Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chancellor Evans Approves Consent Decree for Charter-Surrender Referendum

Posted By on Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 12:23 PM

Chancery_Court.jpg
The way has been cleared legally for a city-voters-only referendum on surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter, the remaining precondition for merger of MCS with Shelby County Schools. But legislative action could still complicate the issue.

A suit filed late Wednesday by attorney Allan Wade for the ad hoc group Citizens for Better Education bore fruit early Thursday, as the plaintiffs and attorneys for the Shelby County Election Commission agreed to a consent order in the courtroom of Chancellor Walter Evans.

The order provides for the referendum to be held within 45 to 60 days from the date of the decree. That would put the outside date for the referendum at March 13, though the date of March 7, already scheduled for a state House District 98 special election, is more likely to be chosen.

No word yet from Nashville on whether state Senator Mark Norris, the Republican Majority Leader, will now file his bill calling for a year-long stand-down in resolving the showdown between MCS and SCS, followed by a dual referendum of city and county voters on any charter surrender.

Proponents of school consolidation were quick to call the bill a ruse, or, as City Councilman Shea Flinn, a supporter of a charter-surrender referendum, termed it, a “veto” of school consolidation.

Norris had withheld filing the bill, he had said Wednesday, pending resolution of another “compromise” agreement which included the year-long stand-down, followed by an all-county aggregate vote on charter surrender. This, too, was viewed with suspicion by advocates of an MCS charter surrender.

Whatever impetus there might have been toward such an agreement, and there seemed to be little, may have been rendered obsolete by Chancellor Evans’ order.

Given that state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville has explicitly declared a willingness to assist GOP legislators in Shelby County in fast-tracking bills on the volatile school issue, there exists the very real probability that a measure like Norris’ could be vetted and expedited before a referendum on charter surrender could occur.

An even stronger action by legislative opponents of a charter surrender could be immediate action to create a Special School District for Shelby County Schools. It was talk of such legislation from SCS board chairman David Pickler which precipitated the MCS board's December 20 vote in favor of surrendering the city school system's charter.

Should such a fait accompli occur before a city referendum on MCS charter surrender, the legal landscape would be teeming with issues and conflicting premises requiring adjudication.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mayors Won't Confirm Likelihood of School Deal

Wharton specifically insists that only Memphians should vote on surrender of MCS charter; meanwhile, Wade files election suit in Chancery.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 5:39 PM

Mayors Luttrell and Wharton with Governor-elect Haslam at Bioworks
  • JB
  • Mayors Luttrell and Wharton with Governor-elect Haslam at Bioworks
Asked about the issue before a joint public meeting with Governor-elect Bill Haslam at the Memphis Bioworks Center, Mayors A C Wharton (Memphis) and Mark Luttrell (Shelby County) each seemed uncertain, in different ways, about the likelihood — or even the purpose — of the reported “deal” that would occasion a year-long stand-down in the showdown between Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, followed by an all-county vote.

Luttrell spoke in general terms about his hope for an understanding of some sort but did not spell out the terms of one, and he said, “I don’t know,” when asked what the reaction of the MCS and SCS school boards would be to the one that was discussed in published reports earlier Wednesday.

Wharton seemed surprised when informed of some of the reported terms and specifically rejected one key provision. He insisted, as he had on previous occasions, that only citizens of Memphis should be allowed to vote on a referendum to permit the surrender of the MCS charter.

Meanwhile, attorney Allan Wade, on behalf of the ad hoc group Citizens for Better Education, filed suit in Chancery Court seeking a writ of mandamus or, alternatively, injunctive relief, or, alternatively, a declaratory judgment toward the end of forcing the Shelby County Election Commission to call for an immediate citywide referendum on the charter surrender. If successful, such a surrender would force the immediate amalgamation of MCS with SCS.

And, in Nashville, where the Tennessee General Assembly was in its second day of reorganization for the forthcoming legislative session, state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville, the Republican majority leader of the state Senate, indicated that, pending some resolution of the deal publicized Wednesday, he would defer filing his proposed bill calling for a stand-down followed by two separate votes on an MCS charter surrender by city and county voters. Norris’ bill would make dual passage necessary before the surrender could occur.

Governor-elect Haslam, meanwhile, declined to comment on specific plans or possibilities, though he indicated an awareness of the issues and said he hoped for such outcomes as were most beneficial to the schoolchildren involved.

More details later.

