Monday, October 31, 2011

Commission Still Likes Scenario 1, but Puts Off Voting on It

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 at 11:15 PM

Commissioners Henri Brtooks and Wyatt Bunker get technical counsel from Commission parliamentarian Kristi Kinard (recessed at left)
  • JB
  • Commissioners Henri Brtooks and Wyatt Bunker get technical counsel from Commission parliamentarian Kristi Kinard (recessed at left)

For an elected body that has at times elevated contentiousness to new heights of rancor and intensity, the Shelby County Commission has somehow settled down and come up with a reapportionment plan that has managed to please everybody.

Well, almost everybody. Two members had reservations on Monday when the Commission met for what was intended to be the first of three readings of a redistricting ordinance. 

District 1 commissioner Mike Ritz was upset that the mapmakers at the Office of Planning and Development had  concerned themselves more with keeping precinct lines intact than with leaving municipal boundaries undisturbed.

And District 5 commissioner Steve Mulroy is a holdout for Scenario 2, an alternate OPD plan that posits 13 single-member districts rather than the six dual-member districts and one single-member district of Scenario 1, the plan under discussion Monday.

For the record, both Ritz and Mulroy are term-limited and thus presumably don’t have personal axes to grind.

“It might as well be an incumbent-protection plan,” says Mulroy of Scenario 1, noting, among other objections, that the larger districts of that configuration would require proportionately greater effort and expense for first-time, unestablished campaigners. He also contends that multi-member districts dilute the influence of minorities.

For his part, Ritz believes strongly that city and county constituencies should be treated as discrete blocs, and, though he has ample confidence that he has served his mostly Memphis-based constituency well during his two terms so far, he notes that his residence is in a corner of Germantown that was attached to District 1 ten years ago in a manner halfway between jerry- built and gerrymandered.

Ritz made enough headway with his fellow commissioners that a majority — persuaded also by an argument from new commissioner Brent Taylor, a City Council veteran, that legal protocol required it — opted for sending Scenario 1 back to committee to attend to some modest nipping and tucking of the proposed district lines.

Mulroy is likely to have tougher sledding in his effort to convince a majority of his colleagues to ditch the idea of multi-member districts. In preliminary discussions last week in committee, several of them endorsed the concept of shared responsibility in a district.

And Mulroy himself, like virtually everybody else on the commission, acknowledges that Scenario 1 offers something for everybody: 7 of the 13 proposed districts have clear African-American majorities, and the same ratio promises fruitful election results for Democrats.

At the same time, outer-county Republicans, who have often complained of being short-shrifted, will have picked up an additional representative—going from 3 suburban members to 4 — if Scenario 1 is approved.

The proposed single-member entity would continue to be District 5, and, though the district would be  pitched further north than at present, it could prove balanced enough to be competitive, racially and party-wise.  Similarly, the East Memphis-based District 1 should allow both Democrats and Republicans a chance at election.

In any case, commissioners will have an opportunity in committee next week to review the situation before proceeding with the first of three required readings in two weeks. They have a deadline of December 31 to submit a finished and approved plan to the Election Commission, and the third and last reading will require a two-thirds vote to be official.

Scenario 1 may get some modest  nips and tuciks
  • Scenario 1 may get some modest nips and tuciks

"STRUT! Memphis" Scores for Legally Underserved

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 at 3:37 PM

Thursday, October 27, 2011

County Commission to Consider Redistricting Plan on Monday

Posted By on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 at 8:40 AM

Starting with next Monday, Halloween, and continuing through the rest of the holidays, the members of the Shelby County Commission will engage in a fundamental redesign. By December 31, New Year’s Eve, they must submit to the county Election Commission a district plan in conformity with the 2010 census.

Josh White of the Office of Planning and Development presented two alternatives to commissioners in committee on Wednesday. Scenario One involved 6 two-member districts with 1 single-member district, while Scenario Two prescribed 13 single-member districts. (The current proportions are 4 three-member districts and 1 single-member district.)

Both plans were calculated with an eye toward ensuring full and proportionate representation for non-Memphis residents (four members in both plans) and compliance with the Voting Right Act in ensuring African Americans the opportunity for proportionate representation (seven seas in both plans).

In the course of a brief discussion, several commissioners expressed a preference for Scenario One. Commissioners Terry Roland and Chris Thomas of what is currently District 4 and Heidi Shafer of District 1 all said that arrangement allowed for useful cooperation and shared responsibility so as to benefit both constituents and the affected commissioners.

Commissioner Steve Mulroy of District 5, at present the commission’s only representative of a single-member district, made the case for Scenario Two, citing the advantages of clearer accountability, ease of contact, and ease of campaigning. Mulroy also noted that a 13-district single-member system could be made to do double duty with districts in the new all-county school board (always presuming a court decree enabled 13 School Board districts rather than the 7 currently mandated by charter).

On the latter point, chairman Walter Bailey, chairman of the commission’s Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting, suggested that a court decree could also waive the existing requirement for single-member School Board districts, thereby allowing the Scenario 1 dual-member system to be applied to the School Board as well.

