Simultaneously, Memphis City Council member Myron Lowery has informed the news media by email that he intends to seek consideration of a Council vote of No Confidence for Holden “in the appropriate committee in our first meeting next year.”
On Monday of this week the Shelby County Commission voted 9-0 for a No Confidence resolution regarding Holden’s conduct of his office. The resolution was introduced by Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, a Republican like Holden, and had bipartisan support.
Holden has been increasingly under fire for a series of problems that have occurred since his tenure began in 2009, These included a glitch in the August 2010 countywide elections whereby several hundred voters were told erroneously that they had already participated in early voting, as well as a late processing of ballots for elections in the 2012 election cycle that resulted in numerous voters receiving wrong ballots and the judicial nullification of the outcome in a school board race.
A recent audit of the administrator’s office also turned up alleged irregularities.
Only the Election Commission itself can act on changes in Holden's status, and attempts to depose him have so far failed on a 3-2 vote, with the Republican majority supporting Holden. The Commission did vote unanimously a year ago for a temporary suspension of the administrator and a six-month period of probation.
Holden was not available for comment late Thursday night, but he has consistently maintained that past problems have been corrected and that no new issues have arisen this year.
*Governor Bill Haslam announced the appointment of Judge Holly M. Kirby of Memphis to succeed the retiring Justice Janice M. Holder on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Kirby, who has served as a member of the Tennessee Court of Appeals since 1995, will assume the seat when Holder’s term expires on June 28 of next year.
A Memphis native, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Memphis in 1979 and ranked third in her 1982 graduating class at the University of Memphis Law School. elected fellow of the Memphis Bar Foundation in 2006. She was named outstanding
alumna of the University of Memphis College of Engineering in 2002 and was named
outstanding young alumna of the University of Memphis in 1996.
Justice-Designate Kirby has served on the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct since 2012 and has also serveon the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary, the Tennessee Judicial Conferencee, the Council of State Government intergranch committee, and the Tennessee Appellate Court Nomination Committee.
* To no one’s surprise, Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas will be leaving the Commission to join his colleague and friend Wyatt Bunker at the helm of Lakeland city government.
Bunker, who was elected mayor of Lakeland last month, had announced publicly that he wanted Thomas, the former Shelby County Probate Clerk and a close ally on the Commission, to apply for the open job of city manager of Lakeland.
The Lakeland Board of Commissioners confirmed Thomas’s appointment at the Board’s Tuesday night meeting.
Thomas will continue to serve on the Shelby County Commission for his duration of his term, which expires next year, but will not seek reelection.
At its regular public meeting on Monday, the Shelby County Commission was scheduled to sift through the residue of what had been unusually lengthy and productive committee sessions last Wednesday.
At the top of the list of potential controversies was a proposal by Commissioner Mike Ritz to raise the salary of Shelby County Schools board members from $4200 to $25,000.
Although Ritz’s proposed ordinance passed the Commission’s education committee by a 4-3 vote on Wednesday, and thereby won itself a place on Monday’s consent agenda, it is certain to be yanked off and considered as a regular-agenda item, and its chances of passage are iffy indeed.
The salary change would require a two-thirds approval — or 9 votes on the 13-member Commission — and that is unlikely.
(Less controversial are ordinances establishing salaries for the Commissioners themselves and for the Sheriff and various constitutional officers, the latter to receive modest pay increases.)
Another item sure to be contested is outgoing Republican Commissioner Wyatt Bunker’s resolution expressing No Confidence in county Election Administrator Rich Holden. Wednesday’s consideration of the resolution in the general government committee indicated a split in Republican ranks that could result in passage.
Also contentious will be a resolution urging Governor Bill Haslam to expand the state’s Medicaid (TennCare) program under the Affordable Care Act.
Several matters pertaining to the end of litigation over school matters are on tap. The Commission is sure to ratify formally the liquidation (approved in committee on Wedne4sday) of a lawsuit against the city of Germantown, which has reached agreement with the SCS board over future school policy and, in particular, over the allocation of school buildings.
The Commission’s suit against Germantown was the last one pending in the long-running schools controversy.
Two other school resolutions, including one to approve lawyers’ fees, are on the agenda.
Also to be discussed on Monday are a triad of measures proposed by Commissioner Steve Mulroy — on offering incentives for improving blighted properties, another reprimanding Juvenile Court for retaliatory Acton against Commissioner Henri Brooks and Court monitors appointed by her; and an ordinance strengthening strictures against mistreatment of animals.
Up, too, is Commissioner Ritz’s resolution to prohibit use by TDZ’s (tourist development zones) of local tax revenues earmarked for schools, without express permission of the Commission.
The Commission’s action on Wednesday in declining to join with the City of Memphis in a joint planning commission for a new convention center may be revisited.
