Changing the Guard 

Irony and nervous chuckles precede a key decision at the Shelby County Commission.

A key decision got made by the Shelby County Commission at its regular Monday meeting, and, except for a cryptic -- but revealing -- remark made by Commissioner David Lillard, there was no indication of any underlying fuss.

The moment came when nominations were in order for a commission vice chair to serve with the coming year's newly elected chairman, Democrat Michael Hooks, who had served for a year as vice chairman with retiring chair Marilyn Loeffel, a Republican..

"As ironic as it may seem," began Lillard, to nervous chuckles around the commission table. He then placed in nomination the name of Tom Moss, who would go on to be elected unanimously.

The "irony," as Lillard's fellow commissioners well knew, was that Lillard is a close confidante of Commissioner Bruce Thompson, a first-term GOP conservative like himself, and that Thompson had made no secret in the previous week of his desire to become vicechairman.

The tradition of the commission -- which numbers seven Republicans, all white, and six Democrats, all African-American -- is to alternate the chairmanship by party each year. By custom, one year's vice chair becomes the next year's chair. So, in effect, Thompson was making a bid to become chairman in 2005/6.

It was the second time he had floated such plans. Last year, Thompson tried to put together a coalition to upset tradition and defeat Loeffel, with whom he has feuded both publicly and privately, for the chairmanship. (As one sign of the enduring estrangement between the two, Thompson pointedly remained seated and didn't clap on Monday when other commissioners rose to applaud Loeffel for her year of service.)

In last year's case, Thompson saw that the votes were not forthcoming and folded his hand short of the nomination process itself. Going into the weekend, Thompson was still optimistic that he could amass enough votes to defeat fellow Republican Moss, a homebuilder/developer who is somewhat less ideological than Thompson or at least more prone to give-and-take across party lines.

Thompson had indicated that he had commitments from Lillard and Joyce Avery, both first-term Republicans like himself, and hoped to add enough others to make a majority. As was the case in his bid last year, he fell well short, and Moss, who was at the top of the GOP seniority list, won the support even of Avery, who said Monday, "I had told Bruce I would support him if Tom didn't want to be chairman."

Tom did want to -- making that an important "if." Lillard then sealed the bargain for Moss by nominating him.

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