Charley Burch, a candidate for the City Council in Super-District 9, Position 3, is taking aim at one of his opponents, Cody Fletcher, charging the Fletcher campaign with violating state law.
Burch cites Tennessee Code Annotated § 8-30-306, also known as the Little Hatch Act, which contains this provision: “No person holding a position in the preferred service shall solicit, directly or indirectly, or require any other person to solicit, directly or indirectly, donations or contributions for any political party, candidate, cause or purpose in order to acquire or deny a position in state service or to materially affect the retention, promotion or demotion of any employee in state service.”
He also cites TN Code § 2-19-203, which says: "It is unlawful for any public officer or employee knowingly to solicit directly or indirectly any contribution of money, thing of value, facilities or services of any person who has received contracts, compensation, employment, loans, grants or benefits, or any person whose organization, agency or firm has received such benefits financed by public funds, state, federal or local, for political purposes or campaign expense."
Several candidates are contending for the District 9, Position 3 seat. Besides Burch and Fletcher, two others are Dr. Jeff Warren and Tyrone Romeo Franklin. Fletcher had originally proposed to run for the Position 1 position in Super-District 9 but was persuaded by consultant Brian Stephens to switch his venue.
Burch, a security officer at Memphis International Airport, said he intends to file a formal complaint with state authorities. He contends that Fletcher, a development officer of the University of Memphis, a state-supported institution, has run afoul of the provision by “directly or indirectly” soliciting campaign contributions from contractors of other persons with an interest in various building projects.
Burch specifically includes the University Neighborhood Development Corporation, a comprehensive redevelopment project focused on Highland Street and financed under the auspices of a TIF (tax increment financing) grant.
Fletcher is executive director of the UNDC, and, as such, says Burch, is empowered to distribute some $21 million “in city and county tax dollars over the next 15 years up and down the TIF area,” which runs from Poplar Avenue to Park Ave.
“Cody may not be fully aware personally of the problem,” said Burch. “But his campaign people should be.”
Burch pointed out that a well-attended fundraiser for the Fletcher campaign was held in March at the home of Ted Townsend, head of economic development and government relations for the University of Memphis.
“That compounds the issue,” said Burch, who pointed out that invitations to the March fundraiser “almost certainly” went out to “architects, engineers, and builders with existing or potential future contracts with the University.”
Asked if such individuals, many of whom subsequently contributed to the Fletcher campaign, didn’t have the right to contribute to political campaigns like any other citizens, Burch said, “Of course, and they’re perfectly fine people. The point is that they were solicited, and that’s a questionable gray area under the Little Hatch Act.”
Citing public information, Burch said major contributors to Fletcher with some degree of involvement with the UNDC TIF area included Bob Loeb of Loeb Properties, New York developer Zachary Channing, and representatives of the Bass, Berry and Sims law firm, the Makosky, Ringel, and Greenberg property management firm, and Looney, Kiss, and Ricks architects.
Burch also raised the issue of possible conflicts of interest involving Fletcher as a Councilman, given that the Council has ex officio representation on the EDGE board and certain powers of approval over that board, which initiates and oversees TIFs and other development projects.
Apprised of Burch’s charges, Fletcher responded, “‘My top priority is fighting crime. If my opponents are talking about me, I must be doing something right.”