The openings were created when state Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder informed Governor Bill Haslam that she would not seek reelection when her term ends on August 31 of next year, and Judge David R. Farmer informed the governor similarly about his seat on the Court of Appeals, Western Division.
SUPREME COURT: All but one of the five applicants for Holder’s Supreme Court position are Memphians, as is Holder. They are:
Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft
Judge Holly Kirby, Court of Appeals, Western Section
John Brook Lathram of the Bass, Berry, and Sims law firm
Steve Mulroy, Shelby County Commissioner and University of Memphis law professor
The position is also sought by:
William Lewis Jenkins Jr., of the Dyersburg law firm Wilkerson Gauldin Hayes Jenkins & Dedmon
COURT OF APPEALS, WESTERN SECTION: Four of the six applicants are Memphians. They are:
Chancellor Kenny Armstrong
Frank S. Cantrell, deputy director of Memphis Area Legal Services
Rhynette Northcross Hurd, mediator and co-founder of the Ridder, Hurd firm
Dorothy J. Pounders, managing member of the Pounders, Coleman firm
There are two applicants from Jackson:
Brandon LK. Gipson, partner of the Pentecost and Gipson firm
Attorney Edward L. Martindale
The Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments will meet November 12 in Jackson to interview candidates for the Court of Appeals position and hear public comments. The Commission will then meet in Nashville on November 13 for the same purpose in regard to the Supreme Court candidates.
The special election, which is scheduled for November 21, with early voting in effect from Friday, November 1, though Saturday, November 16, will pit Tomasik against Ramesh Akbari, who won the Democratic nomination for the seat in a special primary election on October 8. The election is to determine a successor to the late Lois DeBerry.
In view of the closeness of the general election date, lawyers for Tomasik had sought an emergency injunction from Judge Haynes, who, after hearing arguments at a hearing Thursday, issued it from the bench.
In making his ruling, Judge Haynes noted that in February 2012 he had already ruled unconstitutional provisions of Tennessee’s pre-existing ballot access law, which had allowed automatic ballot access only for Democratic and Republican candidates, requiring “minor” parties to meet standards for ballot access which he considered prohibitively difficult.
That ruling was in response to a joint suit by the Green Party and Constitutional Party, who were faced with a requirement to present roughly 40,000 signatures on petitions to gain state ballot access. That figure, representing 2.5 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, was coupled with early deadlines and with requirements that petitioners be members of the affected parties
The offices state Election Coordinator Mark Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett were the defendants in 2012 and in Libertarian Tomasik’s case as well. The state has appealed Haynes 2012 ruling.
Meanwhile, efforts have been underway in the General Assembly to reform the state’s ballot access law. State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) filed SB 1091 in the 2013 legislative session, which would require milder requirements for minor parties to gain ballot access — 250 petitioners in the case of state Senate or state House elections.
The bill was bottled up in the state and local committees of both legislative chambers, but a 9-member study commission on ballot access was created, with Kyle as the sole Democrat among six legislative members. One member each from the Green, Libertarian, and Constitutional parties filled out the commission’s membership.
Kyle said that Senator Ken Yager (R, Harriman, chairman of the House state and local committee and ad hoc chair of the commission, had canceled a meeting of the commission that had been scheduled for mid-October. That was about the time that Tomasik filed his suit.
Prior to Thursday’s hearing and Judge Haynes’ ruling, Kyle had welcomed the hearing as a test case for ballot-access reform. The Memphis Democrat, chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus, said Jason Huff of his staff had done a study indicating that both the state and the nation were subject to cycles of party realignment which recurred roughly every 70 years and that the political ferment for such a moment was at hand.
Kyle also suggested that sates with elected secretaries of state had proved most amenable to ballot-access reform and that perhaps Tennessee should transition to a method of popular election for its secretary of state.
