The power struggle between the Shelby County Commission and the administration of County Mayor Mark Luttrell moved toward another showdown on Monday with the Mayor’s veto of a recent Commission resolution appointing former Commissioner Julian Bolton as its independent counsel.
Commission chair Terry Roland’s public response was in a memo to his fellow Commissioners telling them he had in mind to call a special Commission meeting for Thursday. “We must act as a body to protect our legislative duty to the people of Shelby County, TN,” the memo concluded.
Roland had previously indicated privately that County Attorney Ross Dyer, who has resisted the independent-counsel idea on grounds that the county charter does not allow it, might be confronted with a choice between altering his view and facing a possible ouster move from the Commission. That could come with a Council vote to reconsider his hiring.
Although Dyer’s appointment earlier this year was by prerogative of Mayor Luttrell, the Commission was entitled to approve the appointment and did so. In theory, a vote of reconsideration could rescind the appointment. It remains to be seen whether that thesis is valid and whether a Commission majority would approve it.
In its votes advancing the independent-counsel matter so far, the Commission has acted across party lines. As Bolton put it in a memo to Roland: “There have been two votes by the commission, one in committee which resulted in ten affirmative votes, and a second in full commission which garnered eight affirmative votes….Each of the two affirmations has sufficient votes to override the veto.”
The contest for power between Luttrell and the Commissioners, a majority of whom would seem to believe the charter gives them ultimate authority vis-à-vis the Mayor, heated up this year at budget time when Luttrell disagreed with several Commissioners about using some of a budget surplus for a one-cent tax decrease.
Ultimately, no tax decrease was approved, but the fissure widened with a later apparent acknowledgement by Luttrell that the $6 million surplus that he forecast during budget negotiations might actually turn out to be as large as $21 million.