Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fincher Didn't Know Memphis was in 8th District, Herron Tells Crowd

Posted By on Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 9:59 PM

Herron (center) surrounded by Raleigh-Frayser natives (l to r) Matt Kuhn, Dennis Dugan,  Karl  Schledwitz, and Bill Haltom
  • JB
  • Herron (center) surrounded by Raleigh-Frayser natives (l to r) Matt Kuhn, Dennis Dugan, Karl Schledwitz, and Bill Haltom

While being feted by longtime Memphis friends Bill and Claudia Haltom on his birthday at the Haltom’s Hein Park home Thursday night, 8th District congressional candidate Roy Herron couldn’t resist telling the crowd of well-wishers on hand about a gaffe made earlier Thursday by Democrat Herron’s Republican opponent, Stephen Fincher, a stay-away from Memphis for most of the campaign year.

Gathering four friends from the Raleigh-Frayser area around him to undescore his point, Herron, a state senator from Dresden, said, “My opponent was in my home county, Weakley County, the first time they let him out from under the wraps, the first time he’s been interviewed by a reporter from Memphis or Jackson or an AP reporter this whole month.” He then warmed to his punch line. “He managed to convey that he did not know that any of the city of Memphis was in the 8th Congressional District. You cannot make this stuff up.”

The birthday celebrants laughed appreciatively. “What else doesn’t he know?” a female voice was heard to say.

Herron went on: “I’ve known about Frayser for 50 years now. My wife grew up in Memphis. If you look at the 8th District race and want to make one clear distinction, there’s one candidate that knows that Memphis is in the 8th District, and one that doesn’t, and I’m the one that does. “He then nodded toward wife Nancy, standing nearby. “And there’s no candidate in any race that’s more indebted to Memphis. I married the best, the kindest, the sweetest in the whole world that came from Memphis. “

He finished up by saying, “I’ll be honored to represent the city of Memphis, and if you give me the opportunity, ladies and gentleman, I’ll work from Can to Can’t to represent you and the rest of the people from this congressional district.”

The Fincher remarks referred to by Herron occurred during an interview with Commercial Appeal reporter Richard Locker after Fincher had addressed students at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Locker asked Fincher what he might do for Memphis and Shelby County if elected, and the Republican candidate, a farmer/gospel singer from Frog Jump in Crockett County, responded, “I’m in Memphis a lot and see lots of folks. They’re close to us and part of the district…. The city of Memphis is not in. But we’re going to work for the state and country to do what we can. Memphis is a key part of the 8th District. I mean it’s close to us.”

When Locker asked Fincher for clarification on whether he thought parts of Memphis lay within the 8th District, Fincher responded that the district lines extended into Shelby County. “Just into the county part. I don’t think we have the city part. I don’t think the city of Memphis.”

At that point, according to Locker’s article about the incident in the CA, Fincher aide Paul Ciaramitaro prodded his boss, reminding him that Frayser, a part of Memphis, lay within the 8th District. Fincher then corrected himself, saying, “Frayser is. Ok, yes.”

Neither he nor Ciaramitaro would go on to mention the fact, nor was it remarked on in the article, but Raleigh, which adjoins Frayser, also lies within the 8th District.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

19 Charges, 19 Answers: Giannini Responds to Plaintiffs' Accusations

Posted By on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 7:20 AM

Brief Answers to charges in the August 5th Shelby County Election
September 28, 2010

(As the issue of alleged irregulariities in the Election Commission's oversight of the August 5 county election prepares to go to trial in Chancellor Arnold Goldin's court on Monday, October 4, Chairman Bill Giannini, on behalf of the Election Commission, addressed several of the contested points at the Flyer's request. The points and answers are exactly as Giannini supplied them.)

Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini
  • JB
  • Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini
1. There have been numerous recorded incidences of “vote swap.”

This problem has been long alleged. Every reported instance is tested by a technician who checks the calibration. Improper selection by the voter is typically found to be responsible. The vote can also be corrected by the voter. The voter touches the box for the incorrect name to remove the vote, then touches the box for the correct name. The summary page also allows the voter to review and correct any mistaken votes and is designed to prevent such occurrences. The voter is prompted to review multiple times, and therefore, by selecting the “Cast Ballot” button twice, is acknowledging that the ballot being cast reflects the intended choices.

2. Another distinct problem involved “party identifiers” being erroneously placed next to candidate names on the electronic voting screens.

Judges and school board members run as non-partisan candidates in Shelby County. We believe the voters who reported this problem were really looking at court clerk races, which are partisan. No judicial or school board candidate had a partisan label with his or her name.

3. Election Day August 5th the SCEC admitted that a human error occurred which included the Electronic Poll Book data.

Of the 5,390 voters who were affected by the incorrect data, 2023 filled out manual forms and were allowed to vote on the machines. The Shelby County Election Commission has agreed that it was possible that during the very early period, 7:00 to 7:30 a.m., some voters may have walked away from the polls. The Election Commission immediately informed the press and the public of the issue, outlining what voters might experience, and encouraging them to vote. By 8:00 a.m., all officers were made aware of the problem and briefed on the solution (Officers were instructed to look up the voter on the Electronic Poll Book and then to check a printout of people who had actually voted in July. If the voter was not on that list, he or she filled out a paper application and voted as usual). Based on call volume records at the Operations Center, the issue was largely resolved.

4. The SCEC actually potentially loaded a 2008 into the EPB.

Verifiable records indicate that this allegation is entirely false.

5. Voters’ reluctance to try and vote after being told that they already cast a vote in the General Election magnified by the arrest of two individuals who were charged with voting twice in the 2006 election (once in early voting and once in the general).

The county election commission does not instigate, investigate, or control the timing of investigations into possible voter fraud, arrests, or prosecution.

Inconsistent and Improper Voting Tallies

6. Poll watchers for the Democratic nominees requested turnout tallies; retrieved voter tallies subsequently given by the SCEC were inconsistent.