A plethora of other matters are on the agenda; so a lengthy meeting is to be expected.
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators, whose annual meeting was just concluded this past weekend at The Peabody, saw many serious political and governmental issues addressed during the four days of meeting in Memphis. It also witnessed some light moment. Here are two:
—Addressing the annual meeting of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators in Memphis, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN9) finds that the expected next speaker, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, is absent, then, via the assumed alter ego of the late former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, improvises on his discovery.
—State Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis), addressing the final or plenary session of the conference on Saturday, could not resist morphing into one of his favorite alter egos — the late music legend Louis Armstrong.
The 37th annual meeting of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, which began on Wednesday at The Peabody, will continue through the weekend. A highlight Friday morning is the Lois DeBerry Prayer Breakfast, named for the revered and respected state Representative and former state House Speaker Lois DeBerry of Memphis, who died this summer after a long illness.
The closing plenary session on Saturday, “Galvanizing a State Agenda on Civil Rights,” will be moderated by TV One host Roland Martin.
What follows is a partial description of events, courtesy of the Carter Malone Agency.
National Black Caucus of State Legislators 37th Annual Legislative Conference
to focus on PROGRESS: Moving Our States Forward Through Policy Action
State legislators to convene in Memphis, TN with advocates, corporate executives, and public policy experts.
WHO: Black lawmakers from across the United States, advocates and community leaders, corporate executives, leading public policy experts, media personalities, and celebrities including U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez; NBCSL President, Representative Joe Armstrong (TN); Emmy winner, Lynn Whitfield; Radio personality and author Michael Baisden; Grammy winner CeCe Winans; and Award-winning journalist and TV One Host, Roland Martin.
WHAT: The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) is holding its 37th Annual
Legislative Conference in Memphis, TN. A primary focus will be the discussion and ratification of policy issues submitted by members of the organization with collaboration by community stakeholders. Those policies will be the foundation for state and federal legislation, the NBCSL policy platform for 2014, and collaboration with community- based organizations.
The closing plenary, Galvanizing A State Agenda on Civil Rights will be moderated by Mr. Martin with remarks by The Honorable Thomas Perez; Pulitzer Prize Winner, Doug Blackmon; Lucia McBath, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Tamika Mallory; Former Executive Director of the National Action Network, and Kim McCray, Executive Director, Trayvon Martin Foundation….
WHERE: The Peabody Hotel, 149 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN, 38103
WHEN: December 11-14, 2013
About the National Black Caucus of State Legislators
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) is a membership association representing more than 600 African-American state legislators hailing from 45 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. NBCSL members represent more than 50 million Americans of various racial backgrounds. NBCSL monitors federal and state activity and provides this information to its members through policy symposiums and conferences. Each year, NBCSL members pass policy resolutions that directly impact federal and state policy. The organization focuses on issues that directly impact U.S. domestic policy and is committed to policies that positively affect all Americans. Learn more at www.nbcsl.org.
In a manner that was almost pro forma, Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy and her Board of Aldermen ended three years of non-stop resistance to the specter of city-county school merger with a quick 4-0 vote for a deal that enables the suburb to proceed with its public-school independence.
That the deal with Shelby County Schools was achieved only at the expense of allowing SCS to take control of three of Germantown’s flagship schools was dealt with by means of a stoic fatalism, sans debate and without any expression of the private anguish that the city officials may well have felt.
“It lays a foundation on which our new school district can be formed,” was the game way the mayor put it in the course of her dispassionate introduction of add-on agenda item 5B, which John Drinnon dutifully moved, with Mike Palazzolo seconding it.
The Board members had met for an hour with their attorneys “in a litigation session” just before the public meeting, Goldsworthy had explained, and she made it clear the message they got was: You have no choice. She spoke of the numerous counter-proposals the city had made in vain to the SCS board and said she was “keenly aware” that the agreement did not “address all our concerns.”
As Goldsworthy would put it in a brief encounter with the media after the meeting, “Clearly, the Shelby County School board, I think there is general agreement, is responsible, it owns the schools, it holds them in trust for the education of children….Ultimately, you have to recognize that the decision rests more with the Shelby County School board than with our desire.”
In other words, though Goldsworthy pointedly eschewed any use of the metaphor, SCS held all the cards.
It remained for two Germantown residents, both of whom had daughters at Germantown Elementary, to address some obvious points and mourn the outcome after the vote had been taken..
There was Jason Polley, who began, “To say I’m bitterly disappointed is an understatement….Part of this city has been hurt by this deal tonight [and] you haven’t asked for any public input.”
He was followed by Don Adams, who made explicit what Polley had only hinted it. Identifying himself as a resident of zip-code 38138, the area containing the three SCS schools-to-be, he imagined out loud the thought pattern of somebody contemplating a move into the area: “Why would I want to move into 38138?”
