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Parties Party and Pols Plan

As the holiday season begins in Memphis, visions of sugar plums contend with dreams of new office.

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Memphis mayor A C Wharton has been at the forefront of numerous initiatives of late, including the recently failed referendum for a half-cent sales-tax increase to provide for a citywide pre-K program, this week's showdown on a prospective purchase by the city of AutoZone Park, and a couple of long-term development projects proposed by housing director Robert Lipscomb that are still hanging fire.

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But, whatever his cumulative batting average on these might turn out to be, Wharton has another initiative he has already committed to — that of reelection to the office of mayor in 2015.

The Flyer asked Wharton about his electoral plans during the recent "Strut" fund-raiser held to benefit the Community Legal Center, at which the mayor did a turn as an honorary bartender. Is he, as is generally expected, a candidate for reelection?

"Yes," he answered, unequivocally.

No surprise, and many were already taking the fact for granted, but it occurred to us that we ought to take formal note of the fact, lest Christmas spirits get the best of some of the hopefuls, several on the current city council, who have visions, down the line, of political plums to go with their sugared ones.

• The Shelby County Commission met in a special called meeting on Monday to vote an end to its litigation against Collierville, Bartlett, and Millington, the three latest suburbs to reach agreement with the Shelby County Schools board on terms for the transfer of school properties to the soon-to-be municipal school districts.

Arlington and Lakeland had previously settled with the board and seen the commission dissolve its lawsuits against them. The only suburb with remaining issues is Germantown, where — despite some indications last week that the new Germantown school board might be willing to settle — enough disagreement has remained in the suburb's civic and political circles to keep an immediate resolution at bay.

The sticking point is the plan, proposed by SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson and adopted by his board, to retain three Germantown school properties — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary — within the SCS system.

• County commissioner Wyatt Bunker's official notice of resignation on Monday, tendered formally in a letter to commission chair James Harvey, ensured that the commission will have at least one vacancy to fill, and, if Bunker has his druthers, it may have another.

The second potential commission vacancy is that of Chris Thomas, who has been asked by Bunker, now serving as mayor of Lakeland, to apply for the job of Lakeland city manager.

But Lakeland's board of commissioners, which met Monday night, has delayed immediate action on replacing former city manager Robert "Bob" Wherry, who was fired last week. The vacancy has been publicly advertised, with a deadline for applications of December 13th. The board will meet again on December 17th to decide on a hire.

Bunker's letter to Harvey specified that his resignation would take effect on January 3rd. The commission will be tasked with naming an interim replacement for Bunker — and for Thomas, too, if need be.

Thomas, however, is reportedly thinking about remaining on the commission, at least to the end of his current term, if he ends up with the managerial position at Lakeland — a prospect that might call for a certain amount of recusals on his part.

In any case, the former Probate Court clerk seems to relish his place on the commission — a post he decided to run for in 2010, on the evidence of several prior election years, that the demographic tide had finally created an invincible Democratic majority for countywide elective offices.

Famously, though, things didn't turn out that way in 2010. Whether it was the fact of hotly contested Republican primary races at the statewide level that year or shortcomings of the local Democratic slate or the impact of what turned out to be a major political shift toward the Republican Party in Tennessee at large, or, as some Democrats still maintain, electoral hanky-panky, Republicans pulled off a sweep of countywide offices.

Thomas saw his probate job go to GOP activist Paul Boyd, and he himself was faced with finding another full-time job. He ended up with a series of stop-gap positions, and, as is well known, he finally had to file a bankruptcy petition.

As is not so well known, Thomas had been eyed by a number of Republicans as a potential replacement for an embattled Rich Holden as administrator of the Shelby County Election Commission, which in recent years has been the subject of virtually nonstop negative publicity concerning this or that glitch.                  

In any case, Bunker is due to depart the commission, and candidates are beginning to line up to fill his District 4 seat on an interim basis. Names being mentioned are those of former Shelby County Schools board member Diane George, banker Kevin Hardin, retired sheriff's deputy Ron Fittes, mortgage banker George Chism, and Mark Billingsley, a fund-raising specialist for the Methodist Hospital system.

Chism and Fittes have indicated they are active candidates for reconfigured single-district commission positions in the regular 2014 election cycle.

• Yes, it was an informal occasion — one without overt political significance, but the 49th birthday celebration of longtime behind-the-scenes pol David Upton, hastily improvised by his longtime pal John Freeman, drew a fair share of public figures to the party room of Mulan's in Cooper-Young on Saturday night.

Among those present were former Memphis City Schools (and provisional Shelby County Schools) board members Freda Williams and Sara Lewis; legislators like state representatives Larry Miller and Joe Towns, former state representative Mike Kernell, and former state senator Beverly Marrero; city council members Lee Harris and Harold Collins; county commission chairman James Harvey, county commissioner Justin Ford, and former commissioner J.W. Gibson.

Several of them vented their vocal skills during an extended karaoke session, but most were outdone by celebrated opera singer Kallen Esperian, whose highlight was probably her duet with Upton on "Fly Me to the Moon."

• Speaking of karaoke, it seems to be the fashion these days, at least among Democrats. The Shelby County Democratic Party will hold its annual Christmas Party this Friday, December 6th, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Ice Bar and Grill on Hacks Cross Road, and, as was the case last year, karaoke will be the party motif.

Official "hosts" for that event will be city councilman Myron Lowery and county commissioner Steve Mulroy, both inveterate karaokans.

Another annual Democratic event is the party sponsored by the Democratic Women of Shelby County, to be held this year on Saturday, December 14th, from 4 to 7 p.m. at its usual venue, the home of Bob and Myra Stiles on South McLean Boulevard.

Republicans, too, have abundant celebrations in mind. Their Yule season kicks off on Wednesday of this week with a Christmas buffet under the auspices of the Republican Women of Purpose at TPC Southwind ($25 a head, and reservations required).

The other main holiday event by a GOP women's organization will be the Christmas tea held by the Shelby County Republican Women at Windyke Country Club on Tuesday, December 10th, at 11 a.m.

Shelby County Young Republicans have a "Holiday Happy Hour" scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Monday at the Tower Room on Poplar; the East Shelby Republican Club will hold its annual Christmas Potluck supper on Tuesday night at the Pickering Center in Germantown; and, on Sunday, December 15th, the Shelby County Republican Party is having a "Holiday Open House" at the Clubhouse at Devonshire Gardens in Germantown.

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