Most unusually for a school board meeting — of whatever jurisdiction — the main drama was not delayed by curricular or procedural minutiae at a jam-packed business session Monday night. Germantown, whose officials and citizens showed up en masse at the Coe administration building on Avery, saw the seven-member Shelby County Schools board turn down its plea for retaining the three schools siphoned from it in superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s new school plan, or at least for more time to discuss it.
Referring to debate on the matter as “a conversation just begun," Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, said, "We respectfully ask, even urge, that you delay a definitive decision about the schools within the city of Germantown.” She thereby led a parade of several fellow townsfolk in the board’s opening public period, which also featured spokespersons for other causes, including the rescue of South Side High School from the state’s ASD system, over which the board had no control, and for a K-through-8 expansion at Barrett’s Chapel, over which it did.
The Barrett’s Chapel folks would get their way, those from South Side couldn’t, and those from Germantown didn’t, despite some eloquent testifiers, including the young son of Tim Coulter, who followed his father with the affectingly simple line, “Please don’t take my school” (an echo of the South Siders’ own plea, “Please don’t take our school away”).
40-year leases for each municipality
After the public period was over, there were reports — from board chairman Kevin Woods, from the chairs of various committees, and finally the crucial one, the superintendent’s report, delivered in Hopson’s flat and measured phrasing.
After a typically understated reference to the “extraordinary level of angst” that had afflicted all sectors of the county during the school-merger controversy, followed by a brief statement of the good news for the Barrett’s Chapel contingent, Hopson detailed, city by city, his plan for the six incorporated suburbs that plan to have their own municipal school systems in August 2014.
Beginning with Arlington and proceeding through Bartlett, Lakeland, Millington, Germantown, and Collierville, Hopson read out his formula — a 40-year lease on terms to be negotiated for county school buildings currently within the cities’ municipal limits, and with each city responsible for both defaults and damages.
In only two cases was the number of leasable properties less than the number within those limits. As had been revealed in Hopkins’ bombshell announcement last week, Shelby County Schools intends to maintain responsibility for Lucy Elementary School in a community newly annexed by Millington and for three namesake institutions in Germantown — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary School.
As Hopson and other SCS spokespersons explained last week, the choice of institutions to be retained was dictated by the system’s decision — for financial and various logistical reasons — to provide public education for the unincorporated areas of Shelby County and for the school-age populations in those areas. The four institutions chosen all contained majorities of pupils living in the unincorporated areas. (In an interview, though, Goldsworthy would contest that fact for Germantown Elementary.)
“In a nutshell,” said Hopson, “I have authorized myself and Ms. [Valerie] Speakman [the board attorney]” as negotiators with the suburbs.
"In the north...people like this deal...."
First board member to address the Hopson resolution was David Pickler, representative of Germantown and Collierville. Pickler expressed himself as “deeply troubled” by a plan that had not been submitted to an “open, fair, and public conversation” but had been engineered with “a very specific guiding of what the outcome had to be.”
Pickler then made a formal motion for the board to delay voting on the plan, pending “a more thought-out public process.”
Board chairman Woods asked if there was a second, and there was none — a fact causing several of the Germantown advocates in the audience, who had applauded Pickler lustily, to gasp or cry out in disbelief.
The reason would be made obvious when, after a ritual endorsement of “a very thoughtful resolution” by Memphis board member Teresa Jones, Bartlett member David Reaves, in a regretful but firm manner, lowered the boom. “In the north…most of the people like this deal,” he said. “I sympathize, but I represent the north.”
In a concession to Germantown sensiibilties, Reaves did move to divide the board’s voting on the plan six ways, city by city. That motion failed 5-2, with only Reaves and Pickler voting for it.
Before the board’s vote on the Hopson resolution, former board chairman Billy Orgel, who had been honored earlier for his service during the board’s 23-member transitional phase, said he thought the Hopson plan would hasten a mutually agreeable resolution of the whole merger controversy. (Unmentioned Monday night was the fact of the ongoing County Commission litigation against the municipalities’ school plans, still unsettled.)
