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VOL. 124 | NO. 20 | Friday, January 30, 2009

Lillard Prepares for Treasurer Post, Would-Be Replacements Line Up

By Bill Dries

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HITTING THE ROAD: Attorney David Lillard attended his last Shelby County Board of Commissioners meeting this week. He’s now bound for his state treasurer post in Nashville. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

David Lillard attended his last Shelby County Board of Commissioners meeting this week.

The competition to win the appointment to his seat has been under way since earlier this month when Lillard won the balloting in the Tennessee Legislature for state treasurer.

The move by Lillard and former Bartlett State Rep. Tre Hargett’s move to secretary of state was overshadowed by the unexpected election of Republican Kent Williams as state House speaker with the votes of every Democrat in the General Assembly’s lower chamber.

As Lillard leaves the local political scene and sets up shop in Nashville, contenders are already vying for the County Commission’s pending appointment of a successor to his seat on the body.

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker acknowledged the competition.

“He is leaving me the biggest headache I’ve ever had since I’ve been here, by resigning,” Bunker said half-jokingly at Monday’s commission meeting. “All of my friends are jumping into this and I’ve got to choose.”

Lillard won’t be endorsing anyone in the process.

“I’m going to sit that out,” he told The Daily News by phone from Nashville.

Rising star

Lillard was elected to the County Commission in 2002 and again in 2006. He served on the Shelby County Election Commission from 1993 to his election to the County Commission.

The administration of elections is among the duties of the secretary of state, but Lillard decided late last year to go for the treasurer’s post.

The decision came after Republicans captured the majority of seats in the state House and the state Senate in the November elections.

Lillard, a member of Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC until he won the state appointment, is a graduate tax attorney who has worked extensively in bond law matters. He earned the graduate designation from the University of Florida in 1983. Over his 27-year career as an attorney, Lillard has practiced primarily in the field of finance transactions.

“Many of the areas the treasurer’s department operates in are allied to the areas I’ve worked in for most of my career,” Lillard said. “The treasurer both gives advice and formulates policy at the same time.”

“I enjoyed the interplay and the interchange on all of the various issues that came before the County Commission. I’ll have to say that I got as good as I gave and I think I got what I deserve in that regard.”
– David Lillard

Disruptions in the bond and debt markets are affecting state and local governments as well as the private sector.

“The state does use short-term commercial paper for some of its financing on a temporary basis,” he said. “And there have been some disruptions in that market lately because of the problems with liquidity providers. … The states are not immune to the problems that have occurred in the larger debt markets.”

Lillard applied his bond expertise to the issuance of rural school bonds that made possible the construction of a new Arlington High School during his tenure on the County Commission.

A local guy

Democratic County Commissioner Joe Ford called his vote for the bonds “the best vote I ever made on this body,” at Monday’s session.

While Lillard is familiar with those kinds of questions and the details that come with them, he arrived in Nashville largely a political unknown.

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said he got a call from a Nashville politico seeking information about Lillard. “He asked if he would fire all of the Democrats in the Treasurer’s Office,” Wharton said.

Wharton said he told the caller that Lillard worked across party lines.

Lillard confirmed in an interview with The Daily News that he plans no major changes in personnel.

“I’m sure we’ll look at the policies and procedures of the office,” he said. “In terms of the personnel, I don’t anticipate any turnover, substantial turnover. It will just be adjustments over time as we adjust the policies and procedures of the office.”

Commissioner Mike Ritz was one of several commissioners who said the presence of Lillard and Hargett in two of the big three state constitutional offices – the third being state comptroller – gives Shelby County an overdue voice on statewide issues.

“We have not frankly had the attention of that part of government in Nashville,” Ritz said.

“It’s real important. … Not one of them could find The Peabody hotel,” he added referring to past holders of the positions. “We now have two commissioners who know where the grand ballroom is.”

‘How not to get mad’

Lillard put other areas of expertise to use on the County Commission. As plans were discussed for developing more walking trails at Shelby Farms Park, Lillard was quick to note through personal experience that certain surfaces were better for rollerblading than others.

“Nashville has hills. Memphis is flat,” said commissioner and physician Dr. George Flinn. “When you’re rollerblading in Nashville, be careful going down hills. … Let’s just keep both legs the same length.”

Flinn said Lillard has been a political mentor over Flinn’s six years in the political mainstream. He credited Lillard with teaching him how to campaign and “how not to get mad.”

Ritz remembered working with Lillard to elect fellow Republican Jane Pierotti to the District 5 seat in the 2006 county elections. Democrat Steve Mulroy won the election, and with the victory, Democrats gained a one-vote majority on the 13-member body. Lillard remembered ruefully that Mulroy won with 65 percent of the vote.

Lillard’s yearlong tenure as chairman, which ended in September, was dominated by a complex set of county charter amendments designed to be a legal fix for the document after a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling held the charter was invalid. Commissioners were split over the side issue of term limits – specifically what kind to propose for the five countywide offices affected by the changes. It was a long debate that lasted two election cycles.

In the first election, voters rejected a three-term limit for the officials. The commission was again divided on whether voters wanted shorter term limits or whether they had rejected the notion of any term limits. Voters approved a second try with a two-term limit.

“I enjoyed the interplay and the interchange on all of the various issues that came before the County Commission,” Lillard said at this week’s meeting. “I’ll have to say that I got as good as I gave and I think I got what I deserve in that regard.”

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