In the end, those commissioners present voted 5-1-1 (Mulroy voting no; Sidney Chism abstaining) to submit Scenario 1 for discussion on the agenda at the commissioner’s next meeting on Monday, October 31.

Passage of a redistricting ordinance requires three readings, with the last one passing the commission by a two/thirds majority.

Current Shelby County Commission districts with population stats
  • Current Shelby County Commission districts with population stats

Scenario 1 for revised  County Commission districts
  • Scenario 1 for revised County Commission districts

Population breakdown for Scenario 1
  • Population breakdown for Scenario 1

Scenario 2 for revised County Commission districts
  • Scenario 2 for revised County Commission districts

Population breakdown for Scenario 2
  • Population breakdown for Scenario 2

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

State Election Coordinator's Memphis Visit Highlights Photo-ID Battle

Posted By on Wed, Oct 26, 2011 at 6:09 AM

Mark Goins
  • Mark Goins
Even before the 2012 elections themselves take place in Tennessee, a war has begun over the ground rules for voting — specifically over the law, passed in the 2011 General Assembly, requiring would-be voters to present an officially recognized photo ID at their polling place.

Against a background of charges that the law was passed as part of a Republican-backed national effort to suppress turnout among likely Democratic voters, especially seniors and low-income voters, and of efforts to change the law, a series of informational events have been scheduled in Memphis, including two this week featuring Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins.

On Wednesday, October 26, Goins will appear at a joint meeting of the American Association for Retired People and the Aging Commission of the Mid-South at noon at 2670 Union Avenue. Later Wednesday Goins will be on hand at the Board of Education building on Avery St. for an informational session sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Another meeting, sponsored by the Shelby County Election Commission and featuring Tennessee Safety Driver Services director Michael Hogan, will be held in the Shelby County Commission chambers in the Vasco A. Smith Jr. Administration Building from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 1.

Meanwhile, Lowe Finney and Mike Turner, the Democratic chairs of the state Senate and state House, respectively, have filed legislation to repeal the photo-ID bill, contending, in Finney’s words, “This new requirement will put hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans in danger of losing their right to vote.”

Objections to the law have focused on the difficulty and expense of acquiring photo IDs, especially for seniors, as well as on the exclusion of college IDs from eligibility.

Last week, state Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons announced an agreement with 30 county clerks in Tennessee, including Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn, to provide free of charge upgraded drivers’ licenses with photos to drivers who possess drivers’ licenses without photos.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last-Ditch Attempt to Reverse Title X Vote Appears Forestalled

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Kennedy and Madlock during recent Title X hearing
  • JB
  • Kennedy and Madlock during recent Title X hearing
Saying “never say die" in a cause doesn’t mean that the cause you’re espousing won’t die. Veteran Democrat Lexie Carter and Shelby County Commissioner James Harvey may be in the process of finding that out this week.

Carter has held several positions in the Shelby County Democratic Party and is a co-host (with Flyer contributor Cheri DelBrocco) of “Eyes on Memphis,” a Wednesday morning show on radio 990, KWAM-AM, that often serves as a pulpit for Democratic Party positions.

Harvey, who recently ran for city mayor, is a Democratic commissioner of conspicuous unpredictability and changeable attitudes. From time to time he takes firm and even courageous positions and stands by them in the face of pressure, but more often he talks himself in and out of opinions for and against a given issue, and more than once he has begun a speech with a determination to do one thing and ended with a pledge to do its precise opposite.

Last week after the Commission voted 9-4 to approve a family-planning contract with Christ Community Health Services to administer a $397,000 federal grant to provide Title X family-planning services, Carter’s partisan zeal and Harvey’s penchant for reversing himself created an opportunity to reconsider that Commission vote. To do so would give Planned Parenthood, the traditional Title X agency locally, another chance to bid for the contract.

Carter talked Harvey, one of three Democrats to vote for the CCHS contract, into using his position as someone on the prevailing side of that vote to call for a reconsideration at the Commission’s next meeting on Monday, October 31. Parliamentary procedure mandates that only someone who had previously been with the majority on a completed vote can seek such a formal reconsideration.

Four of the Commission’s seven Democrats had voted against the CCHS contract last Monday, either because they preferred the bid of Planned Parenthood on the merits or because they resisted state GOP efforts to disenfranchise Planned Parenthood as a Title X provider, or for both reasons.

Three Democrats — Harvey, Steve Mulroy, and Justin Ford — had joined the Commission’s six Republicans to approve the CCHS contract. Each did so in a context of some ambivalence. Mulroy and Ford had voted the other way in a preliminary vote the previous Wednesday in committee, while Harvey had abstained.

Ford has not stated publicly his reasons for changing his vote. Mulroy had agonized over the matter and voted for the CCHS contract last week only after obtaining spoken assurances from county CAO Harvey Kennedy that Christ Community Health Services would be held to strict compliance with the terms of the county’s RFP (request for proposal) on Title X.

Strict compliance, in that context, meant, for example, that CCHS would faithfully provide third-party referrals to patients seeking emergency contraception (e.g., via the “morning after” pill), though the agency would not perform such measures on its own premises. It also meant that CCHS would include abortion in the alternatives it described to patients, though; again, no such procedure would be performed at any of the CCHS centers (seven, including one mobile unit).

