County Attorney Punts Roland Charges on Alleged Gatewood Deal to D.A.'s Office

Rayne finds no basis to investigate or adjudicate charges of County Commission vote-trading on interim appointment issue; MCS Charter vote involved

UPDATE: Brooks also wanted investigation.

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Stephanie Gatewood; Terry Roland
  • Stephanie Gatewood; Terry Roland
Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne, in a lengthy response to a formal complaint from County Commissioner Terry Roland, found no basis for investigating — or ruling on —vote-trading allegations made by Roland concerning Memphis City Schools board member Stephanie Gatewood.

In a sworn statement dated January 5, Roland had made several charges to the effect that Gatewood had been involved in conversations with unnamed county commissioners in which they allegedly offered to vote for her as an interim state House member if she would agree to vote to surrender the MCS charter.

On December 20, when the MCS board voted 5-4 to call for a referendum on the dissolution of its charter, Gatewood voted with the majority. In the discussion beforehand, she alluded to unnamed persons who attempted to “force my hand” on the surrender vote but said, “I am not bought and paid for,” and insisted she had not been influenced in her decision.

She seemed to refer to elected officials of some sort but did not, as indicated by Roland in his statement, specify them as having been “County Commissioners.”

And, at the time, her remarks were widely interpreted as being directed at efforts to persuade her to vote against charter surrender, not for it.

Rayne said she had reviewed Roland’s six-point complaint by four applicable standards, the Shelby County Code of Ethics, the county charter, the state Open Meetings Act, and such other state laws as might be relevant and concluded that “the allegations mentioned in your sworn complaint, if determined to be true, do not constitute a violation of any provisions” relating to these standards.

The county provisions related only to financial inducements, Rayne said. The state Open Meetings Act did not apply because the allegations did not directly involve a meeting on which a vote was taken. As for state laws in general, Rayne sent the complaint on the office of District Attorney General Amy Weirich for such action as she might consider appropriate.

The District 98 state House seat for which Gatewood was a candidate was eventually won this week by another aspirant, Antonio “2-Shay” Gatewood, who defeated Gatewood and two other candidates in a special Democratic primary.

Since there was no Republican candidate, the county commission had resolved on December 20, the very day of the later MCS vote on charter surrender, not to name an interim appointee just then to the seat, vacated by the death in November of the long-term incumbent, Ulysses Jones, but to confer the appointment later, after the Democratic primary had determined a winner.

On that understanding, Parkinson will presumably be named interim appointee to the seat at the commission’s forthcoming Monday meeting. On March 8, in a general election in which he will be unopposed, he will formally win the seat.

Meanwhile, Roland’s charges, rebuffed by Rayne, remain to be dealt with — or not — by the D.A.’s office.

In the statement submitted by Roland, no sources for his charges are directly identified. They are referred to by such locutions as: “”several members indicated, ” “phone calls from several individuals,” “a member of the Memphis City Council,” and “an anonymous female caller using a blocked number.’

Asked on Friday to identify the individuals in question, Roland declined to do so but said, “I’ll tell the District Attorney’s office everything I know.”

An alternate scenario in Roland’s complaint has it that several members had urged him to join them in voting for Gatewood, who was supported by commission chair Sidney Chism, in return for Chism’s vote to support an override of a veto by County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

The mayor had vetoed a commission measure restricting his ability to impose a uniform Internet Technology unit on the several agencies of county government. Chism did end up voting with seven other commissioners to override the veto but, when contacted, denied having any conversations with fellow commissioners that involved vote-trading on any issue.

Chism added, “I don’t believe any of this that he’s saying against Stephanie Gatewood, and it sounds to me like he’s trying to implicate fellow commissioners on his own side of the issue.” (Roland, too, had voted to override Luttrell’s override.)

Gatewood herself could not be reached for comment on Friday.



UPDATE: Commissioner Henri Brooks also made a request of County Attorney Rayne for an investigation of "alleged vote tampering involving two (2) sitting Shelby County commissioners."

In a letter to Rayne dated December 30, Brooks referenced the "December 20 commission agenda appointing an interim State Representative for District 98 {and} subsequent deferral of said resolution...."

She went on: "Specifically, I am requesting a full report of our investigation regarding the question of who in this Commission office knew of the alleged vote tampering in the Stephanie Gatewood mater (Gatewoodgate), when did they know it, how did they know it and and what did they do?"

Unlike Roland, Brooks cited no allegations and made no accusations in particular.

Her final paragraph included this statement: "As a member of this body....this situation raises the issue of the integrity of the interim 98 State Representative seat appointment process. My primary concern is that my name shall not be a part of any of the alleged improper influence voting...." And Brooks repeats the term "Gatewoodgate," evidently her own coinage.

On Friday, January 21, the same date as her response to Roland, Rayne addressed Brooks with a similar disclaimer to the one she gave Roland, a significant difference being that she makes no reference to passing Brooks' complaint on to the District Attorney's office:

"Based on the statements in your letter, there is insufficient information to make a finding as to any possible violation of he County Charter, the Shelby County Ethics Ordinance, or other County policy. In the event you have additional allegations about possible violations of any of these County provisions that need to be reviewed by this Office, please provide a sworn complaint with reasonable details regarding the referenced matter."

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