Updates from the Shelby County Commission

Safer At Home

Shelby County leaders have joined a unified effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is what’s happening around the county.

Safer At Home. Memphis, Shelby County and each of its municipalities have issued Safer At Home orders asking residents to limit movement and to avoid congregating.

Coronavirus fatality. Shelby County reported its first COVID-19 death.

Coronavirus testing. The number tested locally (2,218) was reported for the first time, showing a qualified 10% positivity rate.

Economic turmoil. In addition to the immediate health impact, the outbreak has dealt devastating blows to the national and local economy.

Online meetings. The County Commission plans to meet electronically through the month of May.

Voting machines. The Shelby County Election Commission will meet electronically on Wednesday to select a new voting system.

Updates from the Shelby County Commission

Shelby County from a distance

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all regular business in Shelby County, across the nation and around the world. But we’re all doing our best to adapt and press ahead. Here are some brief updates.

Public health. The number of confirmed cases in Shelby County rose to 84 this morning. Follow the latest news and recommendations from the Shelby County Health Department, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Cenders for Disease Control and Prevention.

Economic relief. Tennessee small businesses can receive economic injury disaster loan assistance from the Small Business Administration.

Online meetings. Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order permitting local governments to temporarily conduct business meetings electronically. Today’s meeting of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners will be the first with members participating from remote locations.

Bartlett Bear Hunt. Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald has launched #BartlettBearHunt to help create a positive distraction for younger kids. Pictured above is our contribution, a Bartlett barista bear. I encourage your family to join the fun.

Dr. Manny for U.S. Senate. Healthy Tennessee founder Dr. Manny Sethi appeared on the Fox Business channel nearly two months ago, offering his expertise on the virus. We need to send someone to Washington, D.C. who is well informed and equipped to face difficult challenges like these. Dr. Manny has my support.

Neighbors in need. I’m hearing from all kinds of people whose lives, organizations and families have been disrupted by this crisis. If you have a special need the county might be able to address or information you think local government should consider, please contact me via email or drop a message on social media.

Updates from the Shelby County Commission

Shelby County responds to the COVID-19 emergency

So much has changed this week, it can be hard even to keep up with the news. But because our legitimate concerns and uncertainty can be made worse by rumors, anxiety and panic, it’s important we make a serious effort to identify solid information. Toward that end, here are some quick links and updates you may find useful.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for helpful information about the pandemic, its origins, its characteristics and severity, the risk it presents, how government leaders are responding to it and what everyone can do to help prevent it from spreading.

Local experts. The Shelby County Health Department is our local authority on COVID-19 and has a website filled with information and updates available online at I’m thankful for the dedication of Dr. Alisa Haushalter and everyone on her team as they seek to contain and mitigate this outbreak.

Local government. The Shelby County Board of Commissioners plans to hold its regular committee meetings this Wednesday, but Chairman Mark Billingsley has announced a number of changes.

All meetings will be held on the 1st floor chambers so that the proceedings may be viewed online at Meetings can also be heard on radio WQOX 88.5FM.

According to a March 12 press release:

“Media is welcome to attend; however, there are specific measures that are being put into place to minimize person to person contact during the meeting. Any citizen interested in providing public comment or who may have questions related to items for action, please submit via email to Additional tools are being prepared at this time and once finalized, will be implemented immediately to ensure the public has the ability to comment upon items before the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.”

Local action. For many of us, it seems there’s little more we can do that watch and wait. But that may be the best course of action for now – the action of inaction. The CDC has advised Americans to limit movement and avoid crowds, among other recommendations.

I am hopeful that most citizens will follow this advice so that we can stop the virus from spreading and reduce any strain on our medical system.

A personal note. My wife and I both work in the healthcare industry. Alison is a pediatric ICU nurse at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, and I work for Youth Villages, a non-profit organization that provides mental health and behavioral health services for young people and their families. Both organizations are taking measures to protect patients from harm, as well as their own employees.

We appreciate every step you are taking to keep yourself and others safe. Every time you wash your hands, cover a cough or reschedule social plans, you are helping our medical professionals win this battle. So thank you. Together, we can do this.

Updates from the Shelby County Commission

Commission Meeting Agenda 3/9/2020

Here’s what’s happening around Shelby County as we head into another meeting of the Board of Commissioners:

This week there are 29 items on the consent agenda and 7 others to consider on the regular agenda. Link to full meeting agenda.

Some highlights from this week’s agenda:

Representative Ron Lollar. Commissioner Amber Mills and I have sponsored a resolution to honor the late Ron Lollar, the state leader who represented parts of Arlington, Bartlett, Lakeland and Millington, with the honorary renaming of a portion of Millington-Arlington Road. Representative Lollar was a beloved legislator, a combat veteran, a champion of education, a man of faith and a great friend. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to recognize his service.

Residency. Last meeting, commissioners suspended the rules to pass a measure that temporarily removes the residency requirement from public safety employees, through April 1, 2022.

