Shelby County Commissioners put off electing a chairman for the next year’s term Monday, July 16, after 21 rounds of voting in which no one got seven votes.
The commission will try again at its July 30 meeting.
The contenders through the balloting for the chairmanship term that starts Sept. 1 were current chairman pro tempore Wyatt Bunker, Henri Brooks, Mike Ritz and the current chairman Sidney Chism.
With Democratic commissioner Steve Mulroy absent, the seven-vote Democratic majority was short one crucial vote. But the voting for chairman was across party lines with as many as four members abstaining from any choice during the balloting.
Chism is in his second term as chairman and said later he has no interest in pursuing a third term but would be willing to serve as a compromise choice if no one else can get seven votes.
“I’m not campaigning for it,” Chism said. “If they can’t get a consensus candidate I’m willing to serve. But I’m not looking for the job.”
Commissioners caucused in groups of three and four privately in the commission chambers and a backroom during two recesses and as the afternoon meeting was in progress, seemingly oblivious to the violations of the state’s open meetings law.
“It’s time for a black woman to be nominated,” Brooks said at one point adding that the commission hasn’t had a black woman as chairman since 2008 when Deidre Malone served. Malone left the commission in 2010 to run for Shelby County mayor.
“The chair has been held mostly by white males,” Brooks said.
Commissioner Chris Thomas talked about the commission’s sometime-custom of rotating the chairmanship between the two political parties.
“We kept our word supporting Chairman Chism,” Thomas said of the Republican commissioners. “Now they (Democrats) don’t want to keep their word.”
As many as four commissioners abstained at times. At least one commissioner abstained on 17 of the 21 rounds of voting.
The first three rounds of voting between Bunker and Brooks were the closest to party lines with Republican Commissioner Mike Ritz abstaining on that and most other rounds of voting and all six Democrats lining up for Brooks and the other five Republicans backing Bunker.
But from that point on the party lines crumbled with Democratic Commissioner Justin Ford voting for Bunker several times and Republican Commissioner Terry Roland voting for Chism several times.
“You’ve got some of our commissioners who have really got a desire to serve,” Chism said after the meeting. “They might be voting emotions rather than voting what’s right for the county and the commission. I hope they can get politics out of the way and vote for the person that can better serve.”
A move by Commissioner Walter Bailey to give the next chairman a pay raise even though the commission already voted last month to keep the chairman’s pay the same didn’t have enough votes to be added to Monday’s agenda.
Commissioner James Harvey was among those supporting such a pay raise saying the commission should “incentivize” the position.
“When we win, the public is just about done with us, unless they have some selfish issue,” Harvey added. “There’s more I could do if I didn’t have to make sure my family is eating.”
“We supposed to lead by example,” countered Commissioner Terry Roland. “I didn’t do this job for money.”
Harvey made his point again before referring to Roland, saying “I’m sure he’s got a comment that won’t make sense after this.”
Roland then accused Harvey of living in Mecklenburg County, N.C., and no longer living in the commission district he represents.