Optional status for Germantown schools
Chairman Kevin Woods then posed a series of rhetorical questions to Hopson and attorney Speakman, addressing potentially contentious parts of the plan. That gave the superintendent the opportunity to note that the district would treat all three Germantown institutions as optional schools and that the staff and teachers at each would likely remain in place. For her part, Speakman affirmed that it was by no means unprecedented for schools within municipalities to function as parts of extraneous systems.
Pickler won one tenuous concession from Hopson — the superintendent’s somewhat tepid acknowledgement that theoretically the board, during negotiation, could consider revising the question of Germantown’s schools. The board then voted on Hopson’s plan, endorsing it 5-1-1, with Pickler the only no vote and Reaves politely abstaining.
In a colloquy with reporters later on, Goldsworthy talked of convening her lawyers and trying again to get public discussions on modification of the Hopson plan. She had no ready answer when asked if there was any legal alternative to acceptance of the board’s will. Asked if her city could run a viable school system minus the three affected schools and the state funding destined for students in the adjoining unincorporated area, she gamely suggested that, come what may, Germantown would succeed with its system.
Asked if there was any reason other than logistical for her city’s bearing the brunt of sacrifice in the Hopson plan, Goldsworthy only smiled cryptically. When her interviewer suggested he couldn’t interpret a smile, she answered, “Oh yes, you can.”
Hopson’s plan is based on the assumptions(1) that possession is nine-tenths of the law and that the SCS board is the legal owner of all of the county’s buildings) and (2) that the unified county board is required by state law to teach all students not otherwise accounted for in a school district. Under the plan, students in the county’s unincorporated areas would be the responsibility of SCS, and, as a corollary to that, three Germantown schools and one in Millington would remain in the unified system.
Clearly, the superintendent’s wish to see to the long-term solvency of the unified SCS was a major factor in his thinking. Each student from an unincorporated area brings ADA (Average Daily Attendance) allotments from the state, and partisans of the unified district contend that the new municipal system would at some point become unwilling to cater to these students as their facilities filled up, putting the issue of potential and costly new construction front and center.
The plan seemed to suit a majority of the seven-member SCS board, which will formally vote on it Monday night, and it met with preliminary approval from several municipal mayors, who were gratified that their claim on school properties has at last been acknowledged.
But Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy heatedly objects to the inclusion of Germantown Elementary, Germantown Middle, and Germantown High School within SCS’s purview — their inclusion based on the fact that all these schools, like Lucy Elementary in Millington, comprise a student majority from unincorporated areas.The kind of united front that in the past has led to legislative action on behalf of the suburbs in Nashville, however, has apparently been broken
If the plan passes muster with the board on Monday night, the stage is set for action on costing out the transfer of school properties. The board is thought to prefer a lease agreement with the municipalities at something well above a token rate.
Before the board meets on Monday, the Shelby County Commission will probably have considered a motion by suburban Republican member Chris Thomas to drop the current litigation against the municipalities on grounds that it is now irrelevant, but that is not likely to happen until a final agreement is signed and sealed.
Thomas’ motion was discussed by the Commission’s general government committee on Wednesday and was objeccted to a an apparent majority of those present. And a majority of 7 members — six Democrats and Republican Mike Ritz — seem destined to oppose it if is placed on the agenda. Commission chairman James Harvey, also a Democrat, may vote with Thomas and four other Republicans to sustain it.
The remaining active portion of the litigation concerns the Commission argument that creation of suburban municipal-school systems in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington will foster re-segregation and is thereby unconstitutional.
Thomas premises his resolution on the theory that the SCS board has indicated its decision on remaining aspects of the school-merger controversy would not be based on the resegregation claim. Sources in the Commission majority, however, see that aspect of litigation as leverage as negotiation wend their way to a result and express the view that abandonment of if would be a premature folly.
Presiding federal judge Hardy Mays has granted a fresh 60-day extension of his working deadline to see an agreement reached.
