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Sexual Politics

Though the city's sexual assault resource center has been transferred to the county, questions remain.

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Less than a week after vowing that the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center (MSARC) would stay within city government, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton announced with county mayor A C Wharton that the center would be transferred to the county's jurisdiction.

For those interested in the future of MSARC, it's been a dramatic week.

After Herenton said MSARC would remain a city-run entity, the City Council voted to de-fund the center during a budget hearing, effectively saying they wanted the center to be transferred to the county.

Instead of focusing on problems that have surfaced about MSARC in recent months, including allegations of mismanagement of funds and staff, council members said their decision was a way to put a regional service on a broader tax base.

"This is not a reprisal. We are not relinquishing any asset. We are relinquishing a debt," said Jim Strickland, the council member who proposed transferring MSARC to county government. "The health department and MSARC both service people who live outside the city.

"For some reason, it's okay to let the county take over the health department. There's no valid reason to not let the county take over the sexual assault resource center," he said.

Some time in the next few days, Herenton apparently changed his mind.

During a press conference early this week, the two mayors announced that MSARC, which Herenton recently transferred from the city's Public Services and Neighborhoods division to the city attorney's office, would be managed by the health department starting July 1st.

"If you look at the nature of MSARC, it is to a significant degree a health function," Wharton said. "The foremost concern is that victims have their health needs administered to. ... We felt the proper place for the service was under an already established agency."

Local advocacy groups, who have been calling for such a change since April, are pleased.

"The county administration has experience it didn't have 30 years ago when MSARC started," said Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women's Council. "It has experience in managing criminal justice and health care, making it the best administrator of these services now."

With budget hearings ongoing, however, the change might not be the end of the discussion.

During the press conference, Herenton said there was no evidence that anyone in MSARC's former management did anything wrong.

But since the problems arose, several council members have wanted to ask Public Services and Neighborhoods director Ken Moody and deputy director Yalanda McFadgon about the situation. However, the council was repeatedly denied the chance.

Before voting to de-fund MSARC, council chair Myron Lowery said, "I want action. I want answers that I didn't get yesterday."

And at least for one City Council member, the MSARC transition calls into question funding for the Public Services and Neighborhood division.

In all, the division's proposed budget was just over $23 million, 76 percent of which was allocated for personnel.

The division includes Animal Services, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, city libraries, the office of multicultural and religious affairs, the Motor Vehicle Inspection Bureau, the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission, and the Second Chance program, which assists released felons reentering society.

All the division's entities, excluding the library system, have fewer than 50 employees.

"We took MSARC out of the division; Motor Vehicle Inspection looks like it should be a county function," said council member Kemp Conrad. "If we take all these things away, they really have nothing."

About 75 percent of the division budget goes to the library system, currently being run by former Public Services and Neighborhoods director Keenon McCloy. Under the 2010 fiscal year budget presented to the council last week, McCloy's salary was listed as $116,000, while her deputy director's was $110,000.

Under that same budget, the head of the animal shelter's salary was $92,700 a year. The director of the music commission was earning $90,000. The manager of multicultural affairs was earning $80,315, and MSARC's manager made $85,168. Moody's salary was listed as $121,800, while McFadgon's was $109,000.

"Personnel — that's where you have to look to find the reductions," Conrad said. "How many managers do we need?"

Budget wrap-up sessions begin this week.

For more, visit Mary Cashiola's blog In The Bluff.

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