At its regular public meeting on Monday, the Shelby County Commission was scheduled to sift through the residue of what had been unusually lengthy and productive committee sessions last Wednesday.
At the top of the list of potential controversies was a proposal by Commissioner Mike Ritz to raise the salary of Shelby County Schools board members from $4200 to $25,000.
Although Ritz’s proposed ordinance passed the Commission’s education committee by a 4-3 vote on Wednesday, and thereby won itself a place on Monday’s consent agenda, it is certain to be yanked off and considered as a regular-agenda item, and its chances of passage are iffy indeed.
The salary change would require a two-thirds approval — or 9 votes on the 13-member Commission — and that is unlikely.
(Less controversial are ordinances establishing salaries for the Commissioners themselves and for the Sheriff and various constitutional officers, the latter to receive modest pay increases.)
Another item sure to be contested is outgoing Republican Commissioner Wyatt Bunker’s resolution expressing No Confidence in county Election Administrator Rich Holden. Wednesday’s consideration of the resolution in the general government committee indicated a split in Republican ranks that could result in passage.
Also contentious will be a resolution urging Governor Bill Haslam to expand the state’s Medicaid (TennCare) program under the Affordable Care Act.
Several matters pertaining to the end of litigation over school matters are on tap. The Commission is sure to ratify formally the liquidation (approved in committee on Wedne4sday) of a lawsuit against the city of Germantown, which has reached agreement with the SCS board over future school policy and, in particular, over the allocation of school buildings.
The Commission’s suit against Germantown was the last one pending in the long-running schools controversy.
Two other school resolutions, including one to approve lawyers’ fees, are on the agenda.
Also to be discussed on Monday are a triad of measures proposed by Commissioner Steve Mulroy — on offering incentives for improving blighted properties, another reprimanding Juvenile Court for retaliatory Acton against Commissioner Henri Brooks and Court monitors appointed by her; and an ordinance strengthening strictures against mistreatment of animals.
Up, too, is Commissioner Ritz’s resolution to prohibit use by TDZ’s (tourist development zones) of local tax revenues earmarked for schools, without express permission of the Commission.
The Commission’s action on Wednesday in declining to join with the City of Memphis in a joint planning commission for a new convention center may be revisited.
A plethora of other matters are on the agenda; so a lengthy meeting is to be expected.
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators, whose annual meeting was just concluded this past weekend at The Peabody, saw many serious political and governmental issues addressed during the four days of meeting in Memphis. It also witnessed some light moment. Here are two:
—Addressing the annual meeting of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators in Memphis, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN9) finds that the expected next speaker, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, is absent, then, via the assumed alter ego of the late former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, improvises on his discovery.
—State Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis), addressing the final or plenary session of the conference on Saturday, could not resist morphing into one of his favorite alter egos — the late music legend Louis Armstrong.
The 37th annual meeting of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, which began on Wednesday at The Peabody, will continue through the weekend. A highlight Friday morning is the Lois DeBerry Prayer Breakfast, named for the revered and respected state Representative and former state House Speaker Lois DeBerry of Memphis, who died this summer after a long illness.
The closing plenary session on Saturday, “Galvanizing a State Agenda on Civil Rights,” will be moderated by TV One host Roland Martin.
What follows is a partial description of events, courtesy of the Carter Malone Agency.
National Black Caucus of State Legislators 37th Annual Legislative Conference
to focus on PROGRESS: Moving Our States Forward Through Policy Action
State legislators to convene in Memphis, TN with advocates, corporate executives, and public policy experts.
WHO: Black lawmakers from across the United States, advocates and community leaders, corporate executives, leading public policy experts, media personalities, and celebrities including U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez; NBCSL President, Representative Joe Armstrong (TN); Emmy winner, Lynn Whitfield; Radio personality and author Michael Baisden; Grammy winner CeCe Winans; and Award-winning journalist and TV One Host, Roland Martin.
WHAT: The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) is holding its 37th Annual
Legislative Conference in Memphis, TN. A primary focus will be the discussion and ratification of policy issues submitted by members of the organization with collaboration by community stakeholders. Those policies will be the foundation for state and federal legislation, the NBCSL policy platform for 2014, and collaboration with community- based organizations.