Abortion itself is not directly covered by Title X funding, though Planned Parenthood’s historical inclusion of abortion among the services it provides patients at large has been the sticking point for the social conservatives who loom large in the state GOP establishment. Only a technical flaw in a General Assembly measure last spring kept Planned Parenthood from being proscribed from Title X funding altogether.

After a conversation with Carter in the wake of last week’s vote endorsing the CCHS contract, Harvey, who had said, “I just thought I would give Christ Community the benefit of the doubt,” made his decision to reverse that position and, as a member of the prevailing side, to call for a re-vote. He also requested that Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell hold off on any formal action approving the contract.

Mulroy kept his options open and in the meantime had asked for a conference with Kennedy and county Health Department director Yvonne Madlock to explore again the nature of the county’s reassurances on the matter of CCHS’s strict compliance with the county’s RFP.

It was while Mulroy was having that conversation on Monday of this week that he was told Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell had already signed the Commission’s resolution of last week extending the Title X contract to CCHS. He was also told that Luttrell would also be signing the contract itself in short order.

That is where matters stood on Tuesday morning, with the prospect of overturning last week’s Commission vote and forestalling the CCHS contract looking remote to the point of being moot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

D.A. Weirich Pulls a Petition, Gets Ready to Run

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 6:10 PM

District Attorney General Amy Weirich
  • JB
  • District Attorney General Amy Weirich
Believe it or not, the election season of 2012 is already under way, and one of the first candidates actively running is Amy Weirich, the longtime assistant District Attorney General who became D.A. in her own right when her former boss, longtime D.A. Bill Gibbons, was named state Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner earlier this year.

Weirich is running as a Republican, though she’s not exactly avid about the partisan aspects of her race. Her answer to a question about that after she picked up a filing petition at the downtown Election Commission office on Monday is worth quoting in its entirety:

“Of all of the elected positions in the county, it’s the one that’s the least partisan in terms of what we do and how we function and the way we work. We certainly do not pay attention to Republican Party agendas, Democratic Party agendas, or Tea Party agendas, We do what the people need. We do what the community asks. We are the voice of the community. Our job is to pursue the guilty and protect the innocent. We don’t honestly care what their political affiliation is or what their party affiliation is. But that [partisan elections] is the way it is in Shelby County, and so we’ve got to deal with it.”

That said, why is she running in the Republican primary rather than the Democratiuc primary? “Just lifelong. I’ve always been a Republican, and it’s the party I remember. But in terms of doing a job, it really doesn’t have much to do with the functioning of the DA’s office.”

So far no opponent has declared against Weirich, but, as Weirich notes: “The filing deadline is December 9, so who knows what will happen then? “

Many people regard her as almost a prohibitive favorite. Would she agree? ““I do. I’ve done a good job since January. I’ve been doing a good job for 20 years in this office, and I think I have what it takes to lead this community to the next level.”

As she notes, the early deadline for candidate filing — December 8, a day earlier than she mentioned, according to the Election Commission’s website — will soon be upon us. County primaries will follow on March 6 (the same day as Tennessee’s presidential primary), and the county general election will be held on August 2.

Given the depth of Weirich’s support in Republican ranks, it is unlikely she’ll draw a serious primary opponent (though spoilers are always possible), and the Democrats have not yet fixed on a candidate. Speculation earlier this year focused on former state legislator and city council member Carol Chumney and former judicial candidate Glen Wright.

The term which Weirich and any potential opponent would be seeking is the final two years of the eight-year term to which Gibbons was elected in 2006. The full eight-year term will be up again in 2014.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chattanoogans Tell School Board, Transition Committee How Unification Went Down for Them

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2011 at 12:24 AM

Chattanoogans Varney, Murrah, and Ricks
  • JB
  • Chattanoogans Varney, Murrah, and Ricks

Four veterans of school consolidation in Chattanooga — two white and two black — offered some advice and good wishes Thursday evening to their counterparts in Memphis, but the inescapable conclusion is that the job is going to be much harder here.

In fact, one of the visitors — Jesse Register, the first superintendent of a unified Chattanooga/Hamilton County school system — took a dim view of the escape clause in this year’s Norris-Todd bill that allows suburban communities a shot at separate special school districts when the merger of the Memphis and Shelby County systems becomes final on September 1, 2012.

Such an outcome would be “dysfunctional…non-productive,” said Register, who has had a hand in guiding several school-merger situations and who now serves as director of the Metro Nashville school district. “You need to win people over.”

Register and three other veterans of the mid-‘90s Hamilton County merger — Jack Murrah, former president of the Lyndhurst Foundation of Chattanooga, former principal and teacher Edna Varner, and Hamilton County school board member George Ricks — came to the FedEx Technology Center at the University of Memphis to share their experience with members of the new unified Shelby County school board and the transition task force.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, was facilitator for the event, the second joint meeting of the new board and transition committee. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the Hyde Family Foundation, including Pitt and Barbara Hyde, and representatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In an introduction for the session, Murrah provided a background for the Chattanooga/Hamilton County school-system merger that sounded strikingly familiar in some of its particulars. The Chattanooga city system had been majority black, while the county system, which “suffered from a culture of self-satisfaction,” was majority white.
Just as has been the case in Shelby County, the prospect of merger was greeted with “a great deal of angst,” said Register.

