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VOL. 126 | NO. 194 | Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Carpenter Reflects on Five-Year Run

By Bill Dries

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As Memphis voters prepare to bring to an end another city campaign season, Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter just ended a five-year run on the Shelby County Commission.


Carpenter resigned effective Oct. 1 to become state director for StudentsFirst, the Nashville-based education reform nonprofit formed by former Washington schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

“Hopefully a lot of what we’ll be trying to do in Nashville will benefit the (schools) merger here as well as ensuring that all of the reforms of earlier this year get implemented,” Carpenter said after his last commission meeting in September.

He also confessed to an adjustment that many candidates who win elections have to make in their thinking when they go from campaigning to governing.

“That’s one of the toughest things to deal with, particularly if you don’t come from government,” he said. “The speed at which the private sector moves versus the public sector can be frustrating. You understand why it’s slower because you want to be more deliberate, because you are a representative of a broad section of people in the community. But our problems are so significant we don’t have time to stand around and wait.”

Carpenter won election to the commission in 2006 after years of working for Republican candidates. One of the first actions of the commission after his election was to seek the appointment of new Juvenile Court judges. The commission made its move shortly after Curtis Person Jr., a former Republican state senator, was elected judge, succeeding long-time judge Kenneth Turner.

Carpenter recalled getting a table in the very back of the room at the next Lincoln Day Awards Dinner, the local party’s annual fundraiser, for favoring the move.

Person sued the commission over the attempt to add judges and won the lawsuit.

Republicans were at that time – and still remain – a six-vote minority on the 13-member body. But Carpenter quickly became known for not voting along party lines.

“That’s the thing that struck me after being elected is how enormous some of the issues in this community are if you’re talking about poverty and schools and jobs,” Carpenter said. “You’ve got to set the partisan things aside and take those issues as they come and do the right thing.”

One of the more volatile issues Carpenter repeatedly went after was the banking of paid leave by county employees. He tried several times to alter the paid-leave policy as well as several attempts to curb benefits for future retirees while leaving in place benefits promised current employees.

“I would hope that the commission would pick up on paid leave. It’s inevitable we’re going to have to reform the benefit structure in the public sector,” he said. “We can’t afford it, and if we’re headed for a double-dip recession, as some people think we are, then the pressure is going to be even greater. … We can’t afford to tax our citizens any more right now. We’ve got to find ways to save.”

Through Tuesday, Oct. 4, four people had formally applied for Carpenter’s vacant District 1 commission seat.

Brent Taylor is a former Memphis City Council member.

Stephen Ross is an audio visual technician with Nolan's and the blogger "vibinc."

Dellilah R. Works is a Tennessee Air National Guard reservist and technician.

Steven Basar is an employee at Merck Consumer Care.

More applications are expected by Oct. 12, when commissioners interview the applicants during committee sessions. The full commission is to make the appointment at its Oct. 17 meeting.

Former County Commissioner George Flinn also is interested in the appointment, and former Shelby County Election Commissioner Brian Stephens is weighing a bid for the remainder of Carpenter’s term of office, about two years and 11 months.

Flinn represented the same district but held a different position. He chose not to run for re-election in 2010, opting to run in the GOP primary for Congress from the 7th Congressional District.

Carpenter isn’t endorsing anyone by name but said he hopes the commission chooses someone who “can work across the aisle.”

PROPERTY SALES 28 290 16,197
MORTGAGES 33 165 10,087
BUILDING PERMITS 184 608 38,544
BANKRUPTCIES 33 125 7,597