Friday, December 15, 2017

Left Activists Intrude on Meeting of Shelby County Democrats

Two women representing group styling itself “DNC Fraud Alert” interrupt proceedings of SCDP executive committee, shouting slogans and unfurling a banner.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 9:50 AM

Sarah Freels
  • Sarah Freels
The Shelby County Democratic Party, reconstituted early this year after being decertified by the state party in
Smith and Strong confront intruders
  • Smith and Strong confront intruders
 2016, endured its first direct attack from a hostile source Thursday night.

Two members of a group styling itself “DNC Fraud Alert” interrupted a meeting of the SCDP’s executive committee at the Cordova Community Center, unfurling a banner denouncing the Democratic National Committee and shouting statements like “The DNC has shown us time and time again that they will lie, cheat, gaslight, and marginalize progressives. It’s time to claim our rightful revolution rather than continue the ping-pong match of corporate overlords! “

They continued shouting through cries from committee members, “You’re out of order.” After being confronted directly by SCDP chair Corey Strong, whose opening remarks they had brought to a halt, and by party sergeant-at-arms Thurston Smith, they finally subsided.

The women were offered speaking time at the end of the meeting but, after resuming their seats at the back of the room, would leave before the meeting concluded. Meanwhile, they had live-streamed a video of their exploit, under the head “Live behind enemy lines lol,” on the Facebook page of one Sarah Freels.

Freels was apparently the one of the two who did most of the talking. Besides the video, she had posted other comments during the meeting. Examples: “... I have many more local events planned so they will get to know me very well LOL….They need to know we are shutting their party down.”

The rather choppy video that was live streamed can be seen here:


GOP Figure Bill Giannini Killed in Car Crash

Accident occurred in Decatur County on I-40. Shelby County native was former chair of county Republican Party and Election Commission, was meditating on likely race for state Senate in 2018.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 1:01 AM


Bill Giannini - JB
  • JB
  • Bill Giannini

Bill Giannini, a former chairman of both the Shelby County Republican Party and the county Election Commission, was killed in an automobile crash in Decatur County Thursday afternoon, apparently on his way from Nashville to Memphis.

Giannini, who until recently had been deputy commissioner of Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, was the proprietor of the Resolve Consulting Firm and owner of a Memphis pizza restaurant.

As both GOP chairman and Election Commission chair in Shelby County, Giannini presided over periods of change and controversy.

He had made in clear in numerous recent conversations that he was thinking seriously of running next year for the state Senate seat which federal Judge-designate Mark Norris now occupies. Several friends of Giannini commented on their Facebook pages that he had made plans for seeing them in Memphis this weekend.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said Giannini was killed on Interstate 40 when his car swerved across the median and struck another vehicle headed the other way. The other motorist was injured but survived.

Giannini’s death recalled another highway tragedy he was involved in almost five years ago exactly, during the Christmas season of 2012, when, as he passed over a rise in I-40 in Shelby County at the Fayette County line, the car he was driving collided with another vehicle that had stopped abruptly because of a chain-reaction accident in front of it.

The car struck by Giannini then struck another stopped vehicle, resulting in a fatality. After a review by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, no one was charged in the accident.

Besides his businesses and his political and governmental work, Giannini was a talented guitarist and had often performed to local audiences, on one memorable occasion in Memphis doing an extended version of the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Free Bird” in tandem with another musically dexterous political figure, former Arkansas governor and onetime presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

More news will be reported as it becomes available.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mackler Out of Senate Race, Yields to Bredesen

In bow to reality, new-face Democrat withdraws in favor of two-term former Governor, the party-stablishment favorite, will continue with political action committee.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 3:49 PM



Mackler (l), Bredesen
  • Mackler (l), Bredesen
James Mackler, the Nashville attorney and Iraq War vet who, months ago, declared as a Democratic candidate for the Tennessee U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Bob Corker, has faced the reality that last week’s declaration of candidacy by former Governor Phil Bredesen had closed off his available routes to financial support.

Accordingly, Macler issued a press release on Thursday announcing his withdrawal from the Senate race. "The political environment has changed ... and we cannot risk any distractions in our fight to defeat Marsha Blackburn’s extreme agenda," Mackler’s statement read in part. "It is in this spirit of unity, not further division, that I am making the choice to step back as a candidate at this time to put us all on the path to victory."

Mackler said he would continue to maintain his “Believe in Service” political action committee, which Bredesen made a point of commending, along with Mackler himself.

Although he had not yet achieved full statewide name recognition, Mackler, who had mounted his candidacy well before Corker’s withdrawal from the race, had raised some $1 million and had begun developing a viable profile, especially among millenials.

But Bredesen, who served two terms as Tennessee Governor from 2003 to 2011 had been assiduously courted to run by establishment Democrats, both in-state and out, who felt that, as the last Democrat to be elected statewide, he had the best chance of contesting for the now open Senate seat against either of the two name Republicans now seeking it — 7th District U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn o former 8th District congressman Stephen Fincher.

Despite a cost-conscious tenure as Governor which was widely regarded as centrist enough to have enacted significant portions of the then Republican platform, Bredesen has become a virtual daily target of official Republican broadsides attempting to portray him as a “big spender” Democrat and a liberal — neither of which things he ever came close to being.

In fact, the former Governor’s penchant, both in office and in his gubernatorial campaigns, for proposing relatively conservative compromise solutions was one of the major factors that won him significant crossover support.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Harold Ford Jr. Latest Figure Cited for Sexual Harassment

Former Memphis congressman loses job at Wall St. firm of Morgan Stanley; denies woman's accusation.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 1:02 PM

Harold Ford Jr. in Memphis at an NAACP event earlier this year - JB
  • JB
  • Harold Ford Jr. in Memphis at an NAACP event earlier this year

The epidemic of forced departures from positions of influence of persons accused of sexual harassment has now affected a prominent Memphis native — former 9th District Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr., who has been fired from his position as a managing director and rainmaker at the Wall Street firm of Morgan Stanley.

Ford’s ouster for alleged “misconduct” with an unidentified woman was announced Thursday via an email from the New York brokerage, where Ford, a near winner in the 2006 U.S. Senate contest in Tennessee, has worked in recent years.

He had meanwhile been keeping his political irons hot as a frequent guest commentator on the NBC “Morning Joe” program and in other venues, like a continuing role as lecturer at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, the former congressman’s alma mater.

There was no immediate announcement from NBC as to Ford’s fate going forward, though another “Morning Joe” regular, Mark Halperin, was dropped from the program after incurring similar charges.

Before the advent of Barack Obama on the national scene, Ford, who was a congressman from 1997 to 2007 in the seat held previous by his namesake father, was considered by some to have a chance to become the first African-American presidential candidate. After his narrow loss to Republican Bob Corker in the 2006 Senate race, Ford served a spell as chairman of the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council and taught at Vanderbilt University.

