In steering legislation through the General Assembly, at what was literally the eleventh hour, that enabled Memphis suburban municipalities to vote this year on creating their own school districts, Norris has probably advanced the schedule for creating such districts by a full year, and that is crucial.
Had not a House-Senate conference committee finally okayed on Friday Norris’ amendment to a bill by state Rep. Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville), HB1105/SB`1923, which originally had nothing to do with Shelby County, the mid-March opinion by state Attorney General Robert Cooper on the unconstitutionality of a suburban vote this year would have stood.
Without the passage of the amended Montgomery bill, the suburbs would have been forced to wait until August 2013 even to launch their initiatives and, like it or not, would have had to spend the 2013-2014 school year within an all-Shelby County Unified District.
Although, as Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, unofficial spokesperson for the municipal-school movement, has vowed, he and other suburban leaders in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, Arlington, and Millington would have kept trying, the enforced year-long membership in a Unified District would inevitably have dissipated their momentum.
Residents of those communities might have developed second thoughts in the course of a school year in which academic affairs conceivably could have gone smoothly, with attendance zones functioning as usual, and with the possibility that a known quantity like current county superintendent John Aitken might then have been hired as superintendent for the Unified District.
Suburban voters could also have seen their resolve for independent school systems progressively weakened by alternative forecasts of tax levies and other expenditures conspicuously less rosy and likely more realistic than those that were presented to them this past year by their consultants at Southern Educational Strategies.
Who knows what would have happened? Norris has kept it from happening with some typically sophisticated sleight-of-hand. And he was aided by lackluster performance from potential opponents in the legislature and elsewhere.
The Senate Majority Leader’s insistence on sticking with another piece of school-related legislation initiated by himself, HB3234/SB2908, despite that bill’s having been neutered into meaninglessness, had puzzled onlookers, but this past week’s denouement may have clarified Norris’ strategy.
That other bill, which had begun as an ostensible effort to advance the date of eligibility for suburban districts from August 2013 to January 1, 2013, was finally moved through the legislature in a form that merely repeated the August 2013 date and restated the terms of the existing Norris-Todd Act of 2011.
But in negotiations with Democratic legislators, specifically the two who were named to the conference committee for the now-altered Montgomery bill that opened the door to suburban referenda in 2012, the parallel bill by Norris, meaningless in its own terms, became something of a red herring, a diversion.
Specifically, state Rep. Antonio Parkinson and state Senator Reginald Tate, the two Memphis Democrats who were named to the conference committee, seemed to suffer from some confusion as to which bill did what and which bill seemed to have incurred resistance and even, it almost seemed, which bill they were supposed to be working on.
At one point Norris appears to have indicated to Parkinson, who had inquired about a resolution from the Shelby County Commission opposing the referendum initiative, that he, Norris, had communicated with Commissioner Steve Mulroy, sponsor of that resolution, and “worked it out,” reassuring Mulroy that the bill in question did not alter the scheme of things.
Tate, too, would later indicate that he believed the bill before the conference committee, the one originally by Montgomery on an unrelated issue regarding Tennessee school boards but now amended to authorize suburban referenda in Shelby County, made no fundamental alterations in the Shelby County situation.
Whether convinced on the point or not, both Parkinson and Tate would sign the conference committee report on HB1105/SB1923, the amended Montgomery bill,allowing it to be presented to the full House on Friday as unanimously approved, a fact diminishing potential opposition on the floor to a general measure which, in an amended clause relating only to Shelby County, specifically countered the Attorney General’s opinion and authorized the very 2012 referenda which Cooper had deemed unconstitutional.
The bill passed 61-25 in the House, where there was more confusion as to which of two measures was being considered, and seemed assured of passage on Monday in the Senate.
As for the conversation between Norris and Mulroy in which things were allegedly “worked out,” the Memphis county commissioner insists that no such conversation, or any conversation at all between himself and Norris, ever took place.
Mulroy says he did receive an email from Norris informing him, accurately, that HB3234/HB 2908 made no fundamental changes and advising him not to worry. The email made no mention, however, of HB1105/HB1923, the now-amended Montgomery bill that authorized immediate suburban efforts to create municipal school districts, and it was that bill, of course, which was the actual subject of the conference committee report, and which had been the subject of the County Commission’s resolution of opposition.
It is a moot question as to whether Norris actively fomented confusion concerning the actual meaning of the legislation which surrogates finally guided through the House on Friday, after two aborted earlier attempts to have his amendment accepted there.
He may merely have taken advantage of the fact of confusion regarding two distinctly different bills. He may even have been relatively open and above-board in playing his hand and can plead in all candor that it’s not his fault if others misread his cards.
