That vote, on a resolution sponsored by Democratic commissioner Steve Mulroy, means that the proposal goes forward to the full commission at its Monday meeting needing only one more vote to bear the commission’s official imprimatur. And two of the absentees Wednesday — Democrats Justin Ford and Henri Brooks — are considered likely prospects to add their consent.
In a somewhat parallel development, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell informed commission members Wednesday that he intended to veto a resolution by Republican Commissioner Heidi Shafer, passed just last week, that would allow the separate divisions of Shelby County government to opt out of a consolidated intra-county Internet Technology system.
Shafer promptly served notice that she would initiative an immediate override attempt once the veto occurred, and that attempt would need one more vote than the seven she was able to garner for the passage of her opt-out resolution.
So it was that the concept of consolidation — both in its pure city/county form, via the Mulroy resolution, and in an intra-county functional form, via the proposed common IT network for Shelby County government — gained new life.
Luttrell’s move came first. Testifying to the assembled commissioners that “our citizens want efficiency and economy,” the mayor said he feared that the opt-out provision which Shafer’s resolution had tacked on to the original IT agreement would undermine its viability and unnecessarily expand expenses. His initial estimate of savings without the opt-out provision, based on advice from county finance officer Jim Huntzicker, had ranged as high as $4.7 million.
Shafer recapitulated her arguments in favor of the opt-out provision, stressing what she said were mutual-accountability factors that would be strengthened by the more voluntary IT involvement of county divisions that her resolution permitted. And she suggested that cost differentials between her version of an IT agreement and the mayor’s would be minimal.
Discussion between the mayor and the commissioners revealed significant differences of opinion as to just which county departments had agreed to sign on to the common IT program, forgoing their own, and which had not. (All seemed to agree that Trustee David Lenoir was a definite opt-out at this point.)
Luttrell — who got a boost along the way from Commissioner Walter Bailey, who called the mayor “an experienced county executive” well capable of organizing and directing a common IT framework — held his ground. Shafer held hers as well, fortified by Commissioner Wyatt Bunker’s urging for an immediate override attempt.
The next major showdown was over the Mulroy resolution, which involved similar battle lines — Shafer and fellow Republicans Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland versus a coalition of Democrats and Republican Mike Carpenter.
First to be heard fro was Lakeland resident Phil Pilcher, who expressed his astonishment that a resolution like Mulroy’s was even being discussed in the wake of the overwhelming vote against consolidation in November. Consolidation was “neither ‘appropriate nor inevitable,’” he said, playing on terms used by Mulroy, and it ran counter to the will of outer Shelby County voters, who, he said, would never vote for merger with the city of Memphis under any imaginable circumstances.
Mulroy reiterated his view, stated in the resolution, that voters had repudiated not consolidation per se but only the specific form proposed by the Metro Charter Commission of 2009-10. To reason otherwise, he said, was “to put a foot on the throat” of citizens who might hope to develop a more agreeable version o f consolidation for public referendum.
Bunker offered his opposition to the resolution, but, ironically, in terms that mirrored Mulroy’s espousal of it. The problem with adopting the Mulroy resolution, which called for a generalized endorsement of the concept of consolidation, was that it was too “open-ended,” Bunker said.
Just as there were various forms of rain — some resulting in undesirable storms, others unobtrusively nourshing crops — there migh be different kinds of consolidation proposals, some more congenial than others, Bunker said. Hence, the commission should withhold its approval.
Other opponents — notably Roland and Thomas — took an opposite tack, arguing that the voters had rejected any form of consolidation whatsoever and were unlikely to approve any variety at all. Thomas noted that the ballot heading of the November referendum allowed for a yes or no vote on consolidation.
Commission chairman Sidney Chism, a Democrat who had voted with several others against “that particular charter” proposed by the Metro Charter Commission, said he thought consolidation itself would be “a good thing in the long run…if it’s put together right.”
Debate went to and fro, with Roland warning about a “mass exodus” of Shelby County residents, saying, “All you have to do is just to bring up consolidation and people start leaving.” Chism countered about the invoking of such fears has “it has got to be because of me [i.e., because of African Americans] that you’re running. We’ve got to stop this.”
In the end, the Mulroy resolution managed six ayes — himself, Chism, Carpenter, James Harvey, Melvin Burgess, and Bailey — versus three no votes — those of Roland, Shafer, and Thomas. Bunker had left the session by this time and did not vote. Republican Mike Ritz abstained.
The resolution states “that the Shelby County Board of Commissioners supports the concept of consolidation, and is open to the idea of revisiting a Metro Charter process in an upcoming election cycle,” with the charter process subject to several modifications designed, said Mulroy, to make it as inclusive of citizen participation as possible.
Assuming that the six aye votes of Wednesday hold steady and that at least one more aye vote comes from either Brooks or Ford (both independent-minded and neither a given, it should be said), the resolution would put the commission on record as favoring a dramatic reversal indeed — and in record time.
Once again: Who’d a thunk it?