While he was unsuccessful in an effort some years back to kindle support for a Senate race in New York, where he moved after assuming his Wall Srteet position, close friends and confidants have made it clear that he would welcome a return to politics.

The announcement of Ford’s termination from Morgan Stanley said, “He has been terminated for conduct inconsistent with our values and in violation of our policies,”
The Huffington Post website published accounts of its interviews with the woman whose accusations against Ford, who is married and has two children, resulted in his current predicament.

The women, identified as a professional acquaintance, contended that Ford had forcibly grabbed her on one occasion and persistently pursued a relationship with her thereafter, finally ceasing at the woman’s insistence.

Ford denied the allegations in a Tweet early Thursday afternoon. 
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Bredesen Enters U.S. Senate Race

The former Governor, last Democrat to win a major statewide race in Tennessee, brings name recognition and the likelihood of serious support into a political arena dominated since his tenure by Republicans,

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 11:40 AM


The other shoe has dropped in the case of Phil Bredesen, now a full-fledged candidate for the U.S. Senate. The former governor of Tennessee from 2003 to 2011 
Bredesen in his campaign-announcement video - JB
  • JB
  • Bredesen in his campaign-announcement video
and the last Democrat to hold major statewide office in this increasingly red state, Bredesen had been publicly flirting for at least two months with the idea of returning to active politics as a Senate candidate.

Founder of a highly successful health care enterprise in Nashville, Bredesen served several effective terms as mayor of that city and, after one unsuccessful race as Democratic nominee for governor in 1994, losing to Republican candidate Don Sundquist of Memphis, he was elected Tennessee’s chief executive on his second try in 2002, defeating the GOP’s Van Hilleary.

In his political races, Bredesen, a native of upstate New York, would joke about his origins elsewhere by saying, “I got here as soon as I could.”

While there are no sure things in politics, the entry of Bredesen is no doubt troubling news to fellow Nashville Democrat James Mackler, a lawyer and former Iraq war veteran who had previously declared for governor, as well as to state Republicans, now observing a potentially divisive race for the GOP Senate nomination between 7th District Congressman Marsha Blackburn and former 8th District Congressman Stephen Fincher.

The GOP establishment wasted no time in officially dissing Bredesen’s candidacy.

Scott Golden, chairman of the state Republican Party, issued a statement beginning with the statement that “[former Governor Phil Bredesen’s record represents the Tennessee of yesterday when Democrats labeled extreme unemployment rates, higher taxes, and a total lack of government transparency as ‘prospering,'” and going on to cite alleged improvements in the state’s circumstances since then.

And Michael McAdams, regional press secretary for the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee, greeted the former governor’s announcement by saying, “Phil Bredesen officially announced he’s running for U.S. Senate today, and national Democrats couldn’t be happier. Bredesen is exactly the type of big government liberal national Democrats love.”

Both statements are somewhat at variance with the actual political state of things during Bredesen’s incumbency. Far from being a “big government liberal,” Bredesen angered many in the liberal wing of his party by presiding over a period of enforced austerity, drastically pruning the state’s TennCare rolls and imposing across-the-board budget cuts that were one percent more severe than the ones recommended the year before by the ultra-conservative Blackburn, then a state senator.

Republicans were seriously hampered in their efforts to oppose Bredesen’s reelection in 2006 because, in the view of many observers, the Democratic Governor had in effect enacted the chief elements in the Republican platform of that time. Bredesen was opposed in 2006 by a GOP sacrificial lamb, state Senator Jim Bryson of Nashville, who lost badly.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Bredesen, politically inactive since leaving the governor’s office (though he had publicly floated his availability for a cabinet position in the Obama administration) , will strike voters in 2018 as yesterday’s newspaper.

There is no doubting, however, that he posseses residual name recognition and will have financial and political support in his race that no other Democrat running statewide since his tenure in office as enjoyed. Moreover, the video in which he announced his candidacy seemed clearly in line with the conservative hues of Tennessee in 2017.

Referring to his background as a businessman, Bredesen declares in the video that “We all know Washington is broken..[while] back here in Tennessee, we have some real problems.” He boasts his resistance as governor to a state income tax and says, “The Affordable Care Act needs fixing.”

He laments that Congress is “immoral the way they keep borrowing money with no end in sight.,” and contends, "I'm running for the Senate because I have the right kind of experience and the actual track record that it will take to start working across party lines to fix the mess in Washington and bring common sense back to our government."

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Attorney Wade Joins Commission Team in Battle with County Mayor

As opioid-litigation fight continues, Luttrell gets a further slight in pay-raise matter.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 9:23 AM

Wade at Commission on Monday - JB
  • JB
  • Wade at Commission on Monday

The war between a Shelby County Commission majority and County M ayor Mark Luttrell acquired a new front and a new warrior on Monday — the latter being Allan Wade, who was hired by a Commission majority to represent the body in its various legal responses to Luttrell on the still-festering matter of proposed litigation against opioid distributors.

(Wade, who functions as the City Council’s attorney, is much in the spotlight these days, having been a point man a day later in the Council’s controversial decision on Tuesday to call for a second referendum on the the use of IRV — instant-runoff-voting — procedures in the forthcoming 2019 city election.)

Meanwhile, the newest confrontation in the Commission-Luttrell battle concerned a technically unrelated matter of take-home pay. And it was the proverbial case of adding insult to injury.

Actually, the latest controversy was an outgrowth of sorts from the existing one. Early in Monday’s regular meeting, Commissioner David Reaves requested the opportunity to reconsider a vote, taken during the previous Commission meeting, on an item to raise the pay of both the Sheriff and the Mayor.

Two weeks ago, the item was defeated, but Reaves, who had been on the prevailing side then, said he had felt constrained to change his vote because of his increasing awareness of the severity of the opioid crisis and the burden of combatting it that would fall upon the Sheriff’s office. Reaves said he’d also come to realize that the Sheriff might be under-paid relative to counterparts elsewhere in the state.

So he wanted, after all, to raise the Sheriff’s pay, from its existing level of $116,000. But he wanted to do so in a way that didn’t automatically raise the pay level of the Mayor, which is proportionally linked to the Sheriff’s by the county charter.

After a fair amount of debate and back-and-forth with County Attorney Kathryn Pascover, the Commission availed itself of a loophole that allowed it to raise the Sheriff’s pay to 95 percent of the Mayor’s pay, leaving the latter at his current level but boosting the Sheriff to $35,575.

In fairness, Reaves is not a full-time member of the coalition arrayed against Luttrell, and his motive in holding down an equivalent pay increase for the Mayor was probably unrelated to the ongoing power struggle. It was doubtless otherwise with the eight members of the aforesaid coalition: Republicans Heidi Shafer (the current Commission chair) and Terry Roland, and Democrats Van Turner, Willie Brooks, Justin Ford, Reginald Milton, Melvin Burgess, and Eddie Jones.