In any case, what’s done is done, the suburbs will apparently get to vote this year and to have their independent districts the year after, and the Unified School District will most likely kick off in August 2013 without participation by suburban Shelby County schools.
All of this is for better or for worse and can be argued either way. It is a stretch, however, to suggest that it was inevitable.
Though the Tennessee General Assembly was still grinding away at last-minute matters on Friday afternoon and was destined to work over the weekend and on Monday to complete this year’s budget and other matters, the two bills affecting school districts for Shelby County’s suburban municipalities finally got legislative imprimatur.
Just before 5 o’clock on Friday, the House easily approved a conference committee report on HB1105/SB1923, the education bill on which Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) had grafted an enabling amendment for the suburbs to hold referenda on municipal districts this year.
Thus was concluded a drama that resulted from state Attorney General Robert Cooper’s opinion last month that referenda which had been scheduled for May by Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, and Arlington would be unconstitutional . Cooper’s reasoning was that no such steps could be taken until August 2013, the date specified by last year’s Norris-Todd bill. Subsequently the Shelby County Election Commission canceled the May referenda.
Norris then submitted one bill, SB2908/HB3234, that would have moved up the date of eligibility for municipal school Districts to January 1, 2013 and offered an amendment to HB1105/SB1923, an unrelated measure concerning the evaluation of school directors, that explicitly would have permitted the suburbs to hold referenda, presumably in August, and then to establish the machinery for school boards.
Both the new Norris bill and the amendment were written so as to apply statewide. This would seem to have been a precaution taken by Norris in the wake of an earlier Cooper opinion that a piece of Norris legislation affecting annexation procedures in Shelby County alone was unconstitutional and had to be withdrawn. Cooper had noted that the bill’s effect was limited to one county without having the unanimous consent of that county’s delegation, and thus could not qualify as a private bill.
But the two new Norris initiatives, cast as general bills with provisions seeming to enable new school districts everywhere, aroused alarms even among previously compliant GOP legislators elsewhere in the state. Ultimately, SB2908/HB3234 was amended to a shadow of its previous self, merely repeating language already appearing in Norris-Todd concerning the eligibility of municipal districts in Shelby County as of August 2013, when merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools is due to be completed.
And Norris’ amendment to HB1105/SB1923, which had failed of acceptance twice in the House because it, too, seemed clearly to have statewide application, was revised in a House/Senate conference committee this week so as to apply only to counties where transition committees were monitoring school mergers — a definition that essentially fit only Shelby County. In that circuitous form the amendment was made acceptable to the full House, which accepted the bill as so amended and passed the measure 61-25.
Almost certainly the new legislation will be subjected to legal challenge of one sort or another. And so will other aspects relating to the establishment of municipal school districts — notably the issue of whether such districts are entitled to enroll (and receive state and federal funding for) students residing outside their borders, as well as the vexing issue of potential costs for the suburban municipalities in acquiring existing school property.
It may seem — nay, be — anti-climactic, but what is it they say?: Hope springs eternal in the human breast. The breast in question, this time around, is that of Terry Roland, who on Wednesday will offer his mates on the Shelby County Commission a redistricting map, identified as 2-J by the Office of Planning and Development team which prepared it.
If “2-J” has a familiar ring, that’s because that particular redistricting plan, which posits 13 single-member districts, has been before the deadlocked Commission before. Several times. In fact. Indeed, on its second time around, several weeks ago, it received 9 votes – enough, if the vote total had held on a climactic third reading — to satisfy the county charter, which calls for that many votes on the third reading of a redistricting bill to make it effective
By the time 2-J got its third reading on Monday, March 12, however, a rival single-district plan, 2-O, which offered the likelihood of 8 majority-black districts rather than the 7 provided by 2-J, had beguiled enough votes away — notably those of Democratic commissioners Henri Brooks and James Harvey — to limit the final number of votes for 2-J to 7.
That impasse worsened a situation whereby the Commission was already months late in fulfilling its obligation to redistrict itself, failing to agree on any given one of a bewildering variety of plans, and caused an internal crisis on the Commission.
Ron Krelstein, the special attorney engaged by Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne to represent the Commission in litigation pending before Chancellor Arnold Goldin, had committed himself to arguing that 2-J, as a plan that had received three consecutive majority votes, satisfied state law and should be considered final.
The county charter, however, mandates the aforementioned 9-vote supermajority on a definitive third reading, and Commissioner Mike Ritz, a Germantown Republican who had at various points favored 2-J, insisted that Krelstein uphold the county charter before Chancellor Goldin. The upshot, as Ritz’s point of view gathered adherents, was that the Commission voted to require Rayne to insist on Krelstein’s fidelity to the charter.