See #7

7. The inconsistent voter tallies are unexplainable because the final voter count taken after the last voter has voted each day should be the actual count released from the SCEC. In some instances, the count was off by as much as thirty (30) votes. Upon information and belief, a consistent pattern of widespread inconsistencies occurred at the twenty satellite locations throughout Shelby County over an approximate two-week period and these inconsistencies are so pervasive as to make the results of the August 5th election incurably uncertain.

Poll watchers receive a verbal number range to judge turnout. Often times the EV official estimates the number of voters rather than checking the machines. At the end of each day of early voting, staff reconciles ballot applications with the votes cast during the day. They do not get specific turnout numbers at the Early Voting sites and it is impossible for the County Election Commission to determine what information has been given to candidates or campaigns at polling locations each day. Daily numbers are distributed as a service ONLY and are always represented as unofficial. No information given by Poll staff is official and no data becomes official until having been reviewed by independent auditors and certified by the Election Commission after the election.

8. According to SCEC records, the Participating Voters List includes 176,119 voters who participated in the August 2010 election. Statement of Votes Cast lists 182,921 votes.

The Participating Voter List was incomplete as stated at the time the 176,119 report was demanded by the plaintiffs. Voter history update was NOT COMPLETE and the number is not correct. The number of 182,921is not the number of VOTES cast, it is the number of CARDS cast. There were 3,455 more cards cast than voters. 179,466 voters cast votes. Paper ballots for Absentee, Military and Overseas voters were 1 to 3 pages each. The number “cards cast” counts each of those pages. Therefore, there were 3,455 more cards cast than voters. The vote totals were reported to the public on election night. Paper tapes with totals were printed at all sites and for the early voting machines. The CPA auditing firms confirmed they all matched during certification.

9. Errors were also committed with the provisional ballots. Provisional ballot information was entered manually by different staff members at different times.

This is not improper nor a change from normal in counties our size.

10. SCEC has not endeavored to assure that the poll tapes have been signed. However, there were original signatures on many of the poll tapes in the trash bags. No explanation has been provided as to why the SCEC would make “extras” of poll tapes.

Election officials are instructed to sign the tapes. Of the 1,250 officials, most followed instructions. One set is filed with the Secretary of State and one set with the County Clerk. One set is attached to the certificate of results and kept by the auditors. Plaintiffs have been able to photograph tapes that were produced at sites for poll watchers. These tapes (COPIES) are produced and used as a service to poll-watchers after polls close. They are not used for vote tally or certification and therefore, no practice is in place insuring retrieval. Those that are returned are held until the certification process has concluded, at which time they are destroyed.

11. On August 17, 2010, employees of the SCEC were stopped from taking computers to their cars.

Employees were to be given use of County surplus computers to take home, partly for personal use and partly so they could work from home if necessary. Those computers had been surplus for some time and any information on them is years old. They do not have any current data and are part of an Adopt a PC program. This program was implemented by a previous administration and is not unique to the Shelby County Election Commission. Shelby County Government also utilizes this program.

12. Many of the voting machines that were used in the election were not sealed

Memory cards are removed from the voting machines election night and read into the central tabulator election night. They are then secured under lock and key by the CPA auditing firms. Voting machines used to record votes for the election are carefully sealed, seal numbers are then recorded and checked by officials (from each party) on election morning. Voting machines used in the election ARE not sealed after polls close. After the memory cards are removed, the machines used for voting do not hold election data and no longer need seals.

13. Multiple voting machines were returned to the SCEC on August 12, 2010, a week after the election.

It takes days to pickup and return 1198 machines from 236 precincts. The law, 2-9-107, says the machines should be picked up within 24 hours or “as soon thereafter as practical” to be returned to their storage place.

Early Voting and Election Day Problems

14. Several new polling sites authorized by the SCEC.
At the Feb. 25th election commission meeting, candidates for the May primaries and independent candidates for the August 5 election were certified. During the same meeting, the final precinct consolidations and precinct splits were approved. All candidates became aware of their certification as candidates. New registration cards were mailed to all voters whose precincts had changed, over 100,000, several weeks before the May election. Also, ads were run in newspapers of general circulation, with maps for added information.

15. Several polling sites opened later than when they were scheduled to open on August 5th.

The election commission addressed such reports throughout election day. According to records, the precincts where the problem was reported were up and running on or close to the correct time and officers and inspectors are prepared to sign affidavits to that effect. In a county the size of Shelby, it is not unusual to have a small number of precincts that do not open promptly at 7 a.m. Shelby County relies on third party site superintendents that are outside of the control of Election officials. The machines that reportedly were not working were not voting machines but the Electronic Poll Books.

16. Questions regarding Databases-

First, relational databases use primary keys to manage the information in individual segments (tables) of the DB but use the relationships between various elements across different tables to tie things together; and, this is where the parties in question fail in their assumptions about the candidate records in the database. The actual ballot shows that the relationships across the DB are correct as the candidates are correctly listed on the ballot and on the reports. Second, the county does not stop doing work against the database during early voting or even during regular voting; it must continue to use the system and to manage its elections. Thus, the database continues to be used throughout the election process, including during early voting. Early voting values are not included in the database until after completion of voting.

17. “No Count” Databases-

“No Count” races are special races that are used for creating separate ballots for each party that does not already have a race associated with the party. It can also be use for races known in GEMS as “acclimation races.” There is nothing improper about these races, they are a standard feature in the GEMS system.

18. Questions regarding use of “Multiple Databases”-

In reference to multiple databases, there is one database used for aggregating and reporting the election. The audit log shows the import of information into that database from other data sources. This is a standard and common practice in systems. Audit principles are maintained through the ability to track and audit those imports.

19. Questions regarding Cordova 09- (Claim that # of Voters increased from 19 to 619)- This claim is entirely false and is a misinterpretation of the data. Throughout the process of discovery by the plaintiffs, they were made aware that some information they were receiving was incomplete. Post election processes, including Voter history updates, take days by Election Commission staff to reconcile and prepare for audit and certification. Certified records show that 619 voters cast votes on election day in Cordova 09 and the Participating Voter List (PVL) is public record and available for review.