Those eight Commissioners are the ones supporting chairman Shafer in her initiative to force Luttrell’s hand on proposed litigation by the County against an extensive network of physicians, pharmacists, and others involved, both legally and illegally, in distribution of opioids, which, in the estimation of Shafer et al., have proliferated to dangerous and damaging levels in Shelby County

Chancellor Jim Kyle recently ruled that Luttrell, who sued to block Shafer’s unilateral engaging of a law firm, had rightful authority over litigation by the county but declined to intervene in the lawsuit itself, now in limbo in Circuit Court .

The Chancellor, who suggested that the suit was in the public interest, recommended mediation between the Commission and the Mayor, going forward.

Meanwhile, Mayor Luttrell, who has floated the alternative dea of deferring to a statewide legal action against the opioid network, is still in formal (if suspended) litigation in Chancery Court against the Commission, and the eight-member coalition at odds with the Mayor on the matter, voted Monday to hire Wade as its “special legal counsel” in the matter.

That action would carry, but it aroused intense opposition among a five-member Commission minority consisting of Democrat Walter Bailey and Republicans Mark Bilingsley, George Chism, Steve Basar, and Reaves.

Typical of this group’s sentiments were Billingsley’s complaints that outside attorneys were enriching themselves at county expense and that the proposed ongoing action against the alleged opioid-distribution network was too extensive, involving well-established name-brand companies like Johnson and Johnson.

Roland, among others, responded to the effect that “we’re the ones getting sued” and that the proposed legal actions against opioid distributors were pro bono and would cost the county nothing, while Luttrell’s action did in fact “cost the county.”

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Cohen, 5 House Colleagues Launch Impeachment Effort Against Trump

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 1:35 PM








Nor for the first time nor likely the last, Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen (TN 9) has taken the lead in congressional action against the actions of President Donald Trump. This week Cohen and five other House colleagues formally introduced five articles of impeachment against Trump.

The co-sponsors of the impeachment resolution are: Congressman Luis Gutierrez (IL-04), Congressman Al Green (TX-09, Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY13), Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH 11),  and Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky (KY 3).

The following news release from Cohen's office and the accompanying video of the Congressmen's explanation lay out in detail why impeachment was considered necessary.


Members Introduce Articles of Impeachment
President Trump’s actions have become “dangerous for democracy”

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, and colleagues, today introduced five Articles of Impeachment against President Donald J. Trump. 

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

“The time has come to make clear to the American people and to this President that his train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end through impeachment. I believe there is evidence that he attempted to obstruct an investigation into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election and links between between Russia and the Trump campaign, most notably the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The president’s blatant refusal to separate himself from his businesses has led to clear instances of conflict of interest that appear to violate both the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses. And his attacks on ‘so-called’ judges and ‘fake news’ have undermined public confidence in the judiciary and the press. It’s time for Congress to take action to stop this reckless and harmful behavior by removing Mr. Trump from office and to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

Congressman Luis Gutierrez (IL-04) made the following statement:

“Congress has the power of impeachment when behavior by the President puts the nation and our laws at risk and I think we are at that point, despite the ongoing, important investigations. Congress needs to step in when there is evidence that the President is interfering with the judicial branch, obstructing or disrupting investigations, or if the President is profiting improperly from his office. This is the start of a long process and it needs to get started now because as a Member of Congress and as a member of the Judiciary Committee, it is my job.”

Congressman Al Green (TX-09) made the following statement:|
“This brings us another step closer to impeachment.”
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11) made the following statement:
“In the nearly 300 days since he was sworn in, it has become evident that President Trump is a clear and present danger to our democracy. It is high time that Congress take a serious look at the President’s actions,” said Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, (OH-11). “If those actions are found to be in violation of the Constitution, then the Congress of the United States needs to do the job the American people elected us to do.”

Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY13) made the following statement:

“Donald Trump is a threat to our national security and to our justice, and once and for all, we are taking a stand to formally call for his impeachment in the name of our constituents, in support of our Constitution, and for the protection of our Democracy,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “Trump is dangerous and nearly every month that he has served in office, Americans have witnessed some violation of our values, civil liberties, and access to opportunities that represent who we are at home and to our allies around the world. Mr. Trump is failing and has turned back the clock on the more than 50 years of progress our country has made in civil rights and equality. He has obstructed justice, violated the Constitution, and undermined the independence of our judicial system and the freedom of the press. The evidence is there, and the course of action is clear. It’s time to impeach Trump now.”


The articles of impeachment are summarized here:


Article I – Obstruction of Justice
Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath and obligations, has engaged personally, and
through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct designed to delay and impede an
investigation and to conceal information sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the course
of its investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 United States presidential election,
including any possible collusion between Russia and Donald J. Trump.
• National Security Advisor Michael Flynn misled Vice President Pence about his discussions with
the Russian Ambassador to the United States.
• Donald J. Trump demanded F.B.I. Director James Comey’s loyalty, and asked Comey to let
Flynn go.
• Donald J. Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey while the F.B.I. was investigating Russian
interference with the 2016 presidential election including possible collusion with the Trump
campaign.
• Donald J. Trump admitted in a television interview that he had the Russia investigation on his
mind when he fired F.B.I. Director Comey.
• Donald J. Trump told the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador to the United States,
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job . . . I faced great pressure because
of Russia. That’s taken off.”
• Donald J. Trump personally dictated a misleading statement for his son and former Trump
campaign operative Donald Trump, Jr. to use to explain Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian
attorney who had invited Trump Jr. to meet in order to give him damaging information about
Hillary Clinton as part of the Russian government’s efforts to help his father’s campaign.


Article II – Violation of Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution – Foreign Emoluments
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office for
Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present,
Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
-Article I, Section 9
Donald J. Trump has accepted, without the consent of Congress, emoluments from foreign states.
• Donald J. Trump refused to divest or place his assets into a blind trust.
• Donald J. Trump refused to release his tax returns.
• Donald J. Trump’s attorney has acknowledged his businesses receive funds from foreign
governments.
• Donald J. Trump owns 77 percent of Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., owns the
Trump Tower in New York City, and owns the Trump World Tower in New York City. Foreign
payments received by Trump owned businesses, so far, include:
o An event estimated to cost $40,000 - $60,000 held by the Embassy of Kuwait at the
Trump International Hotel.
o $270,000 in payments from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for rooms, catering and
parking as part of a lobbying effort at the Trump International Hotel.
o $30,000 from groups promoting Turkish American relations as part of a convention at the
Trump International Hotel.
o Rents from tenants at Trump Tower owned by foreign states including the Industrial and
Commercial Bank of China and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.


Article III – Violation of Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution – Domestic Emoluments
“The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither
be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall
not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
-Article II, Section 1
Donald J. Trump has accepted emoluments from the United States other than this presidential salary.
• Donald J. Trump refused to divest or place his assets into a blind trust.
• Donald J. Trump refused to release his tax returns.
• Donald J. Trump has caused the U.S. government to spend money at businesses in which Donald
J. Trump has an ownership interest including:
o $73,000 by the Secret Service for golf carts
o $1,092 by the National Security Council for lodging at Mar-a-Lago
• As of September 25, 2017, Donald J. Trump had visited at least one Trump-branded property on
85 days of his presidency, as compared to 164 days in which had not.