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Same as the Old Boss: Forrester to Lead State Dems Again

Party chairman easily wins over Kuhn and Munday in state executive committee vote.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 8:43 AM

Forrester with fellow celebrant at Pucketts
  • JB
  • Forrester with fellow celebrant at Puckett's
Saturday’s convening of Tennessee Democrats in Nashville for their biennial reorganizational meeting, preceded by a few sub-sessions and a luncheon, looked to be somewhat underpopulated by the standards of previous years. But that was understandable, for, as the luncheon’s keynoter, recently defeated gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter, pointed out in his address, “We are now the minority party.”

That blunt acknowledgement of a reality so recently made clear by the November 2 election results was at the heart of the weekend’s central event, the selection of a party chairman for the next two years. Running again was the current chairman, Chip Forrester, who had two challengers — Memphian Matt Kuhn (the only non-Nashvillian in the race) and Wade Munday, the most youthful of the three and a former press spokesman for the party.

In a debate Monday night, held in Nashville and carried online, all three candidates had delivered versions of the same home truth as would McWherter — that the Tennessee Democratic Party, which had held undisputed sway for almost the entirely of the state’s organized political history, had been forced to accept a fate — minority-party status — which may have been coming for some time but which had become undeniable only in November.

The state’s retiring two-term governor, Phil Bredesen, was, after all, a Democrat, and, as recently as 2008 — the year, it will be remembered of President Obama’s runaway victory over the GOP’s John McCain — the Democrats had what seemed to be a comfortable, if somewhat diminished, edge over the Republicans in the state House of Representatives and nursed hopes of regaining control of the Senate, where they were only a vote or two away.

As it happened, the party’s hopes in the Senate slipped further away by another vote or two that year, and, in a genuine surprise, Democrats would lose control of the House by a single vote. Somewhat resourcefully, however, they convinced a dissident Republican, Kent Williams of Carter County in far-east Tennessee, to vote along with a remarkably unified Democratic caucus to make himself Speaker, rather than the expectant Republican, Jason Mumpower of Bristol.

The new Speaker was formally excommunicated from the GOP, and, though he called himself a “Carter County Republican,” he was a de facto independent, a fact which gave the House Democrats exact parity with the Republicans.

There would be no coups of that sort when the General Assembly reconvened on Tuesday. The newly elected governor, Bill Haslam, was a Republican; the state Senate continued to be in Republicans hands, by the margin of xx to xx; and, most shocking of all, there would be 64 Republicans in the new House as against only 34 Democrats.
These facts were grimly noted in remarks by surviving state Senator Lowe Finney of Jackson, caucus chair of the Senate Democrats, to the 66 voting members (a male and a female from each state Senate district) of the party’s state executive committee) who met in the House chamber Saturday to decide between the three candidates for chairman.

Though not exactly a Blue Dog (a conservative breed whose losses in November had brought it close to extinction), Finney was middle-of-the-road enough to have survived the electoral tsunami, and, in a speech that implicitly put him forth as a statewide party prospect for the next major election cycle, Finney argued strenuously that, henceforth, the party should support its candidates’ philosophical positions rather than vice versa.

That, more or less, was also the stance taken in the Monday night debate by Kuhn, the former Shelby County Democratic chairman and ex-county commissioner, who conspicuously conferred his imprimatur on “pro-business” candidates and by Munday, whose rhetoric was pitched more to bloggers and those who considered themselves progressives. Forrester’s position had been somewhat more nuanced, emphasizing a tighter integration between the party’s infrastructure, its developed messaging, and Democratic standard-bearers at election time.

Underneath the ideological differences, such as they were, more personal considerations played a role. Kuhn had stout support from his former boss, just retired 8th District congressman John Tanner, and, less remotely, Knoxville publisher/entrepreneur Doug Horne, a former state party chairman himself. Both had been affiliated in the state chairmanship contest of 2009 with a party faction, backed by outgoing governor Phil Bredesen and by four of the state’s then-serving five Democratic congressmen, who had rebelled at Forrester’s candidacy and backed Nashville lawyer Charles Robert Bone.

When Forrester won anyhow, thanks largely to serious early-on grass-roots organizing and to the help of party veterans like David Upton of Memphis, Horne would be one of the first to call a truce and offer his help to Forrester, who otherwise was forced to pursue his agenda of party-building while swimming against the establishment tide.
Since then, however, relations had seriously cooled between Horne, who years ago had donated a downtown Nashville building as party headquarters and continued to collect monthly rent for it, and Forrester, who has publicly called for the party to purchase its own building. (It was difficult to tell what was chicken and what was egg in the dispute between Horne and Forrester.)

In his remarks, Finney would anger some of the Forrester supporters by pointedly including a broad suggestion that the party leadership needed changing, and when he cast his own vote, it would be for Kuhn, who picked up several of the votes that had gone for Bone in 2009 and had support as well from West Tennessee and from Shelby County, though he would end up halving his home county’s votes with Forrester.