(For more information on the post-election issue and on the forthcoming trial, starting on Monday, October 4, see this week's Cover Story, "The Gang(s) That Couldn't Shoot Straight.")

Democratic Defections Mute 'Election' Message in Whistleblowing Resolution

Posted By on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 7:15 AM

Commissioner Walter Bailey
  • Commissioner Walter Bailey
Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a Democrat, two weeks ago sought unsuccessfully to put the Commission on record as suggesting that Ryder, a Republican national committeeman and the GOP’s national redistricting supervisor, recuse himself from the current election case.

Trying again last week to get the Commission to address his concerns about issues regarding the August 5 election and challenges to it, Mulroy succeeded in getting an 8-0 committee vote approving a resolution that guaranteed protection to whistleblowers in county government and specifically mentioned those employees who might report election irregularities.

Even as watered down after group discussion, the resolution was something of a coup for Mulroy, who had in mind recent claims made by defeated Sheriff’s candidate Randy Wade and Shelby county Democratic chairman Van Turner, both of whom reported alleged disclosures from unidentified “John Doe” informants, With only seven votes necessary on the full commission and with eight seemingly committed already, the issue seemed resolved.

But Mulroy’s triumph proved short-lived. When the commission took up the issue at its regular bi-weekly public meeting on Monday, Republican commissioner Wyatt Bunker praised the resolution in principle as an umbrella over employees in county government but objected to any specific language as partisan “hype” meant to reinforce losing Democrats’ claims about the late election.

The issue of including such language hung in the balance through an extended back-and-forth discussion, with Mulroy maintaining that to denude the resolution of specific language relating to elections would send the wrong message, with another potentially controversial election coming up on November 2.

He got some backup from Republican Mike Carpenter, who commented that it would be a disservice to the commission members who struggled to reach agreement on compromise language last week to drop such language this week.,

But the disposition of the matter was unexpectedly turned in the opposite direction by Walter Bailey, a returning commission member whose identity during several earlier terms had been that of a staunchly partisan Democrat. Bailey argued that unanimity on the commission was important and if it required deleting uses of the word “election” to get everyone behind a whistleblowing resolution, then the word should go.

Though he would ultimately vote with Mulroy to keep the terminology, chairman Sidney Chism echoed Bailey’s sentiments, and Justin Ford, a new member who has yet to utter a word in commission debate, would follow Bailey’s lead and vote to excise specific election references. Those two Democratic defections would carry the day for Bunker’s motion to omit any mention of elections.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Commission Acts to Safeguard Whistleblowers

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 6:48 PM

Commissioner Steve Mulroy and the Shelby County Commission apparently will be doing what they can to prevent future election debacles like the one experienced on Aug. 5.

A commission committee voted 8-0 yesterday to approve a resolution put forward by Mulroy that would extend whistleblower protection for any county employees looking to come forward with information about official impropriety.

“I don’t think you have to be an election reform junkie to think that it’s really important that we get it right,” Mulroy said.

The unanimous vote ensures the resolution will move to a chance to be fully ratified Monday, where Mulroy is confident it will pass.

Tennessee already has whistleblower protection laws in place, but Mulroy felt additional protection was needed to ensure public employees feel safe when reporting actions they deem to be improper.

Current state law only protects employees who have been terminated from their position, reported on clearly defined illegal activity, and who were terminated solely for reporting said illegal activity.

Mulroy’s resolution extends those elements to protect against any adverse employment action, protects any improper activity reported even if it is not necessarily illegal, and states that the reporting need only be a “significant” factor in the adverse action.

Election Commission Chairman Bill Giannini said he thought current protections were sufficient, but that he would support any action that encouraged transparency.

“I’m having a hard time understanding what sort of retribution someone might fear, Giannini said. “That’s been something that’s kind of puzzled me from day one, but, that said, I’ll be all in support of any protection the county commission deems is warranted to protect any employee that comes forward under any situation. I think employees should feel like they don’t have to fear telling the truth about anything.”

The issue of election impropriety and whistleblower protection has been especially prominent lately after the multitude of problems experienced during the Aug. 5 election, during which voter databases were inaccurately uploaded and many citizens were delayed in voting.

The situation spiraling from the fallout has resulted in defeated Democratic candidate Randy Wade claiming he was contacted by an anonymous election commission worker, and Democratic party chairman Van Turner claiming to have been contacted by a second anonymous worker, both claiming to have witnessed improprieties more severe than those admitted by the commission.

Regina Newman, another defeated Democratic candidate from Aug. 5 and former attorney representing the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit, said the lack of adequate whistleblower protection has hindered their ability to move forward in the lawsuit. Both Turner and Wade claim not to know the identity of the informants, making it impossible for them to testify in court.

“We can’t bring these people in to testify if we don’t know who they are,” Newman said.

It seems that Mulroy, Giannini, and the commission would be in favor of more open disclosure of the information claimed by the plaintiffs.

Due to Democrats losing 9 out of 10 elections in August, it would be easy to assume the election issue is a partisan one. However the unanimous passage of this resolution and the attitudes of key officials involved seem to dictate otherwise.

In session, the debate focused on removing language that directly referenced the previous election, and on to whom potential whistleblowers would report.

“The Republicans were getting all bent out of shape,” Mulroy said, “and they just didn’t want to say it that way to call attention to the ongoing election dispute.”

The call for removing the previous election reference was pushed by County Atty. Kelly Rayne, a longtime employee of Democratic Mayor A C Wharton, Jr., who now reports to newly elected County Mayor Mark Luttrell, a Republican.

“It’s been disappointing to see the partisan talk about the commission,” Giannini said. “From day one the commission has been unified on every point with both Democrats and Republicans. It helps the media gain viewership or readership to claim that there’s some partisan event to this but there’s not, and there never has been.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stephens to Leave Election Commission, Work for Consolidation

Posted By on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 at 1:49 PM

The Flyer has learned that Brian Stephens, one of three Republican members of the Shelby County Election Commission, is resigning his position, effective Wednesday, and Republican members of the Shelby County legislative delegation will caucus Wednesday night to name a replacement.