Article IV – Undermining the Independence of the Federal Judiciary and the Rule of Law
Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath and obligations, has engaged in a pattern of
conduct designed to undermine the authority of the federal judiciary to carry out its constitutional
responsibilities including:
• Calling a U.S. District Court judge a “so-called judge.”
• Pardoning former Sheriff Joe Arpaio for criminal contempt of court.



Article V - Undermining Freedom of the Press
Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath and obligations, has engaged in a pattern of
conduct designed to undermine the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment to the
United States Constitution, including:
• Repeatedly calling press organizations “fake news.”
• Circulating a video of himself violently wrestling a man covered by the CNN logo.
• Personally attacking members of the press including a tweet that then-Fox News anchor
Megyn Kelly had, “blood coming out of her whatever,” and a tweet that MSNBC anchor
Mika Brzezinsk, “was badly bleeding from a face-lift.”

Democrat Dean, On Nashville-Memphis Back-and-Forth: "I Love I-40!"

xBefore a diverse crowd gubernatorial candidate opens Memphis headquarters on Poplar Avenue in between campaigning trips in Shelby County; announces local steering committee.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 9:46 AM

Karl Dean, addressing crowd at Poplar Avenue headquarters opening - JB
  • JB
  • Karl Dean, addressing crowd at Poplar Avenue headquarters opening



Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean uttered words in Memphis Thursday night that may never have been heard before in human history. “I love I-40,” the former Nashville Mayor said as he addressed the sizeable crowd of 50 or so that jammed into his newly opened headquarters on Poplar Avenue.

Hopefully, for the Mayor’s sake, he meant what he said, because, by the end of the weekend, he will have done a fair amount of back-and-forthing on the expressway route (which always seems an hour too long, either way) that connects Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee’s two largest cities. And Dean will have done it twice.

His headquarters opening (his first campaign office outside of Nashville, he would say) was the climax of two full days of campaigning in Memphis, a Wednesday night $250-a-head fundraiser at the Midtown home of Dr. John and Cori McMullen, and several meetings on Friday, including one with local ministers, a session with local media, a speech at the Frayser Exchange Club, and a tour of Overton High School.

At the headquarters opening (where the crowd included a diverse crowd and some heavy local hitters), the normally somewhat laid-back Dean was turned on and vigorous for the occasion. Part of that stemmed no doubt from the recent MTSU poll showing him, as he announced to the crowd, tied for first with the GOP's Diane Black in terms of favorability.

He stressed “a respect for local government,” something lost in recent state government, as he saw it. And, beyond his usual themes of education, economic development, and the like, he made a point of emphasizing a need for diversity.

He’ll be back on Saturday and Sunday for two more days of campaigning, beginning with the Whitehaven Christmas parade.

These are what the Dean campaign calls the "founding members" of his Memphis-Shelby County steering committee:

Councilman Edmund Ford Jr.
Councilman Martavius Jones
Commissioner Van Turner
Commissioner Reginald Milton
Commissioner Anthony Tate
Alderman Frankie Dakin
Board Member Teresa Jones
Pastor LaSimba Gray
Bishop Ed Stephens Jr.
President Alandas Dobbins
VP of Real Estate Alex Turley
Financial Analyst Austin Brown
CEO Brandon Harris
Former Sr. VP Calvin Anderson
President & CEO Charles Ewing
Director of Finance & Operations David Burke
Chief Strategy Officer Dr. Ed Stephens III
Infrastructure Sales Engineer Dwayne Woods
Educator Erika Sugarmon
CEO Henry Turley
Office Coordinator, Division Thoracic Surgery Kelly Brown
Community Advocate Kemba Ford
President Paul Morris
Asst. Store Manager Rayvon Joseph
Executive Director Regina Whitley
Educator Sam Brobeck
Sr. Customer Engineer Shaun Wilson
Logistics Management Specialist Sidney Johnson
Community Advocate Stanley Wilson
Diversity & Inclusion Consultant Sylvia Wilson
Management Consultant Thurston Smith
Business Owner Ward Archer



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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Filling in the Blanks

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee’s platform for Memphis remains somewhat inspecific, but he’s got a start on it. Meanwhile, he's wasting no time putting his local network together.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 11:06 PM

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee laid out his "Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County " at the opening of his local headquarters on Poplar Avenue. on Wednesday. Among those present were (l to r) Geoff Diaz. Will Patterson, and Lang Wiseman. Wiseman is Lee's local campaign chaiurnan. - JB
  • JB
  • GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee laid out his "Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County " at the opening of his local headquarters on Poplar Avenue. on Wednesday. Among those present were (l to r) Geoff Diaz. Will Patterson, and Lang Wiseman. Wiseman is Lee's local campaign chaiurnan.


Some weeks ago, the gubernatorial campaign of Nashville businessman/farmer Bill Lee sent out to local media — and presumably to some households and relevant institutions — a list detailing his plans for this area under the heading “Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County.”

This was before Lee had held any major public events locally and before the completion of his 95-day tractor ride, which occurred roughly at the time of last month’s gubernatorial forum here sponsored by the Federation of Republican Women and featuring Lee and the five other GOP candidates for Governor. At that event and at an earlier informal meeting with local citizens at a Millington pizza parlor, Lee demonstrated an easy way with voters and a persuasive manner on the stump.

What he didn’t do then — and still hadn’t fully done as of Wednesday, when he held a Memphis headquarters opening on Poplar Avenue across from Memorial Park — was dot all the ‘i’s” and cross the “t’s” on his platform for Memphis. He has made a start on it, however.

What the Commitment does contain (and printed copies of it were available at the newly opened headquarters) was promises of gubernatorial action beneficial to the local area in 10 specific categories. What it doesn’t do, in most of the indicated areas,  is spell out exactly what that action will be.

The nearest parallel to Lee’s itemized list was one made by then gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen at a meeting of the Memphis Kiwanis Club in the Skyway of The Peabody. Bredesen, at the time still serving as Nashville’s mayor, was explicit about his intentions. Among his pledges were one to create an independent Board of Trustees for the University of Memphis (something accomplished only recently by Governor Bill Haslam), another to develop the riverfront, and another to aggressively seek NFL status for Memphis. The rest of his list contained concrete proposals, too — sometimes in depth.

Bredesen would not carry Shelby County in that year’s Democratic primary — not with County Mayor Bill Morrisk, a local favorite,  as an opponent — and he also lost the county in the general election to another homeboy, then 7th District congressman Don Sundquist, running as a Republican. But he impressed a lot of people that day at The Peabody and won attention that stayed in people’s memory for eight years later, when he did get elected Governor. (With Governor Sundquist’s help, he had meanwhile landed that NFL franchise — for Nashville.)

