Monday, February 28, 2011

Obama and the "Mean Girls" Syndrome

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 8:47 AM

Ruth Ogles Johnson
  • Ruth Ogles Johnson
Democrats and liberals spend a lot of time wondering why President Obama isn’t advancing the progressive agenda he espoused on the campaign trail, but I have come to believe that it might be nothing more complicated than the Mean Girls Syndrome.

A confession is in order: I sat at the Mean Girls’ lunch table in the eighth grade. For a bookworm from the lower middle class who was picked for sports teams in P.E. class just ahead of the kid with the leg brace, I felt lucky to be among the Chosen for that golden year.

But the price of admittance to this elite club was high: I had to engage in the cruelties for which mean girls everywhere are known. I hated seeing their most despised victim, Cindy, come into the lunchroom because I would be expected to participate in the mockery. But what I hated more was being excluded from the popular group, so I joined in. I knew it was wrong, but I did it. And my wretched behavior didn’t even guarantee me enough time in the sun to get a serious tan, because by the first few weeks of ninth grade, I was persona non grata again—rejected as inexplicably as I had once been included.

And that, I believe, is the clue to what causes our president to capitulate on critical issues such as the public option, financial reform and tax cuts. This theory may even explain why our last Democratic president caved to pressure from Wall Street to jettison the Glass-Steagall Act, the financial firewall that had protected us from economic catastrophe for nearly seventy years. Mr. Clinton had to have known the havoc it would wreak.

Like me, both Clinton and Obama came from modest circumstances. My father worked two jobs to put food on the table, my mother took in sewing so I had clothes to wear and I did not enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning until I was an adult and could afford to buy a window unit myself. We went for years at a time without a television because my parents had to save up money to get the broken one repaired.

To say that I was on the lowest level of the pecking order is not an exaggeration and helps explain why I felt so flattered to be a part of the Mean Girls. I was an excellent student who had been taught to be kind to others, but no matter how many academic accolades came my way, no matter how bad I felt about tormenting an even less popular girl, I could not resist the lure of basking in the reflected glory of these junior high school power brokers.

Considering the achievements of Misters Obama and Clinton, one would assume them to be immune to the entreaties of Harvard Club denizens. But the form of imprinting that childhood “otherness” creates is so strong that it marks most of us forever, even to the point that no matter how old we are, we can usually recount in great detail a cruelty visited upon us decades earlier.

So it would appear that both Misters Clinton and Obama were unable to get over their outsider status, and as a result, were lured into suspending their intellect and knowledge of history and human nature as they made common cause with their court flatterers—for nothing more than the temporary enjoyment of being one of the golden boys.

Before Mr. Obama’s capitulation on issues important to everyone who doesn’t have a place in the Hamptons, I believed that a person from humble beginnings made for a better leader because he or she had not been insulated by the wealth and privilege of men like George W. Bush or Al Gore.

But I must recant this theory as I have watched our president sacrifice the working and middle classes on the altar of his need to be accepted by men who even now, would not want to belong to a club who would let him be a member. His enemies very cleverly call his actions “compromises” in service to his “pragmatic” side, which is a truly brilliant manipulation.

When Republicans call Obama a “pragmatist,” what I really think they mean is that they got him to sell out for a spot at the lunch table, and if they told him the truth, he’d stop rolling over for them and they’d just have to find a new chump.

Besides, it’s way more fun for the Mean Girls to utilize their real power by getting their social inferiors to do their dirty work. I know—I was one of them once.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No More Omerta!: Terry Roland Spills the Beans on Executive Session

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 12:50 AM

On Wednesday an increasingly impatient group of Memphis media people cooled their heels outside the 4th floor conference room of the Shelby County Commission. The reporters were being conspicuously excluded from an “executive session” in which the commissioners inside were deliberating with lawyer Leo Bearman and a colleague on possible legal strategies relating to their creation of provisional districts for an all-county school board.

It was all too much for Commissioner Terry Roland of Millington, a representative from suburban District 4 and a fierce opponent of the county commission’s plans to manage a transition to an all-county school board. So, executive session or no executive session, Roland let all the cats out of the bag and decided to tell the excluded media what was going on.

Ultimately the commission would open its doors to the media and proceed to discuss a provisional plan for a 25-district school board encompassing all of Shelby County. With Roland and Heidi Shafer voting No, the commission voted its approval.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's-Purely-Academic Department: Pollster Finds Bredesen Could Beat Corker, Ford Would Fail

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 9:58 PM

Bredesen; Ford
  • Bredesen; Ford
For what it’s worth, the Daily Kos blog took note last week of a poll done by Public Policy Polling on the 2012 re-election prospects of Tennessee’s junior Republican Senator, Bob Corker.

What the poll found was that former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen would likely beat Corker, even in today’s overwhelmingly Republican climate. On the other hand, former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., who narrowly lost to Corker in 2006 as the Democratic Senate nominee, would trail Corker by more than 20 percentage points.

The PPP poll has only academic importance, of course, since Ford has relocated to New York State, where he briefly considered a run for the Senate in 2010, while Bredesen, in a visit to Memphis last fall, made it clear that under no circumstances would he consider running for the Senate.

The then outgoing governor’s exact words: “I don't think so. I don't think I'd be any good at that. I don't think I'd be happy. I don't think people would be happy with me. I would be terrible in the Senate. It's just not me.”

Corker
  • Corker
The Daily Kos Story:

TN-Sen: Bredesen can beat Corker, Ford tanks with Volunteer State voters

WED FEB 16, 2011 AT 09:30 AM EST

There is no shortage of intrigue in today's release of new polling data out of Tennessee fromour polling partners at PPP.

Headline number one: freshman incumbent Republican Bob Corker is potentially vulnerable, but only if the Democratic nominee is recently term-limited Governor Phil Bredesen. Corker actually trails Bredesen, albeit by a modest 46-41 margin. And it is clear that cross-partisan appeal carries the day for Bredesen:

71% of Democrats, 61% of independents, and 57% of Republicans like Bredesen. Politicians with that kind of universal appeal across the aisle are few and far between these days. As a result Bredesen gets 83% of the Democratic vote while Corker can only keep 73% of Republicans in line, and Bredesen leads by nine points with independents. That gives him his overall five point lead.

Bredesen is far from a lock to actually make a bid, of course. But if he were to do so, and win, he'd almost certainly be a Manchin-esque figure. Like Manchin, however, his apostasy would be tempered by the fact that his personal appeal would be the only thing keeping the seat in nominally Democratic hands. Plus, a Bredesen candidacy would at least force the NRSC to play a little bit of defense, something it does not appear they will have to do in too many places in the 2012 cycle.

