Wade at Commission on Monday
The war between a Shelby County Commission majority and County M ayor Mark Luttrell acquired a new front and a new warrior on Monday — the latter being Allan Wade, who was hired by a Commission majority to represent the body in its various legal responses to Luttrell on the still-festering matter of proposed litigation against opioid distributors.
(Wade, who functions as the City Council’s attorney, is much in the spotlight these days, having been a point man a day later in the Council’s controversial decision on Tuesday to call for a second referendum on the the use of IRV — instant-runoff-voting — procedures in the forthcoming 2019 city election.)
Meanwhile, the newest confrontation in the Commission-Luttrell battle concerned a technically unrelated matter of take-home pay. And it was the proverbial case of adding insult to injury.
Actually, the latest controversy was an outgrowth of sorts from the existing one. Early in Monday’s regular meeting, Commissioner David Reaves requested the opportunity to reconsider a vote, taken during the previous Commission meeting, on an item to raise the pay of both the Sheriff and the Mayor.
Two weeks ago, the item was defeated, but Reaves, who had been on the prevailing side then, said he had felt constrained to change his vote because of his increasing awareness of the severity of the opioid crisis and the burden of combatting it that would fall upon the Sheriff’s office. Reaves said he’d also come to realize that the Sheriff might be under-paid relative to counterparts elsewhere in the state.
So he wanted, after all, to raise the Sheriff’s pay, from its existing level of $116,000. But he wanted to do so in a way that didn’t automatically raise the pay level of the Mayor, which is proportionally linked to the Sheriff’s by the county charter.
After a fair amount of debate and back-and-forth with County Attorney Kathryn Pascover, the Commission availed itself of a loophole that allowed it to raise the Sheriff’s pay to 95 percent of the Mayor’s pay, leaving the latter at his current level but boosting the Sheriff to $35,575.
In fairness, Reaves is not a full-time member of the coalition arrayed against Luttrell, and his motive in holding down an equivalent pay increase for the Mayor was probably unrelated to the ongoing power struggle. It was doubtless otherwise with the eight members of the aforesaid coalition: Republicans Heidi Shafer (the current Commission chair) and Terry Roland, and Democrats Van Turner, Willie Brooks, Justin Ford, Reginald Milton, Melvin Burgess, and Eddie Jones.
Those eight Commissioners are the ones supporting chairman Shafer in her initiative to force Luttrell’s hand on proposed litigation by the County against an extensive network of physicians, pharmacists, and others involved, both legally and illegally, in distribution of opioids, which, in the estimation of Shafer et al., have proliferated to dangerous and damaging levels in Shelby County
Chancellor Jim Kyle recently ruled that Luttrell, who sued to block Shafer’s unilateral engaging of a law firm, had rightful authority over litigation by the county but declined to intervene in the lawsuit itself, now in limbo in Circuit Court .
The Chancellor, who suggested that the suit was in the public interest, recommended mediation between the Commission and the Mayor, going forward.
Meanwhile, Mayor Luttrell, who has floated the alternative dea of deferring to a statewide legal action against the opioid network, is still in formal (if suspended) litigation in Chancery Court against the Commission, and the eight-member coalition at odds with the Mayor on the matter, voted Monday to hire Wade as its “special legal counsel” in the matter.
That action would carry, but it aroused intense opposition among a five-member Commission minority consisting of Democrat Walter Bailey and Republicans Mark Bilingsley, George Chism, Steve Basar, and Reaves.
Typical of this group’s sentiments were Billingsley’s complaints that outside attorneys were enriching themselves at county expense and that the proposed ongoing action against the alleged opioid-distribution network was too extensive, involving well-established name-brand companies like Johnson and Johnson.
Roland, among others, responded to the effect that “we’re the ones getting sued” and that the proposed legal actions against opioid distributors were pro bono and would cost the county nothing, while Luttrell’s action did in fact “cost the county.”