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VOL. 127 | NO. 150 | Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day of Answers

Schools ballot questions dominate Shelby County election day

By Bill Dries

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Polls open across Shelby County at 7 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, in elections that already promise to be memorable for problems during the early voting period as well as the mixture of issues and one-of-a-kind contests on the ballot.

A voter casts his ballot during early voting at New Bethel Baptist Church in Germantown. One of the big ballot issues there is the fate of municipal school districts.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

Follow vote returns Thursday evening as they come in @tdnpols with summaries of the early vote and final unofficial totals at The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

The 92 candidates on the Shelby County ballot are running in an election dominated by the set of referendums in each of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County on forming municipal school districts.

The ballot questions have already swelled the normally tepid early voter turnout for this election cycle in the predominantly Republican suburbs.

Local Democratic Party leaders have been vocal in their concern that the suburban turnout – early and election day – could turn into a tide that sweeps the only two Democrats holding countywide office out of office in the general election races for property assessor and General Sessions Court clerk.

That and Democratic concerns about the impact of photo voter ID requirements on voter turnout were apparently enough to cause a Democratic surge toward the end of early voting that put turnout in each of the sets of party primaries at nearly 49 percent.

The general election ballot includes six contested races for the seven district seats on the countywide school board that will remain as the post-merger school board in August 2013.

The school board races and the municipal schools referendums make education an issue hard for any candidate to top in a political environment where personality usually trumps or at least stays even with issues.

Put the candidates together with the ballot questions and two judicial retention races and there are 46 decisions voters will have made when the polls close Thursday at 7 p.m.

That doesn’t include 13 primary races in which no one is running to oppose the winner of the companion primary and 12 more in which a single candidate is running unopposed.

There are only five general election races in which an incumbent is not seeking re-election.

David Drees of Collierville casts his ballot during early voting at New Bethel Baptist Church in Germantown.

Those include the race for Millington mayor and two of the seven positions on the town’s Board of Aldermen. There is also the race for Shelby County Commission District 1 Position 3 where Steve Basar and Steve Ross are vying for the seat vacated by Mike Carpenter earlier this year and held temporarily by Brent Taylor.

And on the countywide school board, David Pickler and Kim Wirth are battling for the District 5 seat that Vanecia Kimbrow was appointed to last year by the County Commission but which she opted not to seek election to.

Pickler is already on the 23-member countywide school board as one of the nine old Shelby County Schools board members serving during the merger transition on the expanded board along with the seven old Memphis City Schools board members.

There were some last-minute sparks at Tuesday’s countywide school board meeting between school board candidates David Reaves and Raphael McInnis who are each on the board currently but running for the same school board seat in District 3.

Reaves asked if it was a conflict of interest for board members who accepted campaign contributions from Karen Pease, the owner and CEO of Well Child Inc., to vote on a contract with MCS to provide school nurses.

MCS attorney Dorsey Hopson said there was no prohibition in state law and no conflict of interest.

McInnis later acknowledged Pease has contributed to his campaign. And he voted for the $1.9 million contract.

“It was me,” McInnis said. “He brought it up for obvious reasons.”

School board members Christopher Caldwell and Freda Williams are in the District 1 race, which has also been a hard fought campaign that includes the presence of a third candidate, Noel Hutchinson.

The early voting complaints being investigated by the state center on a Shelby County voter database apparently not updated to account for the once a decade redrawing of state legislative and congressional district lines until early voting was already under way. The district lines were approved in February.

In the gap between early voting and election day, Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell was urging the Shelby County Election Commission to let voters in his race use a paper ballot if they wanted.

He also unveiled what he called a “technological secret” he wanted election officials to use.

“It’s called a map,” he said.

“The problem is that the problem is still continuing,” Kernell said of reports he was still getting about district mixups on the ballot as late as Friday, the day before early voting ended. “I don’t want them to be in denial that there is still a problem. There needs to be a Plan B and maybe a Plan C. Plan A has failed.”

PROPERTY SALES 101 603 9,602
MORTGAGES 92 538 10,616
BUILDING PERMITS 215 1,282 20,958
BANKRUPTCIES 51 408 6,108