Meanwhile, school board elections will be held in several of the suburbs on Thusday, November 7. [Note: Election date corrected from earlier version of post].
Said THRC executive director Beverly L Watts: "During this year of recognizing civil rights advocates throughout the state, the 50th Anniversary co-chairs and I realized Jocelyn Wurzburg embodies civil rights ideals, principles and dedication to equality. This award, the Jocelyn D. Wurzburg Civil Rights Legacy Award, was presented to Jocelyn D. Wurzburg for her specific contributions to the Commission and her dedication to equality. The Board will present this award at its discretion to those who embody the dedication to equality.”
Wurzburg was originally appointed to the THRC in 1971 by Gov. Winfield Dunn and was re-appointed in 2007 by Gov. Phil Bredesen. She authored the1978 legislation that became the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The act transformed the Commission from an advisory organization to one with powers to investigate, conciliate and litigate claims of discrimination.
A pioneer also in the process of mediation process, Wurzbug was originally appointed to the THRC in 1971 by Gov. Winfield Dunn and re-appointed in 2007 by Gov. Phil Bredesen. She authored the1978 legislation that became the Tennessee Human Rights Act and transformed the Commission from an advisory organization to one with powers to investigate, conciliate and litigate claims of discrimination.
She was also appointed by President Gerald R. Ford to the International Women’s Year commission in 1975 and brought the Panel of American Women to Memphis to confront racial and religious prejudice in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
An independent state agency, the THRC is responsible for enforcing the Tennessee Human Rights Act as well as the Tennessee Disability Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age (40 and over in employment), familial status (housing only) and retaliation in employment, housing and public accommodations.
As most observers had predicted, turnout was low for the special primary election, made necessary by the death this summer of longtime incumbent Lois DeBerry. Only 1,812 votes were cast, with 502 going for winner Akbari.
Two contenders bearing established political names did less well than expected. Kemba Ford, daughter of former state Senator and Tennessee Waltz figure John Ford, finished third, with 355 votes, and Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, a cousin to the late Lois DeBerry and sister of state Rep. John DeBerry (D-District 91), finished sixth, with 111 votes.
Runner-up to Akbari was Terica Lamb, with 399 votes.Others were: Joshua Forbes, fourth with 261 votes; Clifford Lewis, fifth with 134 votes; and Kermit Moore, seventh with 47 votes.
There were no Republican candidates and no Republican primary. Akbari’s only opponent in the November 21 special general election will be Libertarian Jim Tomask, listed on the ballot as an independent.
The winner of that election will hold the office until the next regular election cycle in 2014.
State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has evidently, like Ernest Hemingway before him, some sense of what the snows of Kilimanjaro are like. In a recent email to supporters, he conveyed news of “a 5-day hike to the top of Mt .Kilimanjaro, which at 19,341 feet, is the tallest mountain in Africa.”
Kelsey went on to posit a moral to this story: “The lesson it taught me in persistence is one that will prove helpful in continuing the fight for opportunity scholarships for low-income children in Tennessee.”
What are called ”opportunity scholarships” in Kelsey’s lexicon are referred to as “school vouchers” by others, particularly the opponents of the senator’s several bills over the years to extend public education funds to private institutions. In his newsletters, Kelsey refers to such opponents in Tennessee as “those who view the local school district as an employment agency rather than an education agency.”
Governor Bill Haslam, the head of state government and the titular head in Tennessee of Kelsey’s party, would not ordinarily be classified that way, and Kelsey presumably didn’t mean to be referring to Haslam in the aforementioned description of his legislative adversaries.
Yet it was Haslam who pointedly obstructed Kelsey’s last effort to pass a voucher bill. Early in the 2013 session of the General Assembly, the governor had approved a modest pilot effort toward establishing a voucher system, one that would provide modest-sized vouchers for 5,000 low-income students currently enrolled in schools certified by the state as failing.
That was not enough for Kelsey, who counter-posed a bill that would have greatly expanded the amount of vouchers and made them available to children in families making as much as $75,000 a year.