[Conservative Democrat Joseph "Joe" Manchin III, a former West Virginia governor who has allegedly been courted by Republicans for a party switch, won a special election in November 2010 to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Robert C. Byrd, who had died in office.]

Headline number two: the Democrat that took Corker to the wire in 2006, former Congressman/DLCer Harold Ford Jr, is ill-equipped to take another shot at it:

Another Democrat who has fallen far out of favor with Tennessee voters is Harold Ford Jr. He came quite close to winning this seat in 2006 but has firmly established himself as a New Yorker now and would trail Corker by 23 points in a rematch at 55-32. Ford's favorability is now down all the way to 26%, while 42% of voters say they see him in a negative light.

I guess forsaking his home state and wearing an "I Love NY" button (for the five minutes of contemplation of a Senate bid) soured the folks back home on Junior. A net negative of 16 points on the favorability question is nothing short of awful for a political figure not tainted by serious scandal.

And with Senator Gillibrand's numbers markedly on the rise in New York (as confirmed by yesterday's Siena Poll), he may well be a man without a state, politically speaking.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

GADFLY: Aux Barricades, Wisconsin!

Posted By on Sun, Feb 20, 2011 at 6:00 PM

Marty_Les_Miserables.jpg

Well, it's about time! I wondered what it would take for Cairo-like demonstrations to break out on this side of the pond, and now, thanks to the folks in Madison, Wisconsin, we know the answer: it's the same as anywhere else , autocracy. The newly-elected Republican-cum-tea-party governor of that state mistook his election as a mandate to engage in another of the right-wing's battles with the middle class by targeting one of the Republicans' favorite bogeymen, labor unions, threatening to unilaterally terminate the rights of 175,000 state workers to collectively bargain (a right, by the way, the union movement originated in—-you guessed it—-Wisconsin). He even borrowed a page from the Middle Eastern despots' playbook by threatening to call out the National Guard to quell any protests.

But, unlike the rest of the socio-economic class in this country who are under attack by conservatives but who have seemingly decided to shuffle off to the slaughter house in sheep-like obeisance to their oligarch, corporatist overlords, these feisty laborers have intoned Peter Finch's famous movie line, telling their bully governor that they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it any more. Now, how about the rest of us?

Americans are notoriously complacent. Ever noticed how, in so many other countries, in a matter of hours after something unpopular happens, tens of thousands are marching in the street, with banners and signs already made decrying the latest outrage du jour? In this country—not so much. Even though we have a rich history of public protest, dating from the original (and still the only authentic) tea party demonstrations during our colonial period, our impossibly high threshold for “taking it to the streets” (hat tip: Doobie Brothers) has all but eliminated public demonstration as a legitimate form of protest. The last time we had mass demonstrations in this country of an equivalent magnitude to what we've seen in the Middle East was during the Vietnam war, and that was primarily because many of the demonstrators were at risk of becoming involuntary cannon fodder. There's nothing like being told you're going to carry a rifle in a far-flung rice paddy against your will to put you in protest mode.

Sure, Americans have lost trillions in their pension and retirement accounts as a result of the crimes committed by Wall Street investment banks, for which no one will ever be held to account, and sure, millions of Americans have lost their homes as a result of fraudulent loans and foreclosures, for which no one will ever be held to account, and sure, the U.S. has even greater income inequality than many middle eastern countries (including Tunisia and Egypt), members of the middle class: get over it. Pay your taxes, even if the super-rich pay far less, proportionately, than you do, and STFU. Write a blog, or maybe even an opinion column for your local alternative paper, but whatever you do, don't put your bodies on the line, en masse, to express your disaffection or to demand your grievances be addressed and remedied. That would be so third-world.

Labor unions, of course, make a convenient target for the tea-and-no-sympathy crowd. It's much easier to blame public employee unions for the fiscal problems most states find themselves in than it is to take responsibility for policies that have caused those problems. In Wisconsin's case, this means the governor can bash unions as scapegoats for a budget deficit that he himself caused by a series of corporate tax reductions he promoted immediately following his election. Republicans hate labor unions, almost as much as they hate people of color, not just because they're a check on corporate power the GOP worships so slavishly, but also because they (unions and people of color) are strong enclaves of Democratic electoral support. So, while it's perfectly OK for the Wisconsin governor to water himself at the trough of corporate power brokers, the Koch brothers (the same ones who've funded the whole tea party “movement” and who also paid to have counter-demonstrators bused to Madison), labor unions must be thwarted, at any cost.

The anti-union mantra is a familiar one here in the South, where the majority of “right-to-work” states are located. Unions are vilified here, perhaps as a remnant of a slavery-induced mentality that workers should be grateful, and even servile, to their employer/masters. Right here in River City the hostility towards public employee unions in particular was graphically displayed in the dustup that followed the garbage workers' failure to report for work during a particularly cold stretch of weather. And, other than WalMart, FedEx is perhaps the most successful corporation in the country when it comes to resisting unionization, so much so that it's managed to get traditionally pro-union Democrats to push its anti-union agenda in Congress.

Maybe the demonstrations in Wisconsin are a function of the fact that, unlike the rest of the country, the demonstrators were already organized, and maybe the public employee unions in Wisconsin are the ones who are really promoting the “don't tread on me” ethos the tea party disingenuously mouths as a subterfuge for its real, pro-corporatist, agenda, but either way, we can all learn something from their resistance efforts (and, indeed, from the demonstrations in the Middle East that preceded them as well), namely that there's something to be said not only for being mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore, but in storming the barricades to do something about it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tea Party Forum in Bartlett Generates Both Heat and Light

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 7:52 AM

Taking the Anti side on school consolidation: Todd, McDonald, and Pickler
  • JB
  • Taking the "Anti" side on school consolidation: Todd, McDonald, and Pickler

Surely, no one would have expected in advance that Thursday night’s school-consolidation forum sponsored by the Mid-South Tea Party at Bartlett Municipal Center to be Shea Flinn’s cup of tea. But it turned into just that for the pro-merger city councilman from Midtown.

Not only did Flinn charm the overwhelmingly anti-merger crowd of maybe 200 with his candor and deft replies, he actually had a large cup of freshly bought iced tea brought to him by a spectator. Thereafter, he would periodically guzzle from a straw as his rhetorical adversaries — Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler, State Representative Curry Todd, and Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald — took turns with the Anti position on consolidation.

