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VOL. 126 | NO. 28 | Thursday, February 10, 2011

Luttrell: Amendment Rumors in Schools Standoff

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says there might be some attempt to amend the schools consolidation bill up for a vote Thursday in Nashville.

Luttrell told the Memphis Kiwanis Club Wednesday that he’s heard of an attempt to shorten the two and a half year waiting period before consolidation of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County schools would be enacted.

“I heard that there might be an amendment offered to that effect. I don’t know who is going to offer it,” Luttrell said after the speech. “It came through some of our sources. What its chances are, I just don’t know. I haven’t discussed that with anybody.”

Meanwhile, Shelby County commissioners moved Wednesday to hire a special outside legal counsel to represent them in any possible litigation that might follow after the state House votes on the bill Thursday. If the bill is approved there it goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam.

The commission recommendation in committee sessions came after a spirited debate certain to be repeated at Monday’s meeting of the full commission.

Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne also told commissioners the state legislation stands a good chance of prevailing over any legal challenge. Those chances improved, she said, when the legislation was amended last week to take out any attempt to stop the citywide March 8 schools consolidation referendum.

“In my opinion, the removal of the (countywide) referendum requirement makes it such that I think it will – it may stand up to a court challenge,” Rayne said in response to a question from commissioner Mike Carpenter. “That helped the bill.”

Commissioner Steve Mulroy proposed the hiring of outside counsel citing Luttrell’s support of provisions of the pending legislation.

The move met resistance from all three commissioners representing the district that takes in all six of the county’s suburban towns and cities.

They also had problems with the way committee chairman Walter Bailey was running the committee session.

“The same way y’all are going to try to railroad this here is the same thing you are blaming Nashville about,” said commissioner Terry Roland.

Bailey said he found the legislature’s debate and action on the bill an attempt to take over a local issue.

“It was obvious there is an effort by legislators … for them to step in, take charge of this situation here in Shelby County and control it,” Bailey said. “There are several obvious reasons that they want to do it. But it’s pretty evident that it has nothing to do with an orderly process.”

The clearest indication of that intent, according to Bailey, is that the legislation is a general bill instead of a local bill.

“The reason they won’t push it as a local bill is that once it returns to Shelby County … that it will require a two thirds vote by this body,” he said. “It’s pretty evident that this is an effort by Nashville to step in and seize control of this whole issue of merging. And they’re not very discreet about it.”

Commissioner Heidi Shafer said she wouldn’t mind seeing a transition period of five years.

“Why in the world would we want to shorten the time of the transition?” Shafer said. “Trying to shorten the transition time, in my mind, is nothing but political posturing.”

Commissioner Mike Carpenter said the planning commission provision in the bill doesn’t mean a move toward a merger transition. He called the state legislation “a boondoggle.”

“If you look at the chess board, we never move the pieces until the end of the period. The whole purpose is never to merge the systems – never to come up with a process,” he said. “This is all a shell game. It’s not a real transition … All you have to do is look at the bill, look at what it does and look at who it applies to.”

Mulroy said he was more concerned about the lack of any appointees on the planning commission by the Memphis mayor than by the length of the transition period.

Mulroy’s bundle of resolutions for Monday’s commission meeting includes allowing the commission to go ahead with the process of interviewing applicants for possible appointed seats on an expanded countywide school board, a request of both school systems to form a “unified education planning commission” and a resolution expressing opposition to the state schools consolidation legislation that by Monday’s vote could be on the governor’s desk.

Mulroy is also sponsor of an ordinance up for first reading Monday that would increase the size of the county school board during the two and a half year transition period laid out in the state legislation.

“This is simply first reading of an ordinance, just so we are ready,” Mulroy said. “This really isn’t that big a deal today. There’s nothing wrong with us being prepared … and just being ready for all eventualities.”

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