MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - It’s a short walk from the Shelby County Office Building to the Federal Building in Downtown Memphis. It’s also an expensive one, especially when County Commissioners are fighting against the Municipal Schools. “The total legal bill is more than a million dollars,” says Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland.
Here’s the problem. Roland says he has no idea why at least half that money was spent. Leo Bearman and other lawyers representing Shelby County in this case send bills to them every month for their services. Roland says the explanations of services provided are often blacked out so nobody can see them, even other members of the commission. “You can’t take taxpayer’s money,” Roland says, “...and use it to sue them, and then black out statements. In other words, they don’t know what they’re paying for.”
Only a few select commissioners, who are against the municipal school districts by the way, get to see the reasons for the charges. Roland is in favor of municipal schools, and he’s kept out of the informational loop. “I think what we’ve got here is commissioners meeting secretly,” Roland says, “...and we’re getting charged for that. That’s completely against our rules as a board. One person is supposed to meet and bring it back to us and we’re supposed to vote on it.”
Roland says it’s important to let taxpayers know how their money is spent. He can’t do it in this case, because he doesn’t know. “This has got to stop,” he says. “I’ve already asked the U.S. Attorney to look into this case. I will contact the Tennessee Secretary of State, and if I have to, I will go to Nashville next year myself to see what can be done.”
Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz says Roland is right. “Since we have a split commission on the issue of municipal schools,” Ritz says, “...we’ve got to keep the information about the bills quiet...in order to keep our legal strategy to ourselves. There are some on this commission who will tell everybody everything they hear and see...even if it’s supposed to be confidential legal information.” Ritz says when the legal process is over, the commission will release full details of where all of this taxpayer money of yours has been spent.