Though there was persistent (but polite) niggling about whose rules of procedures should be followed on this or that point, the former boards of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, along with seven new members appointed to a 23-member unified county school board by the Shelby County Commission got along well enough in the new board’s debut Monday night.
The meeting, held at the Teaching and Learning Academy at Union and Hollywood, was chaired by David Pickler, the longtime chairman of the SCS Board, who jested to a reporter before things got underway, “Well, you’re going to have to retire the term ‘perennial chairman’ when you write about me.” Indeed so, inasmuch as the new board’s first act was to nominate and elect new officers.
Though Pickler was suggested for vice chair at one point, he declined the nomination, in deference to the new order of things (and perhaps also in recognition that his chances of winning were not great). He would settle for kudos concerning his even-handed conduct of the meeting, received from various of the new board members, including the newly elected chairman, cell-tower magnate Billy Orgel.
Orgel prevailed in a vote of the 22 members present (holdover MCS board member Tomeka Hart was absent) by 16 votes to 5 for Betty Mallott and 1 for Diane George. Orgel was one of the seven County Commission appointees; Mallott and George had been members of the MCS and SCS boards, respectively.
Though he was content to allow Pickler to finish presiding over Monday night’s meeting, Orgel attempted to set the tone for a new era of unified schools in Shelby County by invoking the movie Invictus, which concerned a South African national soccer team’s role in unifying the previously divided ethnic components of that country.
That might have been an overly optimistic prognosis, given the presence of several open and avowed opponents of consolidation the new board (to be designated the Unified Shelby County School Board, if an agenda motion offered Monday night by former MCS member Patrice Robinson is approved at the board’s next meeting).
The election for vice chair was closer than that for chair. Nominee Chris Caldwell, one of the new seven members appointed by the Commission, withdrew from that race, as he had from the vote for chairman, suggesting that a woman should be vice chair. What resulted was a two-person race, with former MCS member Jeff Warren prevailing over new member Venecia Kimbrow by a 12-10 margin. Warren acknowledged having been one of the MCS board minority opposing school merger, but he pledged Monday to be open-minded about making things work.
The mechanics of unification became somewhat more difficult from that moment on. There was confusion about the election of a board secretary, based on the SCS precedent of considering SCS superintendent John Aitken its secretary. At MCS attorney Dorsey Hopson’s suggestion, the new board opted to appoint Aitken and MCS superintendent Kriner Cash co-secretaries.
The post of treasurer was left open, with the board reaching an apparent consensus that Aitken and Cash would each appoint a co-treasurer (the division based on the continued existence of MCS and SCS as functioning school systems, though under the oversight of the new common board).
Some of the obstacles to organizational integration were resolved easily — like the unanimous vote to accept $4200 as a basis salary for board members, that being the prior token compensation for SCS members, as against $5000, which was the pre-existing salary for MCS members.
Other matters, including travel guidelines for board members and the questions of which previous system’s hardware and which software would be accepted for board purposes, proved more vexing, with most of these issues, along with some financial ones, left pending to be resolved later on. (A highlight of a discussion about the efficacy of laptops for board members was ex-MCS board member Sara Lewis’ comment, “It does save trees.”)
One comment on the prospects for the unified board’s success in achieving true school unification was offered via Twitter by member Kenneth Whalum Jr., who had been the most adamant foe of charter surrender on the old MCS board.
In a comment which took three individual 140-character tweets to convey, Whalum had this to say: “The only way to guarantee that children in Memphis get a quality public education is 2-fold: (1) Suburban towns MUST form their own school districts; (2) Memphis parents MUST sue the city/county/state for EDUCATIONAL NEGLECT, which is a form of child abuse. Do I think suburbs will form their own school districts? Yes. Do I think Memphis parents will stand up for their children? Sadly, no.”
Another omen of sorts: When Diane George, whose dissident relationship to the former SCS board in some ways resembled his own maverick role on the old MCS board, was pointed out to him before the meeting got under way, Whalum made a beeline for her to introduce himself.
Both Steves are imports from elsewhere — Basar from the Great Lakes area, Ross from Arkansas — and have been increasingly active in local political and civic affairs. Both also have attended classes at the University of Memphis.
The District 1, Position 3 seat was vacated recently by Mike Carpenter, who departed to become state director of StudentsFirst, an educational think tank in Nashville. The Commission will interview candidates on Wednesday during its committee sessions and will make an interim appointment on Monday, October 17.