The closing plenary, Galvanizing A State Agenda on Civil Rights will be moderated by Mr. Martin with remarks by The Honorable Thomas Perez; Pulitzer Prize Winner, Doug Blackmon; Lucia McBath, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Tamika Mallory; Former Executive Director of the National Action Network, and Kim McCray, Executive Director, Trayvon Martin Foundation….
WHERE: The Peabody Hotel, 149 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN, 38103
WHEN: December 11-14, 2013
About the National Black Caucus of State Legislators
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) is a membership association representing more than 600 African-American state legislators hailing from 45 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. NBCSL members represent more than 50 million Americans of various racial backgrounds. NBCSL monitors federal and state activity and provides this information to its members through policy symposiums and conferences. Each year, NBCSL members pass policy resolutions that directly impact federal and state policy. The organization focuses on issues that directly impact U.S. domestic policy and is committed to policies that positively affect all Americans. Learn more at www.nbcsl.org.
In a manner that was almost pro forma, Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy and her Board of Aldermen ended three years of non-stop resistance to the specter of city-county school merger with a quick 4-0 vote for a deal that enables the suburb to proceed with its public-school independence.
That the deal with Shelby County Schools was achieved only at the expense of allowing SCS to take control of three of Germantown’s flagship schools was dealt with by means of a stoic fatalism, sans debate and without any expression of the private anguish that the city officials may well have felt.
“It lays a foundation on which our new school district can be formed,” was the game way the mayor put it in the course of her dispassionate introduction of add-on agenda item 5B, which John Drinnon dutifully moved, with Mike Palazzolo seconding it.
The Board members had met for an hour with their attorneys “in a litigation session” just before the public meeting, Goldsworthy had explained, and she made it clear the message they got was: You have no choice. She spoke of the numerous counter-proposals the city had made in vain to the SCS board and said she was “keenly aware” that the agreement did not “address all our concerns.”
As Goldsworthy would put it in a brief encounter with the media after the meeting, “Clearly, the Shelby County School board, I think there is general agreement, is responsible, it owns the schools, it holds them in trust for the education of children….Ultimately, you have to recognize that the decision rests more with the Shelby County School board than with our desire.”
In other words, though Goldsworthy pointedly eschewed any use of the metaphor, SCS held all the cards.
It remained for two Germantown residents, both of whom had daughters at Germantown Elementary, to address some obvious points and mourn the outcome after the vote had been taken..
There was Jason Polley, who began, “To say I’m bitterly disappointed is an understatement….Part of this city has been hurt by this deal tonight [and] you haven’t asked for any public input.”
He was followed by Don Adams, who made explicit what Polley had only hinted it. Identifying himself as a resident of zip-code 38138, the area containing the three SCS schools-to-be, he imagined out loud the thought pattern of somebody contemplating a move into the area: “Why would I want to move into 38138?”
In a reference to Goldsworthy’s previous description of the deal as “an agreement of compromise and settlement, Adams said, ”The compromise sounds like it was all them. They wanted three schools. They got three schools.”
In her post-meeting conversation with the attendant press, Goldsworthy protested the geographic reference, saying emphatically, “I live in 38138.I certainly have a vested interest. What we can do is assure everyone in Germantown that I am absolutely convinced that, first, the new school board will do everything appropriate to assure that everyone has access to excellence in the classroom, and, two, that the City of Germantown will continue to do everything that it does to make sure that every neighborhood is desirable.”
In answer to a variety of questions, she spoke of the prospect of inter-local arrangements with Collierville and gave assurance that, whatever the dislocations of student transfers might be, there would be room in Houston High School for additional students.
She was adamant that her city had fought the good fight. “Anybody who was a party to the negotiations knows that we did not roll over. We had completely and consistently asked for all eight schools, and we were willing to operate those in terms that we felt gave us an opportunity some time in the future to re-examine that.”
She spoke of having tried for a six-school option that left Germantown Elementary within the city’s own system but said “the other party,” SCS, would not agree on terms that were acceptable.
In the end, the new Germantown School Board had seen no alternative to accepting the agreement -- which at least allowed the city to move forward in creating a new school district for next year anjd the future beyond that -- and neither had the city administration.
The agreement will come before the SCS board for its formal approval on Tuesday night, and, in fairly short order, the Shelby County Commission is expected to convene and dismiss its last remaining piece of litigation, with Germantown.