Whether the Commission had the right to do so, or whether Rayne had the authority to impose that condition on Krelstein, became academic when a frustrated Krelstein voluntarily withdraw from the case, to be replaced by attorney Lee Winchester, who made it clear he would abide by the county charter’s requirements.
The case is in Chancellor Goldin’s court in the first place because of a suit by three commissioners — Ritz, Terry Roland, and Walter Bailey, all single-member advocates — who at the time they filed the suit, late last year, were attempting to end-run an effort by other Commission members, including a suburban Republican hard core, to push through a multi-member district plan like the Commission’s current model.
As of this week, however, Ritz and Roland, a Millington Republican, had withdrawn themselves from the suit, leaving only Bailey, an inner-city Memphis Democrat, as a litigant.
In announcing his action and his simultaneous decision to re-introduce 2-J this week, Roland said this week he considered it important to maintain the county charter’s requirement for 9 votes on specific issues, including redistricting and, even more importantly, votes on imposing new taxes.
Recalling that interim Commissioner Brent Taylor, another Republican and a multi-member-district supporter, had volunteered at the March 12 meeting to become the 9th vote for 2-J if an 8th vote could be found (it wasn’t), Roland said he thought that it might be possible to get 9 votes if the Commission tried one more time on 2-J — the idea being that getting redistricting out of the way would obviate the need for a ruling by Chancellor Goldin and safeguard the charter requirements against the possibility of being struck down.
And so, when the Commission’s general government committee convenes next Wednesday, the Commission will, at Roland’s behest, make one more college try at redistricting itself. The idea, in the tradition of Knute Rockne heroics, will be to Win One for the Charter.
Lawyer Ron Kreslstein, the special attorney hired at year’s end by Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne to represent the County Commission in pending hearings before Chancellor Arnold Goldin, has been asked to withdraw. The action came as a result of a vote by the Commission last month insisting that requirements of the county charter be defended in court.
Krelstein had indicated that he intended to make the case for acceptance of a single-member redistricting plan, 2-J, on the grounds that it had earned at least seven votes on three different readings, which is all that state law requires. The county charter, however, specifies that the final vote be a super-majority, or 9 votes.
Hence Krelstein’s departure. The new attorney handling the Commission’s case is Rick Winchester, who has indicated, in a memorandum to Mark Allen of the county attorney’s staff that he will defend the charter’s stiffer requirements.
At issue for several Commission members, including Mike Ritz and Terry Roland, two of the original plaintiffs seeking approval of a single-member plan, is that a striking down of the charter’s super-majority requirement on the redistricting matter could end up affecting other issues currently requiring a super-majority — on new taxation, in particular. Accordingly, Ritz and Roland have withdrawn from their status as plaintiffs.
The third original plaintiff, Commissioner Walter Bailey, is apparently willing to continue with the suit, regardless of how the primacy of state law vs. county charter is argued.
The Winchester memo reads as follows:
TO: Mark Allen
RE: Bailey vs. Shelby County, et al./Status Report
Please accept this as a brief report on the current status on the “redistricting” lawsuit filed by Walter Bailey, Mike Ritz, and Terry Roland. Commissioners Ritz and Roland have now withdrawn as plaintiffs from the litigation. Keith Kyles has filed a Motion to Intervene as a defendant. He has set this Motion so as to be heard at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, May 4, 2012 in Part II of Chancery Court. Mr. Kyles’ contention is that he should be allowed to intervene as a citizen in order to defend the provisions of the Shelby County Charter – more specifically, the provision requiring a two-thirds vote to approve a redistricting plan. I spoke with Mr. Kyles and apprised him of the fact that, as the attorney for Shelby County, I will be opposing any effort to invalidate the County’s Home Rule Charter. Accordingly, I advised Mr. Kyles that unless I advised him otherwise, I did not object to his appearance in the litigation. I do not know whether Mr. Bailey will oppose Mr. Kyles’ intervention or not.
On April 4, 2012, at the invitation of Chancellor Goldin, Mr. Bailey and I appeared for a conference in his chambers regarding the establishment of a timetable for briefing the issues before the Court. It was agreed that Mr. Bailey’s memorandum would be filed not later than April 20, 20112, and that my response would be submitted on or before May 11, 2012. Chancellor Goldin indicated that he would entertain oral argument upon request by either party.
I have now received Mr. Bailey’s memorandum. His memorandum is appended to a Motion for Summary Judgment. This Motion also has appended to it a Statement of Undisputed Facts as required by TRCP Rule 56. I am in the process of digesting his Motion, Memorandum and suggested facts and will be preparing my response during the next two weeks.