Unsurprisingly, there were no surprises in the 2011 Memphis city election— unless you count the apparent irrelevance of Mayor A C Wharton’s maiden effort at a Ford-style coattails ballot. Otherwise, the mayor — who breezed to an easy 2-to-1 victory over his closest opponent, former city councilman Edmund Ford Sr, and eight other opponents — had no worries.
Neither did any of the other incumbents who had opposition — including councilwoman Janis Fullilove in Super-District 8, Position 2, who was opposed by the much touted minister/activist Roslyn Nichols, a Wharton endorsee. Fullilove won over Nichols and two other opponents by a comfortable 57.83 percent margin.
Another Wharton endorsee, University of Memphis law professor Lee Harris, ran neck-to-neck in District 7 with Kemba Ford, the daughter of former state Senator John Ford, who is currently languishing in a federal prison in Mississippi but was surely following the election returns with some degree of vicarious pride for his daughter, a sometime actress and political neophyte.
Ford and Harris, who had an abundance of other establishment support besides that of the mayor, will now vie in a runoff. The rest of a large field of aspirants — including Michael Steven Moore, son of the district's former councilwoman, Barbara Swearengen Ware — trailed far behind the two leading contenders.in a race that became wide open earlier this year when Ware retired upon accepting a sentence for official misconduct. District 7's was the only open Council seat on the ballot.
The other Wharton endorsees were all incumbents who won but were expected to anyhow.
But if the mayor could boast no clear-cut results for his endorsements, neither could organized labor, which also tried its hand at influencing outcomes — notably on mayoral candidate Ford’s behalf, due to Wharton’s support for cuts in employee pay and benefits at budget time, and in the race of IBEW business agent Paul Shaffer against incumbent Kemp Conrad in Super Distict 9, Position 1.
Conrad, another 2-to-1 winner, had called for privatizing city sanitation services during the spring’s budget battles and, as a result, was bitterly opposed by the city employees’ unions.
If the senior Edmund Ford had little luck on election day, his son, councilman Ed Ford Jr., was more fortunate, easily winning reelection with a near two-thirds majority over several opponents in District 6.
In other results:
Incumbent Bill Morrison defeated Kendridck Sneed in Council Distrrict 1 by a 2-1 ratio.
Incumbent Bill Boyd defeated Sylvia Cox 3 to 1 in District 1, thereby avenging her victory over him in a 2007 race for the erstwhile Memphis Charter Commission.
Incumbent Wanda Halbert won reelection in District 4 over three opponents with 65 percent of the total vote.
Incumbent councilman Joe Brown won 77 percent over two opponents in Dis trict 8, Position 1.
Incumbent Shea Flinn defeated contender James A. Sdoia by 4-to=1 in District 9, Position 2.
City Court Clerk Thomas Long defeated two opponents with the same 65 percent share of the total vote as several other incumbent winners.
Winning their races without opposition were Council members Harold Collins in District 3; Jim Strickland in District 5; Myron Lowery in Super District 8, Position 3; and Reid Hedgepeth in Super District 9, Position 3. Other unopposed winners were City Court Judges Earnestine Dorse, Division 1; Tarik Sugarmon, Division 2; and Jayne Chandler, Division 3.
The easy run for all the incumbents may have owned something to the name-recognition factor, always a telling advantage in a low-turnout election like that of 2011. Election totals indicated that the percentage of registered voters taking part in 2011 was in the mid-teens — reportedly 18 percent — a possible record low for a regularly scheduled city election.
Surprise visitors to Wharton's victory celebration Thursday night offeriung their congratulations, were Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Governor Bill Haslam — a fact underscoring the heightened degree of cooperation that has existed among the three officials, particularly with respect to industrial recruitment issues.
