The Nathan Bedford Forrest statue is gone from Health Sciences Park, with the base remaining. (Photo: Johnathan Martin)

Despite continued criticism from some quarters and a nagging lawsuit, the City of Memphis has steadfastly maintained that it obeyed the law in selling two city parks and clearing the way for the removal of three controversial statues saluting Confederate-era figures.

Now the Tennessee Comptrollers’ office seems to agree, mostly.

After completing a review of the City of Memphis’ December 20, 2017 sale of Health Sciences Park and the easement to Memphis Park to Memphis Greenspace, Inc., the Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel has determined that the Memphis City Council provided sufficient notice of its meetings and agendas and did not violate the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

Comptroller auditors also concluded that the City of Memphis acted with the “authority granted by the Memphis Code of Ordinances to sell the parks to a non-profit at less than market value.”

“The state audit reinforces what we have stated all along – the sale of the parks and statues was proper and legal,” Memphis City Attorney Bruce McMullen said in statement released after the findings from the Comptroller’s office.

The parks were sold to Memphis Greenspace, Inc. for $1,000 each. The sale of the parks followed the city’s unsuccessful attempt to get a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission to remove the Forrest statue from Health Sciences Park. Memphis Greenspace, Inc. removed the trio of statues within hours of taking ownership.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) asked the Comptroller’s Office to review the city’s compliance with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and other state and local laws.

According to the Comptroller’s auditors, the City of Memphis did not follow all of the guidelines in its Code of Ordinances. Specifically, they found that a section of those ordinances mandates that Memphis Greenspace, Inc. should have submitted an application to the City Real Estate Department before the properties were conveyed.

Such an application is designed to gauge “an entity’s financial strength and overall stability,” the auditors determined.

From the City of Memphis’ viewpoint, Memphis Greenspace, Inc.’s financial capability was determined in a direct meeting with its officers. The city sought to beef up its argument by detailing to auditors three other instances when property had been sold without requiring an application to the City Real Estate Department.

The Comptroller’s Office had this recommendation for the City of Memphis: “Enter into a formal memorandum of understanding with Memphis Greenspace, Inc. for the storage and protection of the historic figures and artifacts.”

Litigation is pending in Davidson County Chancery Court regarding the sale and removal of the statues.