And then, as Goldsworthy had noted in her introductory remarks, federal district judge Hardy Mays will have an opportunity to close the curtain on the whole three-year struggle.
In the manner of the other five suburbs that had previously reached agreement with the SCS board, Germantown will acquire rights to five public schools through a process of making 12 annual payments — in Germantown’s case, at a rate of $355,453 per year, coming to something like $4.25 million.
As in the other cases, there is no one-to-one purchase arrangement. Technically, the money will be used to help offset SCS retirement obligations, while the deeds to school properties will be made over separately.
Bunker, who was recently elected Mayor of Lakeland and has tendered his resignation from the Commission, effective January 3, said he had been encouraged to take the step by numerous Republican public officials and other prominent members of the GOP.
“This is long overdue, and it needed to come from the Republican side,” Bunker said. The oft-beleaguered Holden is a Republican who was appointed administrator by the GOP-dominated Shelby County Election Commission in 2009.
Bunker said he anticipated that a majority of his fellow Commissioners, both Democrats and Republicans, would support his resolution. He acknowledged that some Republicans considered calls for Holden’s resignation to be the result of partisan Democratic pressure, but he said his own opinion, augmented by increasing dissatisfaction with Holden in GOP ranks, was that the administrator had to be held accountable for failure to stem a tide of election glitches that have occurred on his watch.
“If people were demanding that something be done after only six months or so on the job, you could say that was premature, that he should be given a chance, but he’s been there for five years, and the evidence is that he’s either unwilling or unable to do the job,” Bunker said.
The resolution of “No confidence” will be introduced in the Commission’s General Government committee on Wednesday, Bunker said, and will be accompanied by supporting documentation from both local and official state sources, including reprimands of the SCEC and its administrative arm by state Election Coordinator Mark Goins.
Among the instances enumerated are the Election Day glitch of August 2010 which resulted in hundreds of voters being incorrectly turned away as they arrived to vote; a failure in 2012 to provide correct ballots for local elections that jibed with post-census redistricting, resulting in a judicial invalidation of a Shelby County School Board race; a lack of responsiveness to public inquiries and an inefficient management of staff; and a recent audit report pinpointing improper cash management and a variety of other errors of commission or omission..
Bunker said another factor was Holden’s failure to respond with appropriate corrective action after being put on probation by the five-member local Election Commission, consisting of three Republicans and two Democrats.
“The facts are overwhelming, and all he’s responded with are excuses,” said Bunker, who acknowledged that only the Election Commission itself could force an administrative change. He was asked to respond to an emailed allegation by SCEC Commissioner Dee Nollner, who termed the charges against Holden to be the result of “a planted, connived, sabotage effort by a disgruntled employee.”
Nollner said, “Mr. Bunker should be ashamed of himself for attacking anyone based on such one-sided "information" and to do so to a fellow Republican brings the question, why? Was the AOE [Administrator of Elections] competent to conduct the Lakeland election in which Mr. Bunker was elected mayor, but incompetent on other issues?”
Bunker said he intended to talk with Nollner but said, “Evidently she’s drunk the Kool-Aid.” He said what was at stake was public confidence in the integrity of elections.
It is no secret that various names have been discussed in local Republican ranks as possible successors to Holden. They include Steve Summerall, a former chief administrator for the Shelby County Commission; former SCEC chairman Bill Giannini, now an assistant to Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak; and current Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas. Ironically, Bunker has made it clear he would like Thomas to formally apply for the job of Lakeland city manager.
UPDATE: Germantown Board votes 4-0 to approve agreement.
The Board of Aldermen is said to be ready to endorse the resolution and thereby to subscribe to the school plan set forth by Hopson.
Since Hopson first made public his proposals, five of the six Shelby County incorporated suburbs which plan to create independent school districts have accepted them, and subsequently the Shelby County Commission has voted to drop its long-standing lawsuits against all five — Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington.
Only Germantown had thus far held back — out of an unwillingness to accept the aspect of Hopson’s plan which calls for keeping three Germantown-based schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary School — within the jurisdiction of SCS.
Hopson’s reasoning was that a majority of the students in those schools actually reside in the unincorporated areas of the county rather than the Germantown city limits.
