The Shelby County Commission, having snatched discord from the jaws of concord on Monday, when a late vote change scuttled what had appeared to be agreement on a referendum to re-create five countywide offices, was scheduled to try again Wednesday morning.
In setting up the new meeting, a vexed commission chairman David Lillard reminded commissioners, as county mayor A C Wharton had earlier, that if nine votes - a super-majority on the 13-member body -- cannot be found to approve the language for a November referendum resolution before September 5, the offices of sheriff, trustee, assessor, county clerk, and register could cease to exist.
"We'll be in a world of hurt," Lillard said.
September 5 is the Election Commission's drop-dead date to prepare a ballot for the November election. The voters of Shelby County, having narrowly rejected Ordinance 360 on last week's August 7th county general election ballot, had left unresolved the matter of revising the county charter so as to formally re-establish the five offices, formerly considered constitutional under state law. The state Supreme Court made the change necessary when it ruled in January 2007 that Knox County, which had improperly constituted similar offices, would have to recreate theirs by county charter. The same duty thereby fell to Shelby County.
Unlike their Knox County counterparts, who reproduced the former job descriptions by county charter, Shelby County commissioners undertook a more thorough revision. Months of wrangling on the Shelby County Commission had produced two companion ordinances for the August 7th ballot. One, Ordinance 361, passed handily, despite lumping together a multitude of different premises. But Ordinance 360, which contained compromise language on the contentious issue of term limits, failed.
Essentially, what the ordinance had done was establish a compromise between commissioners who had wanted liberal term limits or none at all and those who wanted the five re-created position to be held to the same limitation of two consecutive four-year terms that Shelby voters had approved in a 1994 referendum for the county mayor and the county commissioners themselves. Ordinance 360 had provided for limits of three four-year terms and extended the same limits to any newly elected mayor and commissioners (grandfathering out the current holders of those jobs).
If that brief synopsis seems complicated, so had the series of discussions that had finally set up last week's Ordinance 360 referendum, and so did the discussion on Monday, when there proved to be too many moving parts to produce the necessary nine aye votes on an acceptable compromise. Agreement appeared to have been reached on a simple resolution to recreate the five offices without reference to the term-limits issue. But that broke down when the 12 commissioners present, who had theretofore functioned as a committee of the whole, formally reconvened as the commission itself in order the approve the agreement.
Commissioner Joyce Avery's vote had changed from yes to no meanwhile, putting the whole matter back at Square One. That was when Lillard scheduled the Wednesday morning meeting for another try. "We're at the last moment of the last moment," he noted.