Board OKs $250,000 in legal fees to continue school consolidation fight

In a unanimous vote peppered with defiance, the Bartlett Board of Aldermen Tuesday night authorized an additional $250,000 to support the city’s legal efforts against a county-wide school consolidation.

Bartlett already approved $100,000 in July to support a multi-suburban city lawsuit. The city, along with municipal governments from Collierville, Germantown, Millington, Arlington and Lakeland are in-kind litigants with the State of Tennessee against a suit brought by the City of Memphis and Shelby County.

Judge “Hardy” Mays postponed a decision on the suit until Sept. 20. Meanwhile, legal fees escalate.

Bartlett has already been billed for more than $151,000. Mayor Keith McDonald told the aldermen that the money will be recouped from a previously-passed local sales tax initiative

At stake is the right for Bartlett residents, and those in their respective suburban municipalities, to determine their own school district. In August, voters in each suburban community, except Millington, overwhelmingly supported a half-cent sales tax initiative to support independent schools. Weeks later, the Shelby County Commission announced plans to seek voter approval for a county-wide half-cent sales tax increase which, if passed, would supersede the suburb’s vote.

“What bothers me is (the county commission) don’t want to respect our rights yet they expect us to support everything they want us to do,” Alderman W.C. “Bubba” Pleasant said in voting for the increased legal expenditure. “People representing the county are using our own money to keep us from having our will for a good school system.”

Others echoed Pleasant’s sentiments.

“I hate to see anybody spend that kind of money to fight their cousin but…,” Alderman David Parson’s said.

“We need to fight through to the finish,” Alderman Jay Rainey added. “If it takes $250 new we need to approve it. If it takes $250 later, we need to approve it.”

“The important thing is we’re voting about this in front of everybody so they know what’s going on,” Alderman Emily Elliott added.

Elliott said she’s not certain the county has ever released actual expenses related to the lawsuit.

In other action:

• Board members approved a special use permit for Christian Life Tabernacle to be located at the corner of Davies Plantation Road and East Davies Plantation Road.

The property was previously zoned as 16-lot residential property but never developed. According to church representatives the site will eventually include a church, parking for more than 200 vehicles, athletic fields and walking trails.

• Board members approved an Oct. 9 public hearing for a proposed bed and breakfast at Cedar Hall, 3712 Broadway Road in Bartlett. They also approved the first reading amending the manner to discontinue sewer service. The change will actually shut off water to customers 60-days in areas.