It wasn’t meant to be a three-on-one — or, since the forum itself was preceded by a brief “town meeting” conducted by anti-merger county commissioners Chris Thomas, Terry Roland, and Wyatt Bunker, a six-on-one. But it turned out that way when one scheduled pro-merger panelist, State Representative G.A. Hardaway, ended up at another forum instead, and another, Memphis City Schools board member Martavius Jones, had to leave early for undisclosed reasons.

Flinn liked the odds. “I got this, although I was told there would be tea here,” he said. (Hence, the surprise gift from an audience member later on.)

Charming the crowd was one thing, convincing it was quite another. The closest Flinn got to getting concurrence from either the audience or any of the anti-merger panelists came when he opined that the whole consolidation controversy was not about education. “It’s about taxes. It’s about money,” he said Pickler seconded that motion, though his sense of how to apply that theory — as a way of saying consolidation would prove costly, not efficient — differed from Flinn’s.

And, rhetoric being rhetoric, both Flinn and Pickler, like the other participants, would also argue from the other end of the stick — that it was all about the pursuit of educational excellence, not money — each seeing his own perspective as the best way of guaranteeing academic achievement. At no point did any panelist touch upon the issue of race, though in the town-meeting warmup Thomas had extolled SCS for being “the most integrated school system in the state.”

On a night when, it seemed, four or five other consolidation-related forums were going on elsewhere, the one at Bartlett Municipal Center —, moderated by radio talk show host Ben Ferguson, who was later joined by WMC-TV anchor Joe Birch — was surprisingly informative . (Especially since, speaking of one-sided arrangements, Roland had quipped during the town meeting portion that disputes between himself and fellow suburban members Bunker and Thomas, on one hand, and the ten commissioners representing the City of Memphis, on the other, could be resolved this way: “We should go outside with all ten of them and whoever comes back inside could have it their way.”)

Actually, before his abrupt departure, Jones had his moments — for example, in making the familiar case that last December’s motion for dissolution of the MCS charter and subsequent merger with SCS, initiated by himself and fellow board member Tomeka Hart, was made necessary by the expressed post-election readiness of Pickler and SCS to push for a special school district. (After Jones had gone, Pickler would remind the crowd of a recent Flyer article in which Jones acknowledged having considered surrendering the charter as early as election night last November — a disclosure that imposed some chicken-and-egg uncertainty on the matter.)

Jones and Pickler got into a dispute about the meaning of the state Department of Education’s annual report cards, which most recently showed the SCS system with an A average, while MCS scored an F. Jones pointed out that the numerical difference was one of the mid 50s versus mid 40s, both scores failing on a 100-point scale, and he wondered: Why should anyone brag about making a higher F than someone else? Pickler disagreed, however, maintaining that that the state’s curved averages were not based on a 100-point scale and that SCS’s higher averages were legitimate and a major reason why his system was resisting consolidation with that of Memphis.

A good deal of time was spent discussing post-referendum outcomes, assuming a Yes vote by Memphis citizens on March 8. McDonald said his city was seriously interested in pursuing a municipal school district, as allowed by the recently passed Norris-Todd bill, sponsored by Rep. Todd and state Senator Mark Norris, both of Collierville.

Such a system for Bartlett would incorporate some 10,000 students in a total of 11 schools. The sticking point, said the mayor, was the question of how his city could afford to purchase the existing school infrastructure, with a book value of some $62 million. At one point, Flinn quipped, “Godspeed. Go nuts,” pointing out that Memphis residents had long been used to the expense of a dual educational system, paying city taxes for MCS and county taxes that went to both systems.

One running motif in Flinn's case was that the very right of self-determination which the proponents of an independent Shelby County Schools system claimed for themselves applied to Memphis City Schools as well, and that included the MCS Board's decision to cease being a special school district.

The matter of city-government payments to MCS became the basis of one of the few exchanges that bordered on the unfriendly when, in a reference to the $57 million currently owed by the city to MCS, Todd paraphrased Memphis Mayor A C Wharton as saying, “If I can combine these systems, I won’t have to pay it.” Flinn responded somewhat hotly, “That’s incorrect!”

Not long afterward, though, Todd threw Flinn a bouquet, indicating the courtliness that was more a part of the general dialogue than was anger. Councilman Flinn was a friend of his, the legislator said, and was the only member of the City Council who had bothered to consult with him on school matters during the preparation of SB25, HB52, the Norris-Todd bill. The bill provides for a post-referendum period of some 2 ½ years during which a county-oriented “planning commission” would prepare the way for eventual MCS-SCS merger, followed by a lifting of the ban — effectively only for Shelby County — on new municipal or special school districts.

“The city mayor didn’t. The [Memphis] School Board didn’t,” Todd said. “And you see how effective I was,” Flinn said ruefully.

At another point when Flinn was discussing alternative versions of a transition into merger — the City Council’s, the County Commission’s, and that of the Norris-Todd bill, Rep. Todd made a point of saying, “The Norris-Todd bill is law!” — Governor Haslam having signed the bill not long after its passage.

For all that, the panelists agreed that a good deal of litigation would be involved before the dust settled.

The discussion ranged over charter schools (with Pickler, a charter school foe, acknowledging that Governor Haslam had made lifting the cap on such schools a point of his educational reform plan); over the so-called “Chancery” plan, whereby a consolidated all-county district would be split into five more or less autonomous sub-districts; and over such remote possibilities as the state taking over the Memphis schools.

“This is our Apollo 13. Failure is not an option. We have to figure this out,” Flinn said.

Flinn getting his cup of tea
  • JB
  • Flinn getting his cup of tea

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

County Commissioner Chris Thomas Objects to MCS Public-Information Plan on Referendum

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Chris Thomas
  • Chris Thomas
Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas, one of four consistent opponents on the commission to the prospective merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools, has asked the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office to rule on the propriety of MCS’ decision “to spend tax dollars on an alleged marketing campaign concerning the MCS Charter surrender referendum.”

In a letter to Bill Bright, a lawyer on the staff of D.A. Amy Weirich, Thomas cites the fact that the MCS Board has employed Trust Marketing to publicize the facts involved in the citywide March 8 referendum, which will decide whether the MCS-SCS merger can go forward. Beverly Robertson, a partner in the PR firm, made a presentation on Trust’s intent “to break it all the way down” at the Board’s Monday night work session.

“Simply put,” asked Thomas, “can our tax dollars legally be used to fund this kind of campaigning? If not, what can be done to stop this?”

The District 4 commissioner may or may not have known when he wrote his letter that a county commission majority, at a special commission meeting Wednesday morning, had voted in favor of chairman Sidney Chism sounding out MCS about sharing the services of Robertson and Trust Marketing. By a 7-to-1 margin (another District 4 commissioner, Terry Roland, being the lone holdout), the commission voted to reserve the body’s contingency fund for the purpose.

