In a somewhat surprising take on the nature of his job, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell on Tuesday described his relationship with his legislative body, the Shelby County Commission, as an "adversary relationship." In
an address to the members of the Rotary Club of Memphis at the University Club, Luttrell said he'd offered that description as an alternative way of looking at things to an observer who'd asked him about his "contentious relationship" with the commission.
"We do get worked over," the mayor acknowledged about the relationship between his administration and the commission (which, it must be said, has often nursed a fair number of feuds and internal divisions within itself). "But," said the mayor, and it was a crucial "but," that kind of relationship "is in concert with what the founding fathers devised."
In other words, the system of checks and balances that was built into the Constitution seems to have carried over into the governing practices of our nation's various subordinate institutions, as well. Everybody is everybody else's watchdog.
A case in point was Monday's commission meeting, when the bone of contention was a plan devised by the county administration, faced with forthcoming reductions of $1.9 million annually in state funding for the county's incarceration here of state prisoners. The administration had presented a plan whereby it would recoup most of that expected deficit by outsourcing Corrections Center food services to the Aramark Corporation, which would endeavor "in good faith" to re-employ as many as possible of the current 31 workers employed in food services, while the administration would seek to relocate those who were not rehired in jobs elsewhere in county government.
The commission's discussion of this plan was touch-and-go, especially since sincere and vociferous complaints were heard early on from some of the affected employees, and since the issue, by its nature, was the sort that would invite party-line differences on the commission, divided 7-6 between majority Democrats and minority Republicans. There was a tendency among the Republicans to mount stiff upper lips, sigh, and describe the situation as one of making the best of a bad situation. That was balanced by an outcry among several Democrats that the workers were being thrown under the bus. But there was a middle ground, made evident from the start by the fact that one Republican, Terry Roland, and two Democrats, Van Turner and Willie Brooks, headed in opposite rhetorical directions from those of their party-mates.
Not that there wasn't some invective thrown about, along with charges of duplicity and deceit, along with intermittently serious tension between the two sides and between county CAO Harvey Kennedy and Democratic critic Eddie Jones. But in the end, with some amendments attached to the proposition that cemented the guarantees of continued employment for the food-services employees, the adversarial atmosphere had served to clarify and complete the proposed arrangement in the form of a legitimate compromise.
Critics of American government often make the comparison to law-making to the unpleasant process of sausage-making. But ideally that very process is what makes the end result digestible and, with any luck, easy on the system.