Cutting to the Chase 

As James Harvey prepares for his chairmanship of the county commission, he already has a challenge.

Anyone used to listening in to committee meetings of the Shelby County Commission via audio streaming on the commission's website came a cropper last Wednesday — literally. Workmen on the 11th floor involved in the renovation of the Vasco Smith County Administration Building inadvertently cropped the fiber optics cord that enabled transmission of commission activities.

click to enlarge James Harvey
  • James Harvey

The unfortunate circumstance wiped out audio records of some lively debate, though recordings survive of the commission's interviews with 11 candidates for the appointment to a vacancy in District 6 of the Unified School District's board.

The candidates for the seat vacated by Reginald Porter, now chief of staff for the Unified District, were: Shante Avant, Perry Bond, Tony Braxton, Justin Casey, Cherry Davis, Clara Ford, Rosalyn Nichols, David Page, Joya Smith, Rhoda Stigall, and Sharon Webb.

The commission will vote on a successor to Porter on Monday.

Another matter introduced last Wednesday was that of committee assignments made by chairman-elect James Harvey. Normally, the commission's approval of such assignments is pro forma, and it may turn out to be that way when the commission holds its next public meeting on Monday.

But Commissioner Walter Bailey, a Democrat, fired a shot last Wednesday across the bow of fellow Democrat Harvey, who on Monday will formally accede to the chairmanship, which he won in large part with Republican votes.

Bailey objected to the appointment of Republican Heidi Shafer as budget committee chairman and sought instead to amend the appointments resolution to reappoint Melvin Burgess as budget chair. Shafer objected, as did GOP commissioners Terry Roland and Chris Thomas, and Bailey's motion was defeated, with the full commission due to consider the issue next week.

What is involved is something more than mere honorifics. Shafer was a vociferous opponent of the increases in the county budget and tax rate sought by county mayor Mark Luttrell and approved this year after a protracted struggle. She is known for close line-by-line study of budgetary matters and sees herself as a watchdog against overspending.

Burgess, who works as director of internal audit for the Unified School District, is meanwhile still under attack by Roland, who unsuccessfully sought to have Burgess disqualified from voting on the budget and tax rate because of his employment with an agency receiving county funds.

As the interviews with candidates for the school board were being held on Wednesday, Roland apprised the Flyer of his intention to challenge Burgess' right to vote on the matter on Monday. "Melvin can't do that," Roland said. "He's trying to vote [to select] his own boss."

• The list of candidates who met last Thursday's filing deadline for a special election in state House District 91 indicates that name identification may play a major role in determining the winner. The seat was held for some four decades by the late, revered former House speaker pro tem Lois DeBerry, and the surname DeBerry is represented twice in the field of 11 candidates.

Dwight DeBerry, a political newcomer, is a cousin of Lois DeBerry, while Doris A. DeBerry-Bradshaw is the sister of District 90 representative John DeBerry (no relation to Lois). The extended Ford family figures in with the filing of Kemba Ford, daughter of former state senator John Ford, who is making her second electoral effort after running unsuccessfully for the city council in 2011.

Other candidates in a fairly nondescript field are Raumesh Akbari, Joshua R. Forbes, Terica Lamb, Clifford Lewis, Kermit Moore, Gregory Stokes, Mary Taylor Wright, and Jim Tomasik. All except Tomasik, an avowed libertarian and an independent, are running in the October 8th Democratic primary. No Republicans filed in District 91. The general election is November 21st.

Stephen Fincher, a member in good standing of the congressional Tea Party caucus and an unabashed member of the Republican Party's right wing, struck some unwontedly moderate-sounding notes last Tuesday night as the featured speaker at the annual Master Meal event of the East Shelby County Republican Club.

Noting that he was "the first Republican to hold this seat," the 8th District congressman from Frog Jump in Crockett County called for unity among all Republicans of whatever faction. "This is a two-party system. We cannot eat our own. We must stay united if we're going to beat Barack Obama and the Democrats," he said.

And Fincher, who spoke before a packed house at the Great Hall of Germantown, urged caution regarding a proposal by some Republicans to force a shutdown of the government rather than allow the funding of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act).

"If we do a CR [continuing resolution] without Obamacare, [Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid is going to put it right back in and send it back to the House," Fincher said.

Then, after asking for a show of hands over the proposition that "the president will be right back on the campaign trail, and IRS scandals and Benghazi and all that will be swept under the rug, and he will use this to keep control of the Senate in 2014," Fincher said, "I think that's what'll happen. ... I think he's baiting us, he's trying to divide us." The congressman advocated instead a strategy of delaying the onset of aspects of Obamacare.

But Fincher made it clear that, in proposing discretion, he was not advocating that Republicans surrender their principles. "If we fall, it won't be because of the Democrats. It'll be because of the Republicans not standing up."

Other speakers at the annual East Shelby GOP affair included Luttrell, Shelby County Republican chairman Justin Joy, and state Republican chairman Chris Devaney of Nashville. Devaney defended a decision by the National Republican Committee to keep NBC and CNN out of the GOP's future televised-debate plans as the penalty for those networks' pursuing program projects relating to potential Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

• Shelby County chancellor Arnold Goldin, who has figured in several important cases in recent years — notably the challenge by several Democratic losing candidates to the county election of 2010, which he denied — is one of three judges appointed last week by Governor Bill Haslam to fill appellate-court vacancies a year from now.

Goldin will replace Judge Alan Highers, who is retiring, on the Court of Appeals, Western Section.

The other judge-in-waiting appointments are those of Nashville lawyer Neal McBrayer to the Court of Appeals, Middle Section, to succeed Judge Patricia Cottrell, and Criminal Court judge Robert Montgomery of Sullivan County to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Middle Section, to succeed Judge Joseph Tipton.

The unusual situation is the result of the General Assembly's failure during the 2013 legislative session to renew the state's Judicial Nominating Commission, which has had the duty of recommending candidates to fill appellate vacancies. Mindful of the situation, Judges Highers, Cottrell, and Tipton gave the governor early notice of their intention not to be on the August 2014 retention ballot.

The Judicial Commission, which expired at midnight on June 30th, did its part to fill the procedural gap, meeting in the two or three days prior to that and making its last recommendations to Haslam for the three positions.

The November 2014 statewide ballot will contain a constitutional amendment empowering the governor to fill such appellate vacancies on his own, subject to the legislature's confirmation.

Meanwhile, another Memphian, state Supreme Court justice Janice Holder, has also announced that she intends to retire when her term expires on August 31, 2014, and, since the Judicial Commission expired without making recommendations for her successor, Haslam is in something of a quandary as to how to proceed.


• Memphis Democrats used to getting emails from the Daily Buzz newsletter, published by Trace Sharp and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter of Dresden, will be getting a bonus from now on.

The Daily Buzz email, reconfigured as the Crockett Policy Buzz, will now incorporate investigative and analytical efforts of the newly formed Crockett Policy Institute, whose executive director is Sharp.

As she wrote, in a message to subscribers, "It is time for reasonable and educated discussions on policy, reaching out for common sense solutions that can change our state for the better. ... The Crockett Policy Buzz which will come to your emails each morning will continue to focus on news of the day as well as looking at how we can problem solve effectively the tests we face in our society right now."

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