It is not a slam on Lee to point out that his list deals mainly with abstract concepts and lacks Bredesen-style specifics. It is, after all, what it says it is: a commitment, and presumably he will have the opportunity later on to fill in the blanks. Meanwhile, his suggestions for action in buffing up law enforcement, attacking the opioid-addiction problem, and expanding workforce development and local infrastructure are certainly headed in the direction of concrete action. (For those interested, the “Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County” is reprinted at the bottom of this article.)

What Lee did do quite specifically on Wednesday was indicate something about the kind of support he will command in Memphis. Among the people playing key roles for him locally will be attorney Lang Wiseman, a former Shelby County Republican Chairman. Others will be Horace Tipton as Shelby County field director. “County captains” will include well-known activists Karyn Dunavant, Elaine Ervins, and Rieta Selberg. It is an impressive group, and one augmented at Wednesday’s meeting by former Tennessee Republican chairman Chris Devaney, who will serve as a campaign manager.

Considering the credentials of his helpers and and some other clear signs of professionalism in his campaign, Lee is clearly going to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. He promised on Wednesday that he would be a frequent visitor to these parts, and almost certainly he will choose to flesh out more of his ideas for Memphis and Shelby County in the course of visits here over the next few months.

Here is the text of his “Commitment to Memphis and Shelby County”:

My vision is for Tennessee to be a leader in this nation, and in order to do that we need every part of our state to fully realize its potential.

Memphis and Shelby County are a critical and vital part of our state and a major asset to this country’s economy. Accelerated and transformative growth must be an absolute priority for the next Governor, because what happens in Memphis and Shelby County impacts everyone in our state.

Our next Governor must make a demonstrated commitment to ensuring the success of the entire West Tennessee region, and in order to do that we need a strong, vibrant and growing Shelby County. While Memphis and Shelby County face their own unique set of challenges, I am deeply impressed by the commitment, energy and vision of a broad range of community, business, and civic leaders I have been privileged to meet. Those leaders and all of the citizens there are working tirelessly to lift up their community, and they deserve a Governor who will be a true partner in their efforts. I will be that Governor.

Here are ten commitments I’m making to Memphis and Shelby County that I’ll keep when I become governor of Tennessee. Please let me know what you think here.

1)  commit that Memphis and Shelby County will play a significant role in our efforts to improve education, economic development, and enhancing public safety across West Tennessee.
We know there are unique challenges in Memphis and Shelby County, but also significant opportunity. As your Governor, I would treat all Tennesseans as equal shareholders in our state’s future and ensure that Shelby County is a key part in our vision for Tennessee.

2) I commit to being present in Shelby County and to make Shelby County a focus of my administration’s vision for our state.
I’ve visited Memphis and Shelby County dozens of times in the last year as I sought to more deeply understand the unique opportunities and challenges of the region. As a CEO, I know that you learn more outside of the office than you do at your desk. That’s why being present, available, and ready to listen in Shelby County will be a key priority for my administration.

3)I commit to working with local leaders to find tailored solutions for the challenges of Memphis and Shelby County.

No one knows Memphis like Memphians. Whether it’s education or economic development, there are no one-size-fits-all fixes, and my administration will understand that just because some things work for Nashville or Knoxville does not mean they are the right fit for Memphis. The state must support and align itself to the local vision, not supplant it. As Governor, my goal will be to support and enhance the local efforts that are working.

4) I commit to a regional approach for economic development that ensures West Tennessee is competitive with Arkansas & Mississippi.

We must make sure Shelby County is a key part of our plan for the West Tennessee region. As a border county, Shelby County suffers greatly from a burdensome tax code that makes it harder for businesses to stay. Businesses that move from Shelby County to Mississippi can see a substantial reduction in their franchise and excise tax-rate, of which Tennessee’s is the highest in the region. We will renew our focus on improving the environment for businesses in this state, recognizing that keeping and growing a business here is just as valuable as recruiting a business in from out-of-state.

5) I commit to supporting the comprehensive education reform efforts taking place and will continue to invest in ideas that work.

Shelby County has been a leader in locally-driven innovations to provide teachers with more flexibility, principals with greater autonomy, and students with more quality options. We will support and accelerate local efforts, working towards a system that will provide high-quality options for every parent in Shelby County.

6) I commit to true workforce development, making vocational, technical, and agricultural training a priority in public schools across Tennessee.

I employ 1,200 skilled tradesmen in my company, and we had to create our own training school to fill a dire need for vocational education as a state. The fact is, as a nation, we have neglected vocational education, leaving out a crucial ingredient for a healthy economy. If we want to keep jobs from leaving Shelby County, we’ll need to ensure that every student has the opportunity to explore and achieve their productive potential.

To do that, I will work with our private sector allies to provide training opportunities for more vocational education instructors, expanded apprenticeship opportunities for students, and invest in the critical technology our schools need to prepare for 21st century jobs.

7) I commit to engaging the faith community to bring their strengths to the public square to help address our state’s most important challenges.

Shelby County has a rich tradition of faith-based and non-profit charitable institutions leading community efforts. Our state government shouldn’t attempt to replace or dictate solutions without them. Instead, we should acknowledge the important role of faith and non-profit leaders and give them a seat at the table. So whether it’s a prison ministry, such as Men of Valor helping adults become leaders in their community, or a private-public partnership such as ARISE2Read supporting the next generation of literacy, we can and we should work with our faith leaders to deliver real results.

8) I commit to give law enforcement and prosecutors the support and resources they need to protect public safety.

A 600 officer shortage and an increased caseload for prosecutors makes the mission of law enforcement in Shelby County much harder than it should be. But in facing this challenge, Memphis and Shelby County leaders have managed to come together and do more with less, developing technologies and expertise that have helped in times of crisis. I will commit to making the investments necessary to ensure our law enforcement professionals have the tools they need to keep Tennesseans safe.

9) I commit to fighting the opioid epidemic with every tool at my disposal, including addiction treatment where appropriate and harsh punishments for drug dealers.

As we continue to rein in a system that allows for the over-prescription of opioid drugs, we are facing a new threat: New synthetic opioids that are exponentially more fatal than any prescription painkiller. Drug traffickers that come through Shelby County put the whole state at risk and bring crime and death with them. We will get behind our law enforcement and make Tennessee a state that drug traffickers fear, doing everything in our power to keep them out of Shelby County and our state.

10) I commit to help Memphis and Shelby County continue to build a world-class infrastructure that supports its economy and maintains its status as a national distribution hub.

From increasing the number of routes at Memphis International to executing the long-term vision for the Port of Memphis, we must continue to support infrastructure in Memphis as Tennessee’s gateway to the world. We can lead the nation in logistics and distribution, creating job opportunities and efficiencies for every Tennessean, but to do so we must continue to invest and build on the strategic assets of Memphis.