There were as many differences between the Hamilton County situation and that of Shelby County as similarities, however. The two systems in Hamilton County were combined in 1997 after a three-year planning period, creating a merger system which today is less than one-third the size (40,000 students) and considerably more integrated (59 percent white) than the combined Memphis and Shelby County systems will be under the best of outcomes.

Another difference: In addition to allowing for special school districts in the wake of the Memphis/Shelby County school-system merger, the state legislature has created two other escape hatches — a greatly expanded charter-school system and licensing of virtual-school networks — and shows an inclination to create even more, including the imminent prospect of vouchers for private schools.

None of those prospects were serious alternatives during the Hamilton County merger, noted the Chattanooga quartet, who agreed that their situation, while challenging, possessed nowhere near the degree of difficulty confronting Memphians and Shelby Countians.

Murrah, who described himself as a converted skeptic on the process of consolidation, said the process of bringing all parties together face to face may be as important as the end product two years hence Register managed to be upbeat without sugarcoating the obstacles Hamilton County had to overcome — business apathy, suburban distrust, black flight from the city, and “sabotage.” Collectively, he called them "land mines" and said, "I stepped on a few.”

Murrah, Register, Varner, and Ricks (who described himself as a one-time militant who "learned to come to the table") served it up straight with a dose of hope. All agreed that the end result was worth the pains.
Murrah, responding to a lament from former county school board chairman David Pickler, did appear to offer some commiseration, "Ten years from now there will be people saying 'why didn't we get a vote?'" when Pickler made a point of noting that Memphians alone took the steps that got us to this point.

Reactions from the 30-odd board members and transition team members present varied from informational questions to thinly veiled spoken editorials. Ernest Chism, a veteran of 40 years in the county system, seemed skeptical. Some of the dialoguing solutions suggested by the Chattanoogans “won’t feed the bulldog,” he said, when some of the city students “don’t speak the King’s language.”

For Betty Mallott, an erstwhile member of the Memphis City Schools board now serving on the interim all-county board, the major concern was the prospect of separatism from special school districts down the line. And David Reaves, like Chism a unified board member by way of SCS, thought he detected a danger sign in what seemed to be a marginal drop in enrollment in Hamilton County from 1997 to now.

Still, the visiting Chattanoogans were encouraging and upbeat. They agreed that the unified Hamilton County system was far better than either of the two systems that created it had been, and saw the various challenges confronting Memphis and Shelby County as opportunities. “I envy you,” said Varney with apparent conviction.

All in all, the evening, from the Shelby Countians’ point of view, had been a bit like getting advice from a good friend or neighbor about how to raise difficult children. The sympathy and advice can be comforting for a moment, but the responsibility cannot be shifted or the task understated. “It’s not going to be easy,” was a cautionary last word from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who serves on the transition committee and appointed several of its members.

Local board members Kenneth Whalum Jr., Chris Caldwell, and Freda Williams take in the advice.
  • JB
  • Local board members Kenneth Whalum Jr., Chris Caldwell, and Freda Williams take in the advice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

John Elkington Named as Local Member of Rick Perry Campaign Team

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 11:04 AM

John Elkington`
  • JB
  • John Elkington`
Memphian John Elkington, the well-known Performa executive and former Beale Street impresaro, has been announced as a member of Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s “campaign leadership team” for Tennessee.

Elkington has been active of late in fundraising activities for the Texas governor and in organizing get-togethers on Perry's behalf.

Also on the list of team members disseminated in a release by Perry's state campaign office in Nashville is conservative editor and broadcaster Larry Bates, a former state legislator from Shelby County.

The release named Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville as Ramsey’s state campaign chairman, former California lieutenant governor Mike Curb as honorary campaign chairman, and Stephen Smith as state finance chairman.

Other team members listed in the release are:

Tom Beasley, former Tennessee GOP Chairman
Bob Davis, former Tennessee GOP Chairman
Howard “Butch” Eley
James Gregory
JR Hand
Bill Henson
Willis Johnson
Monty Lankford
Albert McCall
Dr. Paul and Carla McCombs
Andy Miller
Dick Powell
Reese Smith
Howard Wall, former Rutherford County GOP Chairman
Henny Weisinger
Brad Williams

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

County Commission Approves CCHC Contract for Title X

Election of Brent Taylor as new commissioner was one of many factors in completing GOP purge of Planned Parenthood.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2011 at 10:56 AM

Mulroy shows new colleage Taylor his new seat.
  • JB
  • Mulroy shows new colleage Taylor his new seat.
Some hours after Monday’s meeting of the Shelby County Commission, Democratic member Steve Mulroy, famously a steadfast advocate for his causes, faced up to an awkward but necessary task — that of explaining to his liberal constituency why he had voted along with the Commission’s conservatives on the key issue of the day.

When, after a longish debate, the roll had been called on the matter of approving a $397,000 contract with Christ Community Health Center to perform family planning services in tandem with the Shelby County Health Department, Mulroy had joined the Commission majority in voting Aye, making the final tally 9-4 in favor — an outcome that dashed the hopes of Planned Parenthood supporters, who had sought to block the contract and reopen the bidding.

