Harris presiding over his first meeting as SCDP chair
The executive committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party completed its reelection of officers Thursday night in a placid, orderly meeting that concluded in a shouting match over whether its newly elected local chairman, Michael Harris, can continue as party leader.
Harris, a suspended lawyer who has admitted having to live down a formidable list of professional “mistakes,”
would, on the strength of commentary from members Thursday night, seem to have ample support on the local committee to continue. But committee member Sanjeev Memula, on behalf of a group of Democrats opposed to Harris’ continuation as chair, was able, amid controversy, to move for a hearing on the Harris matter, coupled with a call for a new chairmanship election.
Harris himself agreed to accept Memula’s motion after a ruling from parliamentarian Larry Pivnick that only the chairman or the executive committee itself, functioning as a grievance committee, could approve the motion. Before that happened, there were calls from several members to purge Memula and two other members publicly opposed to Harris — and a temporary motion to the effect, later withdrawn, from member Williams Brack.
Time and place for the hearing on the Harris matter have, as of Friday morning, yet to be set.
Harris’ professional issues
— resulting in a 5-year suspension from the practice of law by the Board of Professional Responsibility and disqualification of him as a bankruptcy petitioner by the United States Bankruptcy Court — have complicated his tenure from the moment of his election, by a single vote over “none of the above” as a stated alternative , in a stormy organizational meeting early in April.
The beleaguered chairman’s conduct Thursday night of his first meeting as chairman could hardly be faulted. It was generally agreed, even by critics, that he seemed smooth, organized, and focused as he discussed a series of items with the membership — including the time and place of future committee meeting (likely to be held at AFSCME headquarters downtown), plans for a forthcoming public event, strategies for community outreach, and possible sponsorship of a mayoral debate during the ongoing city government election.
Memula and other critics of Harris have alleged, however, that his personal issues should disqualify him as a party leader and have brought the party into bad repute. They cite the likelihood that Republicans will be able to exploit those issues for their own purposes, and, indeed, the Tennessee Star, a publication featuring the point of view of right-wing Republicans, has already featured Harris’ problems in a published feature.
Aside from the chairmanship issue, the other standout fact of Thursday night’s meeting was that it included the first fully completed successful use of ranked choice voting in a local election. RCV backer Aaron Fowles was on hand to serve as an advisor on the process, which allows sampling of runner-up votes to determine a winner in multi-candidate races without a majority winner in the first round of voting.
Elected Thursday night were the following:
*Sara Beth Larson, first vice chair;
*Brian McBeidge, second vice chair;
*Regina Perry, secretary;
*Emily Fulmer, assistant secretary;
*Jesse Huseth and Williams Brack, steering committee members
Harris’ appointment of Lucretia Carroll as treasurer was accepted by acclamation by the membership.