Much of the attention in Civic Center Plaza these days is on the Shelby County Commission which is having a deep and wide political dispute that is more of a political realignment. It’s also the moment at which Justin Ford, a commissioner since Sept. 1, 2010, has stepped into the political spotlight.
We’ve written about what’s at stake here and we’ll be writing more.
But we didn’t want to ignore another political entrance across the plaza at City Hall.
It came last week as the Memphis City Council approved Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s slate of division directors — none of them a change from Wharton’s first two years in office although some have different roles than they did before.
When it comes to roles, Robert Lipscomb has had many during his tenure as director of the city’s division of housing and community development. He is also the executive director of the Memphis Housing Authority. MHA and HCD both exist primarily on federal funding, primarily from the federal Department of Housing and Community Development. But they are separate agencies and Lipscomb is paid a separate salary for each for a combined salary of $250,000 that is more than the mayor himself makes. And both salaries are federally funded.
For a time, Lipscomb played a third role as the city’s chief financial officer during the Herenton administration when Herenton conceded the city’s finances had become so tangled that he didn’t have an accurate read on where the city was going financial.
As the council vote neared on Lipscomb’s reappointment last week, council member Lee Harris, the only new member of the council in the 2011 city elections, made his stand.
He said Lipscomb’s pay was an “extremely high salary.”
“I think there are plenty of reasons we might choose not to go down that path,” he added. “I cannot be a part of extravagant salaries.”
Lipscomb had a hard time getting recognized to answer because of the other council members responding.
“I don’t think we pay director Lipscomb enough for everything he does,” said council member Reid Hedgepeth citing the federal grants to the tunes of hundreds of millions of dollars that have come the city’s way.
“If there is anything to criticize about this man it is that he works too hard,” said council member Myron Lowery who along with other council members cited Lipscomb’s 16-hour work days.
“There are other folks that work hard and I don’t think this is a substantial rationale to explain the huge gap in salaries,” Harris said. “I just don’t believe that there are 16-hour work days. That’s a pretext more or less for an extravagant salary.”
Lipscomb has had the two jobs at HCD and the MHA for 12 years. He started getting the dual salaries in 2009.
“I would submit to you the city owes me money for the years I got this dual responsibility,” he told the council. He also said the first nine years with one salary were a “travesty.”
Wharton responded later and in general.
“There are 16 hour workers back here,” he said pointing to the row of division directors seated behind him. “I know that for a fact.”