In our conference, Chancellor Goldin appeared to be very aware of the legal issues involved and his responsibility to redistrict Shelby County in the event that the Commission fails to do so. I did not understand from the Chancellor that he would have any objection, even at this late date, to the Commission proceeding to approve a redistricting plan, provided, of course, that this was done very expeditiously. In fact, my observation is that chancellors/judges are generally reluctant to become involved in the legislative process, unless absolutely required to do so. Obviously, in this situation, the Court will be required to do so unless a plan is approved very quickly.
Mr. Bailey’s Motion asks the Court to declare the “two-thirds” requirement of the Shelby County Charter invalid inasmuch as he contends that it conflicts with the provisions of TCA § 5-1-1-11. He further asks the Court to declare that the redistricting plan represented by Map 2J to have been passed and, accordingly, to now represent a validly adopted redistricting plan for Shelby County.
I am of the opinion that, absent prompt action by the Commission, the Chancellor has the authority, and probably the obligation, to adopt a redistricting plan. However, I am also of the opinion that this obligation and responsibility of the Chancery Court does not require the Chancellor to invalidate a portion of the duly adopted County Charter, and I will be attempting to persuade the Chancellor accordingly.
I will deliver a full copy of Mr. Bailey’s submissions to you early next week. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the event that you, the County Attorney, or any of the Commissioners have any further questions, suggestions or comments.
Richard L. Winchester, Jr.
A similar resolution, moved by Transition Planning Commission member Jim Boyd, had narrowly failed of passage at last Thursday’s meeting of the TPC.
Mulroy’s resolution addressed two bills recently introduced by state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) that would facilitate the holding of suburban referenda on behalf of municipal school districts.. The bills were regarded as responses to an opinion by state Attorney Genral Robert Cooper that five Shelby County suburbs could not take immediate concrete steps toward creating such districts.
Noting that the legislature is nearing the end of its session and that its actions are fast-moving and flexible, Mulroy amended his resolution to add the phrase “or any bill speeding up the process for municipal school districts to form.” He cited the existence of last year’s Norris-Todd bill, whose provisions regulating the school- merger process had received the approval of presiding U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays.
“The process we have in place is adequate and we don’t need further interference by Nashville,” Mulroy said.
Several commissioners representing suburban constituencies spoke against the resolution. Said Terry Roland: “This is kind of hypocritical here. The first thing they do is go get an Attorney General’s opinion to tell us we can’t do this….If you want that [legislation on behalf of municipal districts] to pass quicker, pass this, because the state legislature don’t give a flip about what this Commission thinks…”
Commissioner Chris Thomas said, “It seems like those who don’t want municipal schools are doing everything they can to stop municipal schools.” He said that Attorney General Cooper’s finding had been “just an opinion.”
Commissioner Wyatt Bunker defined the issue as one of “qualify education, contending, “Our municipalities are convinced that the only way to insure quality eeducation is if they control the education of their children.” He said it was necessary for the legislature to speed the process up to insure proper parental preparation for the next school year.”
And he seconded Roland on the effectr of the resolution, encouraging “all the Democrats” to vote for the resolution on the grounds that such an action would put “wind in the sails” of pending legislation on behalf of municipal schools.
But another Republican, Commissioner Mike Ritz, a proponent of the resolution, spoke at some length about calculations he had made indicating that the municipalities which had expressed a wish to hold referenda and to form municipal districts could be overwhelmed with unexpected expenses and that it would be better for them to permit the TPC’s advisory process to conclude before acting.
“I believe in every case there is no harm in waiting and great benefit in waiting,” Ritz said, adding, “There is no guarantee the creation of municipal school districts is going to create a quality school district.”
Commissioner Walter Bailey said the rush to create municpal schools was based on "hysteria and unfounded fears" and that he was prepared to defer to the strong opposition to such bills by state Rep. Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington).
After the vote Mulroy asked for the immediate transmission of the resolution’s text to Nashville and pressed Harvey Kennedy, CAO for Shelby County Mark Luttrell, for assurances that county lobbyists in Nashville would inform legislators. Kennedy indicated he couldn’t say without consul ting with Luttrell and noted that the mayor had not taken a position opposing municipal schools.
Mulroy insisted on the “courtesy” of the legislators’ conveying the fact of the resolution and, after pointing out that the Commission voted to fund the lobbyists, suggested that if such an action were not taken, “we should have our own lobbyists or no lobbyists at all.”
Bunker made a point of insisting that the party labels of those voting for the resolution be included with the text being sent to Nashville. Mulroy said he had no objection to that. Of the 8 Aye votes, 7 came from Democrats, and one – Ritz’s – was by a Republican. All the Nay votes were from Republicans – Roland, Bunker, Thomas, Brent Taylor, and Heidi Shafer.