The final tally was: Forrester-38; Kuhn-17; Munday-10 — a distribution which somewhat reflected the spread between Forrester and opponent Bone two years ago. Whatever else the outcome signified, it demonstrated that Forrester, who had raised considerable money for the party during his first term and done a fair amount of circuit-riding, was not being blamed for the Democratic wipe-out in a year of Republican electoral landslide.

And Forrester’s victory apparently demonstrated a continuing disparity between the will of the party’s rank-and-file and that of its erstwhile luminaries. Of the major Democratic office-holders who resisted Forrester in 2009, only 5th District congressman Jim Cooper of Nashville, who had been lukewarm at best in his commitment to that coalition, was even destined to remain in office. Tanner and the 6th District’s Bart Gordon had read the political tea leaves and retired, while Lincoln Davis was defeated for reelection in the 4th District. All were succeeded by Republicans. (Steve Cohen of Memphis’ 9th District, who was handily re-elected, had stayed neutral in the brouhaha.)

Bredesen, of course, had reached the end of his constitutionally allotted two terms and will be succeeded on Saturday by Republican governor-elect Haslam. For the record, the outgoing governor had mellowed in his attitude toward Forrester and had pointedly absolved him of responsibility for the 2010 electoral debacle.

For their part, Forrester’s supporters were directing such resentment as they maintained at key staffers for the governor and the then-serving Democratic congressmen. Upton told reporters after the vote that such figures as Will Pinkston of Bredesen’s staff and Beecher Frasier, a top aide to Lincoln Davis, had been the major culprits, largely for reasons of guarding their turf, and should have been fired for their efforts.

Nor were supporters of the losers on Saturday necessarily placated, despite Forrester’s call for unity and his summons to “these fine young men” (Kuhn, Munday, and dropout candidate Justin Walley) to stand with him in the well of the House chamber after the vote.
“It is what it is,” said Munday supporter Joan Cheek of Nashville, and her husband Will Cheek, a former state party chairman, was talking out loud about creating a 527 organization, named for a section of the IRS code that permits politically oriented fundraising organizations to operate with de facto tax breaks. Cheek may have been envisioning a 527 as a vehicle for circumventing a Forrester-dominated party apparatus, or he may, as he said, have merely seen such an organization as an effective auxiliary way to widen Democratic support.

“Let it happen. We heard they wanted to do that two years ago, and we wish they had,” commented Upton.
In any case, Forrester was once again a winner, whatever that might portend for the Democratic future, or for his own, at age 56. “I’m a tough old guy,” he said at a victory celebration at Puckett’s, a downtown Nashville pub, where he talked about proposing a party bylaw imposing a four-year term limit on future party chairmen.

One of the attendees at Forrester’s victory party was former Nashville city councilman and veteran lobbyist John Summers, who mused out loud that what Democrats had to do in the future was imitate Republicans by developing a strong central thesis and requiring the party’s candidates to hold to it. “That’s how they got to where they are today. Not personality but message. Democrats should do the same,” he said.

That was virtually the opposite of what Lowe Finney’s advice had been, but it resonated somewhat with what Forrester had said in last week’s debate. In any case, it was once again his call to make.

Monday, January 10, 2011

MAD AS HELL: After Tucson, the GOP Has Some 'Splaining to Do

It is their party which has a problem, and it is time for Republican leaders to denounce and repudiate the despicable antics of their followers.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Cheri DelBrocco
  • Cheri DelBrocco
Last week’s transfer of power in Washington dominated the news for four days while the three-foot gavel selected by John Boehner epitomized the asinine immaturity of the Tea-publican movement.

Then the news broke that a mass shooting and attempted assassination of a member of Congress had occurred. Six dead in Tucson, Arizona. It is human nature to try to figure out why such an unspeakable tragedy like this one would happen in our country. We look for something or someone to blame. Since the day President Obama was sworn in, reasonable people have feared such a sickening event would actually happen. Although shocking, it is not surprising.

Over the next few weeks, we will see an aggressive attempt by Republicans and their lackeys in the right wing media to whitewash the Tucson shootings. Sarah Palin has already scrubbed her website of the infamous “crosshairs” map, with those infamous superimposed gun sights in tandem with her voter instructions to “reload and take aim” at Democratic candidates. The Fox News talking heads have already started repeating the meme that “both parties” have a problem with inflammatory, violent rhetoric and, oh yes, that the Tea Party may, just may have made impolitic remarks.

They just forget to identify which incendiary statements were made by Democrats or liberals. Probably because they cannot find any.

The Fox Tea-publicans will distort and lie until, before you know it, all the media will join into the malarkey that “Both parties are guilty of contributing to the climate of political hatred, etc., etc.” They are counting on the majority of Americans to fall for this phony false equivocation.

