Monday, October 17, 2011

Commission to Vote Monday on New Commissioner, Title X Contract

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 12:20 AM

Brent Taylor (left), Brian Stephens
  • JB
  • Brent Taylor (left), Brian Stephens
The Shelby County Commission is due to make two important decisions at its regular public meeting on Monday.

As things now stand, the Commission —reduced to 12 members by the recent departure of District 1, Position 3 Commissioner Mike Carpenter for a think-tank job in Nashville — will vote to add a new interim member so as to fill out its ranks to the full charter allotment of 13.

Then, unless there are successful efforts to change the order of precedence, the newly configured Commission will vote on what has become the vexing question of a contract with the Christ Community Health Center to assist the county Health Department in administering Title X federal funds for family planning activities.

CCHC was recently selected by an ad hoc county panel to receive a pass-through grant of almost $400,000 for that purpose. The Center was one of three applicants for the grant, the others being the Memphis Health Center and Planned Parenthood of Memphis.

Until this year Planned Parenthood has always been a designated agent for local Title X activity, in contract with the state. Two factors, both animated by politics as such, changed that: (1) legislation passed by the 2011 General Assembly that transferred the responsibility and contracting power for Title X to county health departments; and (2) direct political pressure on the local departments from ranking Republican state officials to exclude Planned Parenthood from its accustomed share of Title X responsibility. (A technical flaw in the aforementioned legislation had nullified an attempt to ban outright the participation of Planned Parenthood.)

The exclusion of Planned Parenthood, taboo with the GOP’s social conservatives because of its identification in their minds with legalized abortion, was successful everywhere except in Shelby County, where Yvonne Madlock, Shelby County Health Department director, temporized, finally issuing an RFP (request for proposal) to prospective Title X partners. The three agencies that bid for the contract all met the Department’s published standards but CCHC ranked higher on a checklist prepared by the county’s ad hoc panel.

Or so the Commission was informed last month by Madlock and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Representatives of Planned Parenthood and their supporters on the Commission, who included most of the Democratic members, suspected that the selection process was skewed so as to conform its results with the expressed wishes of state Republican officials, notably Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

The result was a postponement of the Commission vote of the matter, originally scheduled for last month, and a re-hearing of the matter — first in last Wednesday’s meeting of the Commission’s Hospitals and Health Committee, and then at Monday’s full commission meeting, where the Commission will vote up or down on the CCHC Title X contract (which, incidentally, involves no abortion activity).

The committee meeting on Wednesday ended with the commissioners deadlocking 5-5, with five Democrats voting against the CCHC contract and four Republicans, along with Democrat Walter Bailey, voting for it. The defection from the skeptics’ ranks of Bailey, who had been instrumental in postponing the original vote, was regarded as a positive omen by proponents of the contract. One other Democrat, James Harvey, abstained from voting on Wednesday. Should he do so again on Monday or vote No, and should the rest of those voting on Wednesday repeat their preferences, there might still be a deadlock on Monday, even with the expected Yes vote from Republican Mike Ritz, who was absent on Wednesday.

Much will hinge on whether the new interim Commissioner who is named on Monday will have the expected opportunity to vote on the matter and, if so, how the new commissioner votes. Although several applicants were interviewed by the Commission on Wednesday, the choice is likely to come down to two applicants — former City Council member Brent Taylor and former Election Commissioner Brian Stephens. Both are Republicans, as was Carpenter.

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