After he made his proposals and the SCS board adopted them, there had been a good deal of back-and-forth between Germantown officials and the board and Hopson, and various alternatives were discussed and discarded — one calling for the new Germantown municipal school system to maintain jurisdiction over Germantown Elementary School, which arguably has a majority of students from within Germantown.
David Pickler, an SCS board member representing Germantown, acknowledged Monday that he had been told by SCS attorney Valerie Speakman that the Germantown Board of Aldermen had indeed accepted the original Hopson proposal.
Pickler, who had strongly advocated that all eight school properties within Germantown’s municipal schools be assigned to the city’s municipal system-to-be, expressed disappointment and said he intended to ask “a lot of questions” Tuesday night when the SCS board meets again and would presumably be in a position to accept the Board of Aldermen’s action.
He said he had been apprised of a move toward acceptance of trhe SCS terms by the newly elected Germantown School Board but had believed there was resistance on the part of Germantown city officials.
Evidently that resistance is now at an end. The terms apparently accepted by Germantown would be identiical to those already accepted by the other five incorporated suburbs, which would convey school properties to the suburb — five in the case of Germantown — as part of a larger arrangement. The suburb would pay a sum, at a rate of roughly ten cents to the dollar of the schools’ value, that would be regarded not as direct payment for school properties but as a contribution to the costs of post-retirement benefits incurred by SCS.
Germantown’s payments — to be made in installments, as is the case with the other suburbs, over a 12-year period -- would amount to several million dollars but not a double-digit amount.
Yacoubian Research, an established Memphis polling firm, has conducted what it said to be an independent poll of likely voters regarding a Democratic primary contest in the 9th Congressional District between incumbent congressman Steve Cohen and his potential challenger, lawyer Ricky Wilkins.
The poll, involving some 204 respondents in the 9th District, found Cohen prevailing by a margin of 76 percent to 11 percent, with 13 percent expressing themselves as unsure.
A second question was asked of both 9th District voters and a sample of 414 Shelby County voters at large: “If Congressman Steve Cohen were to endorse a Democrat for Shelby County Mayor against Republican Mark Luttrell, would this make you more likely or less likely to vote for him?”
Within the 9trh District, 51 percent pronounced themselves “more likely,” as against 10 percent who said “less likely” and 39 percent who said there would be no difference. Percentages for the larger county sample were: 35 percent “more likely;” 26 percent “less likely”; and 39 percent, no difference.
Cohen led Wilkins in all age, race, gender, and geographic groupings, with his greatest strength among African-American males (83 percent) and white females (88 percent). Wilkins is African-American.
In only one category, an infinitesimally small sample of Republicans intending to vote in the Democratic Primary, did Wilkins lead Cohen. The vote there was 2 to 0,
Yacoubian’s conclusion: “In sum, Congressman Steve Cohen continues to be the overwhelming favorite in the August 2014 Democratic Primary for 9th district congress.”
The poll results can be accessed in more detail here: Yacoubian_Poll_Results__1_.pdf
The second potential vacancy is that of Bunker’s Commission colleague Chris Thomas, who has been asked by Bunker, now serving as mayor of Lakeland, to apply for the job of Lakeland city manager.
Lakeland’s Board of Commissioners, which met Monday night, has delayed immediate action on replacing former city manager Robert “Bob” Wherry, who was fired last week. The vacancy has been publicly advertised, with a deadline for applications of December 13. The board will meet again on December 17 to decide on a hire.
Bunker’s letter to Harvey (see below) specified that his resignation would take effect on January 3. The Commission will be tasked with naming an interim replacewment for Bunker — and for Thomas, too, if need be. Both Bunker and Thomas are District 4 Republicans.
With the approval Tuesday night of agreements allowing three more suburban municipalities — Millington, Collierville, and Bartlett — to acquire school buildings and proceed with establishing their independent school districts, the unified Shelby County Schools board needed only to reach some sort of understanding with Germantown, still aggrieved over the unified system’s intent to keep three flagship schools.
But, though SCS board member David Pickler, who represents Germantown, still holds out hope of retaining the schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — sentiment seems to be building on the newly elected Germantown school board to bite the bullet and accept some version of SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s terms.
That’s what’s on the grapevine, anyhow, though hold-fast sentiment still exists in Germantown civic and political circles and could re-assert itself.
