As the Shelby County Commission began debating whether or not property tax rates caused homeowners and small-business owners to move out of the county, one commissioner was preparing to move to Dallas.
James Harvey had already been commuting between Memphis and Charlotte, N.C., in his job with Bank of America and had taken a new job in Dallas with Freddie Mac, the secondary mortgage market conservatorship that works under the direction of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
“Actually I was already gone,” Harvey said.
The change came as Harvey was nearing the last year of his second term on the commission. Elected to the body in 2006, Harvey cannot seek re-election in 2014 because of term limits that bar commissioners from serving more than two consecutive terms of office.
With the job in Dallas, Harvey also seemed on the exit ramp from local politics.
That changed suddenly when Harvey considered a job at Tri-State Bank and parlayed the commission’s property tax hike debate into becoming chairman of the body for the last year of his second term of office.
“They interviewed me back in February,” he said of Tri-State Bank. “But I had just recently left Bank of America in Charlotte and I received a commitment to go to Dallas, which I did. I didn’t go until May. And between February and May, I was home, buying up properties and my son and I started a business investing in properties and it kind of gave me a little time off to do some things I wanted to do.”
When the position of vice president at Tri-State was in the bank’s budget for the new fiscal year, Harvey talked to bank officers again and took the job.
“We’re doing some exciting things there,” he said. “I’m going to be responsible for increasing their residential mortgage business. We are trying to ensure that the Tri-State Bank is not only just a black bank, it is a community bank.”
Harvey is a U.S. Army veteran who worked for United Parcel Service for 18 years as he became a residential and commercial property investor and manager. He describes himself as an entrepreneur.
Harvey found his way into politics gradually and played a politician before he became one in the old Memphis Gridiron Show, an annual parody and follies of the local political scene that raised money for journalism scholarships.
With a historic turnover on the commission in 2006 in which eight of the 13 members were not seeking re-election, Harvey ran for the District 3 Position 1 seat and won.
Harvey was part of the Democratic majority on the body. But this month’s vote on the tax rate was a demonstration of how independent Harvey can be of the voting block.
He voted with Democrat Justin Ford and five of the six Republicans on the commission to defeat the $4.38 property tax rate at the July 18 commission session. Those same Republican votes were key to Harvey claiming the chairmanship earlier in the same meeting.
While Ford changed his tax rate vote to yes at the July 22 meeting at which the rate was approved, Harvey remained a no vote.
Ford’s vote on matters can be hard to predict because he says very little during commission debates. Harvey usually has a lot more to say during commission discussions than Ford. But he is still tough to read in terms of how he will vote.
“I knew there were enough votes to pass it at $4.38 and I wanted to show my commitment. I stated that I would hold the line and not increase the tax rate,” Harvey said after the final vote on the matter. “We knew that it had to be increased. But I also knew that there were enough people that could go on their compassion and their heart to increase the tax rate without me having to go against my core creed and diligence.”
As chairman, starting Sept. 1, Harvey will be paid $1,000 more than the other 12 members of the commission. A year ago, Harvey was among those on the commission who thought the position should pay more.
When Commissioner Terry Roland disagreed, Harvey responded by saying, “I’m sure he’s got a comment that won’t make sense after this.”
Roland then questioned whether Harvey still lived in the district he represents or in Charlotte.
A year later, Harvey says he maintained his Memphis residence and his traveling days are done for now with the new job at Tri-State.
“I had to decide to take a substantial cut in pay to accept the job. I like working for a small community bank. I like the family of leadership at Tri-State Bank,” Harvey said. “I really wanted to be home. … I can afford to make less money and be able to do more stuff here at home.”