Kwanzaa celebration may be springboard for new county policy - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andrew Douglas

Kwanzaa celebration may be springboard for new county policy

A Kwanzaa celebration held Wednesday night inside the chambers of the Shelby County Commission may have an effect on future gatherings held there.

Shelby County Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas tried to stop the event by filing a lawsuit in Shelby County Chancery Court.  Thomas claimed he was denied permission to hold a Christmas party inside the chambers, and argued a Kwanzaa celebration planned for the chambers by Henri Brooks would also be a religious gathering.

Wednesday, Chancery Judge Walter Evans dismissed Thomas' lawsuit, paving the way for the celebration to be held.  At the event, officials said it could be the springboard to the adoption of a new county policy.

"Written policy that clearly spells out when it can be used how it can be used who can use it," said Shelby County Attorney Brian Kuhn.    

For more than 30 years, Kuhn has been a part of county government. Mayor AC Wharton recently asked his office to draft a policy for use of county buildings, including commission chambers.
 
"It's more going to be geared toward public events, not wedding parties and private stuff," Kuhn said.
 
In the past, organizations like the United Way, the Food Bank, and The Jury Commission have used the chambers, which can hold nearly 300 people. Town hall meetings have been there as well. Now, with a cultural celebration like Kwanzaa in the mix, the door may be open for more diverse events.

"Parameters are going to be what's fair, what's legal, what's equitable- what's fair and open to the public," Kuhn said.

Until now, reserving the chambers has always been an informal process.

Kuhn said county leaders hope to have a new policy finalized by the end of January.


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