On the ground that “they’ve got the votes,” Thomas did not attend the Thursday morning meeting, which was called primarily to amend the number —from 27 to 25 — of prospective interim members the commission intends to name to an interim all-county school board. Like Roland and two other commissioners, Wyatt Bunker of District 4 and Heidi Shafer of District 1, Thomas has opposed any and all aspects of the county commission’s involvement in preparing for a merger of the two school districts.

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Kyle Files Bill To Repeal Norris-Todd

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 2:00 PM

State Sen. Jim Kyle
  • State Sen. Jim Kyle
State Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, the Senate’s Democratic leader, has filed SB855, a bill that wou ld repeal SB25 (Norris-Todd), the bill dealing with school consolidation in Shelby County that was passed last week by both legislative chambers and signed into law by Governor Haswlam

Kyle, who led the opposition to Norris-Todd in the Senate, said of SB25, “This bill will raise taxes on the people of Memphis while taking away their voice. This is taxation without representation.”

A press release from Kyle’s office said further that “[t]he law adds additional confusion to the March 8 referendum by delaying any possible merger for three years and allowing special school districts that would make such a merger impossible.”

Kyle characterized the Norris-Todd bill as “the latest in a series of efforts by Republicans to enforce their judgment at the expense of citizens.” He said, “Washington does not have all the answers for Tennessee, just like Nashville doesn’t have all the answers for Memphis. State government is supposed to be about making life better for Tennesseans, not worse. Telling someone that their vote won’t affect the final outcome is always worse.”

The Norris-Todd bill passed the Republican-dominated legislature handily on party lines, prevailing 20-10 in the Senate and 64-31 in the House. The new law provides for a follow-up to a “yes” vote by Memphis residents in the forthcoming March 8 referendum on transfer of Memphis City Schools authority to Shelby County Schools.

A 21-member “planning commission,” appointed primarily by county or stgate officials, would oversee a two-and-a-half year period of transition to MCS-SCS merger, at which time state bans against new special school district or new municipal school districts in Shelby County would be lifted.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Communications Gap and a Probing for Answers

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 11:21 PM

The principal players in the schools drama all gathered Monday for the announcement of a new Mitsubishi plant in Memphis. They ranged from state Senator Mark Norris (far left) to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton (far right), with Governor Bill Haslam in the middle.
  • jb
  • The principal players in the schools drama all gathered Monday for the announcement of a new Mitsubishi plant in Memphis. They ranged from state Senator Mark Norris (far left) to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton (far right), with Governor Bill Haslam in the middle.

It remains something of a mystery what negotiations may have gone on behind the scenes between Mayor A C Wharton and Governor Bill Haslam — first, in relation to the provisional (now lapsed) deadlines for consolidation plans announced by Haslam and acting Education Comission Patrick Smith, and, later, concerning the ramifications and line items of the Norris-Todd bill.

In the few days between an emergency City Hall summit of local officials two weeks ago and the unveiling of Norris-Todd and its passage last week by paqrty-line votes in the Senate and House, there had been an understanding locally that Wharton would b e interceding with Haslam in order to soften the requirements or the bill’s provisions.

But, despite vigorous efforts by Memphis Democrats and other Democratic legislators, the final version of Norris-Todd contained no ameliorating amendments — not to give Wharton or any other elected city official appointive powers to the planning commission, not to eliminate or modify the special-school-district provision, not even to stipulate that gender and racial diversity would be respected in the make-up of the planning commission

In reality, and despite Haslam’s mention Monday of “daily” conversations with Wharton, there had apparently been very little direct dealing between the two on the issue of modifying the bill. The mayor acknowledged as much Monday, suggesting that surrogates of both men had done such negotiating as may have taken place.

The communications gap had created difficulties for the city’s legislative delegation in Nashville. State Senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, the Democrats’ Senate leader, had volunteered at the City Hall meeting to intercede legislatively but was asked, in effect, to defer to the mayor’s presumed behind-the-scenes efforts.

Right up to the moment that he and fellow Memphis state senator Beverly Marrero took the floor for debate on the measure on Monday night of last week, Kyle had been left without input from City Hall. Such advice as he got was a renewed urging to be cautious.

More or less on their own tack, Kyle and Marrero made speeches of resistance to Norris-Todd. And almost the entirety of the Democratic House delegation from Memphis took the floor to protest the bill and its provisions on Thursday. All to no avail. The votes were 20-10 in the Senate, 64-31 in the House.

Whatever Mayor Wharton had expected in the way of concessions, for whatever reason, had not come to pass, and his angry denunciation on Friday of “the gods of Nashville” and the Council’s unanimous acceptance of the MCS charter surrender that same day (in a parallel course to that of the March 8 referendum, early voting for which began this week) betokened a common rage.
The sense of citywide unity on the issue of self-determination was reflected also on the county commission, which completed action Monday on several resolutions designed to facilitate a transition to a unified all-county school board.

With Republicans Mike Ritz and Mike Carpenter joining the body’s Democrats, the commission approved a series of initiatives— on formally opposing Norris-Todd, on beginning interviews with prospective interim board members, on expanding the current county school board to 27 members, and on hiring attorney Leo Bearman as a litigator.

For its part, the existing Shelby County School Board had filed suit in federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment against the MCS board’s charter surrender as well as the City Council’s action in accepting it.

Despite it all, the MCS Board met Monday night for a regularly scheduled work session and was assured by attorney Dorsey Hopson that, pending the resolution of such suits as have already been filed or are likely to come, the Board still existed.

One interested party on hand was Superintendent Kriner Cash, freshly returned from a week’s vacation (which fueled speculation that he was putting out feelers, just in case). Cash seemed relieved to hear Hopson opine that the current MCS state of operations could continue for as long as eight years as litigation works its way toward resolution. (On the short side, Hopson said, it could be 60 days.)

Much of the council meeting was taken up with weighing the various alternatives before MCS — notably, whose version of the future, the city’s (with Wharton serving as a sort of executor for MCS), the county’s, the state’s, or SCS’s, would prevail. Hopson gave no definitive answer.

Oh, and there may be room for Wharton on the Norris-Todd commission, after all. MCS Board member introduced as new business for the board’s February 28 meeting a resolution obliging the Board to coordinate its own five appointees with the mayor.

MCS Board chairman Freda Williams and suprintendent Kriner Cash
  • JB
  • MCS Board chairman Freda Williams and suprintendent Kriner Cash

MAD AS HELL: Behold the GOBP (Grand Old Birther Party)

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 8:03 PM

John Boehner
  • John Boehner
Now that President Obama has proposed a budget with plans to make deep cuts in domestic spending and reduce the deficit by a projected $1.1 trillion over the next decade, Republicans can be expected to fight like hell to kill it.