Mulroy’s apologia, on his Facebook page, boiled down to this: As an accomplished head-counter, he had learned that a solid bloc had formed on the Commission in favor of naming former City Council member Brent Taylor, a supporter of the CCHC contract, to a Commission vacancy that was due to be filled as the first order of business

Even without Taylor’s vote, Mulroy went on, there appeared to be enough committed votes to CCHC to put the contract over (this despite the return to skepticism about the contract on the part of Commissioner Walter Bailey, who had tilted in its favor a week earlier).

On the professional merits of the case, absent political factors, Mulroy described himself as tilting only “60-40” in favor of Planned Parenthood vis-à-vis CCHC — a ratio based on factors including the established expertise of Planned Parenthood and the multiplicity of service centers offered by CCHC.

Consequently, said Mulroy, who had posed several questions to county CAO Harvey Kennedy on the issue of holding CCHC to account: “Since the outcome was a foregone conclusion, I decided to at least get assurances re: compliance monitoring, so that at the end of the contract period, we would have hard data to decide whether opponents' concerns re: proselytization, abortion counseling, and emergency contraception were warranted. If they are, we can revisit the contract.”

A political backstory, if you will: The vote Monday climaxed a year-long struggle in which the Tennessee Republican Party, entrenched in statewide power after the 2010 election, had sought to expunge Planned Parenthood, a symbol of abortion to the GOP’s reigning social conservatives, from any share of state or federal funding, particularly relating to women’s health issues.

The last domino in that campaign was Shelby County, where Planned Parenthood, the traditional recipient of Title X funds locally as well as elsewhere in Tennessee, at least had the opportunity to bid for a share of that federal lagniappe. That was the result of a bargain made by Shelby County Health Department director Yvonne Madlock, with input perhaps from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, in response to a new state law mandating that county health departments throughout the state take over the burden of Title X and the funding for it.

A technical flaw in the law kept Planned Parenthood from being excluded outright, as had been the framers’ original intent, and Madlock, protesting that her Department lacked the means to implement the Title X program single-handedly, wangled permission to issue an RFP (request for proposal) for a local partner.

Planned Parenthood bid for the action, as did the Memphis Health Center and Christ Community Health Center. Amid intense background lobbying by adherents of Planned Parenthood, on the one hand, and state officials like Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville on the other, an ad hoc panel established by the Health Department opted for the CCHC bid.

That was the immediate background for Monday’s vote, which had been postponed two weeks ago at the insistence of such key Democrats on the commission as Mulroy and Bailey, who essentially wanted more explanation as to why Christ Community Health Center had been chosen over Planned Parenthood, which had years of experience and an established clientele for the women’s health services covered by Title X.

An important proviso: The services funded by Title X explicitly do not include abortion, though Planned Parenthood’s history of involvement with abortion procedures and the renunciation of such services by CCHC on religious grounds were implicit factors in the County Commission’s deliberations.

Those factors became ever more explicit at Monday’s Commission meeting, when a self-described “civil liberties attorney” and a Roman Catholic priest, among others, decried Planned Parenthood for its abortion practices and local Planned Parenthood head Barry Chase was moved to respond that his agency had provided a full range of services for a century before the Supreme Court enabled legal abortion in 1973.

Another leitmotif in Monday’s discussion was the avowed religious aspect of CCHC’s mission, which earned the Center some scornful comments from a few Planned Parenthood patients and supporters who questioned its entitlement to federal tax receipts.

The issue of abortion and that of the Center’s religious orientation were combined in a line of questioning pressed by Bailey, who interrogated at length both Burt Waller, the CEO of CCHC, and Shantelle Leatherwood, a Center administrator, as to whether the Center could fulfill the letter of its obligations under the RFP. The two acknowledged that CCHC could not provide direct emergency contraception (e.g., the “morning after” pill) on its own but would refer patients in need of such services to “third-party” providers. Patients would also be advised of the abortion option.

That was when Mulroy began to ask Kennedy for assurances that the Center’s compliance with the terms of the county’s RFP would be closely monitored.

Democrats voting for the CCHC contract, besides Mulroy, were Justin Ford, who, like his father, former Commissioner and interim county mayor Joe Ford, often votes with the Commission’s Republicans, and James Harvey, famous for postponing his commitment on hot-button issues to the very end of debate.

Taylor, a Republican whose victory over second-place finisher Brian Stephens was surprisingly easy, had based his case for election on the twin grounds of his prior legislative experience and his willingness — demonstrated, he said, by his history on the City Council — to seek agreement on difficult issues across partisan lines. He succeeds Mike Carpenter, a moderate GOP member who recently resigned to become state director of the educational think-tank StudentsFirst in Nashville.

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.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Harris-Ford Runoff Legally Cleared for November 10

Posted By on Sun, Oct 16, 2011 at 8:53 PM

Harris (left), Ford
  • JB
  • Harris (left), Ford
As soon as the crowded District 7 City Council race ended on October 6 with two candidates — University of Memphis law professor Lee Harris and sometime actress Kemba Ford in a virtual dead heat and headed for a runoff — the two rivals and their supporters began looking for ways to seize an advantage.

