Wednesday, December 20, 2000



Posted By on Wed, Dec 20, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Several deals went down Monday at one of the most significant meetings in the history of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. Let us count the ways:

* Developers, always a major force in commission proceedings, amplified their clout considerably by electing one of their own, homebuilder Tom Moss, to fill a commission vacancy;

* Democrats, consigned up until now to the minority position in a 7-6 partisan mix, appeared by virtue of Moss’ election to have permanently broken up the commission’s dominant Republican bloc;

* Commissioner Shep Wilbun, who has been angling for a clerkship for years now, finally landed his appointment -- to the juvenile court clerkship vacated by the now-retired Bob Martin;

* Commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf, who provided the key votes to elect both Moss and Wilbun to their respective new positions, has earned what apparently is a pledge from Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout to see to VanderSchaaf’s defeat for reelection in 2002;

* Commissioner Buck Wellford, a strong candidate to become the next U.S. attorney in Tennessee’s Western District, left little doubt that he intends to sound the alarm about potential special-interest involvement in commission affairs.

Whew! And, as they say, that ain’t all: There are spin-offs from each of these developments as well.

The Moss Affair

Moss, a political unknown who defeated GOP favorite David Lillard for the commission seat (made vacant by the resignation of State Senator-elect Mark Norris) is sure to be opposed by a strong Republican candidate in the next regular commission election of 2002.

Although he described himself at Monday’s meeting as a “moderate Republican,” most Shelby County Republicans regard Moss as politically suspect. Literally, his first act, after taking his seat Monday, was to vote with five black Democrats on the Commission to elect Democrat Wilbun (who abstained in the voting for the clerkship).

Businessman/pol Joe Cooper, who during Monday’s proceedings sat in the back of the commission auditorium with mega-developer William R. “Rusty” Hyneman, a close associate, boasted, “Rusty and I put the deal together,” but denied that anything untoward was involved and said one major consequence of the new commission lineup would be that Democrats would have greater power, with Moss functioning as a swing voter.

Hyneman’s involvement in the outcome was sure to provoke controversy, especially in that Moss’ ability to represent the commission’s District 4 is predicated on his brand-new residence in a house he has just leased from Douglas Beatty, who is serving as a trustee for the property, which is actually owned by Hyneman.

The arrangement is a reminder of a similar transaction whereby city Councilman Rickey Peete last year acquired a house from Hyneman by means of a complicated process involving the developer’s making over a quit-claim deed to the councilman. Disclosure of that arrangement, which freed Peete from the need to qualify for a conventional loan, came at a time when Peete voted with a council majority to suspend existing restrictions on development in Cordova.

Wellford and other Republicans acknowledge that a shift in the commission’s partisan lineup is one likely outcome of Moss’ election, but Wellford for one makes no bones about what he sees as the more significant result -- a quantum leap in the power of developers.

Questioning Moss Monday before the commission voted, Wellford -- a sponsor of several environmentalist ordinances, including a recent one restricting developers’ ability to clear forest land -- made an effort to trace the connection from Hyneman to Beatty to Moss and voiced his suspicions that a deal had been cut between developers and the commission’s black Democrats to accomplish their respective purposes. “I have no doubt about it,” he said.

Like other Republicans, Wellford said there was reason to doubt the bona fides of Moss’ new residence. Asked by the commissioner whether he had actually lived in the house, on Macon Road, Moss answered in part, “I stayed there last night.”

VanderSchaaf’s Role

Just as Moss has become a marked man to the Republican hierarchy and to the administration of Mayor Rout -- which had solidly backed Lillard for the commission vacancy and Deputy Juvenile Court Clerk Steve Stamson for the clerk’s position won by Wilbun -- so has Commissioner VanderSchaaf.

VanderSchaaf, himself a major developer, said he voted for Moss over fellow Republican Lillard “because I’ve known Tom longer and better.” He said he had been candid with Lillard about his intentions, and he fueled the partisan controversy by saying that the new, less partisan lineup on the commission could make it possible “for us to take our heads out of the sand” on matters like potential tax increases, “where we tried to hold the line for six years.”