First, they will fog up the airwaves with sulfuric lies and feigned concern over the nation’s debt and its effect on future generations. Of course, they had no problem during the Bush years spending a billion dollars a week in money borrowed from China to fight two wars. It was of so little concern that the war expenditures were not even part of the Bush budgets, but with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans will repeat the fabrication that they have got religion now when it comes to spending.

What they refuse to acknowledge publicly, however, is that it really doesn’t matter what this President does fiscally—-how much he reduces the deficit or slashes spending or cancels out debt. None of that matters at all because Republicans know that what really matters between now and November 2012 is keeping alive The Lie that won't die. You know the one I’m talking about.

Cheri DelBrocco
  • Cheri DelBrocco
The Republican Party has no plans to run against President Obama based on anything he has accomplished or failed to accomplish. Nothing so fact-based. Republicans plan to run against Barack Obama based not what he has done, but on who they say he is — or isn't. . They plan to win by repeating the lie that he is not really an American and not a Christian and that our real national need is to take our country back from a masquerading Commie Muslim, a shadow Socialist and secret furriner who actually wants to destroy America because he hates it so much. The Republican Party is now a Birther Brigade.

For evidence there was the CPAC spectacle held a few days ago in Washington. While a hopeful revolution was under way among the youthful masses of Egypt, a bizarre pageantry of a wholly different sort was going on among the jades in our nation’s capital — a fantasy revolution of delusional paranoiacs, a Marat-Sade of right-wing loonies. Although CPAC stands for “Conservative Political Action Conference” the acronym could with equal justice have meant “Crazy People Are Coming.” There were more nuts in D.C. for the occasion than in a boxcar-load of Planters Deluxe Mix.

The Usual Suspects were there, of course—Michelle Bachmann, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Donald Rumsfeld, and Ann Coulter. Sarah Palin was represented by an imposter, and there was even a touch of the exotic like Donald Trump. It was all about feeding the base of a Republican party which these days manages to exist wholly outside history, truth, or reason. In fact, there is something of an inverse relationship between Republican politicians, even the more normal ones, and the reality-based world.

The saner you actually are, the crazier the things you have to say to order to inoculate yourself in the GOP against accusations of apostasy. You have to “crazy it up” to even get in the game and to prove your bona fides as a real Republican, which is why even conventional sorts like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, who were once considered to be legitimately sane and responsible, had to do their Birther thing, babbling about the President’s supposed lack of American citizenship like second-string comics working side rooms on the dark side of the moon.

The overall theme of the conference was this: Barack Obama is a president for whom we should harbor distrust rather than loyalty. Evidence of his actual birth in Hawaii or his Christian history (they used to pillory him because of his Church of Christ pastor, Jeremiah Wright; remember?) is to be ignored or cast out of mind, lest we forget that the President is not One of Us..

No one understands the way this motif works better than John Boehner, the most powerful symbol of the Republican mainstream these days, who felt compelled to say on Meet the Press the day after the CPAC circus was over that it was not his job, as Speaker, to tell any of the hard-core birthers among Republican House members (one of whom is Tennessee's own Marsha Blackburn) what to think on the score of the President's citizenship — still less to set the American people straight..

(Mr. Boehner is a veteran dissembler, of course — adept at perpetuating the fiction that he and his party are seriously focused on creating jobs and fixing the horrendous unemployment problem that was created during the Bush years.)

Once President Obama gets a fix on America's financial deficit, he should start tackling the even more serious Truth Deficit. This country is up to its eyeballs in lies, propaganda, and right-wing indoctrination. A growing segment of our population is living in a parallel universe of media-contrived lies which metastasize like a cancer on the body politic.

President Obama needs to end this charade by confronting the liars, summoning every Republican member of Congress to the White House for a nationally televised debunking— broadcast live on all networks—- in which the Birthers and their fellow travelers and enablers will be forced to put up some real evidence or shut up. Finally.

Cheri DelBrocco, the Flyer's “Mad as Hell” online columnist, is a featured guest every Wednesday morning during the “Eyes on Memphis” show on KWAM-AM 990.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

SB25: The View from Norris' Head

Posted By on Sat, Feb 12, 2011 at 12:49 PM

What follows, abstracted from the weekly "News from Nashville" email of state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) but otherwise unfiltered and unabridged, is a statement issued by Norris concerning the passage of SB25/HB51, the Norris-Todd bill on school consolidation and special school districts.

The statement alleges that the "race card" was played by the bill's opponents and suggests that the City Council's motive in Thursday's vote to accept the charter surrender of Memphis City Schools was "to avoid the City's legal liability" of $57 million.

Norris_logo.jpg

...Early on the morning of Friday, February 11, Governor Haslam signed his first legislation into law — SB 25.

SB25, which I sponsored along with Rep. Curry Todd, addresses what Tennessee Education Commissioner Patrick Smith identified as "an anomaly in the law." The question is how to consolidate a large school system into one less than half its size in an orderly way which assures a unified and balanced county school system. The case arose out of Shelby County, but it could happen in several counties with special school districts across the state.

Those opposing an orderly transition in Memphis, one with a plan and a timetable, played the race card early. Sad.

Others tried to make it look as though the legislation was an effort to abort the referendum scheduled on March 8. False.

In the end, on the evening of Thursday, February 10, the truer motives of "opposition to order" became apparent. The Memphis City Council, which cut funding to the City Schools and now refuses to satisfy a $57 million judgment for its abdication, attempted to dissolve the City Schools. No referendum. No debate. No questions asked. Just kill it.

Perhaps their rationale is that, if dissolved, the $57 million liability is dissolved with it. Could this entire charade have been designed to avoid the City's legal liability? Was the City's filing a certificate of the schools' dissolution with the Secretary of State just hours after the new law went into effect an effort to defraud its creditors (in this case, 103,000 school children)?...

(The brief statement was followed by a series of links to videos, interviews, and articles pertaining to the scope and passage of the bill.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

SCS Chairman Announces Federal Suit to Nullify Actions of MCS Board, City Council

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 11:24 PM

David Pickler at WKNO Friday
  • David Pickler at WKNO Friday
It surely comes as no surprise, but David Pickler, chairman of the Shelby County Schools Board, disagrees with the actions of the Memphis City Schools Board in attempting to surrender its charter as well as the action taken Thursday by the Memphis City Council to accept the surrender of the charter.