Stephens has indicated that he would continue to serve until his successor is named. He also intends to work on behalf of a consolidation referendum scheduled for a vote on November 2.

Named to the Commission in early 2009, Stephens has been the subject of controversy because of his affiliation with Rebuild Government, the nonprofit group which established itself early this year as an ostensible fact-finding group on the issue of city/county consolidation and has since recast itself as an advocacy organization on behalf of consolidation.

Among others, Tom Guleff, a co-chairman of the anti-consolidation organization “Save Shelby County,” has insisted that Stephens either dissolve his ties to Rebuild Government or resign his position on the Commission in light of the fact that Rebuild Government is no longer publicly neutral on the forthcoming consolidation referendum.

Among those interested In filling the Commission vacancy left by Stephens’ departure are former Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson, former city councilman Brent Taylor, and GOP activist and former League of Women Voters president Dee Nollner.

Steve Stamson
  • Steve Stamson

UPDATE: Former Juvenile Court clerk Stamson was elected as Brian Stephens' successor in a caucus of the Shelby County Republican legislative delegation Wednesday night.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

With New Poll Suggesting She's Far Behind Cohen, Bergmann Opens HQ

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 11:58 PM

Bergmann addressing supporters Tuesday night
  • JB
  • Bergmann addressing supporters Tuesday night

A new poll by Yacoubian Research suggests that the 9th District congressional campaign of Republican nominee Charlotte Bergmann is essentially no more viable than a primary challenge to incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen by former mayor Willie Herenton had been.

Herenton lost to Cohen by the margin of 4 to 1. Bergmann fares better, but just barely, in the Yacoubian survey, which was completed on September 7. In a sample of 205 “likely” 9th District voters, varied by race, sex, gender, age, and income in proportion to district ratios, 66.2 percent said they would vote for Cohen if the election were held today, while 22.9 percent opted for Bergmann. Answering “not sure” were 10.9 percent."

The finding didn’t’ seem to faze Bergmann, who opened her campaign headquarters on South Yates in East Memphis Tuesday night with a largish and overwhelmingly white and Republican crowd in attendance. “In order for us to win, we need all the Republicans to get out, and we need at least 15 percent of the Democrats,” Bergmann told the attendees, who included state Republican chairman Chris Devaney of Nashville.

The Yacoubian poll, exclusive to the Flyer, has Cohen winning large majorities among Democrats and independents, with Bergman predominating only among Republicans. The incumbent also was preferred by voters in all income categories except those making more than $70,000 a year. African-American voters chose Cohen by large majorities, and Caucasian females also liked him by a narrow margin. Bergmann had more supporters among Caucasian males. Cohen was the favorite in all age and education categories.

“I find it especially striking that Bergmann, an African-American female, polled only 1 percent in that category. That fact should weight very heavily on November 2, “pollster Berje Yacoubian said.

Looking for a silver lining, Bergmann and her supporters might be encouraged by the fact that white males favored her by 45.5 percent to Cohen’s 39.4 percent, and that her edge over Cohen among declared Republicans was 76.4 percent to 15.9 percent. Yacoubian also found the latter statistic noteworthy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Alternate Reality: Dr. Yahweh (a.k.a. Sweet Willie Wine) and Ernest Withers

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 9:23 AM

Dr. Yahweh
  • Dr. Yahweh
“Just the facts, ma’am,” the admirably hard-headed Sgt. Joe Friday of the Los Angeles police used to say when interviewing subjects on Dragnet, a vintage police procedural from the early days of American commercial television in the ‘50s.

The problem is that, when there is large-scale cultural fragmentation, different groups of people not only may adopt varying sets of “facts,” they often interpret the same set of shared facts in radically different ways.

A clear example occurred last week at the conclusion of the most recent mass meeting held to protest the August 5 county election results. Disbelief was directed not only at the results of that election, which saw Republicans win all the contested partisan races save one , but at authority figures in general — indeed at authority itself.

The Commercial Appeal, which often comes in for abuse across the political spectrum, from left to right, was predictably condemned as a tool of the establishment. This was perhaps understandable in the sense that the CA had, like other media, reported the unwelcome election news and could therefore be blamed by dissenters for reinforcing it.

As it happened, the CA had also, during the preceding week, reported the extraordinary news that legendary civil rights photographer Ernest Withers had been an undercover informant for the FBI, spying on the movement and its personalities even as he chronicled them.

So the exhaustively documented investigative article by Marc Perrusquia came in for skepticism to the point that it, too, was denounced by a speaker or two as a fiction while Withers was characterized as yet another victim of a lying power establishment.

Here’s the intriguing part: One of the attendees at last week’s protest meeting was Dr. Suhkara A. Yahweh, a well-known activist who wears African garb and concerns himself with community affairs, especially those of the African American community, speaking at meetings of the city council or county commission and often intervening in court cases, as in the ongoing voting-rights issue, with briefs of his own.

A generation or two ago, Yahweh — an adopted surname identical to that used by scholars as an alternate transliteration of “Jehovah” — was known by another name: Lance “Sweet Willie Wine” Watson.

Watson was a major figure in the Invaders, a black action group that was active at the time of the 1968 sanitation strike and one which, the CA article showed, Withers had filed numerous reports on. Watson himself, referred to in one of the photographer’s reports as a “phony,” had been the subject of intense scrutiny.

So, when last week’s meeting was over and he was asked about all those invasions of his privacy, what did Watson/Wine/Yahweh have to say about them? Basically, that they never happened. Or that, if they happened, they were not voluntary — that, if Withers gave information to the FBI, it was coerced and unreliable: a purposeful misdirection, in short.

Yahweh offered an explanation identical to that which is featured in an article published last Thursday in the Tri-State Defender.

The article, based on an interview conducted by the newspaper with two surviving sons of Ernest Withers, describes a situation in which men — apparently agents but never precisely identified as such — forcibly entered the photographer’s studio in 1968 as he, assisted by sons Rome and Billy, was working on deadline for the TSD. The intruders are described as scattering some photographs and demanding that Withers identify the people in them.

