Mayor gives State of the City

By Brian Bloom

Citing an expansion in housing permits and the annexation of additional property from Bartlett’s zone, Mayor Keith McDonald provided what was primarily a positive State of the City address to a Bartlett Chamber of Commerce audience Tuesday.

Bartlett’s executive officer also touched on the subject of commercial airline service in the Memphis market, the need for “college coaches” for at-risk high school students, abundant employment opportunities in the Memphis area and, of course, the state of litigation involving suburban schools.

Housing starts are beginning to rebound in Bartlett, the mayor said. After years where new home construction was below 50 (from a pre-2008 high of more than 500), Bartlett anticipates more than 100 new homes built in 2012.

“That still a long way from the 300 or 400 where we were, so I’m not going to tell you it’s over, it’s not over, but it’s better,” the mayor said.

The mayor pointed out the city has purchased a fourth ambulance and increased sanitation employees and police officers, in part because of the annexation process that is ongoing. Currently all but Station Two have an ambulance stationed on site.

As to the suburban schools, the mayor updated chamber members on the court proceedings.

Two different amendments were filed at the end of last week, the mayor reported.

“One trying to make it where the judge would rule that the county commission would not give us (Bartlett) any money based on we were illegal based on federal law. Well they already have a federal lawsuit dealing with that, so I’m not sure why they added this language to that lawsuit,” McDonald said.

“One of many terrible things about the way this is going is we’re having to spend money on both sides. As Bartlett residents we’re spending money to sue ourselves and defend ourselves. County commission keeps spending monies on some of the most expensive lawyers in the city and to be able to beat them we have to take money and spend it on the next most expensive lawyers and use them ourselves. There are a lot of lawyers making a lot of money on this and it’s really a shame. I’ve never seen a group (the county commission) so bent on keeping a city from allowing its citizens to have the rights that they should have under the constitution of Tennessee and the United States. We are a legal jurisdiction, chartered by the State of Tennessee and in our original charter it tells us we have the right to educate our children,” McDonald said.

Bartlett has finished the pleadings on the first part of the law suit which questions the constitutionality of two amendments added in 2012 commonly known as the Norris-Todd Act.

Those amendments allowed Bartlett, and other suburban cities, to pass the referendum, have the schools and host an election of a local school board. If the city loses on the current court case Bartlett can still follow up with a local referendum and school board election in 2013.

Either way, the mayor said, a second lawsuit seeking a ruling on civil rights and segregation could be far lengthier and more costly. That suit is expected to be heard in January.

“As I’ve said many times, it’s not if we are going to have our own schools, it’s when and what kind are they going to be,” the mayor said, noting Bartlett also has a city charter school option.

“There’s many ways to eat this elephant, but as in eating any elephant it’s one bite at a time,” McDonald concluded.