After taking a year off from his annual political picnic, Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism resumed the affair on Saturday at his sprawling property on Horn Lake Rd.
Basically, the Chism picnic serves as a kick-off event for the coming year's politics and, as such, fills the breach left by the passing of the now defunct St. Peter 4th of July event.
Politicians of all political stripes were on hand and got a chance to introduce themselves to a crowd that refreshed itself on hot dogs, cold drinks, and other goodies. For the first time, the event offered tables at which various independent vendors and agencies could offer information about themselves.
Asked why he took last year off from holding the picnic, Chism explained that he had been too busy running a race (ultimately unsuccessful) for General Sessions clerk.
"That's the last one," said Chism, who is finishing up the second of his two allowable commission terms. "I'm 74, and that's probably too old to run for anything else, but I'm definitely going to stay involved."
Chism, who served twice as commission chair, said he was open to the idea of being on a public-policy board or heading up a task force.
The commissioner dismissed criticism from longtime Democratic Party activist Del Gill about his billing of this year's picnic event as nonpartisan. "It's always been nonpartisan," Chism, a Democrat, said.
And indeed two prominent guests, each with a significant entourage, were County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Sheriff Bill Oldham, both Republican officials.
Regarding another challenge, an ethics complaint levied against him by commission colleague Terry Roland, Chism called it "without foundation." Roland has charged Chism with a conflict of interest for failing, in the course of appropriations votes over the years, to disclose his involvement with a daycare center that receives some county funding.
During last week's first round of voting on the budget presented to the commission by Luttrell, Roland attempted unsuccessfully to prohibit the votes of Chism and Melvin Burgess, another commissioner against whom he has made similar accusations.
Burgess, who is employed by the Unified School System as an audit official, also denied Roland's charges but made a point of prefacing each of his votes on the budget with a disclosure about his employment.
"Making a mountain out of a molehill," was how Steve Basar, another commmissoner on hand Saturday, described the conflict-of-interest charges.
UPDATE: Former Shelby County Commissioner and advertising/public relations executive Deidre Malone was one of the late arrivals at the Chism picnic and used the occasion to formally announce her candidacy for Shelby County Mayor.
Among the other candidates for 2014 who spoke to the crowd were Reginald Milton, Eddie Jones, Patrice Robinson, Van Turner, Steve Basar, and Justin Ford, all candidates for County Commission seats. Ford and Basar are incumbents.>