But meanwhile the SCS board took little time, during a special called meeting following its regular work session Tuesday night, to confer unanimous approval on agreements and school-property transfers to the three municipalities, whose school boards are expected to reciprocate as soon as feasible.
The terms of the agreements are identical to those agreed upon between the SCS board and Lakeland and Arlington — 12 years worth of installment payments, equaling in each case to a total that is something like ten cents on the dollar of the property being made over.
And, in the case of the three new municipalities as with Arlington and Lakeland previously, the agreement template is structured so as to avoid any reference to a sale per se. In theory, and perhaps also in practice, the monies owed by the municipalities will be earmarked for offsetting the costs of post-employment benefits accrued by the SCS system.
The precise obligations are:
*12 annual payments of $672,193 by Bartlett, for a total of $7,298,316;
*12 annual payments of $507,819 by Collierville, for a total of $6,093,828;
*12 annual payments of $230,219 by Millington, for a total of $2,762,628.
As with the prior agreements, the school properties would revert to SCS upon any meaningful default by one of the contracting municipalities.
All parties on both sides of the bargaining line — again, with the exception, so far, of Germantown — seem satisfied, though the total sums that might be collected by SCS — including those forthcoming from an agreement with Germantown — add up to far less than the $57 million that is still owed to SCS (as the successor to the defunct Memphis City Schools) by the perpetually delinquent City of Memphis.
Perhaps everybody is just ready for a time-out. Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz, the Germantown Republican who, before, during, and after his one-year chairmanship, spearheaded the Commission’s litigation efforts against (and bargaining with) the suburbs, certainly is.
“It was an intense, focusing, and necessary effort for us,” said Ritz, “but it was time for a settlement.”
Ritz confided Tuesday that he had experienced a fair degree of hostility and ostracism from certain of his fellow townsfolk during the last three years of legal struggle between the Commission and the suburban municipalities. He saw the outcome balancing out — with the state legislature boosting the suburbs’ case and the courts, personified by presiding federal judge Hardy Mays, issuing rulings that strengthened the Commission's hands.
He sees Judge Mays signing off on the agreements as soon as they are complete between the SCS board and the municipalities, and, since the Commission and Memphis City Council intend to drop litigation as the suburbs concur, through formal action by their newly elected school boards, the case will soon be at an end, some three years after it began with the December 2010 surrender by the old Memphis City Schools board of the MSC charter.
The County Commission is likely to drop its former intention to expand the number of SCS board members from the board's present component of seven, Ritz said, and he expressed confidence in the “new faces” that largely populate the current board ensemble.
At some point, the Commission will probably seek to draw new district lines for the Shelby County School district, leaving the territories of the six suburban municipalities outside the lines and requiring a reshuffling of the SCS board's membership, Ritz said. but he specified no timetable for such an action.
And who mjight this troubador be, all ye political junkies? We don't have 64 silver dollars to offer for a right answer, but we will appreciate your acumen, if that's a help. (And don't say we don't offer a few fun facts once in a while!)
“We have to pay for things we need and things that will improve our city. Pre-K is one of those things”: That was how Shea Flinn, co-sponsor with City Council colleague Jim Strickland of the 2014 half-cent sales-tax ballot initiative, began his climactic public appeal on Tuesday.
That was in a one-on-one debate format with the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr., a leading referendum opponent, before a Memphis Rotary Club luncheon audience at the University Club. Some 40-odd minutes later, in his conclusion, Whalum objected, “In what by any standard is the poorest big city in the United States, with one of the highest illiteracy rates, we must not further burden the children of our city and their parents.”
In the half-hour plus of dialogue that was book-ended by these remarks, the two main concepts embedded in the referendum were amply vented: the value to Memphis children of a proposed city-wide pre-Kindergarten program vis-à-vis the price taxpayers would have to pay for it.
Flinn emphasized the former, Whalum the latter. Flinn insisted that the referendum carried with it an “iron-clad guarantee” that the monies raised — somewhere in the tens of millions of dollars annually — would go into a touch-proof fund reserved primarily for pre-K and secondarily for property-tax reduction. Whalum responded that the language of the referendum focused not on pre-K but on the fact of a sales-tax increase, and that, he said, was what voters were being asked to cast their ballots for.