COMPLETE RETURNS, RACE BY RACE
(winners in bold)
Memphis Mayor - 178 of 178 Precincts
LEO AWGOWHAT 140, 0 %
JAMES R BARBEE 310, 0 %
CARLOS F BOYLAND 169, 0 %
EDMUND H FORD SR 20745, 28 %
JAMES HARVEY SR 2039, 2 %
ROBERT HODGES 748, 1 %
DEWAYNE DEA JONES 79, 0 %
MARTY MERRIWEATHER 439, 0 %
KENNETH B ROBINSON 769, 1 %
AC WHARTON JR 48443, 65 %
WRITE-IN 159, 0 %
City Council District 1 - 24 of 24 Precincts
BILL MORRISON 4905, 64 %
KENDRICK D SNEED 2637, 34 %
WRITE-IN 23, 0 %
City Council District 2 - 25 of 25 Precincts
BILL BOYD 7170, 74 %
SYLVIA COX 2391M 24 %
WRITE-IN 36, 0 %
City Council District 3 - 22 of 22 Precincts
HAROLD COLLINS 6720, 98 %
WRITE-IN 86, 1 %
City Council District 4 - 25 of 25 Precincts
WANDA HALBERT 6018, 64 %
LOUIS MO,RGANFIELD 688 7 %
MICHELLE E SMITH 1876, 20 %
GEORGE WALKER 672, 7 %
WRITE-IN 31, 0 %
City Council District 5 - 33 of 33 Precincts
JIM STRICKLAND 10187 ,99 %
WRITE-IN 91, 0 %
City Council District 6 - 26 of 26 Precincts
CLARA FORD 1658, 12 %
EDMUND FORD JR 8606, 63 %
RHODA MAYS STIGALL 1123, 8 %
SHARON A WEBB 2070 15 %
WRITE-IN 24, 0 %
City Council District 7 - 29 of 29 Precincts
SCOTT BANBURY 358, 4 %
RAYMOND A BURSI 284, 3 %
EVELYN FIELDS 197, 2 %
KEMBA FORD (tie) 1979, 24 %
ERSKINE B GILLESPIE 493, 5 %
LEE HARRIS (tie) 1983, 24 %
JESS, JEFF 367 ,4 %
MICHAEL STEVEN MOORE 562, 6 %
JULIE RAY 211, 2 %
ARTIE SMITH 101, 1 %
COBY V SMITH 957, 11 %
LEANDREA RENE TAYLOR 137, 1 %
DAVID W VINCIARELLI 351, 4 %
DARRELL WRIGHT 215, 2 %
WRITE-IN 31, 0 %
City Council Super District 8 Pos 1 - 93 of 93 Precincts
JOE BROWN 27305, 77 %
MARK COLEMAN 43,28 12 %
TAMMY WARREN 3717, 10 %
WRITE-IN 107M, 0 %
City Council Super District 8 Pos 2 - 93 of 93 Precincts
MARIO DENNIS 2818, 7 %
JANIS FULLILOVE 21455, 57 %
ROSALYN R NICHOLS 9882, 26 %
ISAAC WRIGHT 2956, 7 %
WRITE-IN 59, 0 %
City Council Super District 8 Pos 3 - 93 of 93 Precincts
MYRON LOWERY 31553, 98 %
WRITE-IN 436, 1 %
City Council Super District 9 Pos 1 -88 of 88 Precincts
KEMP CONRAD 19919M, 63 %
PAUL SHAFFER 11313, 36 %
WRITE-IN 87, 0 %
City Council Super District 9 Pos 2 - 88 of 88 Precincts
GEORGE S FLINN III 24210, 80 %
JAMES A SDOIA 5668 ,18 %
WRITE-IN 92, 0 %
City Council Super District 9 Pos 3 88 -of 88 Precincts
REID HEDGEPETH 23447, 98 %
WRITE-IN 306, 1 %
City Court Judge Division 1 - 178 of 178 Precincts
EARNESTINE H DORSE 5252,6 98 %
WRITE-IN 620, 1 %
City Court Judge Division 2 0 178 of 178 Precincts
TARIK B SUGARMON 52895, 99 %
WRITE-IN 281, 0 %
City Court Judge Division - 178 of 178 Precincts
JAYNE CHANDLER 52055, 99 %
WRITE-IN 255, 0 %
City Court Clerk - 178 of 178 Precincts
BETTY BOYETTE 13385, 21 %
ANTONIO HARRIS 8016, 12 %
THOMAS LONG 40430, 65 %
WRITE-IN 153, 0 %
Little by little, the surging national movement known as Occupy Wall Street is gaining momentum and adherents in Memphis, as a was indicated by an animated gathering Wednesday night of a hundred or so liberal and left-leaning activists in the gazebo area of Overton Park.
This was the third organizational meeting for the Memphis group, a technically leaderless assembly who haven’t made up their minds what exactly they should be occupying, acknowledged Jacob Flowers of the Memphis Peace and Justice Center, one of the group’s spokespersons.
“This is a purely organic, self-organized movement,” said Flowers, one that came to pass “in solidarity with what is happening in New York,” one actually based on a “template” created in several of the international liberation movements that have sprouted up in the last year.
“If you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention,” Flowers said.