The Ford contingent thought they had a shot at an endorsement by Coby Smith, a fairly distant third-place finisher , but Smith had another, more ambitious idea — that of challenging the residential bona fides of Ford, on the apparent theory that if her candidacy were ruled invalid, he would ascend to the runoff position with Harris rather than her.

That gambit — a long shot if there ever was one — seems not to have worked. Acting on a challenge to Ford’s legal standing by Smith, who cited Council residency requirements that a candidate be a resident of the city for five years prior to an election, Election Commission administrator Rich Holden submitted a formal query on the matter to City Attorney Herman Morris.

The answer, signed by both Morris and assistant City Attorney Jack Payne Jr., was simple and direct: “Residency challenges must be brought before a candidate’s name appears on the ballot and before voting occurs. The voters have already spoken.”

Citing past case histories, the City Attorneys’ response said further, “The Shelby County Election Commission is a ministerial body. Courts must decide substantive issues of election law.” And it quoted from a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals finding that “[c]hallenges to a candidate’s right to appear on a ballot should ordinarily be brought before the election — preferably in time for the issue to be resolved before the ballots have to be printed and before the start of absentee and early voting.”

After suggesting, “The challenged raised by Mr. Smith at this point would likely be dismissed by a Tennessee court,” the City Attorneys' response concluded, “The people have spoken and made their preference known. The residency requirements for candidates seeking to run for Memphis City Council positions are those as defined by the state election laws.”

So, back to Square One, and the fact that the November 10 runoff between Harris and Ford will go on as scheduled. And even the backers of the two candidates concede that the outcome is uncertain.

As before, Harris is presumed to have the financial advantage. His last financial report before the October 6 election showed receipts of $38,400, including a $15,000 loan to himself, and expenditures of $25,400 for targeted mailings and a variety of other campaign materials and activities. Harris, who has been endorsed by Mayor A C Wharton, has scheduled further fundraising events between now and November 10, including one this week hosted by current City Councilman Jim Strickland.

For the pre-election period, Ford’s receipts were $8,600, with expenditures of $5,700. But what she lacks in campaign cash will be compensated to some degree by what is presumed to a certain amount of residual grass-roots loyalty to members of the extended Ford family. Kemba Ford is the daughter of former state Senator John Ford, now confined to a federal prison in Mississippi after being convicted of bribery in relation to the Tennessee Waltz scandal. (Proponents of Harris contend that the Ford connection works both ways and could also turn out voters opposed to the family political dynasty.)

A controversy not directly related to either candidate stemmed from recent remarks made by broadcaster/blogger Thaddeus Matthews, who used an offensive term to disparage Harris for the candidate’s support of and by the Tennessee Equality Project, which champions the rights and aspirations of gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons.

In an effort to distance herself from that dustup, Ford issued a statement saying, “I do not support or participate in discrimination of any kind, and I have run a clean and progressive campaign without disparaging anyone's character or name.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

GOP Presidential Contender Herman Cain Launches Statewide Bus Tour from Bartlett

Posted By on Sat, Oct 15, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Cain on the stump in Bartlett
  • Sherry Simmons
  • Cain on the stump in Bartlett

Just as he was being extricated Friday from a gaggle of local media (note: not “just as he was extricating himself;” this man is like Bill Clinton in his apparent relish for human contact), I was able to spring one eyeball-to-eyeball question on Herman Cain: “Are you the flavor of the month?”

To which his aforesaid eyeballs lit up with apparent glee. “No sir!” he exulted, in the manner of someone who — fame-wise, if not financially— has just won a lottery and knows he has enough to last him quite a while.

Cain, the Memphis-born African-American entrepreneur who has come out of nowhere to become the latest leader of the GOP polls for the 2012 presidential race, may indeed last longer than did Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congressman who won the Iowa straw poll back in August and had sunk like a stone since.

And he may pack enough heat to outfire Rick Perry, the Texas governor who was God’s gift to conservatives when he entered the race a month ago but whose fumbling and inconsistencies have left him looking God-forsaken of late.

A more serious problem is whether Cain can stay the course against Mitt Romney, the well-heeled former Massachusetts governor who has managed to keep an even keel at or near the top of the polls despite widespread mistrust in GOP ranks about his authenticity.

Cain, who kept a crowd of just under a thousand standing in the sun at Bartlett’s Freeman Park for 40 minutes of nonstop oratory and had them clamoring for more, is a throwback to that once flourishing but now rare species of American politician — the down-home spellbinder.

Candidate with local relatives
  • JB
  • Candidate with local relatives
Atlantan Cain began his remarks by noting, “One of the best-kept secrets about Herman Cain is that he was born not too far from here.” And, though Cain’s own immediate family left Memphis when he was only two years old, he still has relatives in the area, several of whom showed up proudly to greet him on Friday.

Nor were they the only blacks on hand. There was a fairly generous sprinkling of them in the crowd, and Cain, commenting tongue-on-cheek on frequent allegations that the Tea Party is racist in sentiment, said, “I see an awful lot of black racists out here today!” Referring to himself as “an American black conservative [who] left the Democratic plantation,” Cain would teasingly chastise entertainer Harry Belafonte for calling him “a bad apple” and proclaim, “Black or white, America is thinking for itself.”

