Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Musical Chairs on the County Commission: Thomas vs. Brooks for Vice Chair

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Top: Thomas and Brooks vying for vice chair. Bottom: Chism vs. Carpenter for chair
  • Top: Thomas and Brooks vying for vice chair. Bottom: Chism vs. Carpenter for chair
In just a little over a month, sometime in August, the Shelby County Commission will undergo its annual reorganization, electing a chairman and a vice chair (a.k.a. chairman pro tem). Usually this is a pro forma event, since the commission, composed of seven Democrats and six Republicans, has traditionally rotated the chairmanship from one party to the other.

And, just like most civic clubs do it, the chairman-to-be for the year to come serves as vice chair the year before. Year by year, it’s a cut-and-dried process.

Not this year.

It’s already a complex situation, with the current chair, Democrat Sidney Chism, angling for a second consecutive term, instead of yielding to protocol and allowing vice chair Mike Carpenter, a Republican, to take the chairmanship for 2011-12.

And, as they say, the plot thickens. Two commissioners, Democrat Henri Brooks and Republican Chris Thomas, have their hats in the ring for vice chair. Tradition would hold that Brooks, in a continuation of the party-alternation process, would be in line, but the Chism-Carpenter showdown already has skewed tradition; so this, too, will be a race.

And there’s a possibility that Brooks and Thomas will have a third contender to contend with for the vice chairmanship — Mike Carpenter.

Carpenter, who eschews the party line and blithely aligns himself with a Democratic majority or a Republican one, depending entirely on how he sees a given issue, may have counted the votes and come to realize that he’s in the same pickle with his fellow Republicans that he was a year ago, when he was elected vice chair on the strength of his own vote and those of the commission’s six Democrats.

For obvious reasons, Carpenter has already lost Chism from his coalition of last year, and there may well to be further slippage among Democrats. Among Democrats, only Steve Mulroy has publicly committed to Carpenter, and various Republicans — notably Terry Roland of Millington — have promised Chism their vote.

So Carpenter, who may give up trying to figure out how to get there (to the chairmanship) from here (a situation in which he already seems to be outvoted) and is rumored to be thinking of conceding the race to Chism, who might not otherwise have enough votes in hand — on the understanding that Carpenter would once again serve as vice chair, with the assumption that he might put his own coalition together (Chism included) to win the chairmanship next year.

On the other hand, next year could see another Machiavellian morass like the current one. In any case, right now it’s Chism vs. Carpenter for commission chairman, and Thomas vs. Brooks for vice chair.

All of that is subject to change.

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