Meanwhile, plans moved forward to institute a formal policy for investigating alleged violations of the residency requirements. Toward that end, the commission will hold the first reading of an ordinance by Commissioner Van Turner that came out of an ad hoc committee formed to study the issue. The ordinance defines the terms in the Charter and itemizes the proofs of residency.

My take: None of these rule changes will prevent an enterprising employee from actually living beyond the county line, including the high profile case that brought this issue to the forefront.

I remain of the opinion that we should do away with the residency requirement, for at least four reasons:

1. Fairness. If some employees are exempt from, or are otherwise getting around the requirement, particularly employees serving in leadership positions, it sets a bad example for the workforce.

2. Practicality. We can’t enforce the policy we have.

3. Need. The sheriff’s office and the fire chief in particular need to expand their pool of candidates. And we need to have a stable, consistent policy in place for them to do that effectively.

4. Prudence. The county shouldn’t micromanage its employees by telling them where they can and can’t live. We have much better things to do with our time. And the financial argument is not really much of an argument. If we’re to the point where we need to be concerned about losing property taxes collected from a few hundred county employees, that’s evidence we have much bigger problems on which to focus our attention, such as how to make Shelby County a more desirable place to live.

Groundwater protection. As of last meeting, all commissioners had co-sponsored a resolution to defend the Shelby County Health Department and the Ground Water Control Board against a caption bill in the state legislature that would have eliminated their oversight. However, we were convinced to defer passage so that talks could commence between county leaders and the Farm Bureau, which had gotten the state involved.

Those talks are ongoing, the General Assembly will not take the bill up this year, and the Health Department recognizes the need to update its permitting process. Hopefully we we be able to resolve the situation without further legislative action.

Groundwater is too important in Memphis and the surrounding area for us not to do everything in our power to protect it.

School system audits and budget presentations. The municipal school systems were concerned by two items appearing in committee this past week.

The first is a resolution by Commissioner Willie F. Brooks, Jr. that requests budget presentations from each of the municipal school boards. The resolution was amended to replace “school board members” with “school leadership.” However, it remains the case that the municipal school administrations are required to report to their own school boards and to their own local funding bodies, not to the County Commission.

Shelby County Schools is the only system that reports to the County Commission directly, because it doesn’t have a more local body to report to and approve its funding. The municipal systems merely get an ADA split from whatever the commission approves for SCS. So presenting a budget to us doesn’t really make sense for the municipal systems, and it would be an additional, unnecessary burden on them. But some commissioners feel this is unfair to SCS.

Commissioner Michael Whaley, who chairs our education committee, is working on some compromise language that would request updates from the municipal schools only with regard to its progress in receiving and spending capital funds from the county.

The second item that had municipal leaders concerned was a resolution by Commissioner Edmund Ford, Jr. seeking audited financials from each system. Superintendents in the suburban communities were concerned about the cost of having their auditing teams on hand to present to the commission. However, I believe all Commissioner Ford is asking is for the municipal systems to “provide a copy” of the audited financials that are already publicly available.

Parental leave. In his State of the County address, Mayor Lee Harris announced his desire to offer county employees six paid weeks of parental leave. Many of us were anxious to know how he intended to pay for it. We soon learned he planned to pay for this benefit with increased revenue from internet sales taxes.

The keen observer will remember this is the same funding stream I previously identified we could possibly use for public transit, in a compromise position I had formulated and discussed in multiple public forums. However, I was later told the state’s projections on increased revenues were too rosy, and that it would be difficult for the administration to identify which portion of the sales tax revenues were from online or out-of-state collections.

However, that does leave us with some increased revenue, and more than enough to offer this benefit.

Here’s my take.

First, more and more employers are offering this benefit. My own employer, a non-profit, implemented the policy last year. President Donald Trump extended 12 weeks of parental leave to federal employees in December. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee proposed a similar policy for state employees earlier this year. And parental leave policies have been proposed recently in other Republican-led states, including South Carolina and Georgia.

Going forward, this is something we’re going to have to offer in order to recruit and retain employees. And in Shelby County, that includes the public safety personnel that we’re having a hard time finding. They would be the biggest beneficiaries of this policy.

Second, there aren’t funds available for every proposal, and I don’t support tax increases, but there is a revenue stream identified for this one. Overall, the county needs to prioritize, streamline and make some difficult decisions and sacrifices. We can’t continue to squeeze taxpayers. But we do need to take care of our employees, especially the ones who educate our children, police our community, fight our fires and respond to emergencies. I’m happy to support them and their families.

Third, this is a pro-life proposal. Couples who are expecting are often in a financially vulnerable position. As long as the specter of abortion is present in our society, organizations should make it as easy as possible for their own employees to choose life. Children should be given a chance to be celebrated and welcomed into families. If we can help new parents start their families and create a nurturing environment for babies, we should.


Informed Sources 2/29/2020

It’s always a pleasure to appear on Informed Sources. Other guests this week were Dr. Kenneth Whalum, Jr. and Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Harris. Topics included Constitutional Carry, paid parental leave and potholes. Watch here.