County Commission Offers Resistance to MSARC Transfer, Will Vote on Monday

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City Hall may be okay with the transfer of the functions of the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center to the Shelby County Health Department. And Mayors Willie Herenton of Memphis and A C Wharton of Shelby County are certainly on the same page, as they indicated in their Friday press conference announcing the transfer.

But not necessarily the Shelby County Commission, which had seemed ready to approve the transfer in principle two weeks ago, provided the two mayors could come to an agreement. The commission will insist on reviewing the matter at its regular meeting next Monday before stamping it with a final imprimatur.

Commissioner Mike Ritz - BY JACKSON BAKER

That came out during a meeting of the commission's Community Services committee Wednesday, when Commissioner Mike Ritz, responding to a left-over agenda item from absent Commissioner Mike Carpenter seeking formal approval, wondered out loud: “Can this be done without our approval?” Responding to Friday's joint mayoral press conference, Ritz expressed surprise that the transfer was announced without a prior okay from the commission and said of Wharton, “If he can do this, maybe they'll merge the two governments over breakfast and announce it later on.”

Commissioner Joyce Avery followed up by suggesting the commission needed to see a full audit of the Center “before I can vote for it.” And Commissioner George Flinn agreed. “Yeah, it's kind of like buying a house without checking the plumbing permit.”

Unsurprisingly, Ritz agreed that knowing what the potential costs could be was a factor. And, once again, he expressed his disapproval of “unilateral activities going on by the mayors and the attorney general.”

By now a bandwagon was under way, and Commissioners James Harvey and Henri Brooks were next to board it. Saying that he, too, was concerned about the “fiscal impact” of the transfer, Harvey suggested further that it would be “impossible” for the commission to approve the matter without the exact functions of a county-operated version of MSARC being “adequately defined.”

Brooks was concerned about the prospect of MSARC's deviating from its earlier model and pursuing a newly proposed course of routing juvenile rape victims to Le Bonheur Hospital and adults elsewhere.

Only Commissioner Matt Kuhn wanted an immediate vote of approval, but the other commissioners present voted to send the matter to the full commission, “without recommendation,” for disposition on Monday.

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