The TSD article offers this description of Yahweh’s reaction to the story:

“What happens if the FBI comes to him and he is a photographer and say(s), “Let me see those pictures you took down in Mississippi. Who is this person here? Who is this person there….You’ve got to tell them who they are,” said Yahweh.

“They say Ok, we’ll give you 200 dollars for those pictures. Now, what are you doing? You are paying him to inform you who the people are on the pictures.”

That is essentially what Yahweh, surrounded by other closely listening attendees of the voter protest meeting, told the Flyer last Thursday night.

And that version, along with the distinctly different interpretation of the August 5 election results, may come to take its place in the larger alternate reality now developing in sections of the African-American community — one totally at odds with how the mainstream sees things.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Election Protesters Turn Fury on Consolidation, Public Officials

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 5:10 PM

At Thursday night’s latest meeting called to protest alleged vote irregularities in the August 5 county election, held at Morning Star Church on Park Avenue, speakers repeated past allegations and made some new ones and called for a resounding “no” to the forthcoming November 2 ballot referendum on consolidation.

Much of the emphasis had shifted from efforts to affect the outcome of the August 5 election — though supporting legal efforts to do so remained on the agenda. Randy Wade, who had been Democratic candidate for sheriff, said that his major concern had changed from his own defeat (“that’s behind me now’) to what he said was the real object of alleged vote alteration in August — to prepare the way “for us [Memphians] to give up our charter.”

Here Wade elaborates on that theme and extols the contributions to the voter protest by blogger/broadcaster Thaddeus Matthews:

When Matthews himself spoke, he proclaimed, “In Shelby County, there are some individuals who need to go to jail.” Calling the names of some public officials indicted in the Tennessee Waltz scandal becaause “they took some money” — John Ford, Roscoe Dixon, Kathryn Bowers, Michael Hooks, Rickey Peete — he said, “When individuals steal my constitutional rights, they can go free."

Said Matthews: “The Shelby County Election Commission has committed a crime. Now even Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder can see what is going on.” In a variation on what Wade had said, Mathews said, “It’s only about two things in Shelby County: consolidation and the Obama vote.” Among the officials that came in for verbal attack were District Attorney General Bill Gibbons and Memphis mayor A C. Wharton (“We’ll take care of him next year”), as well as Shelby County commissioners Sidney Chism, James Harvey, and Justin Ford, who were chided for their absence Thursday night.

Here Matthews works the crowd into a vocal demonstration of “people power” and repeats a prior vow to “shut this city down.”

Other speakers included Regina Morrison Newman, the former Trustee who lost her job in the election and now works as an assistant city treasurer; Shep Wilbun, the defeated candidate for Juvenile Court clerk, who outlined in detail what he said was a plot to exchange his vote totals for those of victorious Republican rival Joy Touliatos; Darrick “Dee” Harris; George Monger; Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy; and Shelby County Democratic chairman Van Turner.

Fincher Getting Flack on the Right for Dodging Debates

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 1:52 PM

Stephen Fincher
  • Stephen Fincher
For understandable reasons, Roy Herron, the Democratic nominee for the 8th Congressional District, is chastising Republican nominee Stephen Fincher for his refusal to debate Herron. What is more unusual is that sources on the Right, including dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, are now joining in the attack.

The Mid-South Tea Party, which is backing independent candidate Donn Janes, took Fincher to task in a press release on Thursday, Said the release in part, referring to an aborted debate that WREG-TV of Memphis attempted to arrange:

“…Mr. Fincher knows that debates such as this one will expose a candidate’s actual positions. These positions are often otherwise blurred through misleading advertisements paid for by special interest groups bent on maintaining power in D.C. As Mr. Fincher is the Republican Club nominee, we ask that he stop cowering behind his Washington D.C. handlers and stand up and fight for conservative principles.”

The press release touted Janes, who had not been included in the station’s debate invitation, but it also had kind words for Democrat Herron, who had been invited to participate and had accepted and who, said the release, “seems eager to position himself as equally conservative as Mr. Fincher.”

This is not the first time the Mid-South Tea Party has had a bone to pick with Fincher on the subject. During the Republican primary, when 8th District GOP rivals Ron Kirkland and George Flinn took part in a debate organized by the Bartlett Civic Organization, but Fincher did not, a fact which angered Mid-South Tea Party members. The group subsequently picketed Fincher at one of his own campaign appearances.

Adding his own criticism of Fincher this week was Jeff Ward of Tipton County, former head of the influential TeamGOP organization, a grass-roots Republican group, and currently organizing a successor organization, Planet GOP.

"We've never before been cowards"

Ward, at the moment an active supporter of legislative candidate Jim Harden, a Republican running against Democrat Jimmy Naifeh, the former state House Speaker, said, “We Tennessee Republicans have made mistakes in the past, and we haven’t always been brilliant, but we’ve never before been cowards. Fincher needs to debate. The people will demand it. Hiding ain’t the way we do business in Tennessee.”

Besides declining the WREG invitation, Fincher had also failed to respond to an invitation from the Memphis Rotary Club for a debate with Herron. Inquiring about Fincher’s reasons for avoiding the latter debate, the Jackson Sun received a written statement from Fincher spokesman: Paul Ciaramitaro, who had previously worked for Flinn’s campaign.

Said Ciaramitaro, by way of explaining Fincher’s motives:

"He's not going to debate a man whose campaign commercials are filled with blatant lies that nonpartisan groups have already rejected. And he will not debate a man who can't even say the name of the woman he would vote for as Speaker of the House. Senator Herron is right when he says the voters deserve the chance to make an informed decision. But they aren't going to get useful information from a slick career politician who spreads vicious personal attacks in an effort to tack more time onto his 24 years of government employment."

Ciaramitaro’s reference to “vicious personal attacks” was apparently in response to a Herron TV ad last week in which the Democratic candidate accuses Fincher of breaking the law and questions his financial disclosures, as well as Fincher’s commitment to Social Security and his alleged defense of tax breaks for corporations.

Fincher has also said he was disinclined to debate someone who was committed to backing current U.S. House Speaker. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, to continue as Speaker in the next Congress. Like the other Republican candidates, Fincher had made Pelosi something of a sounding board for attacks in the primary.

