Friday, November 28, 2003

Hitting Home

Residence becomes an issue in District 89.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 28, 2003 at 4:00 AM

More or less off the radar screen, the District 89 state House race goes on to determine a successor to City Council member-elect Carol Chumney.

Since no Republican filed to compete in the February 10th special election, the winner in effect will be determined by the two entrants in the December 16th Democratic primary, either consultant Jeff Sullivan or activist Beverly Robinson Marrero.

State senator Steve Cohen, Marrero's key backer, has been vocal on the subject that only his candidate currently lives inside the district. Candidate Sullivan and wife Maura Black Sullivan, director of planning for Shelby County schools, have meanwhile rented a house on Graham Street, within the official confines of District 89. Maura Sullivan, who is expecting the couple's first child on or about Election Day, says the couple's current household on Reese Street was within District 89 until a redrawing of legislative lines in recent years. "But we're preparing to move," she says, adding somewhat wearily, "I've got a job, a new baby, a move, and an election all happening at once."

An interesting twist: Both candidates were asked at a recent forum how long they intended to remain in office if elected. Marrero, who will turn 65 in January, indicated she intended to serve indefinitely. The 39-year-old Sullivan, citing the fact that he'll be dealing with a growing family, opined that he would be inclined to serve only a term or two.

· Shelby County commissioner Michael Hooks, the former county assessor who drew a petition at the Election Commission last week to seek his old job back next year, was tuning up his rhetoric in an unusual way.

One of the items being considered by the commission's land-use committee on Wednesday was an application by developer Mark Lovell to construct a wedding chapel in the Collierville area. Upon the committee's approval of the application (pending approval by the full commission at its next meeting), Hooks then addressed Lovell about a wholly imaginary Web site ( on which he could, as a legally entitled county commissioner, perform marriages.

Said the commissioner: "I would like to make applicant aware that one of the powers vested in the county commission is to marry. So if you want to visit my Web site '' we've got the attorney general's interpretation recently that I don't even have to be present. With the present digital and video technology we can marry off-site, and mine includes and is not limited to a hologram so you can look right at me, and I can actually look like I'm there, and I'm not there. [laughter] Next item, please."

Lovell, who had remained silent throughout the commission's deliberations on his zoning proposal, was moved to respond: "Is there an underscore between 'get' and 'hitched'?" he asked.

You had to be there.

· Shrugging off a fresh setback, county commissioner John Willingham vowed this week to persist in his efforts to strengthen commission oversight of FedExForum developments.

In its regular public meeting Monday, the commission approved a surprise motion from Linda Rendtorff deferring for two weeks the body's vote on engaging its own consultant to monitor the Forum contract and construction. This at least temporarily reversed the commission's decision -- voted unanimously last week by Willingham's Public Works and Tourism Committee -- to employ the local firm of Barnett Naylor/Hanscomb.

In the meantime, Public Building Authority executive director Dave Bennett had briefed commission members on the Forum issue in committee meetings Monday morning, and that was enough, said several commission members later on, to reassure them that things were on track.

Willingham demurred, along with commissioners Walter Bailey, Michael Hooks, Joyce Avery, and Marilyn Loeffel. Indulging his penchant for rendering things graphically, Willingham drew a chart for his fellow commissioners, outlining some of the complicated relationships and problem areas that concerned him.

Specifically, he wondered out loud if portions of the Forum might end up being built with inferior construction materials in order to bring the project to completion by next August, under what has now been established as a guaranteed construction-cost ceiling of $250 million.

Willingham also expressed alarm about possible hidden penalties the county might be liable for under the Forum contract. Last week he and other commission dissenters groused about a penalty clause awarding $3.75 million to HOOPS, the NBA Grizzlies' coordinating organization, because the arena wasn't ready for play this season.

"I'm just a small-time lawyer," complained big-time lawyer Bailey, contending that at no time during negotiations of the contract with HOOPS had the cited section been explained -- as it was later -- as a de facto prepayment of moving expenses. "It's been said that there were meanings and sub-meanings," Bailey said. "Well, I wasn't part of that sub-meaning. This was a subterfuge."


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