Monday, January 2, 2012

Illegal? A Bribe? Or Just Another Failed Redistricting Plan?

Interim Shelby County Commissioner Brent Taylor tries his hand at deal-making but finds no takers.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 2, 2012 at 6:38 PM

Brent Taylor
  • Brent Taylor
Over the holidays, yet another attempt to break the Shelby County Commission’s stalemate on redistricting has been floated, and it, too, has floundered. But, unlike the proffered plans which preceded it, this one — called the “Distributive Representation Plan” by its author, interim District 1 Commissioner Brent Taylor, a Republican — has resulted in charges that it is “illegal” and constitutes a “bribe.”

The first accusation came from current District 4 Commissioner Terry Roland, a Millington Republican, who rejected a proposed supportive statement for the plan in his name, written by Taylor but forwarded to Roland for his approval.

Said Roland in his response to Taylor: “I find it extremely inappropriate and I strongly denounce the proposition because it is highly illegal and I do not want anything to do with it. As you know when I ran for Senate in District 29 my campaign slogan was ‘Not for Sale.’ It is the same now as it was then, I’m Not for Sale! I will always do what I think is the best for the people of Shelby County.”

The adjective “illegal” was apparently directed by Roland to a section of the plan which, like other particulars in Taylor’s proposed framework, hypothetically was to be approved by Commissioner Justin Ford, a Memphis Democrat who has been at odds with Roland over competing redistricting plans.

Ford has been the author of the last few versions of a plan that would keep the current system of four three-member districts and one single-member district. At present, seven members, a mix of Republicans and Democrats, as of blacks and whites, are committed to such a plan. Five other politically and racailly diverse commissioners, including Roland, have favored versions of a plan for six two-member districts plus a single-member district, or a plan for 13 single-member districts proposed by Memphis Democrat Steve Mulroy.

The section found offensive by Roland would attach to the final redistricting plan “a resolution requesting the Administration to create a Suburban Economic Development Aid Package (SEDAP) of roughly $200,000 which is a continuation of funding started last year under my [i.e., Roland’s] leadership. This will allow the suburban communities to be less reliant on the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce for economic development opportunities that are specific to the suburban communities.”

Other commissioners besides Roland have had their hackles raised by this suggestion, and Commissioner Mike Ritz, another District 1 Republican, used the term “bribe” to describe the addition of the grant resolution.

Taylor, a former Memphis City Councilman, dismissed the charge, however, saying such trade-offs were “a normal part of the legislative process.”

Besides the tie-in to a resolution supporting a SEDAP grant, Taylor’s plan also featured a provision to sub-divide District 4, Roland’s district, which, as drawn in the plan, sprawls across almost half of Shelby County’s geographic mass and takes in most of the county which does not lie within Memphis’ city limits.

Under the plan, District 4 would be divided into three components — a northern one, incorporating Roland’s residence in Millington; a central one, including portions of Germantown and Cordova; and a southeastern one, focused on Collierville. All residents of District 4 would have a vote for all three commissioners, but the elected commissioners would have to live in the sub-district they represented.

That provision would satisfy what many of Roland’s colleagues believe (and he denies) looms large in his thinking — a need to have a reelection district confined to the area around Millington. The plan as a whole, however, lacks what Roland has termed ultra-important, a guarantee of four commissioners from areas outside Memphis.

Taylor was frank to say that it was impossible to draw up a plan guaranteeing four suburban commissioners while also guaranteeing election prospects for six Republicans on the 13-member Commission. “That’s why some of the Republicans won’t go for the two-member districts,” Taylor said.

All of the plans would seem to guarantee the opportunity for African-American domination of the Commission, consistent with the 2010 census figures, but Ford says his plan would best see to that end.

While Taylor’s plan was based in its general outlines on what has been called the Ford Plan, a third provision within it called for dropping that particular appellation.

Ford said he had seen the Taylor plan, but only after its preparation and apparently, too, after Roland had already rejected it. “I didn’t think it improved on the plan I already had presented,” he said.

With the failure of Taylor’s attempt at deal-making it appears more likely than not that the impasse on redistricting will go unresolved when the Commission next meets on Wednesday. Ford contends that he has seven, maybe eight votes, for his plan. But the two-member district plan generally credited to Roland and Memphis Democrat Walter Bailey, jointly, has five apparent solid and unyielding votes.

Increasingly, members on both sides of the dispute are expressing a belief that Chancery Court, not the Commission itself, will end up as the final arbiter of a redistricting plan for the Commission.

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