Ward, for one, will have none of the Pelosi argument, which has also been made by 7th District U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn in her refusal to debate Democratic opponent Greg Rabidoux. “It makes more sense for Marsha, whose opponent isn’t considered that serious, but Roy Herron is a substantial candidate. We all know that.”

Another problem with the Fincher campaign, said Ward, a former Kirkland supporter, was that it seemed to him to lack significant local direction. “The only person in that campaign I know anything about from anywhere around here is Jimmy Wallace.” Wallace is a Jackson businessman and longtime GOP activist.

Flincher, a farmer and gospel singer from Frog Jump, a small community in Crockett County, was heavily supported by state and national Republican sources last year when he first indicated his intent to challenge longtime Democratic congressman John Tanner, who subsequently withdrew from the race. At that point, Kirkland and Flinn had emerged as Republican opponents for Fincher.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking at Ernest Withers, Then and Now

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 9:24 AM

Ernest Withers in 2003
  • JB
  • Ernest Withers in 2003
Confusion, pure and simple, has been the dominant motif in the things said and written by people who knew Ernest Withers since the appearance in The Commercial Appeal Sunday of that extraordinary story by investigative reporter Marc Perrusquia documenting the legendary photojournalist’s undercover work for the FBI.

It is not a simple matter of having to revise one’s estimate of Withers as a professional or as a man. It is a matter of wondering whether such a revision is necessary, or, if necessary, of how thorough-going it should be.

The thousands of pictures he took — iconic, perfectly framed, and yet perfectly natural — not only documented the African-American culture of Withers’ time — the music, the fire and the algebra of black life, and, above all, the revolt against white domination — but these images did as much as anything else to sustain and feed and energize the ongoing revolution.

That Withers turns out to have been a spy on that very revolution is no small revelation, and it will take a while to digest what that means. Withers differs significantly from Benedict Arnold, the gallant American general who won the signal battle of Saratoga for the American revolution, then rejected and betrayed the very cause he had fought for. Withers never stopped chronicling change — and, in the process, fostering it.

As far as we can tell, he never stopped believing in that change — though the case can be made that he was an eavesdropper on the civil rights movement, and that his photographs were but one aspect of that, and his reports to the FBI, for which he was paid, were but another. In that scenario, Withers could be construed as a distanced and disinterested onlooker.

Furthering that notion is the fact that Withers, like any other chronicler of events, like any other journalist, was continually exposed to all sides of his subject matter, including their undersides, and had a highly developed sense of gossip, which ultimately could be channeled and exploited by others for their own ends.

To those who knew him, he was free with his confidences; to others, it now seems clear, he may have charged for them, and this is a matter of genuine concern.

Appended below is the article I wrote for the Flyer upon his death, having got to know him a bit. I regarded that as a great fortune then and am unlikely to change my mind about it now or henceforth, no matter how the jury of his peers finally rules.

I will say this: He once told me a somewhat detailed and much earthier version of Dr. Martin Luther King’s intended evening itinerary for the date on which he was killed than the one which has entered the history books and the oft-repeated reminiscences of friends. At the time I wondered where he got his information; now, I wonder how much he told the FBI.

But this is the same man who had himself been a pathfinder for black progress, integrating the Memphis police force with a handful of other African Americans. And, again, the pictures speak for themselves: They are anything but morally neutral and uncommitted.

I suspect that, unless it can be demonstrated that Withers’ service to the FBI resulted in serious and verifiable harm to the principals and principles of civil rights — and, frankly, the jury will have to remain out on that one for a while — his reputation will survive the current seismic shock and settle back into the large and lofty and secure niche it occupied at the time of his death in 2007.

Remembering Ernest Withers (Flyer, October 24, 2007)

One of the great serendipities I've experienced as a journalist was the decision by former Memphis Magazine editor Tim Sampson back in 1993, on the 25th anniversary of the death in Memphis of Dr. Martin Luther King, to use as the centerpiece of an anniversary issue an archival piece of mine, along with pictures by the great photographer Ernest Withers.

Uncannily often, Withers' photographs directly illustrated specific scenes of my narrative, which had been written originally on the day after the assassination and concerned the events of that traumatic day. It was a little like being partnered with Michelangelo, and I was more than grateful.

The publication of that issue led to an invitation from Beale Street impresario John Elkington for Withers and me to collaborate on a book having to do with the history of Beale Street, and the two of us subsequently spent a good deal of time going through the treasure trove that was Withers' photographic inventory.

For various reasons, most of them having to do with funding, the book as envisioned never came to pass (though years later Elkington published a similar volume), but the experience led to an enduring friendship.

One day, when I was having car trouble, Ernest gave me a ride home, from downtown to Parkway Village, the still predominantly white area where I was living at the time, just beginning a demographic changeover. At the time it appeared as though it might become a success of bi-racial living, and we talked for some time about that prospect.

That very evening, Ernest was a panelist on the old WKNO show, Informed Sources, and, instead of focusing on the subject at hand, whatever it was, chose to discourse at length on the sociology of Parkway Village. Watching at home, I was delighted - though the host and other panelists, intent on discussing another subject, one of those pro-forma public-affairs things, may not have been.

They should have been. This was the man, remember, who documented the glory and the grief of our city and our land as both passed from one age into another, which was required to be its diametrical opposite, no less. Ernest saw what was happening in Parkway Village as a possible trope for that, and whatever he had to say about it needed to be listened to.

Sadly, of course, the neighborhood in question was not able to maintain the blissfully integrated status that Ernest Withers, an eternally hopeful one despite his ever-realistic eye, imagined for it.

As various eulogists have noted, last week and this, Withers not only chronicled the civil rights era but the local African-American sportscape and the teeming music scene emanating from, an influenced by black Memphians.

He was also, as we noted editorially last week, a family man, and it had to be enormously difficult for him that, in the course of a single calendar year while he was in his 70s (he was 85 at the time of his death), he buried three of his own children.

