Tuesday, September 13, 2011

County Commission Picks Seven Members for Interim School Board

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 8:34 AM

Kyle makes his case before Commission.
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  • Kyle makes his case before Commission.
It took several hours, but the Shelby County Commission, which began its deliberations in mid-afternoon, finally managed on Monday evening to fill the last seven places on a 23-member interim school board that will guide the development of a unified all-county school system up to the point of completed merger on September 1, 2013.

Given the fact that three members of the Commission — Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland, all from District 4, which covers the non-Memphis portions of Shelby County — have made it clear that they oppose the whole process of merger, everybody seems to have gotten something of what they wanted.

At one end of the Commission’s political spectrum, Democratic member Steve Mulroy¸ a professed liberal, unabashed supporter of consolidation and representative of the Commission’s District 5, an east Memphis-based area, confided that he saw his first choices named to several of the seats being filled, while Republican Thomas, an equally adamant conservative and representative of the suburbs, was able to exult late in the process, “We got one!”

The source of Thomas’s satisfaction was the triumph of Kevin Woods, a rank-and-file Republican and employee of a technology firm, over Jim Kyle, the state Senate’s Democratic leader, in the vote for the new school board’s District 5. That outcome had come as something of a surprise when, in the course of a runoff ballot, Democrat Justin Ford joined the Commission’s six Republicans to create a narrow 7-6 edge for Woods over the favored Kyle.

That District 5 contest left a sour taste for several Democratic commissioners, notably Walter Bailey and James Harvey, who condemned what they saw as ad hominem insults directed against Kyle — particularly one from Bunker, who had denounced Kyle, a respected figure in the General Assembly, as “a political hack.”

Roland, who had himself, early and often, challenged what he regarded as Democratic control of the vote process, would advise reporters afterward to keep in mind that his GOP colleague was under the effects of strong sedatives prescribed for severe back pain.

But Bunker, who had left midway during Monday’s meeting to get medical attention and then returned, declined to withdraw his epithet after the meeting when chairman Sidney Chism made a point of lamenting comments that had been “out of order.” The concept of “out of order” applied only to procedural matters, contended Bunker, who defended what he termed “freedom of speech” and said he had merely “called a spade a spade.”

In the aftermath of the vote, Kyle had congratulated Woods and accounted for the latter’s victory by saying, “Well, he wasn’t me.” In a telephone conversation later, he would elaborate. “It would appear that the venom and partisan rhetoric of Washington have made their way down to our local level.”

In what may have been an indirect comment on the District 5 contest, Chism afterward would say of his advance wishes for Monday’s vote, “I wanted four African Americans. I got five.” (Woods is an African American.)

Although several other contests involved multiple ballots, none was as volatile as that for District 5. And none was as prolonged as that for District 1, which was resolved at the very end of the marathon meeting after commissioners could not agree on a choice when voting had first commenced.

Ultimately, the decision would go to Chris Caldwell of Morgan Keegan, a compromise choice who had, all things considered, more appeal across various lines than such other nominees as retired deputy Sammie Jones, assistant D.A. Christopher Lareau, the Rev. Noel Hutchison, and Katy Spurlock of the Urban Child Institute.

Other choices Monday were: city prosecutor Teresa Jones in District 2; Medtronic administrator Raphael McInnis in District 3; Attorney Venecia Kimbrow in District 4; FedEx administrator Reginald Porter in District 6; and cell-tower entrepreneur Billy Orgel in District 7.

The seven board members will join the existing nine members of the Memphis City Schools board and seven members of the Shelby County Schools board. The newly constituted 23-member board will supervise the affairs of MCS and SCS beginning October 1. Their exact tenure may extend only through the election of a permanent seven-member all-county board in August2012 if, as special Commission attorney Lori Patterson advised the Commission Monday, federal Judge Hardy Mays approves a consent decree allowing an early takeover by the elected board.

Patterson also said, in answer to a question from Commissioner Mike Ritz, who was back in attendance after a month’s absence on business, that Judge Mays might also approve an earlier-than-expected increase in the ultimate board’s membership to 13 members. Under Judge Mays’ rulings and a Memorandum of Understanding signed onto by various parties, that possibility has already been enabled for the post-merger period.

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