Mattila Wins Trustee’s Post, Wharton Has Problems With Bass Pro Terms

By Bill Dries

Paul Mattila, a legislative assistant to the late Shelby County Trustee Bob Patterson, was appointed Monday to be the new Shelby County Trustee. In balloting by Shelby County Commissioners, Mattila beat Debra R. Gates, chief administrator under Patterson and interim Trustee since Patterson’s death last month.

It marks the second time since the advent of partisan county elections in 1992 that the Commission has voted to replace a position previously filled by an elected Republican with a Democrat. The other time was the 2000 appointment of then-County Commissioner Shep Wilbun to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Juvenile Court Clerk Bob Martin.

Unlike the selection of Wilbun, commissioners this time went with someone who works in the office. Mattila joined Patterson’s staff in 1997. And Democrats have the majority of votes on the commission, which they didn’t in 2000.

Like the 2000 appointment, Republicans on the commission were split.

Mattila got the votes of all seven Democratic commissioners on the 13-member body. Gates got the votes of four Republican commissioners. Republican Commissioner George Flinn backed a third nominee, John Wilkerson of Lakeland. Republican commissioner Joyce Avery was absent.

Mattila will serve through the August county general elections when the office will be on the ballot. Mattila has indicated he is interested in running to serve the remaining two years left in Patterson’s term of office.

Mattila said after the vote that he has no plans to change personnel in the office unless some longtime employees decide they don’t want to remain.

There was little debate among commissioners prior to Monday’s vote. A move to make the vote on Mattila unanimous was not unanimous. Several GOP commissioners had left the meeting room by then and weren’t recorded as voting. Republican commissioner Wyatt Bunker cast the dissenting no vote.

In other action, Commissioners got a letter from Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton Monday in which he wrote that he has problems with the tentative agreement negotiated for the city and county with Bass Pro Shops for development of The Pyramid.

“I am writing to let you know that there appear to be numerous issues that would prevent me from recommending approval of the agreement at this time,” Wharton said in the first comment by either he or Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton since the tentative terms were released. “Since neither I nor my staff has yet had an opportunity to discuss this with our city partner, I do not want to comment on specific issues at this time.”

The agreement, negotiated in behalf of the local government by city Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb, would require the approval of both mayors as well as the City Council and County Commission. Lipscomb is scheduled to formally present the agreement to both bodies next week. Some City Council members have already predicted the terms are likely to change or shift even before that presentation.

Look for more on both of these developments in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily News.