In the course of appearing Friday afternoon on a WKNO-TV broadcast concerning the issues of school consolidation, Pickler announced that the SCS Board has filed suit in federal district court seeking a declaratory judgment against the MSC Board and the City Council. He would call a press conference later Friday to discuss the suit.

“We are asking the court to take action to declare null and void the action of the School Board in voting to give up their their charter and furthermore to declare null and void the action of the City Council to accept their surrender,” Pickler said at WKNO.

The SCS suit also names a series of governmental agencies as co-defendants. As Pickler explained the premises of the suit on the program:

“The Shelby County Board of Education is deeply concerned as to the process that's been used here. So therefore, as of today, we have filed an action in federal district court. And this is an action against Memphis City Schools, Memphis City Council, City of Memphis, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Justice Department, and the Tennessee Department of Education.

“ We are asking for what is called a declaratory judgment. We're asking the judge to really assess the rights and responsibilities of all the parties. We believe that the action taken by the City Council the other day, to accept the surrender of Memphis City Schools, was an action that was not lawful.

“We believe that the entire statute that they are basing it on, of 1961 was unconstitutional under Tennessee law. We furthermore believe that the action of the Memphis City Schools Board to give up t heir charter deprives the children of Memphis City Schools of their constitutional right to a free and a perfect public education. By the mere act of throwing the keys on the table and walking away without any form of plan or consideration… on behalf of the children is violative of U.S. law.”

Pickler also made it clear that Memphis Mayor A C Wharton would have no luck in trying to establish liaison with SCS as a representative of the interests of Memphis City Schools, as called for in the Council resolution to accept the MCS charter surrender.

Said Pickler:

“Memphis City Schools is not a municipal school district. We do not believe that Mayor Wharton has any responsibility under the law to undertake any winding up or taking up any position, and the action of the City Council of assigning to him certain responsibility is contrary to that 1961 law."

Haslam Signs SB25, the Norris-Todd Bill

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 1:36 PM

Governor Haslam
  • JB
  • Governor Haslam
This morning Governor Bill Haslam signed into law SB25, the Norris-Todd bill on restructuring public school systems in Shelby CountyT The initial announcement came, not from the Office of the Governor, but from the Nashville office of state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville, Republican majority leader of the state House of Representatives and the primary author of the bill.

SB 25 passed the state Senate on Monday and the state House on Thursday -- in both cases by party-line votes, Republicans out-numbering Democrats.

The bill, a response to the ongoing controversy over school-system merger and/or special school districts in Shelby County would restructure public-school education in the county and allow a merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools in such a way as tolead to possibility of one or more special school districts.

Norris' statement reads as follows:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —- Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House State and Local Government Chairman Curry Todd (R-Collierville) announced that Governor Bill Haslam signed Senate Bill 25 / House Bill 51 into law this morning.

"We appreciate the Governor's expeditious review and support of this important legislation. His decisive action should help resolve some of the confusion and restore the focus on education," said Norris.

First elected to the Tennessee Senate in 2000 and elected Majority Leader in 2007, Senator Norris represents the West Tennessee Counties of Shelby, Tipton, Lauderdale, and Dyer.

Norris' statement was shortly followed by one from the Governor. It reads as follows:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today announced he signed the Senate Bill 25 regarding school consolidation in Memphis and Shelby County. He offered the following comment:

The bill addresses two of my biggest concerns. It allows an orderly planning process for transition, while leaving the local vote in place for March 8.

My primary concern, however, has always been that we focus our discussions on what is best for the 150,000 students in Memphis and Shelby County. I think the situation, if we will handle it in a thoughtful manner, can be an opportunity for all of us to have a discussion about how we keep moving forward with public education in Memphis and Shelby County.”

Council Reacts to "High-Handed" Legislature by Voting to Dissolve MCS

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 1:14 AM

Mayor Wharton addresses the Council before Thursday nights vote.
  • JB
  • Mayor Wharton addresses the Council before Thursday night's vote.
Just hours after the Republican-dominated House of Representatives in Nashville acted in party-line lockstep to pass SB25, the Norris-Todd bill, the Memphis City Council voted with an equally impressive unanimity Thursday evening to accept the dissolution of the Memphis City Schools board — thereby ratifying the board’s December 20 vote to dissolve itself.

After minimal debate, the Council cast 10 votes Aye and no votes Nay, with recusals from council members Ed Ford and Bill Morrison, both of whom are employed by MCS. The vote jump-started an acceptance that,by the terms of an earlier Council action, would not have become official until after a forthcoming March 8 citywide referendum on MCS charter surrender.

The Council thereby became the second local legislative body in as many days to respond decisively to a General Assembly measure that is clearly designed to delay, thwart, or transcend the looming merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools. The Shelby County Commission, meeting in committee, had voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to formally oppose SB25, to hire lawyer Leo Bearman as a litigator to that end, and to begin the process of creating an interim all-county school board.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who becomes the de facto executor of MCS under the private legislative act which enabled the Council vote, made no effort to hide his anger at the Norris-Todd bill — which, among other things, would co-opt the March 8 referendum, facilitate the ultimate establishment of one or more special school districts in the Shelby County suburbs, and set up a 21-member “planning commission” on consolidation that would exclude the mayor and any potential appointees of his.

Wharton told reporters afterward that the Council action “directs me to file a plan of dissolution and to enter into negotiations with the county to see that the affairs of Memphis City Schools are carried out. “ Asked to elaborate, he spelled that out to mean the Shelby County Schools board, which under state law would become the governing agency for the city schools.

The mayor added: “I say that with a bit of anger because I’ve learned in the last few days …that the rules change when people in Memphis do things that the gods in Nashville don’t like. They may change the rules tonight... …Even if the people were not to vote, this action stands on its own.”

That last point was stated also by Council chairman Myron Lowery, who, in preparing Council members for the vote, professed the belief that the Council's action would stand muster even in the unlikely event of a No vote in the March 8 referendum on transfer of MCS authority to the SCS board.

But Lowery entertained no prospect that the referendum effort would fail. Like Wharton, he saw local attitudes as likely to be galvanized by Thursday morning’s action of the state House, the video of which was carried online and widely seen locally.

“Memphis received a slap in the face and we were disregarded. We couldn’t even get an amendment where our mayor would be part of the committee to deal with this transition,” Lowery said.

“We acted under state law. We did not try to change the law in the middle of the game….Citizens are tired and fed up. The actions of the state legislature have unified Memphians in this community.”

Those who may have been undecided had resolved their doubts, the Council chairman said, predicting that the referendum measure would “pass overwhelmingly as a result of the strong-arm tactics that have been taken in the state legislature.”