Monday ‘s vote came as a surprise add-on. Proponents of such a resolution had been ready to hold a vote at the Commission meeting of two weeks ago but held back when two Democratic members expected to vote Aye failed to attend. On Monday, all Democrats and Ritz were on board.
Roland attempted to object to the add-on but was overruled by Commission chairman Sidney Chism.
The Commission majority’s action, the first of its kind, came in the wake, not only of last week’s aborted action by the TPC but of an earlier decision by the Unified School Board of Shelby County not to approve a strong resolution on the need for compensating the county for any school buildings transferred to municipal school districts. The Board’s vote had been by a narrow margin.
Text of the Commission Resolution:
A RESOLUTION EXPRESSING THE POSITION OF THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE IN OPPOSITION TO THE TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY’S INTENT TO LIFT THE BAN ON THE CREATION OF MUNICIPAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS BY AMENDING THE TENNESSEE CODE ANNOTATED, SECTION 6-58-112. SPONSORED BY COMMISSIONER STEVE MULROY. ______________________________________________________________________________
WHEREAS, for several decades, the General Assembly has seen fit to ban the creation of new special school districts; and
WHEREAS, this ban was motivated in part by past experience with a proliferation of special and municipal school districts, which divided communities, reduced economies of scale and efficiencies, and led to inequalities in educational opportunities; and
WHEREAS, current law places the foundational obligation of public education at the county level; and
WHEREAS, the General Assembly disturbed this equilibrium last year in the “Norris-Todd” bill, which lifted the ban on municipal school districts in Shelby County effective upon the successful completion of the ongoing school merger process in Shelby County; and
WHEREAS, SB2908 has passed, and HB3234 is currently pending, in the General Assembly, which would lift the current ban on municipal school districts effective Jan. 1 of 2013; and
WHEREAS, it is obvious that this new legislation is directed at Shelby County, and is being rushed through the General Assembly to address concerns raised by certain individuals in Shelby County who may not represent the majority of Shelby County citizens; and
WHEREAS, it is desirable for Shelby County to have some latitude, some leeway, a decent interval of time, to plan and implement school merger before further intervention from afar in Nashville; and
WHEREAS, it is desirable that the ongoing work of the Transition Planning Commission and the Unified School Board in designing and implementing the new unified school system have a minimal chance to run its course before the decision is made whether to re-fragment the Shelby County school into multiple school districts; and
WHEREAS, it is desirable that all actors in Shelby County understand exactly what sort of unified school system we will have before important and irrevocable decisions are made to split the county education system up; and
WHEREAS, the existing “Norris-Todd” law lifting the ban upon the successful completion of the merger process adequately protects the interests of suburban municipalities, such that further interference in Shelby County affairs by the General Assembly is unnecessary;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE, that the Shelby County Board of Commissioners hereby expresses its opposition to the enactment of SB2908 and HB3234, and urges the members of the Shelby County legislative delegation, and the Tennessee General Assembly more broadly, not to pass it.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that members of the Shelby County Legislative Delegation and the Tennessee General Assembly be made aware of the position of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners by copy of this resolution.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Resolution shall take effect in accordance with the Shelby County Charter, Article II, Section 2.06(B).
NASHVILLE — As the Tennessee legislature headed toward its intended close next week, the Shelby County school-merger situation was but one of several loose ends needful of tying up.
History will surely record it as passing strange that it was only at this eleventh hour that state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville), the GOP’s majority leader in the Senate and the man who has initiated and carried forth every piece of legislation regarding the course of school-merger in Shelby County, should have sat down with members of the county’s legislative delegation to explain his intentions.
Not that things were made perfectly clear – in the Nixonian or any other sense – when on Wednesday Norris addressed what is likely to be the last weekly delegation lunch of the current legislative session.
Norris was smooth and cordial, as he always is, but his verbal style would seem to derive either from the indirect courtliness of formal Japanese grammar or from some Orwellian handbook. The bottom line: Much of what he says would seem to indicate a sense opposite to what the words he uses would normally imply.
As an example: Last year, in preparing the seminal fast-track legislation known to the rest of the world as Norris-Todd but always referred to by its principal author as Public Chapter One, Norris described it as a way to “facilitate” the then pending merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.
Never mind that, up to the moment the courts confirmed the inevitability of the merger, following the surrender of the MCS charter, Norris, like other representatives of suburbia, had been looking for ways to forestall it –at one point floating a proposal to require an independent vote to confirm it by non-Memphis residents of Shelby County.
That, of course, was and is the method by which political consolidation of city and county must be approved, and that very method had just, mere weeks before the MCS charter surrender, resulted in a resounding No from suburban voters.
