Politics » Politics Feature

It Ain’t Beanbag: Charges and Counter-charges in Shelby County Races

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There are no undisputed favorites to win the various county positions on the current election ballot, voting for which concludes on August 2nd. Unsurprisingly, then, things are getting feisty out on the stump. One example was the debate last Thursday night at the National Civil Rights Museum between sheriff candidates Dale Lane, the Republican nominee, and Floyd Bonner, the Democrat.

The current immigration issues on the nation's southern border get injected into the debate via discussion about whether the newly elected sheriff should cooperate with roundups of undocumented immigrants conducted by ICE. (Bonner: no; Lane: yes). And without mentioning too many specifics, Lane also indicated that an old problem — chaos and mismanagement at the county jail, rampant 15 to 20 years ago, when the jail came under legal oversight — was once again an issue, with lawsuits stemming from computer problems, insufficient staff numbers, and overtime pay issues. While contending that all these matters were under control, Bonner conceded a manpower shortage in the jail but blamed that problem on personnel cuts made more than a decade ago by former sheriff, now Mayor Mark Luttrell.

Some questions were prepared by moderator Josh Spickler, while others came from submissions from the live audience or via the internet. One of the latter inquired of the two candidates about their attitude toward sexual harassment in the Sheriff's Department, and asked further if either had any experience with the issue.

Both candidates promised official vigilance on the point, and Bonner, who later expressed suspicions about the origin of the question, acknowledged that he had been the target of a sexual-harassment charge, but noted that several investigations, including a definitive one from a federal judge that very week, had absolved him of blame.

Things have gotten scratchy in the county mayor's race, as well. Democrats hoping to boost party mayoral nominee Lee Harris' prospects against GOP mayoral nominee David Lenoir are bringing old charges out of cold storage — distributing information from a 2007 article asserting that the Christian Values Centurion Fund, a mutual fund enterprise created by money-manager Lenoir in 2007, imposed discriminatory principles. It quoted Lenoir as putting beyond the pale "firms that made money from or condoned abortions, from making devices used in the procedure to contributing to Planned Parenthood, as well as firms that dealt in pornography and companies that support the 'gay and lesbian agenda.'" 

On a Democratic Party mailer sent out this week, information about the Centurion Fund is coupled with the fact of Lenoir's membership in the Family Action Council of Tennessee, described in the mailer as having been designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  

Reports are that party activists, going for broke, are readying other materials attempting to connect Lenoir to the problems of First Mercantile Capital Management, a firm which was owned by Lenoir's family and in 2003 settled for $18 million a RICO suit filed against it for mismanagement of investment funds. The charge, alleging that Lenoir was the firm's president of record, is a do-over of sorts of one circulated in 2010 during Lenoir's successful run for Shelby County trustee but eventually dropped because of the difficulty, said a party operative at the time, of "connecting the dots."

Most other county races are regarded as fairly even: Republican Tom Leatherwood vs. Democratic Tamika D. Gipson for Circuit Court clerk; Republican Criminal Court clerk Richard DeSaussure II vs. Democrat Heidi Kuhn; Republican Bobby Simmons vs. Democrat Janis Fullilove for Juvenile Court clerk; Republican Chris Thomas vs. Democrat Bill Morrison and independent Jennings Bernard for Probate Court clerk; Republican Donna Creson vs. Democrat Wanda Halbert for Shelby County clerk; and Republican Wayne Mashburn, Democrat Shelandra Ford, and independent Lady J. Swift for register of deeds.

More next week and at Memphisflyer.com on these races, and on those for county commission and for the Shelby County School Board, as well as a county pay-raise referendum and special elections to fill several judicial vacancies and a city council seat.

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