As of this writing, Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout has not exercised his prerogative, secured last week by agreement with his city-government counterpart, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, to name a member of the state House of Representatives to the Public Building Authority that will oversee construction of the new arena to house the transplanted Grizzlies of the NBA.
The county mayor, who was taken by surprise when Herenton unilaterally named state Senator John Ford to the Authority, promptly insisted on the right to name a House member. Legislation mandating a member from each chamber went virtually unnoticed through the House and Senate recently and was signed into law by Governor Don Sundquist.
Ford had been recommended, as it turns out, by Lt. Governor John Wilder, the Senates presiding officer. But his appointment by Herenton can also be regarded as a further sign of rapprochement between the Memphis mayor and the still politically influential Ford family, as well as recognition that Ford has frequently been a confidante for prominent Memphis developers who maintain an interest in where and how the new arena is built.
(State Senator Steve Cohen, a longtime boosters of both collegiate and professional sports in Memphis, had also wanted the Seate appointment.)
Almost as soon as Routs right to name a House member Ð in tandem with House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington -- had been established, state Rep. Paul Stanley publicly recommended his House GOP colleague Tre Hargett of Bartlett in a letter to Rout which Stanley made public. Another House member, Rep. Larry Miller, a North Memphis Democrat and an African American, also made it known he wants to serve on the PBA.
Hargetts candidacy has not sat well with state Rep. Kathryn Bowers and other Shelby House members who were active in passing enabling legislation to get state aid for the arena. Hargett, as Bowers and others note, was an opponent of the legislation, as he is of a good many other proposals that involve additional financial commitment on the part of state government.(Hargett was recently co-chair of a special House committee looking into budget-cutting possibilities.)
It may not sit well, either, with Rout, who put himself on the line for the arena and worked mightily to work out acceptable funding sources for it.
It surely doesnt sit well with Naifeh, who with Rout will make the choice once the two of them sit down to review possibilities. The Speaker made a point of walking down the aisle in the aftermath of the unprecedented Sunday session and, clearly aware that Miller and Bowers were discussing the matter with a visitor, saying in a loud voice, Larry, youre my man! Youre my man!
Since matters of political and racial balance are important in determining the PBAs membership, however, and since Hargett is regarded as unacceptable by Bowers and others, a compromise solution may emerge. As Bowers sees it, Rep. Joe Kent, a moderate white Republican from Southeast Memphis, would be an acceptable member, and she foresees a resolution whereby both Kent and Miller get named to the Authority.
After all, she notes, the legislation says at least one House member has to be on the PBA. It doesnt says more than one cant be.