Making Waves at Shelby County Commission 

Changes in national government always cause adjustments on the part of local governments, in the same way that dropping a pebble on the surface of a settled body of water prompts ripples outward.

But the most recent change from the Democratic presidency of Obama to the Republican administration of Trump has generated more than the usual uncertainties in Memphis and Shelby County. The impact is more like that of a boulder being thrown into a bathtub.

One obvious case in point has been the continuing brouhaha over the effort by three local officials — Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Sheriff Bill Oldham, and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael — to get the court out from under the direct supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice, as imposed by a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between the DOJ and Shelby County government.

Most or all of these officials had a chance three weeks ago to buttonhole the current boss of the DOJ, Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, about ending his department's hands-on monitoring of Juvenile Court, and a now-famous letter by the three to Sessions followed up on the matter. Predictably, there was great opposition to the request, which has dominated various local proceedings, including last week's kickoff in Memphis of a statewide listening tour by the legislative Black Caucus.

The essential argument of those opposed to the Justice Department's potential withdrawal of direct oversight is that sufficient remedies have not been provided to correct the irregularities pinpointed by a prior DOJ investigation of the court, including what the investigators saw as outright racial bias in processing of juvenile offenders.

As indicated in Politics (p. 8), the matter spilled over into this week's meeting of the Shelby County Commission, which saw all six African-American Democrats and one supportive white Republican formally adopt a resolution opposing the withdrawal request — all this in the county mayor's presence. Four of the commission's Republicans demurred, but not by voting no; even they, reading the aroused reaction against the initiative on the part of several audience members, saw abstention from voting to be the better part of valor.

One of them, however, Millington Commissioner Terry Roland, cautioned, in essence, that the political views of Sessions, a conservative Republican, were liable to be significantly different from those of former Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, the Democrat under whose tenure the MOU was authorized.

It is hard to imagine Luttrell et al. venturing to petition whatever attorney general might have been appointed by Clinton for a lifting of the MOU.

The root fact is that, in the absence of verifiable concrete data, Sessions is indeed likely to base his decision on subjective — which is to say political — interpretation of the evidence.

Whatever the attorney general does will make waves in the chambers of local government — just as Sessions' promise of federal help to the understaffed Memphis Police Department has complicated the thinking of both city and county officials about how to remedy the MPD's problems.

We imagine Sessions sees it all as a welcome break from the turmoil of the ongoing Russia investigations in Washington.



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