Among my souvenirs is a photograph I arranged to have taken of Ernest Withers with my youngest son Justin and my daughter-in-law Ellen, both residents of Atlanta, on an occasion when they were visiting Memphis a few years back. Happy as they were with the memento, the younger Bakers expressed something of a reservation.

What they'd really wanted, explained Ellen, a museum curator who was even then, in fact, planning for a forthcoming Withers exhibit in Atlanta, was a picture of the two of them taken by the master.

Silly of me not to have realized that. To be in a picture by Ernest Withers was to become part of history - a favor he bestowed on legions of struggling ordinary folk as well on the high and mighty of our time.

See also ”Ernest Withers Was There” and ”Ernest Withers Reconsidered.”

Friday, September 10, 2010

Election Commission Files Point-by-Point Rebuttal of Election Litigants, Promises More Info

Posted By on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 at 7:54 AM

SCEC chairman Giannini meets the press

A point-by-point legal response to charges of serious irregularities in its conduct of the August 5 county election was filed in Chancery Court Thursday by the Shelby County Election Commission, and SCEC chairman Bill Giannini promised an even more detailed response for public consumption in the next few days."

The Commission filing, prepared by lawyer John Ryder, directly rebutted most of the specific allegations in the amended emergency petition filed last month by 10 plaintiffs — eight Democratic nominees who were certified as having been defeated in races for county offices and two defeated candidates for judicial positions.

The litigants’ petition asks that the results of the election be declared invalid as “incurably uncertain.”
There was partial concurrence on some of the points alleged by the plaintiffs — but only to minor circumstantial aspects of them and not at all to any charge of serious irregularity. The most obvious concession by the Commission — composed of three Republicans and two Democrats — was its admission that “there was a problem with the entry of date for the electronic poll book.”

This admission, relating to the fact that the names of some 5400 people who had early-voted during the May primary season had been improperly fed into the data bank for August 5 election-day voting, had already been acknowledged by the Commission. Previously, in reporting on its own internal investigation of the matter, the Commission had conceded what it termed “human error” and denied any consequences that could have transformed the result of any of the election races.

That reasoning, repeated again in Thursday’s filing, was that at least 2000 of the potentially affected voters ended up voting, either by means of provisional ballots or after signing “fail-safe” affidavits that allowed them to vote normally. The number of those remaining, argued the Commission, was insufficient to have altered any outcome. (It should be noted, however, that by this reasoning, one of the petitioners, defeated judicial candidate Glenn Wright, came within 1,516 votes of the winning candidate in his race, putting Wright potentially within the margin of doubt.)

In conversation afterward, Giannini and other commission members elaborated on some of the points at issue in the dispute. One of the most controversial has been that of a “manual override” function in the county’s Diebold machinery, alleged by the plaintiffs to have permitted alteration of the voting results. As explained by Giannini and the others, the use of the manual override function was restricted to allowing the addition of the aforesaid provisional ballots to the voting totals.

Giannini said that the other allegations — including one relating to disparities in the numbers of votes cast and voters certified as having voted and one that some of the machines were programmed with a “ghost race” in addition to the ones on the regular ballot visible to voters — would be addressed in greater detail in a follow-up document.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities: The Post-Election Rift Widens

Posted By on Fri, Sep 3, 2010 at 10:04 AM

Judge Joyce Broffit administers oath to Mayor Luttrell as wife Pat looks on.
  • JB
  • Judge Joyce Broffit administers oath to Mayor Luttrell as wife Pat looks on.

On Wednesday morning, in the Cannon Center of downtown Memphis, the winners in the August 5 Shelby County election took turns swearing their vows before a mellowed-out crowd, in a ceremony that culminated with the newly inaugurated Shelby County mayor, Mark Luttrell, invoking an image of “the city on the hill” and professing himself “the Number One advocate of this great county.”

On Thursday evening, at Bloomfield Baptist Church on South Parkway, five miles further south, some of the losers in the August 5 Shelby County election and their supporters faced a highly energized standing-room-only crowd of 500 souls and took turns vowing reprisals for a “stolen” election — including the prospect of “shutting this city down.” And the idea of merging city and county took a pummeling as well.

That was how things stood nearly a month after one glitch-marred election and two months before another one, at which the issue of consolidation is at stake.

To say that two different visions were on display on consecutive days — one of comity, the other of conflict — would be an understatement.

"Sweetness and light" at Cannon Center

All was sweetness and light at the Cannon Center on Wednesday, with the idea of family predominating.

There was new Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn taking an oath administered by his cousin, former county mayor Jim Rout, for an office his father, “Sonny” Mashburn, once held. There was Mike Ritz, a Republican, renewing the oath of office for his District 1 county commission seat, with his son Kevin officiating and with his wife Sharon standing by — both of them Democrats.

There was another District 1 commissioner, Mike Carpenter, being sworn in again, with his entire family on stage with him, including tiny daughter Lily Beth, who kept waving to the crowd. There was District 5 commissioner Steve Mulroy up there renewing his vows, accompanied by wife Amy and Brandon Rodgers, his “little brother” in the Big Brother program.

There was Melvin Burgess Jr. being sworn in as a county commissioner from District 2, as his father, former Memphis police director Melvin Burgess Sr., sat proudly in the audience. There was Justin Ford taking the vow for the District 3 commission seat held until fairly recently by his father, outgoing interim mayor Joe Ford. And Wyatt Bunker, backed by his father, former county School Board member Homer Bunker, was sworn in again for his District 4 commission seat.

And in a final transcending act of unity, Luttrell made a point of citing Joe Ford, his recent election rival, for his service as mayor and calling for a standing ovation.

"Shutting this city down!"

There were standing ovations at Bloomfield Baptist, a night later, as well. But they were for statements of defiance, for summonses to retribution, and for standing as a bloc against a “criminal” power establishment.

Among the speakers at Bloomfield was Randy Wade, who vowed not to reveal the real identity of informant “John Doe,”. Wade, the defeated candidate for Sheriff, alleges "Doe" to be a source in the Election Commission who confided in him that Election Commission officials knew a day before the August 5 election that early-voting data from the May primary election had been fed into the Electronic Poll Book for the August vote. That allegation, if verified, would transform what the Election Commission diagnosed as “human error” into something more sinister.

