District Lines on Tap for Commission

By Bill Dries

Five days is a long time in politics. That’s the gap between the Monday, Dec. 19, meeting of the Shelby County Commission and the special meeting of the commission last Wednesday.


At the special meeting, commissioners again floated a new redistricting plan that would keep the 13-member body at five districts covering all of Shelby County.

The amendment had seven votes to pass on second reading.

Commissioners had believed it would take a nine-vote two-thirds majority for any plan to pass on third and final reading. But the county attorney’s office was reviewing the requirement after the special meeting.

The commission should have a legal opinion by its meeting Monday, which starts at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.

The plan that passed last week is a tweaking of the existing boundaries of the commission’s four multi-member districts. Each district is represented by three commissioners. The 13th member of the commission is the single commissioner representing the smaller District 5.

Commissioner Justin Ford pushed for a vote on the plan, toppling sentiment that had been building in favor of changing the commission to a set of 13 districts, each represented by a single member.

But the single-member district plan still has some momentum.

Commissioner Walter Bailey, who originally backed the plan calling for six multi-member districts represented by two commissioners each and a seventh single-member district, paid a high price last week for his conversion to single member districts.


Several commissioners, most pointedly Ford, reminded Bailey that he had advocated multi-member districts in previous redrawings from decades past and had benefited from a structure he said last week was “old and archaic.”

“Old and archaic? That’s not an argument,” Ford said. “Stop it. It’s over with.”

When it appeared the plan Ford has labeled a “continuity plan” was gaining votes, Bailey said he was “somewhat surprised by the vote count for maintaining the status quo.”

Meanwhile, District 1 commissioners Heidi Shafer and Brent Taylor favor the Ford plan while the third commissioner from the district, Mike Ritz, voted for the single-district plan.

Ritz wants a set of district lines that don’t break up Germantown and he called the Ford plan “totally unfair.”

Shafer, who says the districts should be a blend of city and county, countered that she hasn’t heard concern in that part of the district about the lines.

“His voting record is the one they are most concerned about,” she said, referring to Ritz.

Also on Monday’s commission agenda are three contracts for Head Start Services in the year to come totaling $4.7 million in federal grant funds.

The largest of the three contracts with the county to provide the services to preschool children between the ages of 3 and 5 is a $2.9 million agreement with Porter Leath Children’s Center for the care and education of 400 children.

The other providers are Primary Preparatory Inc., which has a $974,928 contract, and Goodwill Homes Community Services Inc. with a $777,475 contract.

A county ordinance to permit the operation of food trucks in the county outside Memphis is also on the agenda for the first of three readings. It would be similar to an ordinance approved earlier this year by the Memphis City Council.

Two ordinances setting a standard of care for pets as well as requiring the sterilization of dangerous or vicious dogs are each up for the second of three readings Monday.

The standard of care ordinance has had a lot of debate in committee sessions this month. Some commissioners have said the standards are too subjective and aren’t warranted. Others say spelling out the standards fills a gap and allows animal control officers to act in animal abuse cases where they are now limited.