Politics » Politics Feature

Luttrell’s Triple Whammy

County mayor’s composure wears thin after commission action (and inaction) on a triad of issues.



Give Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell points for coming front and center to account for an effort by himself and two other county officials to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to discontinue its oversight of Juvenile Court operations.

Give Luttrell an Excedrin or a flak jacket (pick one) as a remedy for the consequences of that candor. Double his dose or his armament for the triple whammy he incurred during Monday's regular meeting of the Shelby County Commission, a legislative body that has been carrying on guerrilla warfare against the mayor's authority for at least two years. 

The commission ramped up its assault on Monday with action on three different fronts.

First, after a run-through of a commission agenda that ultimately bypassed the matter of the county's 2017-18 budget, the commission voted in favor of an add-on resolution, sponsored by Democrat Walter Bailey, that directly opposed the request by Luttrell, Sheriff Bill Oldham, and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael (all Republicans) that was expressed in their recently publicized letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeking to end DOJ oversight of the court.

That vote was unanimous after a fashion, with seven members — six Democrats and Republican David Reaves — voting aye and four, all Republicans, abstaining. 

Clearly, the abstention by the four non-concurring (but also non-objecting) GOP members — Terry RolandSteve Basar, George Chism, and Heidi Shafer — was based less on aversion to the action of Luttrell, Oldham, and Michael than on a wish to be discreet on a racially charged matter that numerous audience members, all opposing the officials' action, had spoken to on the meeting's front end.

The DOJ's Memorandum of Understanding with the county, dating from 2012, was based on a department investigation of what it ultimately proclaimed to be administrative problems and racial bias on the court's part. 

Saying, "You may not get what you're asking for," Roland, in fact, made the point that a Department of Justice under Sessions undoubtedly had a different attitude toward the Juvenile Court matter than the department, led by Eric Holder, that imposed oversight in the 2012 MOU — a point countered by resolution supporter Van Turner, who insisted that "local monitors" were and would continue to be the actual overseers and that the court's irregularities had not been sufficiently addressed, as Luttrell suggested they had.    

An obviously angry mayor then said the commission majority's action was "much ado about nothing," said that it would be ignored in Washington, and that, in any case, he would veto it, so that "it won't have the county seal."

The second whammy was presented to the mayor in a resolution, sponsored by Turner, asking the administration to submit any change in county security operations to the commission for its approval. 

Luttrell's CAO, Harvey Kennedy, lambasted that one as yet another incursion on executive prerogatives, and the resolution failed by a 3-4 vote — a result that was probably inevitable, inasmuch as a commission majority had approved the changeover in question — from the security management of Allied Universal, a corporation based outside Shelby County, to that of Clarion Security, a local operation headed by a woman, Kim Heathcott, in conjunction with four local majority-black companies.

The changeover satisfied the commission's recently adopted guidelines requiring an increase in county contracts with locally owned small businesses (LOSBs) and business enterprises owned by racial minorities or women (MWBEs).

And the final provocation to the mayor's usual calm demeanor — the third whammy, as it were  — came from the commission's decision, by a 6-4 vote, to postpone approval of Luttrell's proposed 2017-18 operating budget because of unresolved amendment requests, all made relatively recently and including some which, as Luttrell noted, had only been presented to him on Monday. An uncharacteristically fuming Luttrell called the delay "frustrating," and, on that matter, he was echoed by commission budget chairman Steve Basar, who pronounced himself "disgusted" and by Commissioner David Reaves, who vented his displeasure by voting no on an otherwise unanimous continuing-budget resolution, leaving current expenditure requirements in place pending some forthcoming late agreement on a new budget, technically due to be in place by July 1st.

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