Realistically, the battle for leadership on the Shelby County Commission is over for the time being — or at least in remission. By a vote on Monday of 11 for, 1 opposed, and 1 abstaining, the Commission formally sustained Chairman Justin Ford’s choices for committee chairs on the Commission and thereby ended any immediate prospect of a challenge to his leadership.
Monday’s vote was a reprise of a preliminary vote in Ford’s favor at last Wednesday’s committee meetings.
Given that last week’s vote had been similarly lopsided, there was very little fighting left to do at Monday’s regular Commission meeting, and Democrat Walter Bailey, who had been the chief Ford resister, was content on Monday to cast his no vote, the only one against the appointments, as quietly and uneventfully as possible. The only other break from unanimity was an abstaining vote from Democrat Van Turner, chairman of the general government committee which handled the appointments matter.
The lack of drama on Monday reflected the currently anti-climactic state of a controversy that had seen Ford’s appointments blocked and referred back to committee by a 7-6 vote — six Democrats and Republican Steve Basar — on a motion made by the disgruntled Bailey at the regular Commission meeting of September 22.
And the relatively matter-of-fact denouement on Monday occurred despite some serious prodding from others, on both sides of the issue, who evidently thought the contest was still on.
Over the weekend, Norma Lester, a vocal Democratic representative on the Shelby County Election Commission
, released the text of an “open letter” to fellow Democrats. The letter expressed Lester’s view that Ford, , who was elected chairman of the reconstituted commission last month on the strength of his own vote, plus those of six Republicans, had subsequently fulfilled GOP wishes in the manner of the committee chairmanships.
Lester echoed Bailey’s charge that a “deal” had been cut on the chairmanship appointments between Ford and the GOP members who supported his chairmanship bid. Particularly controversial was the naming, for the second year in a row, of Republican member Heidi Shafer as chair of the Commission’s budget committee.
Bailey had slammed what he called “political machinations” involved in both Ford’s election and his subsequent naming of committee chairs.
Lester’s weekend letter seconded Bailey’s accusations of deal-making and “getting in bed with Republicans” and made a charge of “blatant betrayal, which is what happened with young Ford and the basis for the contempt amongst fellow Democrats.”
A visibly subdued Bailey restricted his objections on Monday to asking that the two items involving appointments issue be pulled off the Commission’s consent agenda, which meant that they were potentially subject to debate.
But all Bailey had to say was “I again voice my objection.”
That was enough, however, to galvanize a group of Tea Party audience members, who had come prepared, just in case, and, one by one, came to the dock to make statements in favor of Ford’s appointments.
Donna Bohannon made the case for Shafer’s budget-committee chairmanship and said she wanted “to see that glass ceiling lowered.” Yvonne Burton said she had never seen a chairman’s appointees resisted before and wondered, “Why are we taking so much time with this?” Brenda Taylor agreed expressing impatience with “all this to-do.” .She urged, “Let’s move on.”
Frequent Commission attendee Charles Nelson concurred. “We’re too old for this kindergarten,” he said.
Prodded to respond to the chorus, Bailey said merely, “I don’t choose to elaborate.”
The only audience response at variance with all this concord had come from Linda Nettles Harris, who made what amounted to a stand-alone accusation that GOP Commissioner Terry Roland, who had not figured in the dialogue on Monday, was a “bully” and had made improper use of the term “racist” to describe his political opponents. Roland chose not to reply.
Then came the vote, and that was that. Commissioner Mark Billingsley, a Germantown Republican, would offer kudos for the inaugural “coffee and conversation” event sponsored by Ford last Friday, which he termed the kind of “positive” news often overlooked by the media.