Friday, October 31, 2003

The Back Burner

Discontent simmers on the county commission; plus word from other news fronts.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2003 at 4:00 AM

This 'n' That: Once an insurgent, always an insurgent Although some of the major battles are over, skirmishes continue on the Shelby County Commission.

Instance 1: First-term commissioner Deidre Malone, still displeased that current chairman Marilyn Loeffel opted to name former chairman Walter Bailey, Loeffel's ally, as education committee chair instead of Malone, reluctantly accepted the vice-chairmanship of that committee. Malone was not bashful about noting that she had to function as chairman at a committee meeting last week and to take the lead in disposing of a committee-related issue on Monday, both times because Chairman Bailey was absent. (Monday's issue, concerning whether the county should make a requested $25,000 contribution to the purchase of a library transport vehicle, was resolved when Curtis Kittrell, library finance director, conceded that funds were already on hand to buy the vehicle.)

Instance 2: One of the routine matters disposed of at the commission's regular Monday meeting was the appointment of Chairman Loeffel and Commissioner Michael Hooks to the Center City Commission. Only one commissioner demurred: Bruce Thompson, a rival of Loeffel's for the commission chairmanship and a frequent verbal opponent of hers who was a Center City designee last year but was passed over by Loeffel this year. When Thompson made a point of abstaining on the vote, Loeffel audibly guffawed.

Thompson and Malone each maintain that Loeffel welshed on a commitment to name Malone as education chair (with David Lillard as vice chair). The chairman, who formerly had headed the committee herself, maintained that she was merely prompted by Bailey to follow tradition in yielding her chairmanship to him.

What newcomers Malone, Thompson, and Lillard are about, as they have made reasonably clear, is an outright challenge to tradition and established authority in ways that relate to both procedure and policy (especially fiscal and development policy).

Malone is not only knocking heads with Bailey on the commission, she is an active supporter of Willie Brooks in the District 1 school board runoff against Bailey's son Jay Bailey.

Eastern Exposure Governor Phil Bredesen, speaking from Osaka, Japan, via teleconference Tuesday, took note of renewed controversy about the forthcoming Tennessee lottery by restating his "unqualified support" for lottery director Rebecca Paul, who is under fire from state Republican chairman Beth Harwell and others for the high levels of compensation she and other lottery officials are receiving, as well as for Paul's penchant for hiring fellow Georgians.

"I don't want anyone to think that I'm trying to run this thing day by day," Bredesen said. "She's under great pressure to perform, and I'm inclined to cut her some slack."

The governor, on a trade mission to Japan and Korea with some 70 Tennessee business leaders and public officials, noted that he had met with several executives of Japanese corporations, including the officers of the Brother Corporation, which operates a high-tech facility in Bartlett.

The Japanese executives are by and large satisfied with their Tennessee operations, Bredesen said, adding that some "workforce issues" needed to be resolved, including ensuring a supply of qualified employees, the governor said. "This [Japan] is a society with a 95 percent graduate rate in high school and one of 40 percent for college. We're not in the same universe."

You Decide. We Report ... Readers of this space will recall that our election preview bestowed some compliments on city councilman Myron Lowery and (correctly ) predicted a relatively easy victory for him over challenger Isaac Ford. We were subsequently told by the councilman that this homage was a matter of "yesterday" and that he was displeased not to have seen the details of his victory -- which, said he, deserved "at least a sentence" -- reported on. Who are we to disappoint someone so insistent? With the aid of semicolons, here then is a sentence, one of the subject's own: "I had to overcome Harold [Ford]; I had to overcome Harold Jr.; it wasn't easy, but I beat them both!"

Names in the Hat The list of potential candidates for the District 89 state House seat vacated by City Council candidate Carol Chumney expands. Former Republican state Representative Tim Joyce has expressed an interest, as have former county commission candidate Irma Merrill, a Democrat, and Chumney's current campaign manager, Jay Sparks.

Affordable-housing specialist David Upton, a longtime Democratic activist, has decided against a race; Shelby County schools' planning director Maura Black Sullivan and MIFA administrator Mary Wilder, also a Democrat, are mulling it over. Republican Jim Jamison, a Northwest Airlines employee, is a declared candidate.

Too late to classify: David Wolf and Henry Loeb Jr.

E-mail: baker@MemphisFlyer.com

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