Like most people who have followed t e developing school crisis, Wharton and Lowery expect the courts to have to adjudicate matters ranging from questions about the merger of the two school systems to the question of special school districts.

An immediate issue is that of whether MCS ceased to exist as of Thursday night or would only do so after a phasing-out period, possibly timed to conclude with the March 8 referendum.

The City Council’s attorney, Allan Wade, had advised the Council before its vote that MCS “would continue to exist only for the purpose of winding up their affairs.”

Mayor Wharton concurred: “My legal teaching tells me they’re out of existence. In the event that higher authorities concur in my belief that they no longer have any authority this would give — it’s an old law that’s been on the books for some times, that gives the city the responsibility to step in, no less, when a city school system goes out of existence and there are affairs that must be taken care of.”

Another issue concerns the point at which the county commission can enter the process by acting on its own transition plan. Wharton seemed open to the possibility that the commission could begin doing so immediately, as did MCS board member Martavius Jones, who with colleague Tomeka Hart had authored the idea of dissolving the school board’s charter.

That resonated with county commissioner Mike Ritz, who has actively pushed for the commission to implement its own transition plan, including the creation of new district lines across Shelby County and the appointment of interim members of an expanded board.

Ritz, a Republican, agreed with Wharton and Lowery that the legislature’s “high-handed” action had increased pro-merger opinion within Memphis and created an impetus for expediting the process.

Council chairman Myron Lowery, Jim Strickland, and Reid Hedgepeth listen to a speaker from the audience.
  • JB
  • Council chairman Myron Lowery, Jim Strickland, and Reid Hedgepeth listen to a speaker from the audience.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

House Passes Norris-Todd Bill on School Consolidation; Stage is Set for Action by Haslam, Council, Commission

As previously in the state Senate, the House vote is party-line, rejecting all amendments.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 1:32 PM

Deberry in debate on SB25
  • Deberry in debate on SB25
After two hours of debate and a lopsided two-to-one party-line rejection of various amendments, the state House of Representatives on Thursday followed earlier action by the state Senate on Monday night and voted 64-31 to pass SB25, a bill sponsored by state Senator Mark Norris of Collierville in the Senate and, as HB51, by Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville in the House.

The bill would delay school consolidation in Shelby County, create a “planning commission” for consolidation, and permit the ultimate creation of special school districts in the county suburbs.

Included in the rejected amendments by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, the House Democratic leader; by Rep. Harry Tindle of Knoxville, and by Memphis representatives Lois DeBerry, Jeannie Richardson; Joe Towns, G.A. Hardaway, and Johnnie Turner were several that would:

-Give Mayor A C Wharton membership and appointive rights on the planning commission provided by the bill, which the protesting Memphians regard as slanted toward outer-county interests-;

-Provide for racial diversity in the membership of the commission;

-Eliminate the bill’s provision that would enable creation of special school districts;

-Define “competent” in relation to the bill’s stated qualification for commission members;

-Require a comprehensive plan from any prospective new special school district.

Over and over, the Memphians and other Democrats — like Fitzhugh, Tindle Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart of Nashville and former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington — protested that, by passing SB25, the state would be acting in defiance of local Shelby County authorities — specifically the Shelby County Commission and the Memphis City Council, both of which have formally opposed the bill — and would be acting in the same overbearing manner that Republicans members have depicted “Washington” as doing in imposing its will on state governments.

Over and over, the bill’s opponents quoted Governor Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville herself as having proclaimed sentiments to the effect that the best government is local government — in Harwell’s words, “government that is closest to the people.”

All to no avail. State Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville heard out each complaint and each amendment, from time to time commenting, more or less in the same general terms with which he had presented the bill, from time to time declining to comment, and in each case moving successfully that the amendments be tabled.

As Todd had asserted in his overview, the essential premise of SB25 was that 49-2-5021 the code section of state law under which the Memphis City Schools board had acted in voting on December 20 to transfer its charter to Shelby county Schools, had never before been used, was “vague,” and had omitted to provide for an orderly transition plan.

“Major chaos” in Shelby County would be the result, Todd said. As for state involvement, Todd, citing the “case law” of Small Schools vs. McWherter, said the state’s sizeable financial commitment made it something other than a local matter.

In a press conference after the House session, members of the Democratic caucus met to express disappointment in the outcome.

Praising the amendments which had been presented, Democratic majority leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, said that most House members had been given very little information about the bill before Thursday’s session. He expressed the hope that the Assembly would not “continue to intervene on local issues” by fast-tracking such bills.

Both former Speaker Naifeh and current Democratic caucus chairman Mike Turner of Nashville commented on what they saw as an “unprecedented” involvement of the state in a local matter. “It hurts me to my core,” Turner said.

Rep. Miller pointed out that the House vote had occurred “strictly along party lines” and expressed the hope that the Memphis City Council would vote at its scheduled Thursday afternoon meeting to formally accept the surrender of the MCS charter in advance of the scheduled automatic acceptance which, according to a prior Council vote, would become automatic next month. The issue had turned into one, not of education, but of “money and power and control,” Miller said.

“I don’t know motives or intention, but it’s obvious to see the effects,” Richardson said. “The way the commission is set up, such a high proportion of power goes to the county, which is primarily white.”

It was a matter of “playing by the rules or running roughshod,” said Rep. Towns, adding, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Several members of the Democratic caucus commented on the likelihood that the issues of the bill — and of school consolidation generally — would be settled in the courts.

This seemed a given, considering not only the consequences of what the Council might do Thursday but what the Shelby County Commission, which has prepared its own transition plan, had done on Wednesday, formally voting to oppose SB25 and to appoint a lawyer to represent its interests in litigation.

Meanwhile, the Norris-Todd bill will go to Governor Haslam for action. He may sign it into law; let it pass without his signature (which would happen automatically after 10 days); or veto it, in which case a simple majority vote in both House and Senate would be enough to override.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Amended Norris Bill Passes Senate Committee, Would Stand Referendum on Its Head

Posted By on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 10:26 PM

Senators Brian Kelsey and Mark Norris in Senate Education Committee on Wednesday
  • JB
  • Senators Brian Kelsey and Mark Norris in Senate Education Committee on Wednesday
NASHVILLE -- Within a two-day period, the advocates of immediate merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools have seen the hopes they had invested in a forthcoming March 8 referendum to that end scrambled by a classic good cop/bad cop maneuver.

On Tuesday had come word from Governor Bill Haslam and acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith that, while the citywide referendum should go through, the state required one “transition plan” to safeguard the rights of affected teachers and another one for general planning purposes.

