Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, who has been abstaining on all prior votes on the 2013-14 tax rate out of consideration for a possible conflict-of-interest situation, made the dramatic announcement at the beginning of Monday's meeting that he would be voting, and explained why.
Previously, said Chism, he had been legally advised that, as proprietor of a South Memphis day care center which received some of its funding from Shelby County government, it might be a conflict of interest for him to vote on a budget that authorized such funding. The center, which the commissioner said was under the control of members, not himself, was in any case no longer receiving such funding, and Chismj continued,, “I’’ve been advised that with full disclosure I will be able to vote.”
On another contentious issue, Chism acknowledged that he would be a board member of a charter school whicdh his granddaughter has applied to operate but that such a circumstance would not arise until he had left the Commission, even if her application got approval. So he regarded himself as unhampered on that count as well.
The bottom line was that Chism would be recorded in favor, and that, along with another major conversion, that of Commissioner Justin Ford, would make the the final tally 7-5-1 in favor of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s $4.38 tax rate, with the lone absentee being Commissioner Heidi Shafer, a tax-rate opponent.
Ford’s conversion was actually a return to form. The commissioner had voted aye on the first two readings of the Luttrell tax rate, but he switched to no, along with new chairman-elect James Harvey two weeks ago. On onday Ford said he had spoken with members of the administration about their considering the idea of money for summer jobs programs and was satisfied that they were open to discussion.
The absence of Shafer from Monday's meeting, along with the (relatively) perfunctory resistance put up by tax-rate opponents, was an indication that Commissioners of all persuasions saw the handwriting on the wall and that there would be no more stalemates on the tax-rate question like those which have stalled implementation of the budget in recent weeks.
Various grants and new hires that were put on deep freeze until a tax rate could be approved are now free to be implemented. That includes programs for the homeless that had received vocal support from audience menmbers at the last several meetings.
So forgone was the conclusion as the relatively brief meeting got underway that the only tension was an angry exchange between Commissioner Terry Roland and chairman Mike Ritz over a verbal attack by Roland on Commissioner Walter Bailey, a tax-rate supporter.
Ritz gaveled Roland down as "out of order" for making "personal" remarks, and Roland responded "You're out of order!" Reminded by Ritz that he had the duty to maintain order as chairman, Roland retorted, "Well, you won't be much longer."
At the Commission's last meeting, Commissioner James Harvey became chairman-elect, helped along by votes from tax-rate opponents.
(See this week's print edition of the Flyer for more information on the tax-rate issue.)