VOL. 126 | NO. 133 | Monday, July 11, 2011
County Commission to Select Leaders
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners settle the simmering political question of who will lead the 13-member body for another year at their Monday, July 11, meeting.
On Monday’s agenda is the election of a chairman and a chairman pro tempore for the year-long term that begins Sept. 1.
The commission meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.
At week’s end, Republican commissioner Mike Carpenter had withdrawn from the chairman’s race, leaving incumbent Democratic chairman Sidney Chism unopposed.
The commission also has a race for chairman pro tempore between Republican Chris Thomas and Democrat Henri Brooks.
Carpenter, who is the current chairman pro tempore, had planned on becoming chairman for the coming year as part of an unwritten rule among commissioners. But Chism indicated he wanted a second one-year term as chairman, which would break the unwritten rule of rotating the chairmanship on an annual basis with the chairman pro tempore as the agreed-upon next in line for the job.
Carpenter withdrew his name from consideration Thursday, July 7, saying it became clear Chism has the seven votes needed to win a second term at the helm.
“It has become apparent over the last few months that the majority of commissioners desire to end the 17-year tradition of rotating the chairmanship between the political parties as well as do away with the 14-year tradition of elevating the pro tempore of the commission to the position of chair,” Carpenter wrote.
He added that the “new election process … will allow each of us the freedom to choose our leadership based on a wide array of factors, rather than on time-honored traditions.”
As chairman – and before he began his tenure as chairman – Chism has harangued the commission’s seven-vote Democratic majority to make party unity a higher priority. He has often portrayed Republicans as being in “lockstep” on issues.
Meanwhile, Carpenter as well as Republican commissioner Mike Ritz have been key crossover votes with the Democratic majority on some issues.
The commission chairman presides over meetings of the body and appoints commissioners to head the various committees.
The power to appoint committee chairs does not carry the weight it does in state legislative bodies because the county commission committee can’t stop an ordinance or resolution from going to the full body. The committees can only recommend for or against an action or make no recommendation at all.
Nevertheless, the commission chairman is a politically important position in county government. The chairman is the first point of contact with the body by the Shelby County mayor. And in county government’s structure, the mayor is much more dependent on commission approval to do most things than the Memphis mayor is on the Memphis City Council.
Thomas announced his bid for chairman pro tempore late last month, saying he had been urged by Democrats as well as Republicans on the commission to compete with Brooks for the position.
Thomas is part of a conservative four-vote Republican block on the commission that also includes Terry Roland, Wyatt Bunker and Heidi Shafer.
Roland attended Chism’s annual pre-Fourth of July political picnic in late June, announcing that though he and Chism differ politically on many issues, he would be supporting Chism’s bid for a second year as chairman.
There have been other attempts to find seven votes around the rotating chairmanship philosophy.
When Deidre Malone was chairwoman and preparing a bid for Shelby County mayor in the 2010 county elections, she sought a second term as chairwoman, citing the likelihood that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton would resign and then-county Mayor A C Wharton Jr. would run for Memphis mayor, leaving the county mayor’s position open.
Malone lost to Republican chairman pro tempore Joyce Avery in 2009. Herenton did resign and Wharton won the special election that followed, creating a vacancy for county mayor that Avery filled because she was chairwoman of the commission.