But existing state law had prescribed another course for school consolidation, which had, by the time the General Assembly convened In late January of 2011, become inevitable.
With some semantic stretching, “facilitate” might describe what Norris-Todd did to alter the process of school merger. It did, for example, provide a mechanism – in the form of a Transition Planning Commission to help guide the process and a sufficiently elongated time frame, two and a half years -- to allow for deliberate preparation.
But the clincher of Norris-Todd was its final provision – an escape clause, as it were, providing that, as of August 2013, when the merger was to be completed, the existing state ban on new municipal or special school districts would be lifted in Shelby County. In other words, the suburbs were given a way out, a way to avoid merger. “Facilitate,” in other words, might just as readily mean its opposite, “impede.”
In ruling on an abundance of litigation brought about by the pending merger, U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays conferred his approval on the general framework of Norris-Todd last summer – a fact that Norris often cites, as he did Wednesday to the Shelby delegation, though he customarily omits the fact that Mays desisted at that point from ruling on the escape-clause provision as not being“ripe.”.
In any case the word “facilitate” got another workout from Norris on Wednesday as he reviewed Norris-Todd in the context of new follow-up legislation he has introduced.
It was these new bills – both having sailed through the Senate, where Norris’ influence necessarily counts for much and both now pending in the House – that were the proximate cause of Wednesday’s session.
One bill, SB2908/HB3234, would get its final okay from House Finance Ways and Means in the hour or two after the delegation lunch, but in a form unrecognizable from the way it was introduced weeks ago before it drew flak from Republicans as well as Democrats in the House Education Committee.
As originally written, the bill would have advanced the point of eligibility for municipal school districts from the August, 2013, date called for in Norris-Todd to January 1, 2013. To most observers, it seemed an obvious way of dealing with an unexpected opinion from state Attorney General Robert Cooper that efforts to prepare for new municipal districts in Shelby County via referenda in the suburbs could not begin until such districts were enabled with the completion of the merger – August 2013 on the Norris-Todd timetable.
In his Mandarin way, Norris would patiently explain that he was not attempting to speed up the municipal-district process, as seemed to be the case, but to slow things down. (You had to be there.)
By Wednesday, that version of the bill had been modified to the point that what it now says is virtually identical to what had already been said in Norris-Todd – that municipal school districts may be created in Shelby County as of August 2013.
Norris’ official explanation is that this going over the same ground is necessitated by another portion of the state code which restates the current ban on new school districts.
Maybe so. In any case, a bill that had seemed iffy at best is now assured of passage —though even it was the subject of renewed criticism Wednesdayfrom opponents like former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) and other Memphis-area Democrats. But a W will go into the record book, not an L.
The other new Norris initiative had been —at least up to this week, when similar legerdemain might effect its rescue – controversial to the point that House Republicans, including Rep. Richard Montgomery of Sevierville, had rejected it in the form of an amendment to an existing Montgomery bill (HB 1105)concerning the regulation of school directors.
Norris’ amendment would contravene Attorney General Cooper’s opinion, which had put a halt to plans for suburban referenda this year on municipal districts, by expressly allowing them, as well as enabling school boards to be elected in suburban municipalities.
Approved in the Senate as an add-on to that chamber’s version of the bill, SB1923, the Norris amendment was regarded in the House, by GOP Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), among others, as an Open Sesame to rhe proliferation of new municipal districts everywhere in Tennessee.
Norris made it clear on Wednesday that the Senate would not recede the amendment on Thursday but would send the bill back to the House asking it to reconsider. Ultimately, he suggested, the impasse might be resolved by the two chambers in conference committee.
The senator’s linguisrtic and parliamentary dexterity, useful in such a process, was put on display several times during his dialogue with fellow Shelby-delegation members. At one point, by way of justifying the suburban wish for independent school districts, Norris intimated that such districts could find ways to interface with the post-merger Unified School District and suggested an analogy with the federal union of separate but associated states.
"You do know that led to the Civil War?” interjected state Rep. Jeanne Richadson (D-Memphis). To which Norris responded, “I’m sorry you look a things through those glasses.”
And he maintained, in an inspired flight of verbal acrobatics, that the suburban municipalities were not attempting to secede from the Unified School District in seeking their independence; rather, it was their way of seeking to “participate.”
Anyhow, he would periodically shrug in a show of resigned fatalism, the law was the law, “whether we like it or not.” The law in question, of course, was Norris-Todd, his very own creation, which, presumably, he liked just fine.
By the close of day Thursday, it may become obvious just what else ends up being added to that law.
Meanwhile, another Norris initiative was due for a test on Wednesday, when HB1105, a Montgomery –sponsored bill requiring school board evaluations of school directors, was scheduled to come before the House bearing two amendments tacked on in the Senate by Norris.
