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VOL. 125 | NO. 179 | Wednesday, September 15, 2010

County Commission Settles in for Partisan Tenure

By Bill Dries

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The new Shelby County Commission will settle down a bit as more time passes. But the 13-member body with six new members will probably remain more partisan than its predecessors of the last four years.

That was the opinion of commission chairman Sidney Chism this week at the end of a four-and-a-half-hour session – the first commission session of the four-year term of office.

“I think it will settle down,” he said as commissioners rapidly dispersed after he gaveled the session to adjournment. “I allowed them today to pretty well have their way the first meeting. I think you’re going to find it’s going to go a lot smoother. I didn’t want to cut them off today, but you notice at some point I did.”

Chism was elected chairman for the next year without opposition.

Republican Commissioner Mike Carpenter was elected chairman pro tempore, a post that means Carpenter is favored to follow Chism as chairman a year from now.

Carpenter beat fellow GOP commissioner Mike Ritz for chairman pro tempore on the third round of voting. Commissioner Justin Ford abstained in the first two rounds leaving the commission at a 6-6 tie. His vote gave Carpenter seven votes and a reminder that aside from Carpenter’s own vote, the other six votes were Democratic commissioners. Chism was the only Democrat who voted for Ritz through all three ballots.

It is a volatile political mix that retains the head count of seven Democrats and six Republicans from the old commission that left office on Aug. 31. But Chism, who is serving his second term, said there are different kinds of Republican and Democrats on the commission.

“We’ll get down to basic business, but you’re going to have a split in ideology from now on,” he said. “We’ve got moderates and then we’ve got a really, truly liberal section of this commission that we need to bring back to the center.”

The new commission also roughed up new county Mayor Mark Luttrell a bit before ultimately approving all six of his appointees.

Kelly Rayne’s nomination as Shelby County attorney was confirmed. But it was only after Democratic commissioner Steve Mulroy asked her a series of questions about the pending Chancery Court lawsuit challenging the Aug. 5 election results.

Mulroy specifically challenged the county’s use of John Ryder as attorney for the Shelby County Election Commission since Ryder is a former local GOP chairman and currently a member of the Republican National Committee. Mulroy referred to him as “Mr. Republican.”

The lawsuit contesting the election results was filed by 10 losing candidates in the Aug. 5 election including most but not all of the Democratic candidates who were swept in the countywide races by Republican contenders including Luttrell.

Rayne said Ryder was hired prior to her tenure and that she would review his appointment to the case with a decision on whether he would continue as counsel in a week or less. She also pointed out that Ryder had represented the Election Commission in five similar legal challenges including several when the Election Commission was majority Democratic.

Several Republican commissioners mounted an attempt to upset the reappointment of Carolyn Watkins as the county’s Equal Opportunity Compliance (EOC) administrator. The EOC administrator is a choice the commission makes on its own.

Watkins was nominated for reappointment by Democratic commissioners and several Republicans backed attorney Michael Floyd who lost to Watkins on the first ballot.

Floyd said he would follow a Johnson administration federal executive order that he interpreted as limiting the methods the county can use to entice companies seeking county contracts to hire more minorities as employees and as subcontractors.

“Sooner or later the county is going to get sued,” Floyd said. “And sooner or later, the county will lose.”

PROPERTY SALES 81 201 16,108
MORTGAGES 40 104 10,026
BUILDING PERMITS 130 336 38,272
BANKRUPTCIES 28 56 7,528