Whether he was enthusing, “I like my Bible and my guns,” or defending his unique “9-9-9” revenue plan or flattering the crowd as co-conspirators against a boneheaded establishment and a tricky media, Cain never stopped enjoying himself and establishing a communion with his listeners. There was none of that angry cost-accountant’s feel to it that you get from some of Cain’s more traditional competitors for the Republican nomination.

“The American people have decided that enough is enough…They’re tired of political answers….They want a problem-solver in the white House,” declared Cain from a raised wooden platform when he finally arrived, after an hour or so of warm-up speeches by local Tea Party organizer Mark Herr and various other Cain backers.

Other explanations offered by the amiable erstwhile Godfather Pizza head for several recent straw poll victories on the GOP circuit and his dramatic and unexpected rise to neck-and-neck status with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: “The voice of the people is more powerful than the voice of the media…Message is more powerful than money, and the American people like the message….I don’t know how to speak Political Speak. I tell it like it is.”

Cain better hope that message is more powerful than money, because, as he acknowledged, Romney, Perry, and others seeking the Republican nomination “have raised at least ten times as much money.” As for the message, he purposely keeps it simple. Although “9-9-9” — standing for a 9 percent national sales tax, a 9 percent national income tax, and a 9 percent corporate tax — was attacked as simplistic and unsound by his competitors in the most recent GOP presidential debate, it is unquestionably more concrete than anything they have proposed.

The plan, which would involve the scrapping of the present internal revenue system, with its “thousands” of loopholes and complications, is “simple, transparent, efficient…fair,” and “revenue-neutral,” Cain maintains, promising to institute it within 20 days of taking office.

His prescriptions for trade policy are equally bare-bones. How to deal with China as a trade rival? “Outgrow them!” Foreign policy? Extend the Reagan foreign policy of “peace through strength” as “peace through strength and clarity.” And by clarity he means knowing who your enemies are and who your friends are and acting accordingly.

Beyond naming Israel as one of the latter, Cain was less than forthcoming about specifics. “You’re not going to see me shoot from the lip!”

Cain was equally cautious about who his policy advisors were, though he had established as a primary tenet of his prospective administration that he would “surround myself with the right people.” Whenever he is asked about his advisors, Cain said he responds, “I’m not going to tell you. They’re my advisors not yours. They just want to know who my smart people are so they can attack them.”

Specifically, he told the crowd, he was not going to reveal who was advising him on foreign policy.

As it happens, his chief foreign policy advisor was with Cain in Bartlett. That would be J.D. Gordon, a former U.S. Navy commander, Fox News commentator, and current communications consultant who served as an official spokesperson for former Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. Gordon, who acknowledged to the Flyer his role as foreign policy adviser to Cain, doubles as his press representative, and was detailing a busy itinerary, which this week had the candidate making multiple stops on a bus tour of Tennessee.

Before taking his leave from his makeshift platform in Freeman Park to begin that bus tour, Cain had reminded his listeners of those words in the Declaration of Independence concerning the rights of Americans to “alter” or “abolish” their form of government and promised to do a little of both, specifically with relation to the nation’s tax code, and he concluded, “My fellow patriots. The American people are going to raise some Cain in 2012.”

Adviser Gordon in former military role
  • Adviser Gordon in former military role

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Curry Todd's Complicated Legacy, As of Now

Collierville legislator's arrest on DUI and handgun charges highlights his role(s) in recent Tennessee history.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Curry Todds booking photo
  • Curry Todd's booking photo
At least he didn’t say, “ I apologize if I offended anyone,” that staple of the disingenuously stubborn when they have to own up to something but do so only half-heartedly, making it look like their non-apology (for that is what it is) is just a generous concession to somebody else’s irrational sensitivity.

No, Curry Todd has screwed up big-time, and knows he did. And there was an appropriate abjectness in the Collierville state representative’s first public response to his embarrassing Tuesday night arrest in Nashville for DUI with a handgun charge added on, since he was packing a fully loaded weapon when stopped by Nashville Metro police.

"Let me begin by saying I am deeply sorry for the events of last evening,” the GOP legislator said upon having his bail made and gaining release from jail on Wednesday morning. He continued: “On the advice of legal counsel, I have decided not to make any public comments about the situation at this time.”

Except that the rest of his statement was an attempt to make several public comments: "Upon her return to the Capitol, I will have a conversation with Speaker [Beth] Harwell to determine whether it is in the best interest of the General Assembly for me to step aside as Chairman of the State and Local Government Committee. On a personal note, I am incredibly grateful for the calls of support from constituents, colleagues, and friends about this incident."

The gist of all that was an implicit plea for continued solidarity from those, in and out of power, whose political fortunes had been connected to his own. Understandable under the circumstances, but a Hail Mary all the same, one that smacked of irony, at best, and hypocrisy, at worst.

Given that Todd was front and center in the Tennessee legislature’s rush in recent years to strike down virtually any and all restrictions on carrying handguns— and specifically those laws prohibiting the possession of such ready-to-go weaponry in bars, he must now become necessarily the poster boy for the flaws — indeed, the dangers — of that hothouse legislation.

