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VOL. 125 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Commission Appointments Not Without Rancor

By Bill Dries

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CARRYING THE LEGACY: A veteran of the local civil rights movement, Johnnie Turner is now holding the state House seat of her late husband, Larry Turner.

John Pellicciotti is pursuing his master’s degree in political science from the University of Memphis. He’s writing his thesis. And this week, after trying several times for several years, the small-business owner and consultant got some real-world experience in his degree area.

Pellicciotti was appointed Monday to the Shelby County Commission. He will serve for eight months and might run for one of the two other positions in the body’s District 4.

“I will not run for this position,” Pellicciotti said after claiming the seven votes necessary for the seat. “I may consider running for one of the other seats if that makes sense and depending on what the landscape looks like. I have not evaluated that.”

Pellicciotti’s appointment as well as Johnnie Turner’s to her late husband’s seat in the state House of Representatives were the last two appointments left from 2009 for the commission to fill.

It was a busy year in that regard for the commission. And the decisions didn’t come easily in most cases.

The winner is

Pellicciotti won the appointment in the eighth round of voting over former Collierville mayor Linda Kerley.

For Kerley it was the third time she had been considered for a vacancy in the past year. She was among those nominated for the same seat in 2009 after David Lillard left to become state treasurer.

In that contest, Matt Kuhn claimed the appointment. He resigned his commission seat in December to become policy adviser to interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford.

Kerley was nominated again during the 26 rounds of voting that ended with Ford filling the vacancy created when A C Wharton Jr. was elected Memphis mayor in October.

Kerley opted not to seek re-election as Collierville mayor in 2008 to devote more time to her struggling real estate business. But she said this week that she misses politics.

Other nominees for the seat were Millington business owner Terry Roland and George Chism of Collierville, who each have indicated they will run for the seat in the coming county elections.

Pellicciotti is familiar with what Kerley may be feeling. He has run for two state House seats in nine years. He gave District 93 Democratic incumbent Mike Kernell a run for his money in 2002 and 2004. Late last year, Pellicciotti ran unsuccessfully in the special GOP primary election for state House District 83.

JOINING THE FORCE: Republican John Pellicciotti is the newest member of the Shelby County Commission.
PHOTOS BY BILL DRIES

Minutes after Pellicciotti claimed the appointment, Ford was talking to him about how his life will change because of seven votes.

Pellicciotti said Ford’s coming budget presentation and the commission’s budget votes will be his priority.

“I think it’s got to be the economy,” he told reporters. “It’s got to be dealing with the debt of the county and helping to create jobs in the community.”

No – or little – contest

It only took the commission two rounds of voting to appoint Turner, the executive director of the Memphis branch of the NAACP, to her late husband’s District 85 seat. But in some ways it was more rancorous than Pelliciotti’s selection.

Democratic commissioner Sidney Chism, who backed Eddie Jones – a local Democratic executive committee member – warned fellow Democrats they were making a mistake by backing Turner. Turner has not been as active in the local Democratic Party as Chism and Jones have.

The retired teacher is a veteran of the civil rights movement. Turner was arrested during local sit-ins of the early 1960s and jailed. Turner succeeded her mentor in the movement, Maxine Smith, as leader of the local NAACP.

“I’m overwhelmed. I never took this for granted,” Turner said after the vote. “I’ve had to work hard for this.”

Commissioner Henri Brooks said Turner worked harder than she should have. On the second round of voting, Brooks, a former state representative, said there is a “protocol.”

“Whenever a husband or a wife of a sitting official dies while in office, it has been protocol – if it is so desired by the surviving spouse – to assume that seat,” Brooks said. “It would be recognized that that seat would go to that spouse. I would not want to see protocol breached.”

State Sen. Charlotte Burks of Monterey, Tenn., claimed the seat of her husband, Tommy Burks, in 1998 after Burks was murdered by Byron Looper, his election opponent. But Burks wasn’t appointed. She ran in the resulting election and won as a write-in candidate.

Commissioner James Harvey challenged Brooks to come up with a local precedent.

“It would be great if I could have a few references that I could just take in my political career of people who have advanced. … I’d like to know the names if at all possible.”

Protocol and compromise

Meanwhile, Republican commissioner Wyatt Bunker still harbored some resentment over the commission’s appointment last year of Kuhn to the District 4 seat, a district that is considered predominantly Republican.

“Protocol in the appointment process has been trampled in the dirt,” he said.

After the vote, Turner said there is no protocol.

“I talked with each of those commissioners personally and I think I was chosen for the seat because I’m the best person qualified to start working on (Tuesday),” she said.

In addition to Jones, her competition for the appointment included Whitehaven High School football coach Errol Harmon.

Turner said she hasn’t decided if she will run for a full two-year term in state elections later this year.

“I will decide. I have that prerogative as a lady to make up my mind,” she told The Daily News.

Turner also said she is prepared to vote for legislation in the special session on education that makes student testing data 35 percent of a formula to evaluate teacher performance and make tenure decisions.?

“Really, they didn’t want any at all,” Turner said of teachers’ union representatives who have been bargaining with Gov. Phil Bredesen on the formula. “I’m hoping that the governor will be able to live with that. Because all of us want all of the money we can get for our public schools.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 81 277 20,909
MORTGAGES 85 329 24,074
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 39 3,086
BUILDING PERMITS 0 453 43,046
BANKRUPTCIES 61 235 13,415
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 56 6,678
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 82 7,871
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 59 4,702