But what we know for sure is that the rhetoric and actions can be laid at the feet of the Grand Old Tea-publican Party.

In the recent elections it was the Republican Party that manufactured the kind of vitriol that caused a young woman holding a poster at a Rand Paul rally to get knocked to the ground and her head stomped by GOP-certified “freedom fighters.”

We know it was the Republican Party that fielded a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada who called for people to “exercise their Second Amendment rights” if the election didn’t turn out the way they wanted.

We know it to be the Republican Party that has a base calling for acts of violence against immigrants, Muslims, and everyone else who doesn’t fit their self-imposed guidelines for true Americanism.

It was Republicans for over two years attended public rallies and town hall meetings with guns strapped to their legs, promising to “take the country back”.

It was Republicans who sold “America’s Most Wanted” playing cards with pictures of Democratic leaders on them.

It was a Republican candidate who, running against Florida Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, stepped up at a shooting range to show his marksmanship skills by firing at a human silhouette with the letters "DWS" written next to the head.
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It was a Republican Vice Presidential candidate who made unsubstantiated claims that the President had “palled around” with terrorists.

It was the Republican Speaker John Boehner who, when speaking of Democratic office-holders, blithely blew off threats against them by saying there were “always a couple of anarchists who want to kill all of us in public office.”.

We know that what happened in Tucson was a logical, predictable outcome to the growing, hyperbolic rhetoric that has become the stock and trade of the Republicans and the Tea Party. A nine-year- old girl is dead. A Federal judge is dead. A member of Congress is fighting for her life. Four other American families are planning funerals. Like a Kudzu vine that smothers trees with its fast growing tendrils, the politics of hate and fear is spreading. Ultimately, it will suffocate and snuff out democracy.

It is time for the charade to stop. As much as the GOP's talking heads attempt to cover their asses, it is their party which has a problem, and it is time for Republican leaders to denounce and repudiate the despicable antics of their followers.

GADFLY: Oh Oh Oh! Santa Didn't Clear the Chimney This Year

Commercial receipts indicate this was a humbug Christmas at the cash register.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 7:49 AM

Santa_Claus_stuck_in_chimney.jpg
Well, the results of the all-important Christmas buying frenzy are in, and guess what—-yup, they weren't what everyone predicted they'd be back when every media outlet, including The Flyer, was touting what a great holiday shopping season this one was in the process of being. Wow, what a surprise!

The excuse this time? Weather. Hmm, where have I heard that before? Christmas takes place in the winter when weather is a problem somewhere (and frequently many somewheres) every year. Using weather as an excuse for a disappointing Christmas shopping season is almost as cliched as using “spending more time with family”as an excuse for prematurely leaving a job. Every year we're treated to an onslaught of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed stories about how brisk sales look in anticipation of Christmas, and every year (or at least for as long as I can remember), the results are worse than the rosy projections that preceded them. When will we learn? It's almost like Charlie Brown believing, one more time, that Lucy won't snatch the ball away when he tries to kick it.

Retailers obviously believe that telling folks how crowded the stores are, and therefore how many people are going into debt to pay for Christmas, will stimulate sales, and media outlets certainly have a one-hand-washes-the-other interest in promoting their advertisers' success, even at the expense of the truth. Year after year, we can expect to be bombarded by TV news reports from one mall or another suggesting shopping emporia are as crowded as ant farms, not to mention the de rigeur reports on the day after Thanksgiving of nincompoops lining up at 4 A.M. to get into some “big box” store or other. But does that mean we either have to believe their bullshit or let it influence our behavior? The real question is, does this appeal to the herd mentality work, and the answer increasingly appears to be, no (which is also, coincidentally, the answer to the question “will anything about these bogus projections change next year?”).

Retailers and the media outlets who serve as their handmaidens need to consider the possibility that stories like these have achieved “boy who cried wolf” status, and come up with something else. Maybe a campaign based on fear instead of ebullience would work better. Look at how well it works to make us believe that unless we allow some stranger at the airport to grope us, we're going to die in a fiery plane crash.

Maybe something like “research has shown that people who don't spend at least $1,000 on Christmas shopping are ten times likelier to die prematurely than those who do.” Who cares if that's false. Most advertising is anyway, and it's not like some ivory tower scientist is likely to chime in that such a study hasn't been subjected to rigorous peer review. Of course, a crappy economy, 10% unemployment and an epidemic of foreclosures will trump cockeyed optimism every time. I just wish retailers would stop using these phony feel-good projections as a way of manipulating us into joining the Christmas feeding frenzy. But, it could be worse: subliminal messaging could make a comeback instead.

