Politics and Rule 33 

The election in 2006 of a new and, thanks to term limits, almost completely overhauled, Shelby County Commission led to a plethora of ad hoc committees, new regulations, what-have-you. Two of the new rules deserve special mention.

One is the so-called "Mulroy Rule" named after first-term commissioner Steve Mulroy, a lawyer, who proposed it by way of streamlining the parliamentary aspects of commission business. The old protocol had it that members seeking recognition from the chair would be called on in the order of their requests, regardless of the subject matter. The Mulroy Rule gives the chairman discretion to vary that order in the interests of a commissioner who seeks recognition for a point previously covered in the discussion but still pending.

Another new one is Rule 33, so called for its place in the revised bylaw sequence. This one is even more innovative, in that it allows for a commissioner to ask for and get a two-week deferral on any item, so long as the commissioner seeking the deferral has not been granted one on that item previously. Given the well-known complications of Roberts' Rules, the new rule has often proved to be a convenient piece of streamlining.

It has also served once or twice as a means, for better or for worse, of circumventing an action about to be taken by the commission as a whole. So it was on Monday, when Rule 33 was invoked by Commissioner Mike Ritz to defer a resolution to appropriate $1 million to the Memphis Chamber Foundation. The money would be used to fund a plethora of local organizations and other beneficiaries in the interests of "facilitation of economic development in Memphis and Shelby County."

And that was a no-no in the eyes of a couple of commissioners, notably Henri Brooks and Sidney Chism, the latter a well-known political broker during election seasons. In the last few weeks, Brooks has carried the brunt of a battle against the resolution, noting that one of the proposed beneficiaries was the local group Mpact, which over the years has involved itself in political issues, though not especially in advocacy of this or that candidate. New Path, another organization not included in the grant, does play politics in the direct sense, however, and normally endorses slates of candidates at election time.

There happens to be a modest overlap of membership between the governing boards of the two organizations, and that was enough to prove antagonistic to Brooks and her commission ally Chism, who prefers to push candidates of his own choosing, sans benefit of county funds. In committee hearings, therefore, Brooks managed to attach conditions utterly forbidding the use of county-appropriated money for overtly political purposes.

There ensued objections to the objections, however, and efforts to parse the issue a bit more proved fruitless. The matter got so tangled that a frustrated and/or confused Ritz moved for a deferral. When that motion was defeated, he shrugged and invoked Rule 33, which meant that the resolution got deferred anyway.

Perhaps the two weeks' respite will allow the commissioners to unravel the controversy and arrive at a satisfactory compromise. If so, the odd but promising Rule 33 might become a precedent for other local bodies.

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