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Decisions, Decisions …

Some are made, some are pending, some are still hanging fire.


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The word "trust" — as in "lack of" — dominated post-mortem comments by principals on both sides of a vote taken in Monday's meeting of the Shelby County Commission.

That vote, on whether or not to recommend the establishment of a new utility district for fire and ambulance service in the unincorporated areas of Shelby County and in the municipalities of Arlington, Millington, and Lakeland, ended up with six aye votes and seven abstentions, and consequently failed.

It was one of those relatively rare occasions when the voting split entirely along partisan lines, with the aye voters being Republicans and the abstainers being Democrats. But the real distinction seemed to be that of city dwellers versus suburbanites, as first noted in the wake of the vote by Republican Chris Thomas, a District 4 representative whose constituency is outside the boundaries of Memphis.

Sponsor Wyatt Bunker, who also represents District 4, expressed unhappiness with the outcome afterward and declared that an innocent proposition, one designed merely to clarify what have been ill-defined service lines and to establish "stability" for first responders, had been turned down because of an absence of trust.

In a conversation with Bunker, District 5 representative Steve Mulroy, a Memphian, agreed. As he told the Flyer: "The Memphis people just weren't in on the preparation of the resolution and weren't sure what was involved." He said he thought the proposition would be better received at the commission's next meeting, if Bunker chose to reintroduce it.

Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the ambivalent outcome of the suburban utility district vote preceded a closed executive session of the commission, along with legal counsel, regarding prospects for reaching agreement on still-active school-related litigation, posed essentially along city vs. suburban lines.

Unsurprisingly, reports leaking from the session that were embargoed from the press indicated that little if any progress was made.

• Two other matters of importance were pending at hard-copy press time. Go here for an update.

One involved a decision by the Memphis City Council on whether to ratify a compromise agreement reached between the city administration and AFSCME union representatives regarding changes in the city's waste-collection procedures.

Modifications in the agreement — spelled out in greater detail by participant Jake Brown in this week's Viewpoint (p. 15) — seemed possible at press time, but in essence the agreement is a trade-off.

Sanitation workers represented by the union, previously lacking any pension benefits, will get a modest retirement benefit, amounting to a maximum of $12,000 a year, based on seniority of service.

The city will be able to reduce its annual expenditures by as much as $5 million through consolidating what have been separate garbage and recycling/brush collection processes, upping the number of collections performed by individual crews, and reducing waste-management personnel through attrition.

City residents would be assessed an additional $2.25, restoring the monthly fee to its former level of $25.05.

The other process on its way to a resolution Tuesday involved an ethics complaint filed by Shelby County commissioner Terry Roland against commission colleague Sidney Chism, regarding an alleged conflict of interest in violation of a 2009 ethics code adopted by the commission.

Roland alleges that, in voting for county appropriations, Chism improperly failed to disclose the receipt of county "wraparound" services (involving medical and dental checkups and other Head Start funding) by a South Memphis day-care center he owns.

An ethics commission appointed by the county at the time the ethics code was adopted has met twice on the matter and was scheduled to convene Tuesday afternoon, presumably to deliver its verdict on the matter.

The mere fact of the complaint played a significant role in the commission's budget and tax rate deliberations this year, in that Roland, an opponent of proposed increases in both, challenged the propriety of Chism's taking part in votes on the two issues. For his part, a cautious Chism, a proponent of county mayor Mark Luttrell's proposals for increasing the budget and county tax rate, did, in fact, avoid voting on the latter until the recent announcement by the administration of the Unified School District that the wraparound funds would not be disbursed in the coming fiscal year.

A late contribution to the case was an amicus curiae brief filed with the ethics commission Monday by former commissioners Joe Ford, Joyce Avery, and Deidre Malone, and current commissioner Steve Mulroy.

The brief, prepared by Mulroy, argues against a contention by special counsel Brian Faughnan that state law, which has provisions regarding both direct and indirect benefits, should supercede the county code, which, as the brief indicates, specifically excludes indirect benefits as an infraction of the code.

Chism has maintained that any benefits received by his day-care center were, in fact, just that — indirect ones.

Included in the brief are generous excerpts from dialogue between commissioners at the time the ethics code was being promulgated in 2009. Typical was a comment at the time from Commissioner Wyatt Bunker warning against "politically motivated charges" that could result from the inclusion of indirect benefits as an actionable condition.

• A recent ruling by U.S. district judge Hardy Mays neatly sliced through a Gordian knot regarding the Unified School Board's future composition. Now another ruling, this one by Chancellor Kenny Armstrong, has snarled the issue again.

In the first instance, Mays postponed by a year the planned expansion of the Unified Board from seven to 13 members, thus extricating the county commission from the puzzle of how — and when — to reconfigure the District 6 seat vacated by Reginald Porter, who resigned it to become the school system's new chief of staff.

In the latest case, however, Armstrong ruled that a new election had to be held for the District 4 seat occupied by Kevin Woods since the August 2012 elections for the seven-member board. Woods was the apparent winner — by a 106-vote margin that was later adjudged to be 290 votes — over Kenneth Whalum Jr. But Whalum sued, contending that wrong ballots issued by the election commission had skewed the results, and Armstrong agreed.

In his opinion, issued Monday, the chancellor declared: "The Election Commission here made no concerted effort to avoid the problems that occurred in this election for school board positions ... .

"These mistakes in assigning so many voters to incorrect school board districts cannot be simply ignored in an effort by the court to not take the step of declaring an election invalid. Without a new election conducted properly, there will always be legitimate questions about the actual winner in the District 4 county school board race ... .

"The District 4 race is, under the facts here, incurably uncertain when all voters are considered and leaves the Court no alternative except to order a new election in this race."

Hence, it is up to the election commission — with a new black eye, or with its former black eye newly exposed — to schedule a new election for District 6. Both Woods and Whalum have indicated they would vie again in such an election. But that election could be delayed indefinitely by an appeal from Woods. Meanwhile, the county commission has set a date of August 23rd for applicants to seek the vacated District 6 seat, will interview those applicants on August 29th, and make an appointment on September 9th.

That part seems simple enough.

• The Tennessee Democrats who hope to see Sara Kyle become a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014 have now coalesced into to a "Run Sara Run PAC" with co-chairs from three of the state's major population centers.

Cited in a press release from the newly formed PAC on Monday were Deidre Malone of Memphis, a former Shelby County commissioner who is an announced candidate for Shelby County mayor; Elisa Parker of Nashville, vice chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party; and Chris Anderson of Chattanooga, a member of the Chattanooga City Council.

The release noted the establishment of a website called DraftSaraKyle.com and a physical address in Memphis to which "contributions" might be sent and called for college students to turn out in support of Kyle at the Tennessee Democratic Party's annual Jackson Day celebration on September 7th.


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