VanderSchaaf said, however, that he thought Moss would eventually become a reliable part of the Republican majority on the commission. In the vote for juvenile court clerk, VanderSchaaf also played a pivotal role. On the commission’s first three ballots, which deadlocked at six votes for Wilbun and six for Stamson, VanderSchaaf had stood with fellow Republican Stamson, Martin’s longtime aide.

“But I had told Steve in advance I might have to break the deadlock,” said VanderSchaaf, and ultimately, on the fourth ballot, he did just that, voting with the Democrats to give Wilbun the position. The general feeling among the commission’s Repubicans was that VanderSchaaf’s vote for Wilbun was preordained and that his first votes for Stamson on the first three ballots were, in the words of one Republican, “so much window-dressing.”

“I have a good idea of what to expect,” VanderSchaaf said of the prospect that he will have organized Republican opposition for his reelection effort in 2002. And he indicated that he was resigned to the fact, widely discussed in political circles, that Rout would personally target him for defeat. “There are certain things I’ll just have to accept,” he said.

Wilbun’s Reward

Commissioner Wilbun has made no secret during the last several years of his wish to acquire one of the county’s well-paying clerkships. He has expressed interest in several vacanies -- most recently that of the position of register, made vacant when incumbent Guy Bates died last summer.

Wilbun attempted to get the Democratic nomination for register for November’s special election and became incensed, charging “collusion” when he lost out to John Freeman in a three-way race conducted by the Shelby County Democratic executive committee. He later made peace with the party hierarchy.

As a prelude to his register bid, Wilbun had hoped to get a leg up on the job by being named to the position by his fellow commissioners but was foiled when the body’s seven Republicans presented him with a united front in favor of waiting for the special election.

After the turbulent commission meeting on Monday, which culminated with Wilbun’s being named juvenile court clerk, Wellford charged that Wilbun had approached him back then with an offer to support Wellford, then chairman, for a second term in return for his vote, along with those of the commission’s black Democrats, to name Wilbun acting county register. (As of press time, Wilbun was not available for comment on the charge.)

In any case, the commissioner -- backed by Moss and his five fellow Democrats and, ultimately, by VanderSchaaf -- now has his county job. He indicated through an intermediary afterward that he was open to the idea of keeping Stamson on as chief deputy, and Stamson -- whose father died only last week and who was making an obvious effort to remain stoic about the turn of events -- said that he, too, was open to the prospect.

Like Stamson, attorney Lillard -- a Republican member of the Shelby County Election Commission and a onetime candidate for county Republican chairman -- was philosophical in being denied the office he sought.

But, he said, he thought “there was a lot of dishonesty involved in the process,” and he compared the course of events in Memphis to those of a city like New Orleans, where private interests and governmental processes are often known to intersect. “If we are to be a truly first-class city, we have to have a politics that has the appearance and fact of honesty and aboveboardness,” Lillard said.

Unless someone intervenes with a suit that seeks an earlier special election, Moss’ commission seat and Wilbun’s juvenile court clerk’s position (which will be filled by the commission next year after a prior public notice at the body’s January 8th meeting) will be subject to a vote in the regular general election of 2002.

Future Prospects

Several of Monday’s disappointed principals may fare better later -- and fairly soon. Lillard’s name has been floated on a short list of Republican lawyers (GOP national committeman John Ryder and Hardy Mays, former chief of staff to Governor Don Sundquist, are two others) for appointment to the federal district judgeship made vacant earlier this year by the death of Jerome Turner.

And Wellford is perhaps the leading prospect to succeed U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman, who was appointed under Democratic auspices in 1993 and will be leaving office early next year. Wellford was Shelby County campaign manager for the several races of U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, the state’s ranking Republican federal official.

* At some point in the proofreading and printing process of last week’s Flyer, an extra “n” slipped into the name of Anie Kent, one of three Memphis electors for George W. Bush and a well-known local activist. “Annie” she ain’t.

* Division 9 Criminal Court Judge J.C. McLin on Monday dismissed a felony charge against Faith McClinton, one of several Shelby County voters charged with concealing past felony convictions on their voter applications.

McLin said he thought McClinton had not been properly apprised by the district attorney’s office of the implications of a guilty plea and the acceptance on her record of a second felony. McLin also advised McClinton that she could apply for the restoration of her voting rights.


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