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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Chancellor Kyle Splits the Baby in the Opioid-Suit Dispute

Temporary injunction upholds mayoral authority over legal actions but leaves Commission's Circuit Court suit intact, pending possible agreement.

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 4:36 PM

Smiles from the Commission's side of the dispute indicated at least some satisfaction with Chancellor Kyle's even-handed ruling. - JB
  • JB
  • Smiles from the Commission's side of the dispute indicated at least some satisfaction with Chancellor Kyle's even-handed ruling.

Asked to rule on the dispute between two branches of county government on a dispute involving authority to sue regarding opioid damages, Chancellor Jim Kyle took a  leaf from the Biblical account of King Solomon, After hearing out legal pleading on Tuesday  for the Shelby County administration of Mayor Mark Luttrell and opposing testimony offering the County Commission's case, Kyle split the baby neatly.

And, unlike the  account in the Bible, both parties got some of what they wanted, and neither complained.

Kirk Caraway, acting as attorney for the county administration, sought a restraining order and injunction against a suit — contracted for by County Commission chair Heidi Shafer, supported by a Commission majority, and filed in Circuit court — that sought damages against various principals (including physicians, manufacturers, pharmacists, and others) involved in the distribution of opioids in Shelby County, on account of the resulting ravages of addiction in the population.

Allan Wade and Herman Morris, attorneys for the County Commission and the legal firms hired by Shafer et al., respectively, had offered in their turn two motions of dismissal of the administration's request for specific punitive and restrictive actions against the Commissioners..

And, in between debating those precise points of difference, the opposing sides essentially made competing cases for and against the right of Shafer and the Commission to file their action independently of consent and oversight from the administration via the County Attorney's office.

After an hour and a half of arguments back and forth, Kyle withdrew to his chambers and emerged some ten minutes later with a ruling. As indicated, there was something in it for both sides.

The Chancellor declined to cross jurisdictional lines and intervene against the Commission's suit, filed in Circuit Court by the national firm of Napoli Shkolnick and associated local attorneys, including lawyer Julian Bolton, who serves as the Commission's policy advisor but is actively involved with as an associate of the other litigators.

Kyle also took under advisement the two motions for dismissal filed by Wade and Morris. And he offered the opinion that there seemed to be agreement between the contending parties that legal action against distributors of opioids and that time was of the essence in proceeding on the matter.

In that sense, Kyle ruled on behalf of the Commission's argument that a "public health crisis" existed. But on the matter of legal authority to pursue damages, he sided with the administration, agreeing that the county charter categorically and unmistakably restricted the right of legal action to the executive branch, allowing legal activity by the legislative branch only in support of legislative ends.

Having found on that count for the administration, which had argued that a "constitutional crisis" existed, Kyle granted a temporary injunction against the commission's immediate right to proceed independently with the Circuit Court suit. But he noted that Luttrell had responded to the Commission's action with a statement that the administration had  itself  been on course to proceed by the end of the year with some legal action against distributors of opioids.

Kyle therefore limited the injunction period to the end of 2017, acknowledging the administration's authority over lawsuits but giving it time to decide whether to join in on the Circuit Court suit. Meanwhile he suggested from the bench, as he had previously in separate discussions with the parties, that the contending parties consult as to the possibility of joint action.

Thereby was the baby split, still alive and potentially able to be conjoined again via an agreement between the administration and the Commission. Should that happen, the Commission would have in effect forced the administration's hand in expedited action against the purveyors of opioids. Or at least that's how various Commissioners in attendance tended to view the outcome.

MTK





 

Smiles from the Commission's side of the dispute indicated at least some satisfaction with Chancellor Kyle's even-handed ruling. - JB
  • JB
  • Smiles from the Commission's side of the dispute indicated at least some satisfaction with Chancellor Kyle's even-handed ruling.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Roland, Harris Celebrate Veterans Day Together in Millington

With two opposing candidates for County Mayor doing the honors, a little politics may inevitably have gotten mixed in with the patriotism.

Posted By on Sat, Nov 11, 2017 at 6:49 PM

County Commissioner Terry Roland (seated, left) and state Senator Lee Harris (seated, right, behind flag on table), candidates for County Mayor and co-sponsors of an annual  Veterans Town Hall and Luncheon in Millington, listen as Millington Mayor Terry Jones, dressed in his Naval reservist's uniform, speaks to the occasion. - JB
  • JB
  • County Commissioner Terry Roland (seated, left) and state Senator Lee Harris (seated, right, behind flag on table), candidates for County Mayor and co-sponsors of an annual Veterans Town Hall and Luncheon in Millington, listen as Millington Mayor Terry Jones, dressed in his Naval reservist's uniform, speaks to the occasion.



One of the several Veterans Day events going on Saturday was the third annual edition of the Veterans Day Town Hall and Luncheon, held at the Hampton Inn in Millington. As always, the event featured a color guard, patriotic recitations and songs (some of the latter enacted by some energetic high school students from Rosemark), fried chicken and fixings, and tributes to the armed services, as well as to specific military veterans from the area.

Perhaps uniquely this year, it also featured two serious candidates for Shelby County mayor. Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland and state Senator Lee Harris, both of whom represent the Millington area, are the normal sponsors of the Town Hall and Luncheon. The fact that they both happen now to be announced candidates for mayor (and, in some reckonings, possible opponents in the 2018 general election) was either a coincidence or a serendipity, or both.

In any case, Republican Roland and Democrat Harris — along with Millington alderman Frankie Dakin, a Harris campaign aide — were sponsors once again and were all intent upon describing Saturday’s event as “beyond politics.”

As Harris put it, formally convening the program, “We all believe that this is a special day and, although we are not all the same political party, we think honoring our veterans is one issue where party doesn’t matter.”

The senator also paid tribute to the event’s regular partner organization, Alpha Omega Veterans Services, and to several dignitaries on hand: Matt Van Epps, the Assistant Commissioner at Tennessee Department of Veterans Services; Lt. Commander David Mowbray, chaplain at Naval Support Activity, Mid-South; and NSA Mid-South Commander Captain Michael Wathen.

For the most part, the Town Hall and Luncheon did, as all the principals promised, steer clear of politics, with one, probably inadvertent, exception. That was when Millington Mayor Terry Jones, dressed in Navy dress blues to commemorate his 24 years of active plus reserve service, was conveying his gratitude to Harris, Roland, and Dakin for putting on the event.

The first two acknowledgments went this way, verbatim: “Senator, I appreciate you putting this on every year. It’s our third year in public. Commissioner Roland, thank you, can we call you mayor yet?”

That last statement, which drew a nervous chuckle or two from the attendees, was surely unintentional, a case of what the textbooks call a Freudian slip

In any case, Roland did not seem displeased. It was his duty to close out the affair, and he did that with his patented mix of humility, good humor, and roughneck directness.

