Politics » Politics Feature

Shelby County Commission, Mayor, Support Relocating Confederate Statues



Like Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis City Council, the chief officials of Shelby County government lent the weight of their authority on Monday to the current effort to relocate the controversial downtown statues of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and rebel cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The action came in the form of a resolution, co-sponsored by a a bipartisan group of County Commissioners, that supported the Council's prior action in urging the state Historical Commission at its forthoming October 13th meeting  to hear a request for a waiver allowing local action to relocate the statues.

County Mayor Mark Luttrell was on hand to give his personal endorsement to the resolution, which would ultimately pass 11-0. The only non-votes on the commission were those of Terry Roland, an absentee on Monday, and new commission chair Heidi Shafer who gave her opinion that the commission, lacking any specific authority over the statues, had no legal "standing" to pursue the matter.

During debate on the resolution, several commissioners supported the goal of relocating the statues, and none directly opposed it. Commissioner Mark Billingsley of Germantown did propose a more circuitous route to that goal, however, introducing an amendment for a two-week delay in voting so as to secure an opinion from the county's own historical commission.

He was initially supported by Commissioner David Reaves of Bartlett, who agreed that a "unified, dignified process" of sounding out more opinion would allow the resolution to fare better with the state commission. 

Reaves said, however, that he did not object to removing the Forrest memorial, including his grave, to Elmwood Cemetery the original place of Forrest's interment.

Reaction to the Billingsley proposal from other commissioners was unfavorable, in any case. Commissioner Van Turner of Memphis cited Martin Luther King's statement that "justice delayed is justice denied" and said that an elongated process could mean that "our children's children will be dead" before any action could be taken.

Commissioner George Chism of Collierville and Memphis Commissioners Steve BasarEddie JonesReginald Milton, and Walter Bailey (the latter being the resolution's prime mover) then all spoke in succession for the resolution, Basar saying, "We're not alone. A lot of people are doing this. It's the right time to do this."

Finally, Mayor Luttrell supported the original resolution and gave his opinion that "these decisions should be made at the local level" and "could have been resolved weeks ago" if local government had been allowed to act on its own. He gave credit to "the temperament of the community" and the fact that "we've controlled emotions as well as we have."

Billingsley's amendment for more circuitous action was defeated, with aye votes only from himself, Reaves, and Shafer. Then Billingsley and Reaves joined with the others to support the main motion.

Justin Ford, who last week entered an Alford plea in Criminal Court for domestic misconduct]and received a sentence of probation, may face an uncertain future in politics, and is term-limited, anyway.  But the District 9 seat Ford occupies on the county commission could continue to stay in the family. 

That's if cousin Edmond Ford Jr., now a member of the Memphis City Council, succeeds in his Democratic primary bid for the District 9 commission seat.

Another term-limited member of the commission, Melvin Burgess, had his own announcement to make this week. After a spell of floating the idea of running for county mayor, Burgess says he'll  be running for the Shelby County Assessor position which current incumbent Cheyenne Jackson is vacating.

Sean Lynch, currently an employee in the assessor's office, has been a known candidate for the office for some time and has a fair degree of support among establishment Democrats, but Burgess expressed confidence in his own chances of prevailing in a primary showdown.

Burgess, whose service as commission chairman over the past year gave him visibility, said of Lynch, "He's going to have to spend some money just to let people know who he is."

• Close on the heels of Democratic candidate Floyd Bonner's kickoff of his campaign for sheriff two weeks ago at the Racquet Club, another big shoe dropped last Thursday when county Homeland Security director Dale Lane, a leading Republican candidate for the office, had his own kickoff affair in Millington.

Lane's was a homier affair, held at the Mid-South Auction Group & Marketplace in Millington, but, like current Chief Deputy Bonner, who was endorsed by his boss, outgoing Sheriff Bill Oldham, Lane had some bigtime backing, too. His came from Luttrell, who served two terms as sheriff himself, before his election as mayor in 2010.

An obstacle to Lane's announcement of the Luttrell endorsement was the fact that the mayor had been in Nashville and was still en route back to Memphis. That logistical problem was solved via some everyday technology: Lane got Luttrell on his cell phone and had him speak to the assembled crowd by holding the phone to a microphone.

Luttrell noted the candidate's impressive credentials, which included several important command positions, including that of chief inspector of the department's patrol division and supervision of the department's SWAT team and its training division.

And finally, the mayor said, Lane had served "as our point person in Shelby County" as director of preparedness and homeland security.

In his own remarks, Lane, a devout Christian, made a point of proclaiming, as he always does in his public appearances, the chief importance in his life of his faith and his family. He reminisced about having begun his law enforcement career 30 years ago as a member of the Millington police force.

Lane said one of his chief preoccupations as sheriff would be that of youth violence, for which he proposed a multi-layered approach involving partnership with the faith-based and business communities, intervention via youth activities, and direct suppression by means of street-level enforcement.

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