REFORM NEEDED: Managed Agreements
Local & National News | June 21, 2024
Monthly financial public accountability is what is needed if there is to be any real public oversight of the riverfront.

Written by: Joe B. Kent

In Memphis, some of our most valuable and unique public assets are managed by private non-profits through "management agreements". These management agreements systemically blind the public and shut off informed public engagement while allowing private non-profits to reap financial benefits from the control of unique public assets.

Under these management agreements, tens of millions in taxpayer funds pay private entities to control, maintain and manage public assets after funding their construction. Private entities then proceed to collect gate, concession and donation proceeds from the taxpaying public.

Examples of managed agreements include Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP), Memphis Museums Inc (MOSH), Tennis Memphis, Agricenter, Memphis Botanic Gardens and Zoo. These private entities, by design, are publicly unaccountable with closed board meetings and unavailable current financials while not answering public information requests.

Challenges with MRPP are well documented, and it's suspected that its CEO Carol Coletta would likely quit, if MRPP were monthly held publicly financially accountable. But monthly financial public accountability is what is needed if there is to be any real public oversight of the riverfront.

And then there is the County owned $226M Agricenter. The Agricenter Commission does hold open public meetings. But unfortunately, the design of the Agricenter Commission meetings prevents the public from seeing what is really happening at the Agricenter.

At the last Agricenter Commission 6/19/24 meeting, multiple leases were approved in one packaged vote without discussing private lease details or per square footage lease rates. During the financial discussion, the public presentation screen was blank as Commissioners generally discussed Agricenter finances, while also not publicly presenting and approving an FY25 Agricenter budget. Approving an Agricenter annual budget, prior to the July 1 fiscal year beginning, is required by Shelby County government.

The Agricenter Commission is yet another mockery of a public board overseeing, in this case, a $226M public facility. Sitting on the Agricenter Commission are Chair Bill Gillion, Former County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Chris Triplett, Marion Foster, Cliff Norville, County Commissioner Shante Avant and John Charles Wilson.

Brooks Art Museum is another valuable public amenity managed by a private non-profit where the taxpayer pays for a significant portion of construction costs, ongoing capital maintenance and operation fees and is also charged for admission and other benefits like event rentals. As part of the massive riverfront $200M public overspend, Brooks recently decided to abandon its current City-owned building, selected a site restricted for use as a public promenade, began construction on a $110M new facility, and landed the City and the museum in a major lawsuit involving conservation, public, and property rights. The Memphis public doesn't understand, but this Brooks act is akin to an entity seizing NYC's Central Park for private use.

Some of these non-profit managed agreement organizations publish annually audited financials. Annual financials reveal some but not enough about the private operation of valuable public assets. For example, this year, it was discovered that MRPP remains in debt from Tom Lee Park construction due to uncollected private pledges. And Tennis Memphis files no annual public financials.

Tennis Memphis is the private non-profit beneficiary of the $30M Leftwich Tennis Center as well as other taxpayer funded management fees. The former occurs as Tennis Memphis collects 100% of the gate at Leftwich and other public Memphis tennis facilities for court time.

Managed agreement reform is needed to better inform and engage the public concerning some of Memphis Shelby County's most valuable public assets. Currently, the public has little if any idea what managed agreements are or what is really happening with privately controlled valuable public assets.

REFORM SOLUTION


Public officials cannot oversee valuable public assets without timely financial information. Nor can the public help maximize the community return on investment when meetings are closed and needed information is unavailable.

To that extent, while simultaneously considering massive budget cuts for managed agreements, both the City Council and County Commission should request, through resolution, that non-profits with management agreements submit unaudited current monthly and annual audited financial reports, publicize and open their board meetings to the public, and answer public information requests.

Should non-profits not comply, then all local public funding should be eliminated for those managed agreement entities that do not comply. The public’s valuable assets cannot be maximized without informed oversight and civic engagement.

Learn more about Joe B Kent

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant