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The Fine Print

County voters must say yes or no on August 7th to two charter revisions.

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As if political and governmental matters in Shelby County weren't confusing enough, voters on August 7th will be asked to approve two ordinances, each of which has generated some controversy.

The more troublesome one is Ordinance 360, made necessary by the state Supreme Court overturning the means by which several Knox County officials were elected. The same decision invalidated the constitutional status of five similarly provisioned Shelby County offices — those of sheriff, trustee, assessor, register, and county clerk — and made it necessary for the offices to be redefined by the county charter.

After much wrangling, the Shelby County Commission managed to reestablish the five offices on terms close to their previously presumed status under the state constitution.

But there's a major obstacle to passage of Ordinance 360, one that divided the County Commission during deliberations and has generated some opposition in the community at large. This is a provision establishing a limit of three four-year terms, not only for the five newly defined officials but for the county mayor and members of the commission as well.

The problem is that a prior referendum to establish two four-year terms as the limit for mayor and commissioners was overwhelmingly approved by Shelby County voters in 1994 and was the primary factor in a virtual overhaul of the commission's membership in the 2006 general election. Even though current mayor A C Wharton and all sitting commissioners are constrained by the two-term provision, the proposed re-do of term limits is bound to be a chancy matter.

And if it should be rejected, the five former constitutional offices will still have to be redefined by a new ordinance hastily put together by the commission for the November ballot. That one almost certainly would restore the two-term limit.

Ordinance 361, which addresses a variety of largely administrative matters, has occasioned less fuss, though a lengthy argument on the commission greeted one of its provisions that would establish 15 percent of registered voters as the perquisite number of signers to force a recall election.

A last-ditch resistance to the provision was led by commissioners Sidney Chism and Henri Brooks and may have resulted from some effective lobbying by Circuit Court judge D'Army Bailey, who had once, as a city councilman in Berkeley, California, been the subject of a politically motivated recall. But Ordinance 361 ended up intact.

See also ”A Sleeper Election?” and ”A Post-Racial Election?”.

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