Failure to comply — and the onus was extended to the boards of both MCS and SCS — could mean withholding of state funding. And there were deadlines: February 15 for plan number one, March 1 for number 2.

It was all said neatly and sweetly, but the message was clear: We — the “we” being the forces of a perhaps legitimately aggrieved establishment — Can Still Keep This From Happening.

During the course of a meeting in City Hall on Tuesday, various Democratic legislators and officials of city and county government lamented the pressure and the deadlines that went with it. But Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, the consistent defender of Memphis’ right to self-determination, said it all could be done: It would be difficult, but the good-cop conditions and deadlines could be complied with.

But on Wednesday, in a committee room in Nashville’s Legislative Plaza, the bad-cop possibility — the one that the pro-merger groups had been fearing for some time — materialized in the form of a completed and amended bill — SB25, HB 51 — from state Senate majority leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

The “bad cop” appellation should not be misunderstood. No one is more sweetly natured or courteous or accommodating than Norris — and that fact of his DNA (or his upbringing) works very well to the advantage of another of the senator’s traits: No one is more unrelenting or undeviating concerning the preservation and pursuit of an agenda which he is dedicated to.

And defense of the Shelby County schools against the threat of amalgamation with Memphis City Schools is very much a part of Senator Norris’ agenda.

Witness the amended bill that he presented to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and which was cleared for passage on the Senate floor Monday by a party-line vote — 6 Republicans prevailing over 3 Democrats. Should that plan — which faces rosy prospects in both Senate and House — become law and withstand the legal challenges that are sure to come, the game could well be over for the pro-merger forces. Game, set, match, tournament, and championship.

Seen dispassionately and without reference to its rights and wrongs or to the emotions of one kind or another that it will engender, the completed SB25 is a thing of beauty. It does all of the following things:

-Allows the March 8 referendum to occur without challenge, thereby avoiding one potential legal morass;
-Imposes a delay of two years and some-odd months on implementing the results of a successful election;
-Presumes to give over the very definition of those results to a 21-member commission composed as follows: the county mayor, the chair of the Memphis City Schools board and the chair of the Shelby County Schools board; 15 members appointed — five each — by the county mayor, the MSC chair, and the SCS chair; and three additional members appointed by the governor and the speakers of each legislative chamber.

(For those who are counting, that’s prohibitively top-heavy in favor of county interests, potential Republican Party allegiances, or the vested positions or self-interests of those now holding the offices in question; indeed, given various principals’ known points of view, not a single one of those 21 members could be head-counted as definitely favoring merger, while several could be safely locked in on the other side.)

To resume, the bill:

-Gives the state Department of Education the right of review; and

-(Piece de resistance!) would revoke current state prohibitions against creating municipal school districts or new special school districts at the very point of implementing the now denatured referendum results (“the beginning of the third full school year immediately following certification of the election results,” i.e, August 2013) and would (italics ours) thereby permit the creation of a special school district for the current schools in the SCS system — the casus belli which allegedly provoked the MCS board’s pro-merger forces into acting in the first place!

Clearly, Senator Norris possesses either genius or chutzpah. His bill, while ostensibly not interfering with Memphians’ right to determine the destiny of their city’s school system (which, by order of Chancery Court, had become a fait accompli anyhow), undertakes to interpret the consequences of a successful referendum so as to achieve, at a suitable interval, the very end which the referendum was meant to prevent!

To be sure, Norris’ final version of his bill dropped any provision for a final countywide vote. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine what purpose would be served by one. Formal ratification of what would appear to be a sweeping county-side victory and likely nullification of the original purposes of the referendum?

The senator, of course, was characteristically gracious enough not to make any gloating claims (though some of his supporters were less diffident about doing so). Norris himself defined his measure as one that provided “enhanced self-determination” for Memphis, as “an orderly transition process,” and as an effort “to facilitate the referendum and the process to make it not only meaningful but successful.”

The only proper response to that is “Wow!”

For the record, though, Education Committee vice chair Reginald Tate of Memphis and Senator Andy Berke of Chattanooga put some demurrers into the record and voted against the bill, along with one other Democrat, Charlotte Burks of Monterey.

Berke was especially focused in his criticism. The bill had changed the rules of the game, he said. (Norris had characterized it as a new game without any pre-set rules.)

“People are always complaining about Washington trying to control us, and here we are in Nashville trying to control Memphis,” Berke said, pointing out that Governor Haslam and Commissioner Smith had already created prospective ground rules for local officials to comply with in Shelby County. “Why are we interfering?”

SCS superintendent Aitken with legislators after hearing
  • JB
  • SCS superintendent Aitken with legislators after hearing
After the meeting adjourned, Berke put it this way: “The purpose of this amendment is to try to delay this thing for three years, then have the potential for separating out the county’s [district] at the end of it anyway.”

State Representative G.A. Hardaway, who called the commission created by the bill a “joke,” had no trouble agreeing with that summation.

For his part, SCS superintendent John Aitken, who was on hand for the vote, was relieved, counting the bill “a great victory for us.” Speaking for himself and, by proxy, for MCS superintendent Kriner Cash, with whom he had discussed the situation at length by telephone on the way up to Nashville Wednesday, Dr. Aitken said, “I appreciate the effort and the planning process. I think that’s what Superintendent Cash and I were both were asking for. This bill allows it, and now we’ll see what the House does.”

The House, which was scheduled to take up the bill on Thursday, is expected to act in the same spirit as the Senate, after which the bill will go to Governor Haslam for final action.

The governor summoned members of the Capitol press pack for a quick briefing after the Senate committee's action, telling them that, while he appreciated both the creation of a "process" and the bill's apparent acknowledgement that the issue was a local one, his "gut feeling" was that the extended time frame provided by the bill might put MCS "in limbo." And, pending further reflection and possible elaboration from Norris, Haslam withheld judgment on the bill's providing a window for creation of a new special school district.

Meanwhile, Chairman Myron Lowery of the Memphis City Council announced that the council’s February 1 regular meeting would be reconvened at 4:30 Thursday “to consider any unfinished business…or any emergency option permitted by any previously adopted resolution or ordinance.”

Among other things, that probably means that the council will complete a prior action that was left conditional on the results of the March 8 referendum, and would take an up-or-down vote to directly endorse the MCS board’s December 20 action in favor of surrendering its charter.

Some believe that such a vote would invoke another portion of state law and directly enable the dissolution of the MCS charter, thereby accomplishing an automatic merger of the two school systems.

An end run around Norris’ end run, as it were, and, like Norris’ bill and, for that matter, like doubtless many other actions to come on both sides, fodder for the courts.

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