In a related sign of the times, every year when the new Yellow Pages phone directories come out, I do my own macro-economic analysis of them. I count the number of pages, and the number of listings in two particular categories I consider to be bellwethers, and compare them to the prior year. Since the new Yellow Pages directory has just come out, I thought I'd share some of what it reveals. First, the overall number of pages has dramatically declined this year, more than in any prior year of my unscientific survey.

That's not a promising development, in my not-so-humble opinion. In addition to being an effect of the economic downturn, it may also be a symptom of population loss, or it could be a function of the fact that ad dollars are being shifted to non-traditional media, especially since our 24/7 electronically-obsessed culture threatens to make printed phone directories extinct. If that happens, one side-effect will be the extinction of alphabetization as a necessary life skill, joining multiplication tables and longhand division in the scrap heap of things it turns out we didn't need to learn in elementary school. Of course, I'm the wrong person to bemoan this kind of modernization; I still hate it that crappy solar-powered calculators displaced the noble and elegant slide rule. Alas, trusty K & E Deci-Lon slide rule, I knew thee well.

The good news, though, is that the two categories of ads/listings I most like to monitor, the canaries in the mine of self-aggrandizement if you will, attorneys and churches, have also declined. Attorney ads mortify me, maybe because I still live in the deluded belief that the practice of law is a dignified profession. But, when one local law firm can sponsor a TV ad that takes ambulance chasing to the new level of having its spokeslawyers arrive at the scene of an accident in a helicopter before the victims' bodies have even been extricated from the wreckage, I guess I should be permanently disabused of that delusion.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the tactics lawyers use to get a competitive leg up in the dog-eat-dog legal world when, as it turns out, law schools, long one of the cash cows of the educational system, are apparently willing to do anything they have to to perpetuate the myth that a legal education is a guaranteed ticket to the brass ring. It seems appropriate, then, that there are fewer attorney ads in the Yellow Pages this year than last. That is a tectonic shift, especially since this is the first year, in my experience, that's happened, and should make a lot of lawyer bashers happy.

In a related development, there are roughly half as many churches listed in the Yellow Pages this year than last. I haven't figured out how to account for that, though. Is it further proof of what Fox News types call the attack on religion, or a reflection of the fact that atheism has become
increasingly popular, even if it doesn't yet have its own Yellow Pages listing. Whatever the reason, is there anyone who doesn't believe there are too many churches in this town, and not enough to show for it? It's not like, thanks to churches, poverty in Memphis is on the verge of being eradicated.

I remember how disheartened I was when I first came to Memphis to find out there were more pages of the directory devoted to churches than to lawyers. Maybe that was because, in many denominations, it's much easier to become a preacher than it is to become a lawyer. I have yet to understand the contradiction between the high number of churches and the high divorce, child pregnancy and crime rates we suffer from. I guess repression still isn't selling very well, even though religion is one of the products that benefits the most from a campaign of fear. Oh well, if being threatened with eternal damnation isn't enough to turn folks into believers, maybe, with the right ad campaign, it can be enough to turn them into shoppers.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Giannini Promises to Expedite a Referendum Date if City Council Passes Resolution

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 11:18 AM

SCEC chairman Giannini
  • JB
  • SCEC chairman Giannini
“I’m amazed that the City Council wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to pass a resolution that would guarantee a referendum,” said Shelby County Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini on Thursday, referring to public statements from council chairman Myron Lowery and others professing a disinclination to get procedurally involved in the ongoing dispute between Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.

Giannini had announced at Wednesday’s meeting of the Election Commission that, on the basis of a letter received that day from state Election Coordinator Mark Goins, no election date could be set for a citywide referendum on the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter until the Council had met to authorize such a referendum. The MCS Board itself voted 5-4 on December 20 to call the referendum, which, if passed, would automatically create the merge of MCS and SCS.

Goins’ letter was in answer to several inquiries from Giannini concerning SCEC’s freedom of action in setting a date for the referendum. Before receiving it, Giannini had indicated the Election Commission would likely set a referendum date of February 15.

Supporters of an MCS-SCS merger are pressing for the quickest date possible, expressing concerns about a likely move in the Tennessee General Assembly, which convenes next week, to establish special-school-district status for Shelby County Schools.

“They can still have a prompt vote,” said Giannini, promising to expedite the setting of an election date upon receipt of an authorizing resolution from the City Council. The SCEC chairman said, “I don’t know what the Council’s advance-notification requirements are for a special meeting, but, if they met, say, on Friday, we could respond with an Election Commission meeting on Wednesday of next week and maybe still schedule an election for February.”

On Wednesday, Giannini had said he thought a referendum date in February was now “off the calendar,” but he said Thursday that quick action by the Council could restore the possibility.

