bailey, got eight votes on second reading with Shafer, Roland and commissioners Van Turner and Melvin Burgess abstaining. An ordinance advances to third reading even if it doesn’t get a majority of the votes cast on first and second readings.

Passage on third reading will require seven yes votes.

The commission also approved five of the seven resolutions that are the first exceptions to the commission’s moratorium on any budget amendments or contracts of more than $50,000 for the rest of its current term of office. Two other proposed exceptions to the moratorium were referred back to committees for more discussion.

PROPERTY SALES 107 331 6,877
MORTGAGES 60 239 4,368
BUILDING PERMITS 190 508 16,423
BANKRUPTCIES 22 136 3,532