In a reference to Goldsworthy’s previous description of the deal as “an agreement of compromise and settlement, Adams said, ”The compromise sounds like it was all them. They wanted three schools. They got three schools.”
In her post-meeting conversation with the attendant press, Goldsworthy protested the geographic reference, saying emphatically, “I live in 38138.I certainly have a vested interest. What we can do is assure everyone in Germantown that I am absolutely convinced that, first, the new school board will do everything appropriate to assure that everyone has access to excellence in the classroom, and, two, that the City of Germantown will continue to do everything that it does to make sure that every neighborhood is desirable.”
In answer to a variety of questions, she spoke of the prospect of inter-local arrangements with Collierville and gave assurance that, whatever the dislocations of student transfers might be, there would be room in Houston High School for additional students.
She was adamant that her city had fought the good fight. “Anybody who was a party to the negotiations knows that we did not roll over. We had completely and consistently asked for all eight schools, and we were willing to operate those in terms that we felt gave us an opportunity some time in the future to re-examine that.”
She spoke of having tried for a six-school option that left Germantown Elementary within the city’s own system but said “the other party,” SCS, would not agree on terms that were acceptable.
In the end, the new Germantown School Board had seen no alternative to accepting the agreement -- which at least allowed the city to move forward in creating a new school district for next year anjd the future beyond that -- and neither had the city administration.
The agreement will come before the SCS board for its formal approval on Tuesday night, and, in fairly short order, the Shelby County Commission is expected to convene and dismiss its last remaining piece of litigation, with Germantown.
And then, as Goldsworthy had noted in her introductory remarks, federal district judge Hardy Mays will have an opportunity to close the curtain on the whole three-year struggle.
In the manner of the other five suburbs that had previously reached agreement with the SCS board, Germantown will acquire rights to five public schools through a process of making 12 annual payments — in Germantown’s case, at a rate of $355,453 per year, coming to something like $4.25 million.
As in the other cases, there is no one-to-one purchase arrangement. Technically, the money will be used to help offset SCS retirement obligations, while the deeds to school properties will be made over separately.
Bunker, who was recently elected Mayor of Lakeland and has tendered his resignation from the Commission, effective January 3, said he had been encouraged to take the step by numerous Republican public officials and other prominent members of the GOP.
“This is long overdue, and it needed to come from the Republican side,” Bunker said. The oft-beleaguered Holden is a Republican who was appointed administrator by the GOP-dominated Shelby County Election Commission in 2009.
Bunker said he anticipated that a majority of his fellow Commissioners, both Democrats and Republicans, would support his resolution. He acknowledged that some Republicans considered calls for Holden’s resignation to be the result of partisan Democratic pressure, but he said his own opinion, augmented by increasing dissatisfaction with Holden in GOP ranks, was that the administrator had to be held accountable for failure to stem a tide of election glitches that have occurred on his watch.
“If people were demanding that something be done after only six months or so on the job, you could say that was premature, that he should be given a chance, but he’s been there for five years, and the evidence is that he’s either unwilling or unable to do the job,” Bunker said.
The resolution of “No confidence” will be introduced in the Commission’s General Government committee on Wednesday, Bunker said, and will be accompanied by supporting documentation from both local and official state sources, including reprimands of the SCEC and its administrative arm by state Election Coordinator Mark Goins.
Among the instances enumerated are the Election Day glitch of August 2010 which resulted in hundreds of voters being incorrectly turned away as they arrived to vote; a failure in 2012 to provide correct ballots for local elections that jibed with post-census redistricting, resulting in a judicial invalidation of a Shelby County School Board race; a lack of responsiveness to public inquiries and an inefficient management of staff; and a recent audit report pinpointing improper cash management and a variety of other errors of commission or omission..
Bunker said another factor was Holden’s failure to respond with appropriate corrective action after being put on probation by the five-member local Election Commission, consisting of three Republicans and two Democrats.
“The facts are overwhelming, and all he’s responded with are excuses,” said Bunker, who acknowledged that only the Election Commission itself could force an administrative change. He was asked to respond to an emailed allegation by SCEC Commissioner Dee Nollner, who termed the charges against Holden to be the result of “a planted, connived, sabotage effort by a disgruntled employee.”
Nollner said, “Mr. Bunker should be ashamed of himself for attacking anyone based on such one-sided "information" and to do so to a fellow Republican brings the question, why? Was the AOE [Administrator of Elections] competent to conduct the Lakeland election in which Mr. Bunker was elected mayor, but incompetent on other issues?”
Bunker said he intended to talk with Nollner but said, “Evidently she’s drunk the Kool-Aid.” He said what was at stake was public confidence in the integrity of elections.
