By: Shelby County Observer
Commissioner Britney Thornton’s recent proposal to unconditionally allocate $2.5 million of taxpayer funds to one specific organization has sparked intense debate and criticism. The decision came as a surprise to many, especially given Thornton’s previous refusal to support a homeless prevention contract for multiple organizations, including a black-owned one. While her sudden change of heart raises questions about her true motives, the allocation of such a significant sum without a proper process has been viewed with skepticism and concern.
In December of 2023, Thornton stood as the sole county commissioner to vote against a homeless prevention contract that would have directly impacted homeless prevention in Shelby County. However, following a tragic winter storm that claimed the lives of a dozen individuals, including three who were homeless, Thornton appears to be backpedaling in an effort to salvage her public image. Despite January 16, 2024, Fox 13 news story, “Woman denied entry at Memphis Hospitality Hub”, the swift pivot toward unconditionally awarding the substantial amount to the Hospitality Hub, a predominantly white-owned organization, has left many questioning the commissioner’s priorities and commitment to impartial decision-making. This has led to concerns not only about ethical conduct but also about potential biases and favoritism in the allocation of public funds.
Numerous sources within the county headquarters have expressed deep disappointment and skepticism regarding Thornton’s actions. One county employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, labeled Thornton’s actions as “hypocritical,” particularly given her public advocacy for black business vendors but her failure to support any black-owned organizations during the proposed grant allocation, as well as the wide disparity amongst the allocation of funds to white-owned organizations and funds awarded to black-owned organizations. The largest Shelby County racial groups are Black (53.6%) followed by White (34.5%) and Hispanic (6.8%), yet Thornton proposes 100% of $2.5 million to be given to the white-owned Hospitality Hub.
The employee also highlighted a lack of trust in Thornton’s judgment, emphasizing the need for a transparent and fair process, such as a Request for Proposal (RFP), to ensure accountability and fairness in the allocation of public funds.
Concerns surrounding Thornton’s ethical conduct extend beyond this particular case. Allegations have surfaced regarding her involvement as chairwoman of the Shelby County land bank, with claims that she may have leveraged her position for personal gain by acquiring properties from the land bank and subsequently selling them for profit to developers. This alleged conflict of interest raises significant ethical and legal questions, warranting a thorough investigation into potential violations of state law and county ordinances.
Pointing to the Shelby County Code of Ethics, which explicitly defines personal interest and prohibited sources, behind closed doors, government officials have been vocal in their criticism of Thornton’s actions. One official characterized her conduct as self-serving and articulated concerns about her apparent disregard for ethical standards and public accountability.
As the community anticipates the outcome of the upcoming vote, the spotlight remains on Commissioner Thornton, with many scrutinizing her leadership and ethical decision-making. With profound reservations about favoritism and the potential misuse of public funds and suspicions of her personal agenda, the public is keen to see what message other commissioners will send to Thornton’s $2.5M controversial add-on.