The ongoing power struggle between the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and an apparent majority faction of the County Commission was apparently not subject to any time-outs during the holidays. Indeed, it seems to have intensified over the break — to the point of open warfare.
Two matters in December have pushed the combatants to the brink:
(1) a December 18 hand-delivered letter from Commission chairman Terry Roland to Luttrell threatening the Mayor with “removal procedures” if he persisted in resisting a Commission resolution appointing former Commissioner Julian Bolton as an independent attorney responsible to the Commission; and (2) a bizarre circumstance whereby a Roland resolution seeking a transfer of the county’s budget surplus — a disputed amount running somewhere from $6 million to $20-odd million —from the administration to the Commission’s contingency fund reached the state Comptroller’s office in a form that seemed to call for the transfer of the county’s entire fund balance of some $108 million.
The latter situation is being denounced by allies of Roland as nothing short of forgery committed somewhere in the administration before being transmitted to Nashville. After Sandra Thompson responded to Luttrell that the resolution featuring the larger sum was illegal, Roland sent a letter to Thompson charging that alterations had been made in his resolution, not only in the amount sought in the transfer but in the enabling language of the resolution.
Roland’s letter included copies of both his original resolution, which — given a longstanding dispute between Luttrell and the Commission — omitted any sums whatever, and what Roland called a “blatantly altered” copy that was sent to the Comptroller’s office, which seemed to spell out a request for the transfer of the entire fund balance, which would be an astonishing demand and which, noted Thompson, would leave the county without cash available to support spending in its General Fund and in potential violation of state law.
According to Roland’s letter, “When the altered document was brought to my attention I immediately contacted Harvey Kennedy, CAO, to address the issue and clarify my intentions. Mayor Mark L:uttrell confirmed via as conversation with me that he was aware the document was altered….I would never place Shelby County in [a] position where insufficient resources would be available to provide the cash flow needed for operations.”
Conversations and correspondence have flowed back and forth between Commissioners and the administration meanwhile, with the latter contending that a mere clerical error accounted for the apparent alteration in the resolution and Commissioner Heidi Shafer, a close Roland ally in the struggle, concurring with the chairman that conscious skullduggery of some sort was involved.
Shafer sees a silver lining to the imbroglio, however. She believes that publicity concerning the matter has put the administration so clearly on the defensive that Luttrell will be willing to compromise with Roland on the independent-attorney issue — despite his statement, in a November 19 letter to Roland that he would stand by “a clear, unambiguous opinion from the County Attorney that Resolution #16A [calling for Bolton’s appointment} violates the County Charter.”
Roland and his supporters on the Commission maintain in their stead that the Charter mandates that the Mayor is bound to implement the requirements of the resolution, which Luttrell vetoed but which was sustained in an override vote by the Commission. Shafer notes for the record another point of contention —that County Attorney Ross Dyer has in fact not issued a formal opinion as such that could be subject to litigation or appeal.
In any case, the case of the altered resolution has earned itself a place for “discussion” on the Commission’s committee agenda for Wednesday. That’s one discussion that is bound to make somebody’s ears burn.
And at some point, even should the independent-attorney issue be resolved In compromise, the original point of rupture between the contending branches of government remains — a suspicion on the part of the Commission that the administration is playing fast and loose with the fiscal totals it issues and refusing to submit to regularly scheduled audits.
That issue, as it happens, was apparently at the root of Roland’s wish for the transfer of surplus monies to the Commission’s contingency fund.