After telling a few tales about his own involvement with the military tradition, including one reminiscence of his father’s “pushing an ice cream wagon” at the old Naval training base at Millington and another of taking a pilgrimage with his Dad to the ancestral home of Sergeant Alvin York, a famed World War I hero from Tennessee, Roland made a point of professing himself “so grateful to Senator Lee Harris and alderman Frankie Dakin,” his event co-sponsors.

He unabashedly added, “Senator, I love you; Frankie, I love you.”

But, given the patriotic nature of the occasion, Roland could not resist (in any case, did not resist) recalling out loud his passionate resentment of a an official statement from Shelby County Schools, made in the wake of the controversy surrounding NFL athletes kneeling rather than standing for the national anthem.

The SCS statement evidently expressed a willingness to permit that form of expression from students. Roland recapped for the attendees his angry reaction, a threat to “take away every bit of funding” from the school system, easing up to say with a wink, “knowing I couldn’t do it.”

The commissioner said that people had “a right to protest but not during that national anthem and not on that flag.” and ended by saying that the anthem and the flag were “two things that we must stand for and stand behind.”

That might or might not be regarded as a case of allowing politics into the event, depending on one’s point of view. In any case, the muffled shout or two of assent from the audience during the heated part of Roland’s statement indicated that nobody who was there on Saturday had much complaint about it.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Dorothy "Happy" Jones, Legendary Activist, Dies

Involved in progressive causes of all kinds, Jones worked tirelessly across political, racial, and social lines to empower the disestablished and broaden the rights of the larger Memphis community.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 12:00 PM

"Happy" Jones
  • "Happy" Jones

Memphis lost one of its most valuable citizens Thursday when Dorothy Jones, better known to family, friends, and the world at large as “Happy,” passed away at the age of 80.

Happy Jones was born a member of the socially prominent Snowden family but, like her late sisters Sally and Edie, embraced society in the largest possible sense. She involved herself in every imaginable public issue aimed at broadening justice and opportunity for citizens at large — from the sanitation workers’ struggle of 1968 to black-white comity to women’s rights to fairness and equality for the LGBTQ community.

She was an activist for numerous other causes, worked as a marriage and family therapist and social worker, and was a recipient of the Women’s foundation for a Greater Memphis Legends award. Politically, she worked within the Republican Party to help establish a two-party political system during the 1960s and 1970s but became an independent working across party lines as her ever-growing progressive streak became irreconcilable with the rightward drift of the party she had been born into.

In the words of her longtime friend, Memphis congressman Steve Cohen: "No one made Memphis more a City of Good Abode than Happy Jones. She was always in the forefront of progress and justice. Happy was a leader for over 50 years, crossing political and racial lines. Hers was a life well lived."

At election time, for the last couple of decades, she had joined with two other activist women, Jocelyn Wurzburg and Paula Casey, in publishing a widely noted ballot indicating their respectuive choices for public office. (The three of them usually agreed, but not always, and they made a point of stating the reasons for their recommendations.)

Happy's death follows that of her late husband Fred Terry, who passed away in September. She is survived by three daughters: Dottie Jones of Memphis, Meade Jones Hanna of Virginia, and Whitney Devine of Washington state.

According to Dottie Jones, arrangements are being made for a memorial service at Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Wednesday, November 22 at 11:00 a.m.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Democrats Showcase 2018 Candidates at AFSCME Event

Well-attended affair draws local, state, and federal party officials, and features hopefuls aiming to capture GOP-held offices as well as those traditionally held by Democrats.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 9, 2017 at 10:59 PM

Sharing a laugh at Thursday night's Democratic/AFSCME meet 'n greet were (l to r) David Weatherspoon, who is eyeing a race for state Senate District 31; Allan Creasy, candidate for state House district 97, and John Boatner Jr., candidate for U.S. Congressional District 8. - JB
  • JB
  • Sharing a laugh at Thursday night's Democratic/AFSCME meet 'n greet were (l to r) David Weatherspoon, who is eyeing a race for state Senate District 31; Allan Creasy, candidate for state House district 97, and John Boatner Jr., candidate for U.S. Congressional District 8.




For local Democrats, the timing worked out pretty well for Thursday night’s well-attended party Meet ‘n Greet at the Association Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union building on Beale. This was the week, after all, when Democrats on the national level won important elections in states like Virginia and New Jersey.

And the presence at the event, which was co-sponsored by AFSCME AND the Tennessee Democratic Party, of ranking party officials at the local, state, and federal levels could not fail to reinforce the sense of a renascent political organization (the Shelby County Democratic Party was reborn recently after a year of enforced decertification).

On hand to address the troops were SCDP chairman Corey Strong, TNDP chair Mary Mancini, and special guest Jaime Harrison, associate chair of the Democratic National Committee.

All the speakers, clearly encouraged by the week’s electoral successes, were, in the lexicon of the Obama era, fired up and ready to go. Harrison paid tribute to Shelby County as “the heart of the Tennessee Democratic Party,” but, as he also noted, in candid acknowledgement of past under-achievements and setbacks, “there have been some problems with the heart.”

All that could change, Harrison said, echoing previous upbeat remarks by Strong and Mancini. Like them, he foresaw an energized party effort behind a new crop of Democratic candidates for major offices like Governor and Senator, as well as for legislative races and key local offices like Sheriff and Shelby County Mayor.

Reinforcing that prospect were a goodly number of local candidates in attendance, including Chief Deputy Sheriff Floyd Bonner (now aiming for the top job with an endorsement from current Sheriff Bill Oldham) and state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, who now seeks the office of County Mayor.

There were enough local officials and candidates fora variety of offices on hand that listing them all would incur the same difficulty that afflicts Academy Award winners at thank-you time on stage. The impressive thing about the turnout was that, besides the candidates running in the inner city for seats customarily held by Democrats, there were an unusual number of political newcomers on hand seeking to displace Republican incumbents in the suburbs — a la state Rep. Dwayne Thompson of District 96, who turned out an over-confident GOP predecessor last year.

Not bad as a warm-up event for the political battles of 2018.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Shafer’s Commission Colleagues Back Her Move on Opioid Suit

After near-unanimous vote approving Commission chair's authorization of legal action, resisted as a "usurpation" by Mayor Luttrell, the controversy moves to Chancery Court next Tuesday.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2017 at 12:48 PM

Shafer, making the case for immediate legal action against opioid distributors - JB
  • JB
  • Shafer, making the case for immediate legal action against opioid distributors



As of Wednesday morning, armed with a fresh vote of confidence from her Commission colleagues, Shelby County Commission chair Heidi Shafer seems, at least temporarily, to have won her gamble in claiming the right to file for damages against a variety of opioid distributors on behalf of Shelby  County.

The nine members present at a special called meeting in Commission chambers, midway of the body’s regular Wednesday morning agenda schedule, voted 8-1 to support Shafer’s action, announced by her at a hastily called press conference last Thursday, in contracting with a national law firm to file such a suit.

