It may seem — nay, be — anti-climactic, but what is it they say?: Hope springs eternal in the human breast. The breast in question, this time around, is that of Terry Roland, who on Wednesday will offer his mates on the Shelby County Commission a redistricting map, identified as 2-J by the Office of Planning and Development team which prepared it.
If “2-J” has a familiar ring, that’s because that particular redistricting plan, which posits 13 single-member districts, has been before the deadlocked Commission before. Several times. In fact. Indeed, on its second time around, several weeks ago, it received 9 votes – enough, if the vote total had held on a climactic third reading — to satisfy the county charter, which calls for that many votes on the third reading of a redistricting bill to make it effective
By the time 2-J got its third reading on Monday, March 12, however, a rival single-district plan, 2-O, which offered the likelihood of 8 majority-black districts rather than the 7 provided by 2-J, had beguiled enough votes away — notably those of Democratic commissioners Henri Brooks and James Harvey — to limit the final number of votes for 2-J to 7.
That impasse worsened a situation whereby the Commission was already months late in fulfilling its obligation to redistrict itself, failing to agree on any given one of a bewildering variety of plans, and caused an internal crisis on the Commission.
Ron Krelstein, the special attorney engaged by Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne to represent the Commission in litigation pending before Chancellor Arnold Goldin, had committed himself to arguing that 2-J, as a plan that had received three consecutive majority votes, satisfied state law and should be considered final.
The county charter, however, mandates the aforementioned 9-vote supermajority on a definitive third reading, and Commissioner Mike Ritz, a Germantown Republican who had at various points favored 2-J, insisted that Krelstein uphold the county charter before Chancellor Goldin. The upshot, as Ritz’s point of view gathered adherents, was that the Commission voted to require Rayne to insist on Krelstein’s fidelity to the charter.
Whether the Commission had the right to do so, or whether Rayne had the authority to impose that condition on Krelstein, became academic when a frustrated Krelstein voluntarily withdraw from the case, to be replaced by attorney Lee Winchester, who made it clear he would abide by the county charter’s requirements.
The case is in Chancellor Goldin’s court in the first place because of a suit by three commissioners — Ritz, Terry Roland, and Walter Bailey, all single-member advocates — who at the time they filed the suit, late last year, were attempting to end-run an effort by other Commission members, including a suburban Republican hard core, to push through a multi-member district plan like the Commission’s current model.
As of this week, however, Ritz and Roland, a Millington Republican, had withdrawn themselves from the suit, leaving only Bailey, an inner-city Memphis Democrat, as a litigant.
In announcing his action and his simultaneous decision to re-introduce 2-J this week, Roland said this week he considered it important to maintain the county charter’s requirement for 9 votes on specific issues, including redistricting and, even more importantly, votes on imposing new taxes.
Recalling that interim Commissioner Brent Taylor, another Republican and a multi-member-district supporter, had volunteered at the March 12 meeting to become the 9th vote for 2-J if an 8th vote could be found (it wasn’t), Roland said he thought that it might be possible to get 9 votes if the Commission tried one more time on 2-J — the idea being that getting redistricting out of the way would obviate the need for a ruling by Chancellor Goldin and safeguard the charter requirements against the possibility of being struck down.
And so, when the Commission’s general government committee convenes next Wednesday, the Commission will, at Roland’s behest, make one more college try at redistricting itself. The idea, in the tradition of Knute Rockne heroics, will be to Win One for the Charter.