As for the group’s local aims, these were in the process of being created, he said, mentioning grievances ranging from the frustrations of trying to arrange a grocery store in Midtown to what he regards as local government’s financial “giveaway” to the Electrrolux Corporation, whose plant on President’s Island experienced a gala groundbreaking earlier Wednesday, one attended by numerous local political figures and dignitaries.
As Flowers spoke with reporters, several “working groups” were clustered nearby, consulting on such different topics as mobilization, media, non-violent education, outreach, web issues, and flyers.
Jennifer Allen, a member of the media group, was more expansive in her vision for the local organization than Flowers had been. “It is my personal wish that all of this peaceful revolution lead to something on the scale of the French Revolution.”
And, while a statement like that, in cold print, might look somewhat ambitious, there was an undeniable energy on display Wednesday night.
Later, as the group gathered in the gazebo for a plenary session before adjourning for the night, there was no dearth of hands raised when organizers of the meeting asked who planned to attend the convening of the next assembly, this one scheduled for Court Square as soon as Thursday morning.
Indeed, it was clear that many more people were likely to be on hand than 25, the maximum number that could legally gather without acquiring a meeting permit. As for the likelihood of police control measures, the organizers, making a point of espousing non-violence, weren’t concerned.
Someone suggested that members of the Memphis Police Association, who are having their own problems with the local political establishment these days and are continuing to protest the pay and benefit cuts in the current city budget, should be asked to participate in the meeting.
That might be a stretch, or it could be a logical outreach for a movement which shows every sign of developing further. What comes of it all remains to be seen, but things seem to be moving fast.
At this point, the Occupy Memphis people may well be acquiring the same kind of momentum that was achieved, a couple of seasons back, by their political opposite numbers in the Tea Party, a heterogeneous right-wing group that skeptics scoffed at back then but which has since become a formidable force, both locally and in the nation at large.
Well, it's finally happening; as the headline of my piece in February, "Gadfly: Aux Barricades, Wisconsin!", foreshadowed, the barricades are finally being stormed, and, this time not just in Madison, Wisconsin. It's beginning to look like “American Spring” may have finally arrived!
The truly grass-roots-initiated (as opposed to the Astroturfed “Tea Party”) “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration has caught on, not only in lower Manhattan, but from Portland, Maine to Honolulu, Hawaii, and many places in between, including (amazingly enough), right here in River City (and internationally as well).
Unsurprisingly, the corporate media did their best to ignore the uprising, preferring to wait for the de rigeur over-reaction of the local constabulary to cover the disobedient rabble aspects of the demonstrations. And, while the MSM's obliviousness to the events was predictable, even some of the alternative media (ahem), have ignored events that have begun to acquire a life all their own, even when those events have been happening right in their own backyard.
The media were faced with the problem of how best to discredit this rising tide of protest, and settled on suggesting that the protesters didn't even know what they were protesting about, were unfocused and had no coherent message. Strange how that criticism was never leveled at the Tea Party during the demonstrations that marked its infancy. It must be because they wore better costumes.
Better yet, many in the media decided they could dismiss the protest by caricaturing the protesters as hippies, counter-culturalists, or best of all, anarchists. The fact that many of the protestors have been young, or students, has been seen as an effective way to marginalize the protest, in toto. I mean, it's not as if students, many of whom are crushed under the burden of loans together with an eviscerated job market, have any skin in the game, right, or like many of the most effective protest movements in history were started by students.
Admittedly, the protestors on Wall Street don't have the luxury of a single-issue grievance, like the Wisconsin public unions did, and are not as easily grouped under a single banner as those union members were, but their grievances are no less well defined. Their problem (and what makes the media think they're so easily marginalized) is the sheer number of those grievances, from Wall Street's avarice and corruption to a government that is presiding over the demise of the middle class, the dangerously wide income disparity and an increase in corporate power and entitlement while rendering the peon working classes powerless and disenfranchised.
And then, of course, it makes it ever so much easier to ridicule any attempt to protest society's injustices if “Hollywood” gets involved. How dare famous people have principles, much less stand up for them! We saw that with the efforts to liberate the West Memphis Three, and it's being used, once again, with the Wall Street protests, as celebrities like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon demonstrate their solidarity with the protestors.
I have no idea whether these protests will end up being nothing more than a flash in the pan, or will spawn the kind of push-back against the status quo that could result in meaningful reform of our entire social, economic or electoral systems. What I do know, however, is that these protests are a long overdue departure from the kind of complacency that has facilitated the takeover of our society by greedy, power-hungry corporatists, facilitated by their willing (and well-paid-for) handmaidens in the halls of government, and that can't be anything but good.
Right on, brothers and sisters!