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VOL. 126 | NO. 30 | Monday, February 14, 2011

County Commission Set to Weigh in on Schools Issue

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County commissioners are certain to mirror some of last week’s debate in the Tennessee Legislature Monday when they take up an ordinance and a bundle of resolutions all dealing with the schools consolidation issue.

The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

Commissioners moved Wednesday in committee sessions to hire a special outside legal counsel to represent them in any possible litigation that might follow the schools consolidation bill becoming state law.

The state House approved the bill Thursday sending the measure to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam. The state Senate approved the same legislation earlier in the week.

Haslam signed the bill into law Friday morning.

Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne has told commissioners the state legislation stands a good chance of prevailing over any legal challenge. Those chances improved, she said, when the legislation was amended two weeks ago to take out any attempt to stop the citywide March 8 schools consolidation referendum.

“In my opinion, the removal of the (countywide) referendum requirement makes it such that I think it will – it may stand up to a court challenge,” Rayne said in response to a question from Commissioner Mike Carpenter. “That helped the bill.”

Commissioner Steve Mulroy proposed the hiring of outside counsel citing Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s support of provisions of the pending legislation.

Mulroy’s bundle of resolutions also includes allowing the commission to go ahead with the process of interviewing applicants for possible appointed seats on an expanded countywide school board, a request of both school systems to form a “unified education planning commission” and a resolution expressing opposition to the schools consolidation legislation.

Mulroy is also sponsor of an ordinance up for first reading Monday that would increase the size of the county school board during the two-and-a-half-year transition period laid out in the state legislation.

“This is simply first reading of an ordinance, just so we are ready,” Mulroy said. “This really isn’t that big a deal today. There’s nothing wrong with us being prepared … and just being ready for all eventualities.”

The committee recommendations came after a spirited debate certain to be repeated at Monday’s meeting of the full commission.

They met resistance from all three commissioners representing the district that takes in all six of the county’s suburban towns and cities.

“The same way y’all are going to try to railroad this here is the same thing you are blaming Nashville about,” said Commissioner Terry Roland.

Commissioner Walter Bailey said he found the Legislature’s debate and action on the bill an attempt to take over a local issue.

“It was obvious there is an effort by legislators … for them to step in, take charge of this situation here in Shelby County and control it,” Bailey said. “There are several obvious reasons that they want to do it. But it’s pretty evident that it has nothing to do with an orderly process.”

Commissioner Heidi Shafer said she wouldn’t mind seeing a transition period of five years.

“Why in the world would we want to shorten the time of the transition?” Shafer said. “Trying to shorten the transition time, in my mind, is nothing but political posturing.”

Carpenter said the planning commission provision in the bill doesn’t mean a move toward a merger transition. He called the state legislation “a boondoggle.”

“If you look at the chess board, we never move the pieces until the end of the period. The whole purpose is never to merge the systems – never to come up with a process,” he said. “This is all a shell game. It’s not a real transition.”

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