Flinn maintained that studies showed that pre-K was beneficial and would yield long-term economic results and that every dollar spent would “give you five dollars back.” Whalum said the proposed half-cent sales-tax increase was regressive, a further indignity heaped upon the poor, and that opponents of the referendum, like himself, were “for pre-K,” but “against this means of paying for it.”
Whalum was not all that sure what the various studies of pre-K had shown, for that matter, suggesting that claims of lasting benefits, especially beyond the third grade, were “unproven.” And, for his part, Flinn insisted that property taxes, the other basic financing method available, was perhaps as regressive for Memphians as the sales tax, especially since tourists and people who lived elsewhere but worked in Memphis helped pay the latter.
In a variety of ways and by various yardsticks, the two weighed advantages against costs. Pointed but thoughtful, their thrusts and counter-thrusts were a recapitulation in miniature of a longer, more wide-ranging and often more boisterous debate held the night before, in the presence of a lively crowd at the Hooks Main Library.
That one had been between Whalum and Barbara Prescott, the former Memphis school board member who had most recently headed up the Transition Planning Commission created by the legislature to advise on city-county school merger. And, however different in kind (and volume) it might have been from the Rotary debate, the problem discussed was essentially the same — that of costs versus value received.
There were — and are —numerous ways of carrying out such an evaluation, and essentially the city-wide debate, which has heated up seriously within the last two weeks, has taken place between those poles. The Memphians who go to the polls on Thursday, adding their judgment to those already cast by early voters, will determine to which side of the equation the pendulum tilts.
It’s official now. With the unanimous 7-0 passage Tuesday night by the unified Shelby County Schools board of template agreements with the municipalities of Arlington and Lakeland, the long-standing litigation over new school-district arrangements in Shelby County is fast on its way to conclusion.
Mayor Keith McDonald of Bartlett, who was in attendance,said categorically that his city was eager to follow the lead of his fellow mayors, Mike Wissman of Arlington and Wyatt Bunker of Lakeland, who endorsed the agreements Tuesday night on behalf of their municipalities. Millington and Collierville are also said to be ready to follow suit, and when the School Board convenes again Tuesday night, expectations are that agreements with those municipalities may be ready for a vote.
The situation is cloudier with Germantown, which still hopes to bargain for the retrieval of the three flagship schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — that SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson has included in his projection for the unified district, going forward.
David Pickler, who represents Germantown on the SCS board, voted along his colleagues to support the agreements with Arlington and Lakeland, at least partly in hopes that the technical formulas put forth in them would apply as well to Germantown, forming the basis for his city’s hopes to keep the three flagship schools within the forthcoming Germantown Municipal School District.
Pickler said he would resolutely oppose any effort by SCS to impose anything other than a pro-rated arrangement with Germantown consistent with the template now established. He acknowledged that agreement between SCS and Germantown might not be an immediate thing.
For a variety of reasons, both political and legalistic, the agreements approved Tuesday night do not posit a direct sale per se of school properties by SCS to Arlington and Lakeland, but rather the free deeding over of the school properties in return for specific financial liabilities on the municipalities’ part regarding pensions and OPEBs (Other Post-Employment Benefits) accruing to SCS.
However reckoned, these costs come out to a value of ten cents or somewhat higher on every dollar’s worth of school-property value in Arlington and Lakeland. Calculated on the basis of Arlington’s four public schools and Lakeland’s one, the payments expected of Arlington are $333,333 each year annually for 12 years, or $4 million, and for Lakeland of $56,337 annually for 12 years, or $676,744.
Consistent with the formulas adopted, the board took four votes, one each for transferring school properties to both Arlington and Lakeland, and another two votes on behalf of identical agreements with the two municipalities, the thrust of which is to saddle the municipalities with responsibility to keep faith under penalty of the properties’ reversion to SCS ownership.
The agreements with Arlington and Lakeland, apparently soon to be embraced by Bartlett, Millington, and Collierville, clearly involved a good deal of bargaining.
Board member Teresa Jones, who represents an inner city district, said she began by wanting “the kitchen sink” from the suburbs but came to understand the need for compromise. David Reaves of suburban Bartlett said it was “time to end this battle” — one which began almost three years ago, when the old Memphis City Schools board voted to surrender the MCS charter, forcing the city-county school merger which the county’s six incorporated suburbs sought independence from.
