The Shelby County Commission expended inordinate amounts of energy at its regular Monday meeting and accomplished very little. And that's the good news. The two most controversial items on the commission's agenda — a proposed sale of the county's interest in the Pyramid to the city and
approval of a zoning proposal for a new Wal-Mart in the Gray's Creek area — were both, after lengthy discussion, simply put on hold. In our book, that's where both proposals deserve to remain — at least until numerous questions get answered. And we're not optimistic that they can be.
The Pyramid sale, urged by Commissioner Sidney Chism, a close ally of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, is supported also by Shelby County mayor A C Wharton and new commission chairperson Deidre Malone, both of whom spoke on its behalf Monday. In theory, the county would divest itself of what advocates of the sale call a "white elephant' and pick up $5 million from the city in the bargain. But serious doubts were raised by several commissioners.
Mike Ritz, whose background is in banking and finance, maintained that the sale would not clearly divest the county of several remaining financial obligations, some of them resulting from what he said were unduly soft provisions of a pending contract entitling the Bass Pro Shop chain to operate the facility. Commissioner James Harvey, a businessman, thought the county had not exhausted potential opportunities to exploit its interest in the Pyramid and wanted time to think over the consequences of an outright sale.
Commissioner Mike Carpenter, though not opposed to the concept of a sale, also wanted more time to reflect on consequences, seconding Ritz's prior observation that "the city and county have been out-lawyered many times." To which Carpenter added, the Pyramid was the very symbol of that reality. Commissioner Henri Brooks found that she, too, had reservations — including a sale price she considered too low. Underlying all these currents of doubt was a sense of unease about the Bass Pro deal. As Carpenter observed bluntly, "Many people believe the fix was in from day one." And several commissioners noted that 70 percent of county taxpayers are also city taxpayers, making the sale transaction somewhat illusory in any case.
In the end, Commissioner J.W. Gibson took his colleagues off the hook by invoking Rule 33, a commission bylaw giving any member the automatic right to defer action on a proposal for two weeks. Ironically enough, Rule 33 itself is getting the bum's rush, the commission having recently voted to abrogate it after this week. But a needful breathing spell may have been gained by this last resort to a 33 Skidoo.
The commission availed itself of an even lengthier postponement — four weeks — before consideration of the proposed Wal-Mart, which the office of planning and development has voted to reject and which many residents of the affected area believe would destabilize existing shopping areas.
Sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing. And to these two actions by the Shelby County Commission, we say well done. Or, rather, well undone.
Never let it be said that I don't admit it when I'm wrong ...