County Mayor Mark Luttrell, objecting to Shafer’s action as a usurpation of the sole contracting authority he contends the county charter gives the administration, had called a follow-up press conference on Tuesday to announce a suit of his own in Chancery Court, in the name of “Shelby County, Tennessee” as plaintiff, seeking a restraining order and temporary injunction against Shafer’s action.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s Commission vote — unanimous except for an abstention by Walter Bailey, who had unsuccessfully moved to defer the vote — both contending parties acknowledged that Chancellor Jim Kyle, in whose court Luttrell’s action was filed, had agreed to hear the issue on Tuesday.

Shafer, understandably ebullient following Wednesday’s vote, quoted Kyle as having urged the parties “to work things out,” while County Attorney Kathryn Pascover declined further comment.

Last week’s action by Shafer, who contends that the county charter gives her “limited executive function...to carry out our legislative initiatives,” authorized the national firm of Napoli Shkolnik, in association with Julian Bolton as local counsel, to pursue legal remedies against a wide variety of drug manufacturers, distributors, pharmacists, and physicians.

(Bolton, perhaps not coincidentally, has been serving as a “policy advisor” for the Commission, which attempted to hire him as its own independent attorney but was prevented from doing so by a ruling from the County Attorney, who claims ultimate legal representation for both the executive and legislative branches of county government.)

Luttrell continues to insist that only the administration has such authority and maintains that he and the County Attorney’s office have been in contact with several firms regarding potential legal action on the opioid matter and are on course to seek action expeditiously. Shafer and her supporters on the Commission have suggested that the administration has been dragging its feet in the matter of litigation.

In a brief but animated discussion in the Commission’s upstairs committee room, immediately preceding the body’s going downstairs into the County building’s main auditorium for the special called meeting, both Shafer and Commissioner Terry Roland made pleas for immediate action on behalf of the numerous Shelby Countians, including children, who have suffered the ravages of opioid addiction as a result of rampant distribution, legal and otherwise, of painkillers.

In response to Bailey’s questioning the urgency of immediate action, Roland said, “We’ve been working on this for three years” without the administration’s pursuing action. Meanwhile, he said, he has been going to the funerals of numerous friends who have overdosed on opioids. “You tell them it’s not urgent!”

His comments and similar ones by Shafer anticipated later emotional testimony by two women at the special called meeting downstairs, who cited instances of damaged and terminated lives due to opioid addiction.

Roland had also raised another matter, a recent circumstance in which Commissioners had rejected a recommendation from the administration to switch the insurance of county employees from Cigna to Aetna. He wondered aloud if the administration was resisting pursuing damages for opioid abuse because its preferred insuror might be in the distribution network.

That was one reference to a context of disagreement beyond the specific ones touched upon in the ongoing legal actions. The fact is that the Commission and the administration have been engaged in a serious power struggle for at least two years — one stemming from the Commission’s wish to expand its oversight of numerous matters, financial and otherwise, that had previously been left, more or less, to the administration’s discretion.

Shafer’s assumption of contracting authority in the current opioid matter, and the ultimate disposition of it legally, could well constitute a serious test case in redefining the respective powers of the executive and legislative branches of county government.






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It’s Luttrell versus Shafer in Opioid Showdown

An “irked” Mayor files suit to block Commision chair’s contract with law firm, as Commission members prepare for Wednesday vote on the matter.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2017 at 1:42 AM

Luttrell at press conference - JB
  • JB
  • Luttrell at press conference


The Shelby County Commission, meeting in committee on Wednesday, will have the next move in a mounting confrontation between branches of government over the right legal strategy for confronting the opioid-addiction crisis in the county and the even more compelling and decisive matter of who has the legal authority to pursue that strategy.

Commission chair Heidi Shafer, accompanied by several supportive Commissioners, threw down the gauntlet last Thursday at a press conference at which she announced that, acting on her authority as chairman, she had engaged the law firm of Napoli Shkolnick to pursue a damage complaint on behalf of the county against a lengthy list of defendants, including drug manufacturers, pharmacists, and physicians.

County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who had denounced that action as a usurpation of authority last week, professed himserlf “irked” on Tuesday at a press conference of his own and followed through with an announcement that he was filing suit in Chancery Court for an injunction and restraining order against Shafer’s in presuming to execute such a contract.. Luttrell’s suit was also filed on behalf of the County and in the name of “Shelby County, Tennessee” as plaintiff.

Although the basic premise of Luttrell’s suit was that, according to the clear language of the county charter, Shafer’s action was “ultra vires” (Latin legalese for “beyond the powers” of her office), his motion for relief, listed several other alleged shortcomings, notably including the fact that, until the full Commission takes up a resolution of support for Shafer on Wednesday, it will not have formally conferred any statement of support for her.

Shafer had previously expressed confidence that she would have the backing of a clear Commission majority — one numerous enough both to pass a resolution of support and to supply the 8 votes from the 13-member body that would be necessary to override a potential mayoral veto of that resolution.

But, regardless of parliamentary outcomes, the fundamental issues of this latest confrontation between mayoral and Commission authority will apparently be resolved judicially.

In taking her action, Shafer alleged, among other things, that the administration had failed to act “expeditiously” on an issue that the state, by filing for remedies of its own in the opioid-addition matter, could co-opt the County ‘s freedom of action, a prospect that required her “to exercise the limited executive function that the charter allows me to employ special counsel to carry out our legislative initiatives.”

Among the other problems with Shafer’s action alleged by Luttrell in his suit and at his press conference are that Shafer’s brief fails to list specific damages for which relief is sought, that it binds the County to an arbitration process “limiting the legal remedies of the County,” and that it falsely alleges dilatory action on the administration’s part.

But the essential issue in Luttrell’s suit is that Shafer, whether or not she is able to secure a satisfactory statement of support from her Commission mates, is in violation of the County Charter, which grants “sole authority to contract on behalf of the County” and has thereby “usurped the authority endowed to the Mayor and the County Attorney” by the charter.

That is the matter that the courts will have to decide, and whatever resolution might come via judicial means will resolve not only the current imbroglio but a long-festering power struggle between the executive and legislative branches of Shelby County government.

That struggle first arose in the budget process of 2015 through Commissioners’ complaints that the administration had misleadingly withheld the true fact of a County fiscal surplus, thereby short-circuiting potential fiscal strategies — for a tax cut desired by some Commissioners, for spending programs desired by others. The disagreement has mounted in the two years since, aa the Commission has progressively demanded greater access to and control over financial and other matters.

One symbolic manifestation of the dispute was the Commission’s endeavor to have former Commissioner Julian Bolton hired as the Commission’s own independent attorney. The administration objected that only the County Attorney, appointed by the Mayor, could function as counsel for both administration and Commission, but consented to a compromise that Bolton could serve as a “policy advisor” to the Commission.

As it happens, though, Bolton is engaged as an attorney of record, along with Napoli Shkolnick, for legal action on behalf of the County in the contract executed by Shafer.


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