The amendments are intended to override Attorney General Cooper’s recent bombshell opinion — that the Shelby County suburbs could not proceed with referenda of their populations concerning municipal schools districts nor with the creation of school boards until the August 2013 date specified by Norris-Todd.
Montgomery has been quoted as saying he did not want such amendments on his bill, but it remains to be seen whether he gets them, or whether the same sort of flak is aimed at his bill, if so amended, that has attended the slow and uncertain journey of HB3234.
On the very cusp of GOP presidenrial candidate Rick Santorum' suspension of active campaiging on Tuesday, Tennessee supporters of the ex-Pennsylvania senator, who won the state’s preferential primary in March,expressed themselves as aggrieved at the way the Republican state executive committee had filled out a slate of Santorum convention delegates.
The committee had the duty since no would-be Santorum delegates as such had managed to get themselves on the Super Tuesday ballot in time.
Though acknowledging that several bona fide Santorum supporters were named as delegates to this summer’s Republican convention, Kay White of Johnson City, a Tea Party activist who served as a Santorum campaign organizer complained that she and other supporters of the former Pennsylvania senator had been relegated to alternates’ positions or overlooked entirely, while some of the delegate spots meted out to Santorum in proportion to his state primary totals were allegedly given to people of suspect loyalty.
In a statement to her network and to state GOP chairman Chris Devaney, White said, “I believe that each of these people…should give a written personal endorsement and have a sign in their lawn to announce to all of their neighbors who they are now supporting.”
The issue would appear to be poor fodder for further controversy, inasmuch as Santorum's suspension of campaigning in effect is a concession of the GOP presidential race to former Massachussets governor Mitt Romney, long the Republican frontrunner and now the party's presumptive nominee.
Even before Thursday’s bombshell announcement by Cohen, however, Hart had experienced major difficulty drumming up money and support.
Republican candidates who filed in the 9th were Charlotte Bergmann, George Flinn, Ernest Lunati, and Rollin Stooksberry. Bergmann was the GOP nominee two years ago in a losing general election race against Cohen, and was considered a likely nominee this year as well before the decision to run by Flinn, a wealthy physician and radio executive who formerly served on the Shelby County Commission and is well known and influential in party circles.
Independent Brian Saulsberry will also be a candidate, against the Democratic and Republicans winner, in the November general election.
OTHER FILINGS (note: several listed here were still underdoing the process of having their petitions evaluated for the right number of valid signatures at press time; any changes in the roster who will be made in this space later, as needed):
Filees in legislative races include:
State Senate District 30: Candidates are Beverly Marrero, Jim Kyle, and Mario Dennis, among Democrats, and Colonel G. Billingsley, a Republican.
The race will likely be decided in the Democratic primary, where incumbent Marrero has stiff competition from Kyle, the Democrats’ leader in the state Senate who was gerrymandered out of his erstwhile District 28 before managing a late shift in the heavily Democratic District 30.
State Senate District 32: The two candidates filing, both Republicans, are incumbent Mark Norris, the current state Senate Majority Leader, and Woody Degan, a political unknown. Degan’s petition was still being examined at press time for evidence of sufficient signatures.
State House District 83: Incumbent Mark White is unopposed.
State House District 84: Incumbent Joe Towns Jr. is opposed in the Democratic primary by Leon Dishmon Sr. and Hendrell Remus. Dishmon’s signatures were being evaluated.
State House District 85: Incumbent Democrat Johnnie Turner is opposed in the primary by Eddie Jones.
State House District 86: Incumbent Barbara Cooper apparently faces her usual Democratic primary opposition from George T. Edwards, whose signatures were being looked at.
State House District 87: Democratic incumbent Karen Camper is unopposed.
State House District 88: Incumbent Democrat Larry Miller has no primary opponent. Harry Barber has filed as a Republican.
State House District 90: Incumbent Democrat John DeBerry is opposed in his primary by Jeanne Richardson, who is the current incumbent in District 89, and by Ian Randolph, whose qualifying signatures were still under examination. Though she is considered an underdog, Richardson, who was effectively gerrymandered out of her former district, will have support from District 90 liberals disenchanted with some of DeBerry’s positions.
State House District 91: Incumbent Lois DeBerry, the former longtime House Speaker Pro Tem, is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
State House District 93: Democratic incumbent Mike Kernell has unexpected primary opposition from former District 92 incumbent G.A. Hardaway, whose district disappeared from the map of Shelby County during reapportionment.
State House District 95: Incumbent Republican Curry Todd is unopposed in his primary. Democrat Robert E. Noziglia has filed.
