Stockard on the Stump: Memphis crime fight devolves into argument over consultant • Tennessee Lookout (2024)

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Republican senator wants state to hire former NYPD commissioner

A Tennessee Republican senator’s request for the governor to hire an outside consultant to rein in Memphis crime is erupting into a bit of a turf war.

Sen. Brent Taylor sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee this week suggesting he bring in Teneo, headed by former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who served under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, using the “broken window” philosophy that called for arresting offenders for even the smallest crimes, back when New York was said to be the safest big city in America. (Oddly enough, Bratton’s attitude toward guns could run counter to the policies adopted by Tennessee’s Republican-controlled Legislature.)

In his letter, Taylor calls Memphis “a war zone” and says if things don’t change, the city’s middle class will disappear and only the rich and poor will live there. He points out reports show 25 people were killed there last month.

The group is needed to come in and work with Memphis and “serve as eyes and ears to the governor” to make recommendations in advance of the 2025 session, Taylor said.

Taylor claims he’s not dissing local law enforcement agencies but insists someone such as Bratton, who is experienced with turning around New York and Los Angeles, could provide expertise without acting as a crime-fighting force. He wasn’t sure how much a consultant would charge the state.

“We’ve been trying this now for several years, trying to turn crime around, and we’ve been about as successful as an Amish electrician,” Taylor said.

For those who might have forgotten, Taylor also said on the Senate floor this year that Memphians “worked harder than an ugly stripper” to pass a hotel/motel tax increase. Maybe it wasn’t the best choice of words, since strippers are people too.

Shelby County already has a crime commission headed by former Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons with 50 members from the public and private sector. Some question its effectiveness, since Memphis continues to struggle with violent crime.

Overall, crime rose 6% in Shelby County in 2023 from the previous year but is at roughly the same rate as in 2006, according to the Crime Commission’s statistics.

Major violent crimes also jumped 6.3% in 2023, mirroring the same figure in 2021. Violent crimes dipped from about 2,000 incidents in 2006 to about 1,500 in 2011, then jumped to about 2,600 in both 2021 and 2023, the commission’s report shows.

“Republican policies have flooded our streets with rapid-fire weapons of war and starved our families of the resources we need to address the root causes of crime. The only solutions Republican politicians want to endorse are to lock everybody up, shovel tax dollars at building jail cells, and then throw them back on the street.

– Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis

Major property crimes in Memphis saw a similar trend, dropping from about 8,700 in 2006 to 5,900 in 2020 then saw an increase back to about 8,700 last year.

Taylor sponsored several tough-on-crime bills this year, including one that preempted the Memphis City Council’s ordinance designed to stop police from making “pretextual” traffic stops that can escalate into deadly confrontations, which sounds sort of like what New York police were doing under Bratton. It stemmed from the death of motorist Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by officers after they tried to pull him over for reckless driving.

Democratic Sen. London Lamar of Memphis responded to Taylor’s suggestion with disdain, arguing the state should concentrate on the genesis of crime such as poverty instead of hiring a crime consultant.

“Republican policies have flooded our streets with rapid-fire weapons of war and starved our families of the resources we need to address the root causes of crime. The only solutions Republican politicians want to endorse are to lock everybody up, shovel tax dollars at building jail cells, and then throw them back on the street,” Lamar said.

Attainable house, health care, mental health, better schools and better jobs are key parts of the equation, she said.

Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis wasn’t quite as poetic, saying Thursday he wants Gov. Lee to make a crime-fighting grant to Memphis and Shelby County, but only with local officials deciding how to use it. He expects other lawmakers to make recommendations in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Lamar’s press release points out Bratton made statements to the media such as saying arming teachers is the “height of lunacy,” and, “Politicians rewrite regulations so anybody can apply for a permit. Nothing changes until they rework these rules. It’s the Wild West. More guns, more violence, more suicides.”

To put it lightly, those don’t match the philosophy of the Tennessee Legislature.

Bratton also missed the mark a bit on that last one, because the state didn’t just change its gun permitting law, it dropped the requirement for a handgun permit — period.

Critics of the law say the increase in Shelby County murders can be traced to the Gov. Lee’s permit-less carry bill because even though it prohibits felons from going armed, the law makes it harder for police to determine who’s carrying legally and who’s not.

Taylor is right about one thing, though. Shelby and Memphis officials have been trying to cut crime for decades but with only moderate success.