A former Memphis policeman himself, Todd had been well aware of the serious opposition mounted by the state’s law-enforcement agencies to passage of the liberalized new gun laws — especially those which might put itchy trigger fingers and liquid shots within hailing distance of each other.

I remember seeing Todd, proudly standing outside the doors of the House on the second floor of the state Capitol in 2009, accepting the congratulations of a National Rifle Association factotum for his role in passing the first version of the guns-in-bars bill. And I recall the provocative edge to his voice when he conveyed to the media his sentiments regarding then Governor Phil Bredesen’s veto (one which was destined to be overcome, as expected, by a simple majority vote): “"I want to tell you what the governor can do with that piece of paper he just sent."

Whatever the occasion, Todd was unusually quick to take umbrage, whether it was to publicly upbraid his then Republican House colleague Brian Kelsey in 2007 for “grandstanding” in calling district improvement grants “pork” or his ill-considered comparison just last year of the offspring of illegal immigrants to “rats.”

As the gap between those two occasions makes clear, Todd was not always to be found on one predictable side of the ideological divide. Though he was basically a GOP loyalist, he personally put a brake on one bill in a package, prefabricated by the national Chamber of Commerce, that was being rushed through the 2011 legislative session by his party’s leadership.

This bill, a one-sided proscription in advance of a variety of possible union tactics in hypothetical labor disputes with management, Todd condemned as unrelated to any situation likely to occur in Tennessee, and he used his chairmanship of the House State and Local Government committee to remove it from the calendar.

As his mea culpa this week acknowledged, Todd’s chairmanship is now threatened, and it may be that his membership in the House itself is in jeopardy.

All of this occurs at a time when his name is already indelibly attached to the Norris-Todd bill, a piece of legislation, passed earlier this year, that governs the merger of school systems in Shelby County and one whose implications for the rest of the state will doubtless make it a permanent and prominent part of Tennessee history.

For better or worse, they can’t take that away from him.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Commission Hears Title X Contract Issue

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 10:49 AM

County Health Department head Yvonne Madlock fields questions from commissioners. - JB
  • JB
  • County Health Department head Yvonne Madlock fields questions from commissioners.

See record of live blog @jbaker7973 twitter

The Hospital and Health committee of the Shelby County Commission voted 5-5 Wednesday on the issue of approving a contract with Christ Community Health Center to use Title X federal funds for women's health care and family planning.

The tie vote, which may or may not be resolved when the full Commission meets in its regular public meeting on Monday, followed an extended debate before an audienced packed with supporters of both CCHC and Planned Parenthood, the agency which had traditionally had contracted for Title X services with the state.

This year, as a result of legislation in the 2011 General Assembly, the contract is being let by the county, not the state.

Commissioner Walter Bailey, a Democrat, voted with four Republicans to approve the contract. Otherwise, the vote was along party lines. Democeat Henri Brooks was typical of the resisters, As she put it: "I'm concerned about the hypothesis of the situation that brings us here. It's purely political. There's no precedent for this."

She and other Democrats, notably Commissioner Steve Mulroy, had challenged the CCHC contract on other grounds, including lack of experience relative to Planned Parenthood. But they emphasized the politics of the situation, stemming, as they saw it, from the decision of a Republican-dominated state government to freeze out Planned Parenthood from public contracts.

Although Planned Parenthood performs abortions — the basis for much of the GOP animus — the Title X funds would not be used for that purpose.

At least one proponent of the CCHC contract, Republican Chris Thomas, made a point of declaring his opposition to abortion, but he and others emphazsized that Christ Community Health Center had been selected, as Health Department director Yvonne Madlock and county CAO Harvey Kennedy had testified, on the merits of their response to a county RFP (request for proposal).

Commissioner Terry Roland, another Republican, did make a point of noting that Governor Bill Haslam and other state goverment figures were probably observing the proceedings online.

Among those making the case for their respective agencies were Burt Waller, CEO of CCHC, and Barry Chase, local director of Planned Parenthood.

More details to come. Also see coverage by Hannah Sayle in Flyer News Blog.

Norris-Todd Co-Sponsor Arrested in Nashville for DUI

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 8:21 AM

State Rep. Curry Todd
  • State Rep. Curry Todd
State Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville) was booked into Davidson County Jail in Nashville Tuesday night on charges of DUI and possession of a handgun while under the influence.

Initial news reports, based on court documents, state that Todd was driving his GMC Envoy when stopped by police, who detected a strong odor of alcohol from inside the vehicle.

Todd was the co-sponsor, along with state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) of the Norris-Todd bill, an ad hoc measure passed by the General Assembly last February to guide the ongoing merger of school systems in Shelby County. The basic provisions of Norris-Todd, including a two-year timetable for merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools and the creation of a Planning Commission to advise the transition, have been affirmed in the rulings of U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays. A provision of the bill allowing special school districts in 2013 has not yet been ruled on by Judge Mays.

Todd also become something of a cynosure last year for remarks during a committee hearing in which he likened the potential birth rate of illegal immigrants to that of rats.


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