Finding Kelsey unwilling to compromise, and with time running out on the session, Haslam made it clear that he did not want alternate voucher legislation of the scope proposed by Kelsey put forward.
The co-sponsor of the Kelsey bill, state Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) got the message and professed a willingness to back off, as did Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who had preferred a stronger voucher bill. Kelsey, however, remained intent on going forward.
The result was that the governor put his foot down and called for his own measure to be withdrawn, while announcing it was too late to work out any other version, and the session ended with no voucher bill at all.
Kelsey's somewhat dismissive account of the situation runs this way: "The governor offered his own proposal in 2013, but his bill would have benefited only a few hundred children in Memphis. His bill passed the House Education Committee, but then he postponed the bill until next year before it could be taken up for consideration by the Senate. One step forward and a half-step slide backward."
In the newsletter, Kelsey finds inspiration in his struggle up Kilimanjaro: “Persistence pays off! Over and over during my hike up Kilimanjaro, my guide repeated, "po-le, po-le," which means "slowly, slowly" in Swahili. He knew that climbing the mountain too fast would lead to altitude sickness and would leave me short of my goal….
“Persistence pays off! Once I finally reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the views from above the clouds made all the hard work worthwhile. I hope that I will have a similar experience with opportunity scholarships in 2014….”
The senator concludes his account with these lines from Hemigway’s classic “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”:
"There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going." -
There’s a problem with the analogy, though: Mt. Kilimanjaro figures in the Hemingway story as the unachieved goal of the character Harry Street, who lies dying at the foot of the mountain and, at the end of the story, perishes without having attained his goal. Indeed, Kilimanjaro is treated as the very symbol of the unattainable.
That’s not the shame, of course. The shame is that almost no public attention has been paid to them as they vie for the right to succeed the late Lois DeBerry, who was both distinguished and beloved during her 40 years of service in the General Assembly, where she served for many years as Speaker Pro Tem.
No slackers or fakers or opportunists in this bunch, as was obvious at last week’s candidate forum at Magnolia First Baptist Church on South Cooper, where all seven displayed backgrounds, points of view, and contacts with the community that seemingly qualified them to serve.
First up was Raumesh Akbari, a young lawyer with a bachelor’s degree from Washington University and a J.D degree from St. Louis University. She now serves as legal counsel for the Akbari Corporation, her father’s firm, where she deals with personnel matters and community outreach.
From her school years, when she worked with a group called “Seniors Helping Seniors,” on through her adult service in organizations like “Meals on Wheels,” she has volunteered in charitable activities. She promised she would be a “fighter” for the district.
Next was Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, a sister of state Rep. John DeBerry (D-District 90) who claims kinship as well with the late Lois DeBerry and can boast a lengthy career as an environmental activist. Somewhat older than the others, she claims 40 years of residence amid the constituency she wants to serve.
She founded a “Concerned Citizens Committee” at the time of the closing of the Defense Depot in Memphis and ranks as one of her “proudest achievements” her work with a youth group, Youth Terminating Pollution, concerned with the effects of toxic exposure on reproductive health.
“I have been surrounded by politicians most of my life. I have been surrounded by grass roots groups most of my life,” she said.
Joshua Forbes is also an activist. Indeed, he claims the same career — that of community developer — that one Barack Obama pursued on his way to the White House. Forbes, Product of a military-family background, he came to Memphis to pursue the ministry, having, as he said, picked the city as a likely domicile from a riverscape photo of the city’s skyline.
After schooling here at Southwest Community College and the University of Memphis, he worked with Youth Villages and other local organizations, and he has done considerable outreach work in the Alcy-Ball community in association with former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.
Kemba Ford, who had worked with organizations ranging from CleanMemphis.org to the Gale Rose Foundation, entered the race with the greatest name identification of any candidate — a fact stemming both from the notice she garnered as an impressive second-place finisher in a 2011 Council race won by Lee Harris and from her membership in Memphis’ best-known political clan.