The biggest problem could be that local folks spend more time talking over coffee and doughnuts than they do getting out in the streets and working with kids. It’s easier to go to board meetings and burnish your social standing than to a community center in south Memphis where nobody wants to see or hear you.

Headed for the AG

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance this week sent a “collusion” complaint against the Bobby Harshbarger campaign in upper East Tennessee to the state Attorney General’s office for investigation, initially reported by the Tennessee Journal.

Sen. Ken Yager, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, filed the complaint against Harshbarger, saying the East Tennessee Conservatives PAC, U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger and her son’s campaign are colluding illegally to defeat Sen. Jon Lundberg in the 4th District Senate race. The PAC and Rep. Harshbarger share the same treasurer, Thomas Datwyler, and Yager says they could be a little too cozy.

Harshbarger is attacking Lundberg as too liberal, and a barrage of text messages in recent weeks hit him over stances on in-state tuition for immigrant children and a “bathroom bill” that could have spurred lawsuits for use of the wrong toilet.

Jon Lundberg is a man of strong character with unwavering conservative values, including school choice for families, & I’m proud to support his reelection to the @tnsenategop. pic.twitter.com/yyfAq4g3Rc

— Bill Lee (@BillLeeTN) May 29, 2024

Yet Gov. Lee came to Lundberg’s defense this week, giving his endorsem*nt to the senator who continued to try to sell the governor’s private-school voucher plan this session, even as it was reported to be dead. Lundberg, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, didn’t give up on negotiations until the governor relented at the session’s bitter end.

Lee has indicated he plans to talk to candidates about the importance of passing the voucher bill, although we’re certain he won’t twist any arms.

Thursday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally defended his education leader in a lockstep statement saying he’s glad the board sent the matter to the AG’s Office.

“I strongly believe the complaint brings up issues of collusion that need to be legally clarified,” McNally said, calling the registry board’s decision an indication of the “seriousness.”

Complaint refiled

The registry board dismissed a complaint filed by Republican state Rep. Robert Stevens of Smyrna against Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland, Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed and Tennesseans for Greater Accountability, a political action committee, in part because it wasn’t a sworn complaint. Stevens responded by refiling, according to Bill Young, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

Stevens accused McFarland of exceeding a $1,600 maximum contribution by donating another $7,500 to the PAC, which made a $7,500 contribution to the Smyrna mayor.

In addition, registry board members let former state Rep. Matthew Hill off the hook even though his campaign account didn’t match a bank statement. The former East Tennessee Republican lawmaker’s statement said he has $13,000 in his account, yet the bank account said it zeroed out.

Hill, a confidant of former House Speaker Glen Casada, could never reconcile the two, but the registry board let him close it anyway, according to Young.

Sometimes it’s better to go before the board and plead your case than to sit home and throw darts.

Tax bill backfires

Rutherford County Mayor Joe Carr’s two-year effort to push an impact fee through the Legislature failed miserably this session. Now he says a school facilities tax increase could wind up hampering county revenue.

Carr lobbied lawmakers repeatedly but wound up irritating some of them. And instead of giving Rutherford the same authority as Williamson and Wilson counties to enact an impact fee, the Legislature approved a higher amount on the facilities tax, up to $1.50 per square foot on residential construction and $1.50 per square foot on commercial buildings. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Shane Reeves, a Murfreesboro Republican.

Other Rutherford County lawmakers said it was the best they could do, considering Carr’s effort backfired.

Carr, however, sent out a statement this week saying the new law, which he says was “sponsored by the same interest groups that opposed Rutherford County,” prohibits the county from collecting fees until a certificate of occupancy is issued. Previously, the most of the fees were collected up front.

Thus, for 2024-25, the county won’t gain any new revenue and could suffer a $5 million to $6 million setback, according to Carr. Meanwhile, the county will have to spend an extra $11 million for charter schools without being able to reduce spending for its own school system, which is constantly growing, according to Carr.

Carr entered the Legislature about 15 years ago as part of the Tea Party wave. But in trying to operate one of the fastest-growing counties this side of the Mississippi River, he’s finding out reality is much harsher than he reckoned.

The burgeoning county just southeast of Nashville saw its population jump to 361,000 from 262,000 in 2010 and raised taxes by 16% in 2023.

They’ll have to do some budgetary magic to avoid another tax increase this year.

“Make sure the fortune that you seek is the fortune that you need.” Ben Harper, Diamonds On The Inside

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Stockard on the Stump: Memphis crime fight devolves into argument over consultant • Tennessee Lookout (2024)

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