State House District 96: Incumbent Republican Steve McManus will be opposed by Jim Harrell in the GOP primary.
State House District 97: Incumbent Republican Jim Coley is unopposed.
State House District 98: Incumbent Democrat Antonio “Two-Shay” Parkinson has primary opponents in Charles Thompson, whose signatures were still being evaluated. Independent Artie Smith has also filed.
State House District 99: Republican Ron Lollar is opposed in his primary by Thomas O. Stephens.
CANDIDATES FOR SHELBY COUNTY UNIFIED SCHOOL BOARD:
District 1: Christopher Caldwell, Michael Donohue, Noel Hutchinson, and Freda Williams. The qualifying signatures of the latter two were still being undergoing verification
District 2: Tyree Daniels, Eric Dunn, and Teresa Jones. Dunn’s signatures were being evaluated.
District 3: Raphael McInnis, David Reaves, and Gregory Ritter. Ritter’s signatures were still being verified.
District 4: Russell Jones, Kenneth Whalum Jr., and Kevin Woods. Whalum’s signatures were being examined.
District 5: Edgar Babian, David Pickler, and Kim Wirth.
District 6: Jonathan Lewis and Reginald Porter Jr., with Lewis’ signature being looked at.
District 7: Billy Orgel.
Todd, a former Memphis policeman who has been an active advocate for numerous positions favored by the current Republican administration, stopped one such n its tracks when he told colleagues at a Commerce Committee hearing that he has a rare form of cancer that could benefit from oral chemotherapy treatments.
His announcement clearly affected the vote of the Committee, which had seemed destined to a reject bill sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and opposed by Governor Bill Haslam and spokespersons for the insurance industry. The Bill would require insurance companies to pay for oral chemotherapy treatments of the sort that Todd’s own condition — macroglobulinemia, a lymphatic cancer — might at some point require.
Testifying against the bill, Sammie Arnold, a lobbyist for the Haslam administration, had said the governor regarded the bill as a bureaucratic governmental “mandate."
Todd responded, ”“I hope and pray he doesn’t have anybody in his family that has cancer, because I’m opposed to what you just said. This is not a mandate, it’s giving people equal treatment to get a drug that other folks haven’t gotten.”
Subsequent to Todd’s revelation, the Commerce Committee deadlocked 13-13 and will apparently reconsider the measure.
It involves David Pickler, the former longtime chairman of the former Shelby County Schools board whose public zeal in late 2010 for a separate suburban school district is often cited by advocates of city/county school merger as the proximate cause of the decision by a Memphis City Schools majority to surrender the MCS charter, thereby forcing the current merger process.
It also involves Ken Hoover, a fellow Germantown resident who for the last several years has been a persistent critic of Pickler and who opposed the then SCS chairman in an intensely competitive down-to-the-wire SCS board race in 2010.
On Tuesday, Pickler let it be known that he was headed to the offices of the Shelby County Election Commission to file for District 5 of the Unified School Board when elections are held August 2 to constitute a permanent 7-member version of that board. (At present, there is an interim 23-member Unified School Board, consisting of the former memberships of the MCS and SCS boards, plus 7 interim appointees.)
Pickler’s declaration for a place on the Unified Board is another sign of an apparent commitment to the future of a unified school system, one unexpected as recently as late last year, when, as a holdover chairman of SCS, he automatically became a member of both the interim Unified School Board and the Transition Planning Commission guiding the merger process.
He subsequently has floated a pair of compromise proposals for organizing a permanent unified system — both involving maximizing the autonomy of suburban school areas, to be sure, but both also recognizing the prospect of long-term consolidation.
Meanwhile, former foe Hoover, a consistent attendee at meetings of the Unified Board and the TPC, has made a point of signing Pickler’s petition for the Unified School Board seat. Hoover himself is placing his bets elsewhere, intending to file for a seat on what he hopes turns out to be a School Board seat for a separate Germantown school system.
An opinion last month from state Attorney General Robert Cooper forestalled at least temporarily the plans of Germantown and other suburban municipalities to begin the process of creating their own school districts, but the municipalities still intend to form such districts, whether inside or (preferably) outside a consolidated system.
Meanwhile, with this week’s filing deadline of Thursday, April 5, approaching, the candidate roster for Unified School Board seats is filling up. Several current members of the Unified Board are candidates, and there are multiple instances of members who have drawn petitions that, if filed, would have them running against other members.
One case where two such candidates have actually completed filing is in District 3, an outer-county district, where incumbent Unified Board members David Reaves, formerly of the SCS board, and Raphael Mcinnis, who was appointed to the Board by the Shelby County Commission, are now both active candidates. Other such matchups are sure to materialize by Thursday.