by Toby Sells
The Memphis City Council talked through communication issues with a professional counselor Tuesday in an all-morning exercise that ultimately brought up sore spots from the group’s past and a discussion of the council’s role overall.
Shelly Baur, a Memphis-based seminar leader and author of the book Integrity-Based Communication, led the council through a discussion of the basics of integrity and methods of effective communication. For example, body language is important, she said. Also, some learn best by reading, others by hearing, and yet others by watching.
But the session went off-topic in a question session as council member Harold Collins said sometimes he feels member of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration game the council when they dodge questions on important issues and fail to divulge complete information.
“We can’t have a truthful dialogue if we’re playing games in here,” Collins said.
Council chairman Jim Strickland agreed. He remembered asking an administration official weeks ago about the tax-rate consequences of an issue before the council.
“The administration person responded, “What does that have to do with anything?” Strickland said. “It’s not like that all the time but sometimes it’s tough to get information from them.”
“If we’re dysfunctional as a body and added to the administration’s dysfunction, then we’re creating chaos,” Halbert said. “I feel like most of the time I don’t even know what’s happening around here. There are so many agendas and personalities. I’m hoping we can get all that together.”
Halbert has long voiced suspicions on how city projects are planned and executed, particularly as to what communities around Memphis get development money from the city. Flooding, she said, is a big problem in many parts of town but only Midtown saw a solution with the $16 million construction of the parking garage at Overton Square, which has a drainage basin for nearby Lick Creek.
Council member Lee Harris said picking where to invest the city’s money is a big issue for the council and the administration and if they can work through it, “we can make progress.” But he said too much contemplation and debate on the matter could create a paralysis in the decision-making process until nothing gets done.
Halbert said council members pushed the Lick Creek basin project. She said she felt doing so was outside the role of the city council members. The administration brings projects to the council and they vote them, she said. If she needs something done in her community, she raises the issue with the mayor’s office and they bring a solution to the council. If that doesn’t work, she said she brings the issue straight to the council.
“If I see something that needs to be done in my district, I don’t get the truck or get the blueprints for abandoned properties, I take it to the administration,” Halbert said.
Council member Shea Flinn said he and Strickland pushed the Lick Creek project. Strickland said he worked on the project for two years before it came to a council vote. He said he and Halbert disagree on the roles of council members.
“I’m not saying you’re right or you are or anyone else is but my role is to work with the administration and to be a driver of solutions,” Strickland said. “I’m the kind of person who is going to push something to a conclusion like you did on (the Elvis Presley Boulevard) project.”