Ford, who was an actress for a time on the West Coast, is the daughter of former state Senator John Ford, a longtime state Senate eminence and Tennessee Waltz figure who now works at his brother Edmund’s funeral home after his release from prison. She proudly boasts a photograph of her father on her campaign literature and suggests that having grown up in a political environment is a plus for her and her potential constituents.
Terica Lamb, an employee of the Trustee’s Department, has experience with community issues, like the others, and, as “a working mother” who went through several lean years, emphasizes her connections with the rank and file problems of the community she wants to serve.
She also founded her own consulting firm, Total Control Logistics, offering personal advice about elements of day-to-day living.
Clifford Lewis is both a veteran candidate and, as a result of service in the Air Force a generation ago, a military veteran as well. He is a longtime member of the Shelby County Democratic Committee and has been an official in the labor movement as well. Most recently, after being involved in a mass layoff from the Internal Revenue Service, he has been in the rehab business with his son.
Lewis has one skill no other candidate can claim. As a result of his military experience, he learned to speak Japanese, one of the most difficult languages for a Westerner to learn. He admits, however, that he’s a little rusty.
Kermit Moore has extensive experience as a labor organizer and as southern regional director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. He has experience as a community organizer in Mississippi and he has served as president of the Lauderdale Sub Neighborhood Organization.
He has an impressive list of involvements with such organizations as United Way and a variety of voter registration groups. As evidence of his activism and his willingness to stand up to the Republican “supermajority” in the General Assembly, he pointed out that he was a plaintiff in a federal suit challenging the state GOP’s redistricting of legislative seats.
All in all, the voters of the 91st state House District would seem to have good raw material to choose from.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will advance to a special general election on November 21, facing independent/Libertarian Jim Tomasik.
***by advertising maven John Malmo, who observed his 80th birthday on Sunday and was honored by his employees with a birthday party the preceding Friday. The affair, complete with cake and party favors, included a 9-hole game of miniature golf, which took place on the several floors of the downtown Union Avenue site inhabited by archer-malmo communications and the Cotton Museum.
Here Malmo (above) prepares to finish up on the 9th hole (4th floor). He later took time to reminisce about his off-and-on relations, personal and professional, with various political worthies, ranging from 9th District congressman Steve Cohen — with whom Malmo feuded, to the point of handling the advertising for the largely nominal and symbolic candidacy of Cohen’s 2012 Republican opponent, Charlotte Bergman —to former Mayor Willie Herenton, whose first several mayoral campaigns Malmo assisted with.
Bergman would finish well behind Cohen, as Malmo and virtually everyone else expected. “Just as well,” commented Malmo, who harbored no illusions about the candidate or her chances but has remained vexed with Cohen (and with businessman/philanthropist Avron Fogelman).
The issue was one of disagreements with the two over what Malmo, then chairman of the Park Commission board, regarded as too lenient rental terms arranged by the pair for the then Houston Oilers to sojourn briefly in the Liberty Bowl on their way to becoming the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
**by former long=term 9th District Congressman Harold Ford Sr., who held Open House last Friday at the Sycamore View site of his new state-of-the-art Harold Ford Funeral Chapel . The new facility is but the precursor of the even more futuristic Serenity Columbarium and Memorial Garden, to come later via expansion.
In what was his last post on his City Beat blog, my colleague John Branston talked with Ford and gave details of what is to come.
Here Ford is discoursing on his plans to state Representative Larry Miller, one of scores of plugged-in p9litical and civic types who paid a visit to the Open House.
In a separate conversation with me, Ford was reminded that, during his second trial for bank fraud in 1993, he accounted for a controversial loan from the Knoxville-based Butcher banks by stating that his purpose had been to build a “world-class funeral home
The jury had believed him and acquitted him, and here he was, after a lucrative intervening career as a blue-ribbon lobbyist, apparently on the way to achieving his goal. Clearly pleased with the memory, Ford said, “I’m glad you remembered that.”