There are some issues that are perennials for the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission.
The political minefields for each body differ because the two governments are very different in the way power flows.
The city government is a strong mayor form of government and county government is not.
That means the council – any version of it over the last 42 years — tends to have an ongoing level of suspicion that the administration is shuffling capital improvement program (CIP) projects the council carefully prioritized during the annual budget season.
Until recently, the annual CIP budget routinely included more projects than the city could get accomplished in a fiscal year. So some rearrangement and pushing back of projects was inevitable. So were the questions about why particular projects were pushed back.
With that context, at this week’s council meeting, Wanda Halbert had some questions about a $190,000 shift in the CIP for the city to buy right of ways and easements along Fairley Road as a first step toward putting sidewalks along the road. It was a project that had been delayed before and now it was being moved up.
Halbert targeted bicycle lanes as an example of projects that jump in priority and are “just pulled out of the air and they are approved.”
“That is totally unacceptable,” she said going on to complain about the recent addition of bicycle lanes along Southern Avenue. “Certainly sidewalks for the safety of our citizens … are far more important than the desires of some of these adults in the city.”
Halbert has raised questions before about city priorities, most notably, about plans for a skate park that she felt had jumped ahead of other long delayed projects. The questions generated much outrage among skate park proponents and the outrage helped to keep the project in the public eye.
No one responded to Halbert’s comments on bicycle lanes during the council session other than council member Joe Brown.
Brown agreed wit her and went a step further. “It’s going to show what you think about certain children in our community,” he said.
Halbert wanted to delay the Fairley Road line item shift to add money for sidewalks immediately.
Council chairman Harold Collins said that’s not how it works.
But council member Bill Morrison moved and the council accepted an amendment that is a statement by the council indicating a quick follow through on sidewalks is a top priority with the council.