Addressing various publicly expressed suggestions that he, Goins, and SCS board chairman David Pickler were coordinating efforts to delay a vote on the MCS charter-surrender, Giannini said, “If we’re all a bunch of Republicans trying to carry out a conspiracy like that, it sure would be stupid to decide to get the Memphis City Council involved. “

Giannini said he suspected that a clear majority of Council members would support the MCS board. “I don’t know why they don’t go ahead and pass a resolution. We’ll set a date as soon as they do.”

The SCEC chairman said he was hesitant to make a definitive comment about an argument, proposed by City Council member Shea Flinn and others and supported by an opinion from Council attorney Allan Wade, that a petition signed by 25 voting residents of Memphis could provide the legal basis for calling a referendum on the MCS board’s action.

“They’re researching that in the Coordinator’s office,” said Giannini, who said his informal opinion was that any such petition would require signatures amounting to 15 percent of the city’s eligible voters.

Giannini also said that it was his understanding that the City Council was the legal successor to the old Board of City Commissioners cited in Goins' opinion as the body charged with signing off on a referendum proposal like the one called for by the MCS Board..

Goins' Invoking of Long-Gone "Board of Commissioners" Shifts Initiative to SCS in Showdown

SCEC chairman Giannini says referendum in near future now doubtful.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 1:35 AM

SCEC chairman Giannini (top) and Councilman Flinn (botom) facing the media on Wednesday\
  • JB
  • SCEC chairman Giannini (top) and Councilman Flinn (botom) facing the media on Wednesday\
So we have a state Election Coordinator making policy for the future of Memphis City Schools — or perhaps retarding policy — on the basis of a 1961 Private Act which designates the “Board of Commissioners of the City of Memphis” as the appropriate body to sign off on a charter-surrender referendum.

In 1961 there actually was a Board of Commissioners — five white men, four of whom ran specific departments of the city (Finance & Institutions, Public Works, Fire & Police, etc.) and one of whom, a governmental co-equal, served as a largely ceremonial mayor in one of the weakest weak-mayor systems ever devised. It was so long ago that one of the commissioners, in charge of Public Works, had been Henry Loeb. Yes, that Henry Loeb, who would serve as a mayor in that system as well as the one that followed, and was regarded at the time as a young-buck liberal.

The commission system of government — in which the elected commissioners functioned as division heads, much as the elected clerks in the Shelby County governmental system do today — was ultimately found unsatisfactory and ill-suited to the needs of Memphis. It was scrapped in 1967 in favor of a wholly different system — the current mayor-council form in which a strong mayor is counter-pointed by a separately elected body of 13 council members, who function as pure legislators, not division heads.

Just why Coordinator Mark Goins up there in Nashville should expect definitive action regarding a current school issue from a defunct body of departmental overseers in a long-lost governmental system for a mid-20th Century incarnation of Memphis is a mystery. It is a little bit like expecting the Crown Ministers of England to pass judgment on a bill that has passed the American Senate and is on its way to the House of Representatives.

There is no longer any Board of Commissioners of the City of Memphis, any more than there is a George III still attempting to govern a group of colonies on the American eastern seaboard.

But there we have it — a judgment, however odd and based on phantoms of the past — that will certainly derail the expected citywide referendum on the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter that the MCS board voted for so dramatically on December 20.

Before this latest bombshell, Bill Giannini, the Shelby County Election Commission chairman, had confided that February 15 was the likely referendum date that he and the Commission would be announcing on Wednesday, January 5. Goins’ letter to Giannini the same day scotched that prospect, and Giannini said Wednesday that a charter-surrender referendum was “off the calendar” for February, and maybe for the foreseeable future.

That means, short of a definitive court order, nothing doing on the referendum front — regardless of opinions advanced by attorneys for the Memphis City Council and for the City of Memphis that the proposed election does not require action by the council, and regardless of signed petitions for a referendum presented by City Councilman Shea Flinn, who turned up at the Election Commission’s Wednesday meeting to make the case for a petition.

It also means that, in the battle of “nuclear options,” MCS has been deprived of its first-strike capability, while Shelby County Schools and SCS’ sympathizers in the showdown still maintain theirs. The General Assembly convenes next week, and, even with the expected two-week legislative recess that will follow, proponents of special-school-district legislation will have ample time to make and expedite their move. Bills that would further hamstring MCS’ merger effort — like the one from state Senator Brian Kelsey calling for a de facto state takeover of the MCS system in the event of a charter surrender — have already been filed.

