VOL. 129 | NO. 162 | Wednesday, August 20, 2014
County Commissioners Bid Final Farewells
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commission Chairman James Harvey began the group’s Monday, Aug. 18, meeting on a hopeful note.
“Everybody seems to be a little happy,” he noted at the outset of the last commission meeting of the current four-year term of office that runs out at the end of August. It was also the last meeting for five of the six commissioners who are leaving the 13-member body.
Commissioner Steve Mulroy, one of the five, had a limerick for each of the other four, referencing his own 2013 kidney donation as he praised Commissioner Sidney Chism for his endurance closing with the line, “for that I’d give up my last kidney.”
Then Mulroy got limericked by Commissioner Heidi Shafer who worked in a reference to Star Trek for the only county commissioner to ever attend a meeting wearing a Star Trek uniform – in 2010 for a resolution backing a comic and fantasy convention.
“Though his speaking was sly, we will miss this nice guy,” Shafer wrote and recited. “Because it’s now time to beam him up, Scottie.”
Later, Mulroy proposed and the commission approved a resolution proclaiming next April 9 as Star Trek Day in Shelby County.
Commissioner Mike Ritz cleaned out his office, one that has been flooded at least once before the recent renovation of the county administration building, and came up with a “Hush Y’all” crowd prompter from the FedEx St. Jude Golf Classic that he gave to the quietest commissioner left on the body, Melvin Burgess.
He also found a gag gift he had been given and passed it on to Commissioner Terry Roland – a small box of “Shut The Hell Up.”
Chism’s farewell address to the commission ended with, “I’m not going to miss the craziness, but I’m going to miss you.”
Commission chairman pro tempore Steve Basar got some time in the chairman’s position toward the end of Monday’s session after honoring Harvey with an introduction that began, “What can I say about this chairman that he hasn’t said about himself?”
Commissioner Henri Brooks was the only one of the six commissioners not in attendance and the only commissioner departing or returning who was absent on a day in which the commission resolved some long-standing issues and left some for the next commission.
The commission approved a set of guidelines in resolution form for resolving a challenge to the residency of any county elected official – challenges the commission grappled with in the case of Brooks and Commissioner Justin Ford this summer.
The guidelines outline a hearing the commission would convene to reach its own conclusion if the Shelby County Attorney’s office finds a county elected official no longer lives in the county or the district they represent.
The county attorney’s office concluded Brooks didn’t live in her district but didn’t reach a conclusion on where she was living. Brooks challenged the effort to declare her seat vacant in Chancery Court and delayed further moves to oust her once a special prosecutor began a criminal investigation of the residency challenge.
The guidelines, a compromise that brought together separate proposals by Mulroy and Roland, also includes a list of 10 types of proof of residence. In such a challenge, the official being challenged could prove their residence with any three forms of identification on the list.
Among those voting against the guidelines was Ford. The county attorney’s office concluded that although the apartment Ford lists as his address did not have utilities for two years, there was not enough proof that he didn’t live in the apartment.
Commissioner Walter Bailey said the whole process to verify that a commissioner lives where they say they live “suggests a lack of trust” and “does nothing but stimulate and provoke divisiveness.”
“We hold the public trust,” he added. “It seems to me to be somewhat humiliating.”
That’s how other commissioners described the standoff with Brooks in which Brooks offered no direct explanation for her failure to notify the county she had moved after moving out of a house in her district at the end of a relationship.
“It’s about being trustworthy,” Commissioner Mark Billingsley said, countering Bailey. “It shouldn’t be very difficult to say where you live. … Not addressing this causes divisiveness.”
Ritz acknowledged that he filed the complaint with the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office that stalemated the standoff.
And though he favored the resolution and setting of guidelines, Ritz said he doubted it would change the direction of any future standoffs in a residency challenge.
“They are going to force the legal system to take them on,” Ritz said of future elected officials who are challenged on the point. “It’s probably a waste of time. It’s probably going to be gamed by the recalcitrant commissioner.”