Thursday, May 5, 2016

Greensward: Mediation Costs Rise, 'Fringe Element' Reviewed

Posted By on Thu, May 5, 2016 at 11:06 AM

click to enlarge Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad said those responsible for vandalizing this sign are part of the "fringe element" he spoke of Tuesday. - MEMPHIS ZOO
  • Memphis Zoo
  • Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad said those responsible for vandalizing this sign are part of the "fringe element" he spoke of Tuesday.

As the dust settles on the Memphis City Council’s first vote on the Greensward ordinance, the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) says the mediation process with the Memphis Zoo is pushing its expenses way up and council chairman Kemp Conrad further clears the air on his “fringe element” comment.

In a blog post Wednesday, OPC officials said while they signed a confidentiality agreement and could not speak on details on the mediation process, “what we can tell you is that this process is expensive.” Mediation has cost the group $37,000 so far, noting “those costs will only increase.”

“Those costs will only increase,” OPC said. “That’s on top of the $75,000 we spent to commission the transportation and parking report. When we set our annual budget in fall 2015, none of these costs were anticipated. Our original 2016 budget of $805,000 has climbed by 14 percent (and counting).”

With this, OPC asked supporters for donations.

The OPC statement said, also, that the council’s ordinance “does nothing” to affect is commitment to finding parking and traffic solutions for the park.

“If anything, it underscored the value of the mediation process, which is being informed by the participation of the community and park partners in the transportation and parking report,” the statement said. “That input is invaluable in mediation, where we are advocating for solutions that respect the historic design of the park and protect it from further encroachment.”

The "fringe element"

The air sucked out of the city council’s small committee room Tuesday as council chairman Conrad spoke two words: fringe element.”

The room was packed with Greensward supporters who had come to city hall to hear the council review the ordinance that will, in theory, legally capture the result of the mediation between OPC and the zoo.

Conrad’s words came as he delivered a heated retort to council member Martavius Jones who wondered what the council would gain by fast-tacking the ordinance through the council’s legislative process (as they did, ultimately).

“What do we gain by waiting?” asked Conrad. “If you're going to make decisions to please the fringe element so they don't get mad and do bad things, this job is probably not for you.”

The Greensward supporters griped about Conrad’s words after the meeting, some even venting their frustrations to a bank of television news cameras.

But by the time the council’s regular meeting got started moments after, the Greensward supporters had already re-claimed Conrad’s pejorative description. They’d embraced the term “fringe element” as many had already re-claimed Memphis Zoo CEO Chuck Brady description of Greensward supporters as “interesting people” in a Flyer story earlier this year.

But at the meeting, Conrad made it clear he did not mean all Greensward advocates were the “fringe element” he was talking about. Instead, he said the term was meant for those protestors who have vandalized park signs and zoo property and who have written nasty things online.

Conrad went on to clarify his point in a “council recap” posted Wednesday evening. The recap is the first from Conrad (or any council member in recent memory) and it explains what happened at council Tuesday.

The post mentions the budget, the potential sale of the former police building, and police cameras. But, mostly, the recap focuses on the Greensward ordinance and Conrad’s “fringe element” comment.

“My comments have been taken out of context, as I was not referring to park supporters who don’t want parking on the Greensward - indeed, I am one of them,” Conrad said. “This comment was clearly directed at only a small few who have vandalized Overton Park and zoo property the past two weekends and make threats and illegal offenses at law abiding people; these actions are costing the city precise police resources.”

“More importantly, this small minority of people are, knowingly or unknowingly, dealing and sabotaging the prospects of a reasonable compromise and reconciliation through mediation. Moreover the strident and disrespectful public commentary by some has effectively mooted the advocacy of other well intentioned citizens who support a resemble resolution through the legislative process.”

Conrad finished by reminding that at the council’s meeting Tuesday that he said “I genuinely cherish the positive civic activism and engagement” of those who spoke before the council.

Conrad’s note also included some examples of “inappropriate commentary” found online.

One note from a Facebook user called “Damn Daniel” says nothing will done about the parking situation “until you people show up with guns and are willing to star a fight with police.”

Another says things are “going to get extremely ugly” and says “let’s just say I wouldn’t park my car on the Greensward this weekend.” Another proclaims “it’s spray painting weather!”



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