As recently as Tuesday, the initiative in the showdown between the two school systems seemed wholly to lie with MCS. The press conference held that day in the Hall of Mayors by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, in which the two mayors had offered their services in easing whatever transition might be developing, had in effect nullified the sky-is-falling-chaos-is-coming rhetoric of the day before from SCS Board president David Pickler and SCS superintendent John Aitken.

The mayors will doubtless be heard from again (though their right to intervene has been challenged on division-of-powers grounds by — of all people — Shelby County Commission chairman Sidney Chism, who had been a strong supporter of MCS’ December 20 vote for a referendum).

Skeptical sorts will disbelieve protestations from Giannini and Goins that their decisions of this week were objective and unbiased and not part of an overall scheme, in tandem with Pickler, to subvert the proposed charter-surrender referendum and facilitate the SCS alternative. But, whether or not they went looking for a rabbit in the hat, they found one, and supporters of the referendum and the cause of school consolidation will clearly have to fashion some magic of their own.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

State Election Coordinator Says City Council Action Must Precede Charter-Surrender Referendum

Surprise action will mean further delay in scheduling vote. Council source hints at alternative actions to speed election process. Allan Wade says backup petition is already prepared.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 5, 2011 at 2:01 PM

Mark Goins
  • Mark Goins
In yet another of the seismic surprises that have characterized the ongoing standoff between the Memphis and Shelby County school systems, state Election Coordinator Mark Goins has advised Bill Giannini, chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission, that, without a resolution from the Memphis City Council, a date cannot be set for a referendum on surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter.

Giannini indicated that he would elaborate on the ruling at the Election Commission’s scheduled 4:30 meeting Wednesday afternoon. He had previously indicated that, without word from Goins, the Election Commission intended to set February 15 as the date for the surrender referendum.

When and if the referendum, authorized by the MCS board on December 20, goes forward and is passed, merger between MCS and SCS would automatically ensue.

A source on the City Council indicated that a public petition on behalf of the referendum {"which would be a low bar"} could bypass the obstacle presented by Goins' ruling, and that other remedies were available short of direct Council action.

Council attorney Allan Wade confirmed that a petition signed by 25 voting residents of Memphis could accomplish what an official resolution from the Council would to authorize the referendum.

Wade said such a petition had in fact already been prepared as a backup.

In any case, the effect of Goins' ruling will be to further snarl an already unwieldy and uncertain timetable for resolution on the crisis that began gathering after the November 2 election, with an announcement from SCS board chairman David Pickler that he would be pursuing legislation to enable a special school district for Shelby County schools.

MCS board members Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart responded with a resolution to surrender the MCS charter, and on December 20, the MCS board voted 5-4 to call a charter-surrender referendum.

Ever since, Pickler and other representatives of SCS have sought a means of delaying such a development. They held a Monday press conference predicting chaos if the school systems' merger should go through.

On Tuesday, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell held a press conference to offer their services in easing whatever transition should develop as a result of the referendum.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Three Rivals for State Democratic Chairmanship Engage in Debate

Forrester, Munday, Kuhn all acknowledge "minority party" status in state.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 4, 2011 at 7:55 AM

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Three declared candidates for the chairmanship of the Tennessee Democratic Party took turns in Nashville Monday night answering questions about the party’s future and what they might be able to do about it.

The exchange between Wade Munday, Chip Forrester, and Matt Kuhn was monitored by a statewide audience of sorts, though, thanks to a glitch in transmission, to both see it and hear it required a simultaneous telephone and online hook-up — a circumstance that often made following the conversation awkward.

Compounding the difficulty was the poor sound quality of the conference-call hookup, which was exacerbated by nonstop pings as people came and went on the electronic-audience end.

Given all that, coupled with the elaborate Alphonse-and-Gaston courtesy which the three rivals showed each other (an occasional zinger coming in between the lines) and the political vagueness of much of what was said it was no easy thing sorting out the responses.

Forrester’s position was unique, in that he is the current chairman, seeking a second two-year term. Indeed, the need for continuity in following through with initiatives already begun was a note he struck more than once in his answers to questions relayed by the event’s two emcees.

Munday, the party’s former communications director, emphasized the need to create a party “infrastructure” and stressed his past experience as a fundraiser.

Kuhn, a past Shelby Country Democratic chairman and the only non-Nashvillian among the three, lobbied for a “40 under 40” initiative, whereby the party should actively recruit a new generation of candidates. In general, though he disclaimed a need to “look backwards” and cast blame, he was paradoxically more blunt than Munday in calling for a break with current policy.

“A family cannot put itself back together with failed past relationships that are putting a strain on the organization,” said Kuhn, who added that he would support Munday for chairman if he himself did not get the nod.

Forrester was equally determined to defend that policy, including what he said had been his success as a fundraiser. In contrast to the other two, who suggested casting a wider net, Forrester emphasized a need to make pragmatic choices in the allocation of the party’s resources to specific candidates and districts.

