An award for elected and non-elected public officials marking its 10th anniversary this year began as a way to honor the late Probate Court Clerk Bobby Dunavant and to counter the damage done 10 years ago by the Tennessee Waltz federal public corruption investigation.
The Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards to be presented Feb. 27 at a luncheon at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis by the Rotary Club of Memphis East is part of a larger continuing discussion about the nature of “good government” and why citizens get involved in government positions – elected or non-elected.
Nominations can be made up to noon Wednesday, Jan. 30. at the Rotary Club of Memphis East website, www.rotaryclubofmemphiseast.org.
Brad Martin, chairman of RBM Venture Co. and retired chairman and CEO of Saks Inc., is the keynote speaker.
A committee of Rotarians and the Dunavant family select one elected official and one non-elected official each year for the awards. They also consider those who have been nominated in past years.
The Daily News and the University of Memphis sponsor the award.
The criteria for the awards are individuals who are scrupulously honest, unpretentious, accessible, energetic, involved and a mentor.
The factors are generally agreed upon principles that Dunavant exemplified. The discussion about how they apply in different times can be lively.
Memphis City Council member Bill Boyd, a past honoree who attended Southside High School with Dunavant, began his political career in the 1960s working at the Shelby County Courthouse as a non-elected government employee for what was then the city assessor’s office.
At that time, Boyd had no thoughts of serving as an elected official. He was later elected Shelby County property assessor and in 2007 won a seat on the Memphis City Council.
He was the last candidate in the council race at the urging of former Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett for whom Boyd had been a campaign manager.
“I said, ‘I can get up off the couch so to speak and maybe do some good with my background,’” Boyd said of his decision to run.
Boyd’s campaign emphasized his fiscal experience and called for reforming city finances, which Boyd characterized as a “train wreck.”
He rejected the notion that there was any groundswell of public support for him to get back into the political arena.
“We’ve heard that many times – people urged me to run,” he said. “Only two or three people threw it out there. No one else even knew. It wasn’t a groundswell of people saying we need you. Ninety-nine out of 100 times this is the way it is.”
Cardell Orrin is from a younger generation, but one finding its own ways to be involved. He and others in their 20s and 30s started New Path eight years ago.
New Path is one of several groups that came to life in Memphis after the start of the millennium. Many of those groups were not only aimed at younger Memphians. They were also a mix of political and civic. New Path is on the more political side of the equation backing candidates for elected office starting with Tomeka Hart’s successful 2004 campaign for Memphis City Schools board.
Orrin said motives are important.
“You shouldn’t be running for office for that to be who you are,” he said of the advice he gives. “Who you are should help you to mold that office to help the community and help to reach the goal that you have in your head for what you want to accomplish in that office.”
Orrin also said there should be more discussions about the nature of “good government.”
“You go back 60 years in Memphis and could you say that a Crump-run city and almost state were good government?” Orrin said of the late political boss E.H. Crump. “There were some of the things then going on, it was just different people doing it without the scrutiny. Our idea of what we are willing to accept changes over time.”
The discussion is also about generations and a feeling by those who are younger that the older office holders are holding on too long. That is a view that may change with age, Orrin acknowledged.
“Does that mean that you have to wait until you are 60? It kind of pushes everything. We’re coming up on our 40s,” he said. “We recognize we are not young anymore and we don’t necessarily want to be 60 running for office or trying to hold back people who are younger. But by pushing it back, it builds up the number of people who are trying to run.”