POLITICS: Staying the Course



STAYING THE COURSE MondayÕs vote by the Shelby County Commission to defer yet again a vote on whether to hire an independent consultant makes it more and more likely that construction of the FedEx Forum will proceed without serious incident or interruption. After last weekÕs public grilling of project consultant John Hilkene and Public Building Authority director Dave Bennett (his second in two weeks) by the commissionÕs Public Service and Tourism committee, headed by John Willingham, even Willingham , one of the arena projectÕs severest critics, seemed somewhat mollified. Asked why he sought a two-week deferment, the latest of several, on the proposing hiring of Barnett Naylor/Hanscomb, a local firm, to vet the arena project, Willingham said, ÒItÕs because weÕre finally getting some answers.Ó That might relieve Bennett, who said after last weekÕs committee session, ÒThis is likely to go on as long as Commissioner Willingham can get some publicity. WeÕve already answered every question thatÕs been asked, several times over.Ó Commissioner Walter Bailey, another skeptic on arena matters, conceded that there didnÕt seem to be enough votes on the commission to engage the local firm. If it turns out that there are when the full commission meets again in two weeks, Hilkene, who seemed to suffer the ordeal of last weekÕs interrogation fatalistically, tapping a pencil on the table and biting his lip as he heard out questions by Willingham, Bailey, and others, intends to be stoic about the matter. ÒIÕve met with them [representatives of the local firm]. They know their stuff. I can deal with them,Ó Hilkene said.
  • Not all observers regard the residency issue in the District 89 state House race special election as one of high import. Veteran Democrat Steve Steffens, proprietor of a widely read email network in local Democratic Party circless, circulated two missives in which, after declaring himself satisfied with both primary candidates -- Jeff Sullivan and Beverly Robison Marrero -- and noting that Sullivan had lived in the district "for 30 of his 39 years," he expressed exasperation on the point. Professing himself "tired of the sniping," Steffens said., "We have two good candidatesÉ.Can we stick to the real issues, please? In the end, the only people who will decide this election are the good Democrats of District 89É. I suspect that they are more concerned with a vote on how TennCare may be changed than whether somebody lives half a mile outside the district." In his second email, Steffens noted, "State law on this issue only requires that a candidate move into the district within in 30 days after he/she has been elected. That made it, " he said, "an ex-issue." Not to state Senator Steve Cohen, Marrero's chief backer. Not yet, anyhow At press time on Tuesday he had scheduled an afternoon press conference at the Criminal Justice Center, where, he said, he intended to present District Attorney General Bill Gibbons with evidence that Sullivan had committed a possible felony by making false claims about his residence under oath. Apprised of this, Sullivan said he would defer any statement or reaction to his attorney, veteran Democrat David Cocke.
  • City councilor-elect Carol Chumney, who vacated the District 89 seat during her council race, continues her efforts to secure an interim appointment for her recent campaign director, Jay Sparks, to serve in her stead until the formal election of her successor on February 10th. Chumney lobbied the commission to that end at a committee meeting Monday prior to the commission's regular biweekly public session. Although Commissioner Linda Rendtorff, who once served in Lamar Alexander's administration as human resources director, had exressed interest in an interim appointment for herself, she dropped that idea on advice of county attorney Brian Kuhn that she would have to resign from the commission in order to serve. Thereafter Rendtorff and all others who expressed an opinion indicated they would be more inclined to appoint next week's Democratic primary winner (no Republican is running) than to appoint Sparks or some other fill-in choice. The commissioner formally advertised the vacancy on Monday and reserved the right to appoint a temporary seat-holder on its next meeting , on December 22nd.
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