There was something “bittersweet” about the pending resolution of the three-year controversy, said board chairman Kevin Woods, but the second part of that term seemed the operative one for almost everybody Tuesday night.
By prior arrangement, the Shelby County Commission, chief among remaining litigants in contention with the suburbs, will meet Thursday for its own vote on removing Arlington and Lakeland from the scope of its lawsuit.
The same process will undoubtedly be followed in turn for each suburb that accedes to the now-established template for agreement, though the status of Germantown remains uncertain and hard to predict. Pickler acknowledged that quick agreement between Germantown and SCS is "not likely."
When it ended, enough was revealed by Chairman James Harvey and other members to indicate that two of the six suburban municipalities that have been on the other end of litigation brought by the Commission — Arlington and Lakeland — were ready to reach agreement with the Commission on terms that will be brought before the unified Shelby County Schools board at its scheduled Tuesday night work session.
Though the chapter and verse of the agreement were to be withheld until a special called meeting of the unified Shelby County Schools board Tuesday night, it was learned, from several sources familiar with negotiations, that the two municipalities would accept financial terms involving direct purchase of school properties within their geographic jurisdictions and that the prices of the properties would be considerably higher than token ones.
The price tags, keyed to number of buildings and cost per square foot, were almost $4 million for Arlington and nearly $1 million for Lakeland.
Specifically, Arlington would be paying the unified Shelby County Schools district the amount of $333,333.00 annually for 12 years. The payments for Lakeland will be $56,337 annually, also for 12 years.
For a variety of reasons, both political and legalistic, the agreements with Arlington and Lakeland are couched not as property sales per se but as transfers of property in a framework that includes payments by the municipalities to compensate SSC for pension liabilities and long-term costs pertaiing to OPEBS (Other Post-Employment Benefits).
Additional protocols in the agreements provide for the transferred properties to revert to SCS in the event of any irregularity in compliance with the proposed terms or direct breach of them.
Indications are that Millington officials would soon be accepting similar propositions — probably this week — and that Bartlett and Collierville would not be far behind (although some wrinkles still need to be ironed out in all these cases).
The template for an agreement differs from the 40-year leasing arrangements proposed two weeks ago by superintendent Dorsey Hopson of the unified SCS district, but the Board, which was scheduled to take up these first agreements at a special called meeting at 9 p.m. Tuesday, was expected to find the revised terms amenable.
Should these agreements indeed be concluded with five of the municipalities, only Germantown would find itself still in litigation. The city’s officials remain aggrieved by attendance zones proposed by Hopson for the unified county system that include three Germantown schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Gerrmantown Elementary.
Although County Commissioner Chris Thomas said Monday he would defer presenting a motion for full and complete discontinuation of the Commission’s lawsuit, pending events of the next two weeks, members of the Commission majority who have supported the litigation indicate they are not prepared to give it up so long as Germantown holds out.
The Commission was scheduled to hold a special meeting Thursday to consider further action so long as copies of the suggested agreement were in its possession as of noon Tuesday. (That was a condition insisted on by Commissioner Heidi Shafer.) Friday was set aside as a contingency date in case there was a delay in disseminating copies of the proposed agreement.
Tempers frayed somewhat in a heated debate on Thursday’s Pre-K Sales Tax Referendum, held Monday night at the Hooks Main Library on Poplar Avenue and sponsored by the Memphis League of Women Voters.
But there were light moments, too, in the encounter between Barbara Prescott, a proponent of the half-cent sales tax increase, and the Rev. Kenneth Whalum, an avowed opponent. Above is one such, occurring as Prescott attempted to characterize one of Whalum’s opinions, based on her reading of his tweets.
Monday night’s encounter was not the only last-ditch showdown on the sales-tax issue. Another one was scheduled for Tuesday at noon at the University Club. Sponsored by the Memphis Rotary Club, this one will match Whalum, who once again will make the case against the tax, and City Councilman Shea Flinn, one of the referendum’s sponsors.
Because of limited seating for the University Club event, a luncheon, non-members will be asked to pay an admission fee of $18.
Extended reviews of both debates will be featured in this space before Election Day, Thursday, November 21.