It is no secret that various names have been discussed in local Republican ranks as possible successors to Holden. They include Steve Summerall, a former chief administrator for the Shelby County Commission; former SCEC chairman Bill Giannini, now an assistant to Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak; and current Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas. Ironically, Bunker has made it clear he would like Thomas to formally apply for the job of Lakeland city manager.
UPDATE: Germantown Board votes 4-0 to approve agreement.
The Board of Aldermen is said to be ready to endorse the resolution and thereby to subscribe to the school plan set forth by Hopson.
Since Hopson first made public his proposals, five of the six Shelby County incorporated suburbs which plan to create independent school districts have accepted them, and subsequently the Shelby County Commission has voted to drop its long-standing lawsuits against all five — Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington.
Only Germantown had thus far held back — out of an unwillingness to accept the aspect of Hopson’s plan which calls for keeping three Germantown-based schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, and Germantown Elementary School — within the jurisdiction of SCS.
Hopson’s reasoning was that a majority of the students in those schools actually reside in the unincorporated areas of the county rather than the Germantown city limits.
After he made his proposals and the SCS board adopted them, there had been a good deal of back-and-forth between Germantown officials and the board and Hopson, and various alternatives were discussed and discarded — one calling for the new Germantown municipal school system to maintain jurisdiction over Germantown Elementary School, which arguably has a majority of students from within Germantown.
David Pickler, an SCS board member representing Germantown, acknowledged Monday that he had been told by SCS attorney Valerie Speakman that the Germantown Board of Aldermen had indeed accepted the original Hopson proposal.
Pickler, who had strongly advocated that all eight school properties within Germantown’s municipal schools be assigned to the city’s municipal system-to-be, expressed disappointment and said he intended to ask “a lot of questions” Tuesday night when the SCS board meets again and would presumably be in a position to accept the Board of Aldermen’s action.
He said he had been apprised of a move toward acceptance of trhe SCS terms by the newly elected Germantown School Board but had believed there was resistance on the part of Germantown city officials.
Evidently that resistance is now at an end. The terms apparently accepted by Germantown would be identiical to those already accepted by the other five incorporated suburbs, which would convey school properties to the suburb — five in the case of Germantown — as part of a larger arrangement. The suburb would pay a sum, at a rate of roughly ten cents to the dollar of the schools’ value, that would be regarded not as direct payment for school properties but as a contribution to the costs of post-retirement benefits incurred by SCS.
Germantown’s payments — to be made in installments, as is the case with the other suburbs, over a 12-year period -- would amount to several million dollars but not a double-digit amount.
Yacoubian Research, an established Memphis polling firm, has conducted what it said to be an independent poll of likely voters regarding a Democratic primary contest in the 9th Congressional District between incumbent congressman Steve Cohen and his potential challenger, lawyer Ricky Wilkins.
The poll, involving some 204 respondents in the 9th District, found Cohen prevailing by a margin of 76 percent to 11 percent, with 13 percent expressing themselves as unsure.
A second question was asked of both 9th District voters and a sample of 414 Shelby County voters at large: “If Congressman Steve Cohen were to endorse a Democrat for Shelby County Mayor against Republican Mark Luttrell, would this make you more likely or less likely to vote for him?”
Within the 9trh District, 51 percent pronounced themselves “more likely,” as against 10 percent who said “less likely” and 39 percent who said there would be no difference. Percentages for the larger county sample were: 35 percent “more likely;” 26 percent “less likely”; and 39 percent, no difference.
Cohen led Wilkins in all age, race, gender, and geographic groupings, with his greatest strength among African-American males (83 percent) and white females (88 percent). Wilkins is African-American.
In only one category, an infinitesimally small sample of Republicans intending to vote in the Democratic Primary, did Wilkins lead Cohen. The vote there was 2 to 0,
Yacoubian’s conclusion: “In sum, Congressman Steve Cohen continues to be the overwhelming favorite in the August 2014 Democratic Primary for 9th district congress.”
The poll results can be accessed in more detail here: Yacoubian_Poll_Results__1_.pdf
The second potential vacancy is that of Bunker’s Commission colleague Chris Thomas, who has been asked by Bunker, now serving as mayor of Lakeland, to apply for the job of Lakeland city manager.
Lakeland’s Board of Commissioners, which met Monday night, has delayed immediate action on replacing former city manager Robert “Bob” Wherry, who was fired last week. The vacancy has been publicly advertised, with a deadline for applications of December 13. The board will meet again on December 17 to decide on a hire.
Bunker’s letter to Harvey (see below) specified that his resignation would take effect on January 3. The Commission will be tasked with naming an interim replacewment for Bunker — and for Thomas, too, if need be. Both Bunker and Thomas are District 4 Republicans.