On the ticklish issue of Democratic candidates who chose in 2010 to dissociate themselves from the party’s national leaders hip, the three displayed contrasting attitudes. Kuhn stressed that different circumstances — such as urban vs. rural — dictated different approaches, and he called for the emergence of “pro-business” candidates. Munday called for a blanket support of candidates nominated in Democratic primaries, and Forrester emphasized the need for candidates to work within the established party structure.

A striking feature of the discourse was the acknowledgement by all three candidates that Tennessee Democrats were now a “minority party” and had to deal forthrightly with that fact. All three agreed that the party should maintain a critical stance in regard to the Republicans as the party in power.

It was difficult to say which candidate might have gained the most traction. All have been campaigning vigorously in the several corners of the state. As he did two years during his successful run for the chairmanship, Forrester claims numerous commitments from the members of the state executive committee, who will meet in January in Nashville to make a decision. Munday seems to have made some impact at the grass roots level, and Kuhn boasted outright Monday night about the support he has from the likes of retiring 8th District congressman John Tanner, his former boss, and former party chairman Doug Horne of Knoxville, among others.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Giannini Sees February 15 Referendum Date; Pickler Candid on Special-District Issues

SCS Board chairman admits loopholes in possible compact.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 10:38 PM

SCS chairman Pickler with board members on Monday
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  • SCS chairman Pickler with board members on Monday

Bill Giannini and David Pickler may still be suspicious characters in the eyes of school-consolidation proponents, a fact which both readily acknowledge, even as both continue to see themselves as being wholly aboveboard.

Shelby County Election Commission chairman Giannini indicated fairly firmly Monday that the commission, at its scheduled Wednesday meeting, would set February 15 as the date for a referendum on the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter.

Only three things could change that, Giannini said — a rescinding by the MCS Board of its December 20 vote to call for the referendum; a judicial intervention of some sort; or some action by state Election Coordinator Mark Goins to stop or postpone the referendum.

The MCS Board apparently won’t be acting, despite the swearing-in Monday of new member Sara Lewis, who opposes he referendum; there has been no suggestion of court activity; and Giannini has had no word yet from Goins, although he has presented a number of questions to the Election Coordinator for a response.

Perhaps the most controversial of those questions concerned the issue of whether Shelby County voters outside the Memphis city limits should be allowed to take part in the referendum.

Pickler, the Shelby County Schools Board chairman whose call for special-school-district legislation for SCS precipitated the current crisis, continues to insist that “the 30 percent” of county residents outside Memphis should have a voice in the referendum.

Asked at a press conference Monday why outer-countians, who don’t vote for MCS Board members, should be able to vote on the surrender of the city school carter, Pickler said residents of the outer county paid county taxes that were distributed to city schools (an ironic variation on Memphis residents’ contention some years ago that they should have a vote on selecting county school board members because their tax money also goes to county schools).

Besides, Pickler said, it was understood that the surrender of the charter would be “equivalent to consolidation,” and that fact entitled all county residents to vote.

Reminded of criticism at a December 15 “summit” meeting of local officials that he had not specified a specific reason for pursuing special-school-district status for SCS, Pickler said it was the threat of action like that which the MCS board has now taken which prompted his urgency. “We had no other recourse” for preserving the de facto independence of SCS, he said.

Asked if that answer might be circular in the sense that it left unstated the reason for desiring independence, Pickler cited SCS’s relatively high level of academic achievement. He added, “We don’t mind saying that we have achieved results as a district that are worth preserving.”

Many of the reservations about merger of the two school systems stated earlier by himself and SCS superintendent John Aitken had to do with the confusions and disruptions that short-order consolidation might incur. Pickler noted that, unlike MCS, SCS had not been moved to establish charter or optional schools, suggesting that “our standards” were high enough system-wide so as not to require them.

Pickler was candid when asked after Monday's press conference about possible loopholes in a “compact” various officials, including Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, are still pursuing as a means of averting a showdown between the two school districts.

Yes, Pickler acknowledged, it was possible — even likely — that, regardless of any go-slow understanding reached between MCS and SCS and between members of the Shelby County delegation, the forthcoming General Assembly would pass legislation striking down a prohibition against creating new school districts. The Tennessee School Boards Association will be seeking to get such a bill passed, which could be introduced by a legislator from elsewhere in the state.

And, though a “private act” affecting Shelby County specifically would be a next step in creating a new special school district for the county, someone from outside the county could introduce that bill also, Pickler conceded. “It’s happened before,” he said, remembering a bill once introduced on another county’s behalf by Memphis state Senator John Ford.

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