Wednesday, January 18, 2012

County Commission in Virtual Civil War over Redistricting

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Brent Taylor asks for censure of colleagues Terry Roland and Mike Ritz. See additional videos below story text.

The Shelby County Commission’s ongoing disagreement over rival redistricting plans has edged over into outright civil war this week.

First came Tuesday night’s volatile meeting of the Collierville Republican Club, at which Commissioner Terry Roland, the featured speaker whose subject was redistricting, had the police called on him following an apparent threat against another commissioner who was present; then, on Wednesday, the Commission’s General Government Committee voted to censure both Roland and Commissioner Mike Ritz.

The censure vote was in response to a request from that committee’s chairman, Brent Taylor, who objected to Roland and Ritz publicly using the word “bribe” to describe the contents of a would-be compromise redistricting plan he had offered.

But the fireworks weren’t over yet. Next came an incendiary resolution from Commissioner Wyatt Bunker (who, though the target of Roland’s threat on Tuesday night, had called the police. Bunker offered a resolution modifying the Commission’s Rules of Order to allow a simple majority of the Commission to replace the body’s chairman.

After debate, during which Commissioner Walter Bailey charged that the resolution was designed to intimidate Chism into dropping his resistance to a “continuity” redistricting plan offered by Bunker and others, the committee voted 6 ayes, 5 nays, and one abstention, to approve the resolution by action by the full Commission on Monday. The censure resolution, which had passed 7-3-1, will also be on the agenda Monday.

It is thought likely that if the “Continuity Plan” (also known as “the Ford plan” and as 3-C), which currently has either 7 or 8 votes pledged to it, does not receive the 9 votes required for passage Monday, there will be a vote on deposing Chism. (A preliminary vote topped out at 7 during a special meeting Tuesday afernoon, good enough for a pass on first reading but two votes away from the final goal. ) The vote on Chism's status is, of course, dependent on whether the resolution permitting his removal will have received the full Commission’s approval at the Monday meeting.

Wednesday’s committee meeting removed the veil from various other conflicts which had simmered but had not yet burst openly into public consciousness.

As one example, Chism, in the course of defending himself at what he plainly saw as a coup attempt in the Bunker resolution, suggested that racial and political issues were at the root of the effort. That drew a retort, however, from Commissioner Henri Brooks, an African-American Democrat like the chairman, who announced her support for the Bunker resolution and complained that the Commission under Chism had suffered from a lack of decorum and that she, in particular, had been deprived of proper respect and appropriate committee memberships.

In response, Chism told Brooks that “85 percent” of the Commission’s membership had complained to him about her often abrasive manner of speaking at meetings and that she had absented herself from at least one committee besides the one on the Core City which she chairs.

Another developing feud was continued when Commissioner Justin Ford, the body’s junior member and another African American, also announced his support for the Bunker resolution and attacked Bailey for “hypocrisy” and suggested it was time “to clean house” at the Commission. (Ford is also a supporter of the “continuity” plan which bears his name as an alternate title.)

The “continuity” plan is an updated version of the scheme under which the Commission has operated for the past decade. It posits four three-member districts and one single-member district. Opponents, including Chism, Roland, Ritz, and others prefer either a system of 13 single-member districts or one with six two-member districts and one single-member district.

Involved in this disagreement are complex arguments involving both personal and political considerations, but members of both parties and both races are to be found on either side of the issue.

Taylor completes his call for censure after discussing Roland's alleged threat to use a local newspaper to pressure him.

Chairman Chism angrily defends himself against potential removal.


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