Biding Time 

Monday's meeting of the Shelby County Commission was not the swan song of the current body before a newly elected commission is seated after the August 3rd general election, but there was something ex post facto about this week's meeting, all the same.

Outgoing 5th District commissioner Bruce Thompson could not resist pointing out an irony in his colleagues' unanimous and routine decision to award a $13 million contract to a private firm to provide

health care to the inmates in the county's corrections system. "I'm all for private management and out-sourcing," Thompson commented wryly -- a reminder of his long and futile campaign to win commission approval for just such an arrangement to manage the county incarceration units.

Similarly, the appearance before the commission of Memphis schools superintendent Carol Johnson and members of her board to plead for additional funding had a pro forma air about it. Johnson later acknowledged to the media that she had mainly meant to "remind" the commission of its responsibilities to the schools. Meanwhile, a somewhat desultory debate had given commission members a chance to rehearse some of their familiar chorus lines. Republican John Willingham, a candidate for county mayor, allowed himself one more bromide on county government's failure "to straighten out [its] finances and numbers," while Democrat Walter Bailey indulged himself in one more lamentation that the city schools were the victims of "trickle-down" financing.

For all that, the county's previously agreed-upon tax rate, which determined the rate of school funding, was whisked through with only perfunctory nay votes from Bailey and Michael Hooks.

Bailey mounted one more last stand when he waged what turned out to be a solitary campaign to prevent, or at least defer, a resolution to reauthorize the commission needs-assessment committee which, for the last year, has made an effort to predetermine the ideal spending ratios for the city and county schools. "A grave disservice to both boards -- a shotgun approach," he pronounced. But to no avail; the resolution went through handily.

Monday's meeting also saw the wrapping up, more or less, of the various remaining protests against the use of the newly purchased Diebold voting machines. As Election Commission director James Johnson explained, state law, which forbids any ballot changes within 40 days of an election, rendered it too late to do anything about the potentially confusing number and arrangement of the various screens. And complaints about the accuracy of the machines themselves from Minister Yahweh (the community activist once known as Sweet Willie Wine) had been formally "received" and duly shelved as recently as the committee meetings held last week by the commission.

So it was that a variety of issues and problems belonging to the current commission's tenure were passed along for probable reconsideration by the next one. And so it goes, as ever, at election time.

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