Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, a Millington Republican and a bona fide right-wing populist, uttered words Saturday that one of his Democratic commission colleagues would have been delighted to hear.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Roland said to the attendees at a monthly meeting of the arch-conservative Dutch Treat Luncheon at Jason’s Delicatessen on Poplar. “I am going to vote for Sidney Chism for chairman. He’s willing to listen to us.”
Roland thereby made public what most observers of the commission already knew or suspected — that in the forthcoming commission reorganization slated for August he will eschew voting for fellow Republican Mike Carpenter, who as vice chair of the commission, would ordinarily be entitled to ascend to the chairmanship by established protocol.
But it is no secret that the independent-minded Carpenter has little or no support from his GOP colleagues in his forthcoming contest with current chairman Chism, who intends to break with precedent— seeking a second consecutive term and thereby altering the formula whereby the commission chairmanship has rotated annually between a Democrat and a Republican.
Roland’s evaluation of Carpenter’s party credentials was colorfully put: “If he’s a Republican, I’m a Russian tank driver!”
His characterizations of various other political figures were equally outspoken. Veteran Democratic commissioner Walter Bailey? “A lunatic.”
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, another fellow Republican? “He doesn’t take a stand. He’s a decent man, a smart man, but I think somebody’s guiding him.”
Former county mayor and current Memphis mayor A C Wharton? “I’ll tell you this. I wouldn’t vote for him for anything!”
On “moderates” in general: “They don’t know who they are.”
Roland had no especially trenchant phrase to describe Democratic commissioner Steve Mulroy, but his criticisms of Mulroy were so frequent that one or two of his hearers wondered out loud if the District 5 Democrat was the secret force controlling everything they disliked about the drift — “communistic,” as one attendee put it — of city and county government.
“Naw, he’s just a commissioner like me,” Roland said, in one of his few deviations from hyperbole.
Roland’s vision of city/county relations is unflattering to Memphis, which he sees as determined to freeload on the residents of the suburbs and outer county, who account for 54 percent of county property tax revenues while city residents require most of the social services such money pays for.
“That’s what this consolidation is all about,” said Roland. “And what they couldn’t win at the ballot box, they’re trying to get through the back door with this school merger.”
The Millington commissioner noted that two recent industrial recruitments — of Mitsubishi and Electrolux plants-to-be — were to be located within the Memphis city limits, giving the city yet another potential edge. He seemed taken aback by the $97 million the state has offered Electrolux to relocate here from Quebec. (City and county governments have pledged another $20 million each.)
“There’s no guarantee that they’ll stay,” Roland said about Electolux. He talked about going to Nashville during the 2011 legislative session and sounding out legislators about a plan for the state to withhold its contribution until city supporters of school merger dropped the idea. “The very next day,” he said, Lt. Governor/Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey raised questions about expending the $97 million.
Roland offered some ideas for resolving national and international issues as well.
His recommendation for dealing with American businesses that have relocated abroad: Tell them that if they don’t bring the jobs back, “we’re gonna put a tariff on you!”
His proposal for dealing with Pakistan for having harbored the late Osama bin Laden: “We ought to give ‘em a bomb, and if they act up, tell ‘em they’ll get another!”
Coming back to Shelby County earth, Roland reiterated his opposition to the refunding of the county’s Office of Early Childhood and Youth, a $417,000 commitment which proponents say would allow the office to leverage as much as $6 million in state and federal grants for the county.
“That’s taxpayer money, too!” Roland said. “We’ve got to stop this somewhere.”
The commissioner had one warning for his adversaries in this or any other showdown: "This old dog bites back!"