Possible Poor Procedure “Passes” Parking Project

butler-garageOctober 7, 2015 – The Design Review Board (DRB) today approved a new building which will house a parking garage and 15 apartments across Tennessee Street from the Tennessee Brewery and part of that restoration project. The building is known as the Butler Parking Garage & Bottle Shop Apartments and would be at Tennessee Street and Mina Avenue in downtown Memphis.

The approval, however, came after the proposal apparently failed on a tie vote, an unusual proclamation by the chairman that the motion remained on the table after the initial vote, lectures by two staff members, including the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) president, and the chairman of the board, and a then a roll call vote.

While the DRB staff supported approval of the project, three citizens or their representatives spoke against it as proposed.

In common meeting rules, including Roberts Rules of Order, a tie vote on a motion means the motion does not pass. It fails. Consideration of the matter is then completed. The only way it can be considered further is if a board member who was on the prevailing side makes a motion for reconsideration and that motion is approved by the body. Since only two people voted during the original voice vote, the one board member voting no would be the only person who could have moved for reconsideration. There was no such motion from anyone, including the member who was on the prevailing side.

Instead, the chairman declared the original motion to approve the proposal as presented by staff was still on the table for consideration.

From that point, the DMC Development Project Manager who had given the staff report recommending approval again emphasized the project matched the Design Review Board’s guidelines and the staff fully supported the proposal. (It might be noted that when the One Beale Street project recently came before DMC boards of directors the staff did not object to its height violation of the South Main District guidelines. In fact, DMC staff supported the violation. )

The president of the DMC chimed in saying that while the arguments of the neighbors who appeared before the board to object to the project were appreciated, the points they made were not new. He went on to say those objections had been considered by the staff but the overall project’s value to downtown weighed in favor of the development. The chairman of the DRB added that it would be unusual to expect neighborhoods in an emerging downtown to remain unchanged.

The chairman then called for a roll call vote on the motion which, by typical procedure, had already been defeated and would no longer be up for additional consideration. At that point, all six votes were in favor of the project.

Whether the lack of objection to the procedure followed mitigates the apparent violation of common rules of order is questionable. That seems to raise the question, did the Design Review Board really approve the project if it was not, at the time of the roll call vote, properly before it?

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