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VOL. 128 | NO. 153 | Wednesday, August 07, 2013

School Board Vacancy Collides With Redistricting

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners have scrapped a plan to fill a vacancy on the countywide school board for now because it comes close to the Sept. 1 conversion of the 23-member school board to a smaller group.

The uncertainty and complexity is that the board is set to slim down to a seven-member board on Sept. 1 under terms of the 2011 consent agreement among all sides in the schools merger lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

But the same settlement in the multi-part legal case allows for the possibility of the Shelby County Commission expanding the board to 13 members instead of seven.

With Sept. 1 just weeks away and no ruling on the specific 13-member district plan and its boundaries yet by federal Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays, the commission Monday, Aug. 5, considered how to fill the vacancy created Aug. 1 by the resignation of District 6 school board member Reginald Porter.

He resigned to become chief of staff of the school system.

The commission had passed a resolution last month setting the body’s Aug. 19 meeting as the time they would fill the vacancy. At the time they believed the appointee could come from District 6 as it is presently drawn.

But this week, they learned that if the new district lines take effect next month with a ruling from Mays, the vacancy may come open again in September if their August appointee doesn’t live in the newly configured district. That district – District 9 – is a much smaller part of the current District 6.

The commission ultimately voted down a resolution from commission Chairman Mike Ritz to set the stage for an appointee who lives in the new District 9. And then the commission went a step further and rescinded the July resolution setting up the timeline for filling Porter’s vacancy.

MULROY

“We’re overcomplicating it,” Commissioner Steve Mulroy said of the delay in action on the Ritz resolution. “I think the debate’s gotten circular.”

“I’m concerned by having to turn around and start all over,” countered Commissioner Henri Brooks. “That’s very confusing. That process lacks something – integrity.”

Commissioner Walter Bailey argued the district shouldn’t be without representation although the next voting school board meeting is Aug. 27.

He said the move to anticipate court approval of the new smaller district lines in filling the vacancy is “part of the hazards of the political process.”

Commissioner Sidney Chism said the move to delay the appointment was a continuation of the political fight among commissioners over schools consolidation.

“It’s obvious to me, it’s just a delaying tactic,” he said.

Mays agreed in hearings on the redistricting plan that he approved a provision that would allow the commission to take the school board to 13 members instead of seven on Sept. 1.

He also said he would have final approval of the details of such a plan including the new district lines.

Sept. 1 is when the nine members of the old Memphis City Schools board and the seven members of the old Shelby County Schools board go off the countywide school board.

The legal point Mays is expected to decide is whether the County Commission can fill the six new positions immediately by appointment or whether there could be a special election or whether to wait on the regularly scheduled county general elections in August 2014.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the commission are seeking a status conference with Mays on the matter.

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