Council can’t serve Beale merchants and public interest

The Commercial Appeal – David Waters

It’s hard to say what was most disturbing about the latest events concerning the vital Beale Street Entertainment District.

That City Council chairman Berlin Boyd voted Sept. 5 for a resolution that would directly benefit his new employer, the Beale Street Merchants Association.

That Boyd didn’t acknowledge his “absolute mistake” until Sept. 13, two days after The Commercial Appeal reported the merchants had hired Boyd’s firm to raise money for them.

That Boyd said he “literally forgot” to recuse himself from a vote on a resolution that he himself, as chairman of the Beale Street Task Force, had asked another council member to sponsor.

Or that council attorney Allen Wade justified Boyd’s failure to disclose and recusehimself by claiming he “does not not have a financial, ownership or employment interest in the subject” of the vote.

Only the Trump family would buy that.

Boyd’s behavior is all the more troubling because of the big interest he has taken in Beale Street since he became council chairman in January.

 He has raised tough questions about the Downtown Memphis Commission’s management of Beale Street, in particular its “Beale Street Bucks” voucher program.

In recent months, “Bucks” was replaced with a $5 cover charge to fund public safety, Terence Patterson resigned as DMC president, and Boyd led task force members on a taxpayer-funded trip to New Orleans to study security measures on Bourbon Street.

Now Boyd wants a council resolution that would reimburse merchants for security costs their long-term leases obligate them to pay.

The Beale Street merchants say they hired Boyd, one of their toughest critics, for his business expertise, not his political connections.

Sure. And the Russians reached out to Donald Trump Jr. because of his foreign policy expertise.

As Bernal Smith, publisher of The New Tri-State Defender, located at 203 Beale, wondered in a letter he wrote to Boyd:

 “Out of all the numerous qualified African-American-owned and non-African-American-owned firms in Memphis with the track record and capacity to assist the Beale Street Merchants Association with marketing and fundraising they choose the firm of the current Memphis City Council chairman, who has throughout the year voted on issues that directly impact the entertainment district and its future,” Smith wrote. “Essentially, they buy your vote. Or again, at least that is the perception.”

If they didn’t buy the vote of their former council critic, they neutralized it.

The City of Memphis owns the three-block entertainment district known as Beale Street. The city and its elected and appointed officers have an obligation to keep an eye on it.

City Council members are allowed to make a living. They should be exceedingly careful not to leverage their public trust for the private gain of themselves or others.

As Mayor A C Wharton’s Beale Street Strategic Planning Committee noted in its thoughtful and comprehensive 2011 report: “Sound management of the District is an obvious necessity not only to protect the District from peril, but to take full advantage of the tremendous opportunities for District improvement and growth.”

Sound management requires sound oversight. Beale Street is too important — economically, culturally, historically, symbolically — for city officials to allow either to be compromised.

http://www.commercialappeal.com/story/opinion/editorials/2017/09/18/memphis-city-council-cant-serve-beale-street-merchants-and-public-interest/678005001/