CORRECTED: 'Sham' Greensward Ordinance Moves Despite 'Fringe Element'

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BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
The Memphis City Council ordinance to legally capture the results of mediation on the use of the Greensward for parking began its way through the legislative process Tuesday, though some frustrated council members tried to pause the process by two weeks.

The ordinance as it is now, reads nearly the same as the March 1 resolution the council passed that gave the Memphis Zoo greater control of the Greensward and outlined other uses for Overton Park.

The ordinance, though, is a placeholder and is expected to be changed completely after mediation between the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) is finished by June 30. Council chairman Kemp Conrad said the ordinance will mirror the decisions that come from that mediation and set them into law.

The final ordinance, too, will include precise boundary lines for all of the park’s tenants and partners like the zoo, OPC, the Brooks Museum of Art, and Memphis College of Art. Survey crews are still completing their work on these exact lines. So, the final maps to show who owns what - namely, does the zoo retain control of two-thirds of the Greensward or more or less - remain unknown.

Conrad said the ordinance needed to begin through the process to be ready for the June 30 deadline. However, council member Worth Morgan said he preferred to vote on the matter after the maps were complete and available to the public.

Council attorney Allan Wade said the maps would be available before the third reading of the ordinance.

“We got the ordinance yesterday and don’t have the maps,”Morgan said. “We did the process pretty quick last time on the resolution.”

When the council passed the resolution in March, the item, its maps, and documents, appeared on the agenda the morning of the council’s regularly scheduled meeting. The council passed it from its committee meeting with no discussion.

Barely any council members discussed the resolution during the meeting that afternoon, even after dozens of taxpayers begged council members to postpone the vote while they gathered more information about the matter.

Council member Martavius Jones said he also wanted to see the maps for the ordinance and legal descriptions of them and wondered aloud, “What do we lose by waiting?”

“What do we gain by waiting?” asked Conrad. “If you're going to make decisions to please the fringe element so they don't get mad and do bad things, this job is probably not for you.”

Many council members were concerned the ordinance would somehow upset the mediation discussion now underway. Some feared the ordinance would strain the talks.

To this point, Morgan laid his assessment of the situation. Here’s what he said:

“There are a lot of people frustrated in this whole process. I’m not sure who is at the top, but somewhere close to the top includes me. This has been difficult to say the least.

At times, I swear I wish everyone would stop and not do anything, like put gravel down [on the Greensward] or commit vandalism, or say some of the nasty comments online that have no place in the rhetoric of this conversation.

“People have reached out to me on this and say the council doesn’t need to [do anything to upset the mediation process].

“To be perfectly clear to everyone. We [the council] support mediation. This [the ordinance] is in no way is a deterrent to it.

“The thing that would negatively mediation is people’s reaction to this ordinance if it is unjustly used, a reason to be uncivil.

“There is a cause and effect and people need to realize that.

“I’m not happy about those barricades. But the orange cone line wasn’t respected and police couldn’t control it. If that didn’t happen, then the stanchions would not be there.”

Morgan then spoke directly to Greensward parking protesters:

“I hope you’re reactions to this isn’t over the top and destructive to the process we are working so hard on.”

Council member Patrice Robinson called the ordinance “a sham” and said she didn’t care about it or its timeline until “we have a resolution to the problem.” Instead, she preferred to vote on the issue after mediation talks had wrapped.

“I need to know what the facts are and we don’t have the facts today,” Robinson said.  

The ordinance was slated for a first reading Tuesday, May 3.


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