Aggrieved candidates Newman, Wilbun, Wade, and Thompson
  • JB
  • Aggrieved candidates Newman, Wilbun, Wade, and Thompson

“Yes, I have an informant,” proclaimed Wade, who went on to say, “Before I turn this individual over to the TBI [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, now conducting an investigation of the election], I will die and go to hell….. He will remain as John Doe. If in fact they take me to jail all hell will break loose in this own. I am not playing with this. We mean business.”

Wade, who was one of several speakers denouncing the election as stolen and the perpetrators of the theft as criminal, said that voters had been the victims of “a coup d’etat,” one that had begun with efforts to shut down or muzzle such representatives of the African-American media as the Silver Star News, the Tri-State Defender, and blogger/broadcaster Thaddeus Matthews.

Matthews himself took the microphone, telling the crowd, “Somebody in Shelby County decided they were going to steal an election, and they did it quite well.” He then addressed himself to “the white establishment and handkerchief-head Negroes.” An earlier speaker, Darrick “Dee” Harris, had gone down the laundry list of suspicious circumstances in the August 5 election process but had refrained (though with some irony) from directing specific accusations at Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini.

Matthews was less tender toward the Election Commission head. After referring to several alleged personal derelictions on Giannini’s part, he said, “We invite Bill Giannini to come into the hood, and we’ll deal with him the way they deal in the hood.”

And he vowed, “If Randy Wade goes to jail, we will shut this city down. Some white folks ain’t seen black power before. Some black folks ain’t used black power before. We’re not talking about burning no buildings. Hell, they’re our buildings. We’re talking about economically shutting this city down!”

Launching a fund-raising drive (which the Bloomfield pastor, the Rev. Ralph White, would later designate the “Shelby County Voter Education Fund), Matthews said, “If you ain’t no sissy, and you ain’t no punk, if you’re not a homosexual, you’re gone bring some money down here tonight!”

Matthews does his stuff as Anthony Amp Elmore archives the moment
  • JB
  • Matthews does his stuff as Anthony "Amp' Elmore archives the moment

"They stole the votes!"

George Monger, Wade’s youthful associate, had previously dilated on what consultants for the defeated Democratic candidates, now parties to a Chancery Court suit to overturn the election as “incurably uncertain, had called the “ghost race.” This, according to the consultants, was a hidden feature of the Diebold election-machine machinery which permitted possible alteration of vote totals in the actual ballot races and which allegedly targeted predominantly black precincts.

Upon Wade’s insistence, Monger would pinpoint the two persons with direct oversight of such a feature as Rich Holden, the Election Commission chief administrator, and Dennis Boyce, the Commission’s IT director. (Boyce was identified in the Commission’s official report as the individual who had inadvertently fed the wrong early-voting data into the August electronic poll book.)

Shep Wilbun, who lost his bid to return to the Juvenile Court clerkship he once held, would similarly expound on another recently discovered Diebold feature, a “manual override” capability which would also allow vote alteration. Contending that some 77 percent of American elections employed hardware or software owned by the ESS company, current proprietors of Diebold technology, Wilbun called for remedial action and said, “We’ve got to do ourselves a favor, we’ve also got to do America a favor.”

Wilbun contended that Shelby County experienced “immoral” and dishonest elections ever since 1990, and lawyer Charles Carpenter, a longtime associate of former Mayor Willie Herenton, reviewed for the crowd a whole series of allegedly fraudulent actions in county elections, ranging from attempts to discard votes belonging to victorious congressional candidate Harold Ford Sr. in 1974 to the whittling down of Herenton’s 3000-votewinning margin in 1991 to a mere 142 votes.

“They stole the votes but they didn’t steal enough,” Carpenter declared. He noted that supporters of defeated Mayor Dick Hackett had not contested the results of the 1991 race. “You know why? Because people would have gone to jail. They were stealing votes then, they’re stealing votes now.” He called for massive voter turnouts from African Americans as the only way to safeguard the election process.

And Carpenter vigorously seconded the opposition to the forthcoming referendum on consolidation which Matthews had introduced and Wade passionately concurred with.

"Consolidation is not for us!"

“Let me tell you something: Consolidation is not for us!” Matthews had thundered. Wade had elaborated, “Let me say this. I am not in the middle. I am against consolidation. “Noting that the proposed Metro charter allows the suburban municipalities to keep their charters but would call for that of Memphis to lapse, he said, “Why is it we have to give ours up?” — answering his own question with the assertion that “The city is majority African American.”

So dramatic was the rhetorical turn against consolidation that Rev. White himself, a member of the Charter Commission and a sometime spokesman for the charter referendum, backed off from it. “If you don’t like it don’t vote for it,” he said. “That is not going to divide me from my community.”

After all the tumult and the shouting, White would pronounce the benediction for the evening, one in which he called for the Lord’s blessing on Memphis and included a plea: “Let it be a city of greatness.”

The crowd at Bloomfield reacts
  • JB
  • The crowd at Bloomfield reacts

UPDATE:On the same night that a November 2 ballot referendum for city/county consolidation came in for verbal abuse at a meeting to protest alleged August 5 election irregularities, the Shelby County Democratic Executive Committee voted lopsidedly to oppose the consolidation measure.

At its regular monthly meeting Thursday night, the Democratic committee recalled a previously tabled recommendation from its steering committee to oppose consolidation and then approved that motion by a reported vote of 34 to 9, with five abstaining.

The committee further voted to approve $2,000 in funding for a campaign against the consolidation proposal. Before the vote was taken, three prominent consolidation proponents -- Matt Kuhn, Darrell Cobbins of Rebuild Government, and Andre Fowlkes of the Metro Charter Commission – were invited to make the case for supporting the ballot referendum.

Objections to it ranged far and wide, but key points were the proposal’s prohibition of partisan elections for Metro office and the fact that Memphis would relinquish its charter while the suburban municipalities would be allowed to keep theirs.

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