VOL. 127 | NO. 59 | Monday, March 26, 2012
County Redistricting Battle Continues
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners will meet privately with their attorneys Monday, March 26, to see whether they have any options left in a redistricting scrap that is now firmly in the courts.
The commission meets in formal open session Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.
Before that, attorneys for the commission as a whole will relay word that Shelby County Chancellor Arnold Goldin is considering a ruling on whether the commission needs seven votes or nine votes to approve a plan. Whichever vote total Goldin eventually rules is needed, assistant county attorney Mark Allen said Goldin seems set to affirm a set of district lines that will create 13 single-member districts with seven of them having a majority African-American population.
“What I heard was that’s it,” Allen told commissioners in committee sessions last week. “And it’s either going to be seven or nine (votes). But I’m not your counsel.”
Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne said Goldin has previously raised the issue of what majority is required to pass a plan. If it is seven votes, the commission had that two weeks ago for the single-member district plan with seven majority black districts. It failed, however, because the county charter says a nine-vote, two-thirds majority is required. State law says only a simple majority of seven is needed.
“What’s unclear,” Rayne said, “is whether the chancellor would consider an alternative map coming before him.”
Attorney Ron Krelstein, representing the county as a whole in the lawsuit filed by three commissioners over redistricting, has said he agrees with state law on the matter of how many votes it takes to pass a plan.
“It is rather peculiar that the county’s own charter is being literally attacked by the county’s attorney,” said Commissioner Mike Ritz, one of three commissioners who filed the redistricting suit against the county.
Ritz said as a plaintiff he doesn’t intend to defend the charter requirement of nine votes.
“What we don’t like is the fact that literally the county charter is going without an advocate,” he added. “I think that’s a serious problem that needs to be resolved.”
“It’s under attack from a lawsuit you filed,” Commissioner Brent Taylor replied. “Had you not filed this lawsuit, we would not be in this predicament.”
“That’s a stretch,” said Commissioner Terry Roland, one of the other plaintiffs. “That definitely was not our intent. Our intent was we wanted a fair map.”
Krelstein reported to Goldin what the commission did two weeks ago.
Goldin wants briefs from both sides in the lawsuit by May 16 and intends to rule on the dispute, including the vote question, from there.
Also on Monday’s agenda is third and final reading of an animal welfare ordinance delayed several times this year.
Commissioners are split over the procedure for reporting suspected animal abuse. The draft the commission considers Monday still includes a provision that would allow citizens to report suspected abuse anonymously through a local or state nonprofit animal care organization.
The organization would then decide whether to forward the complaint to an animal control officer or the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
The person or organization making a formal complaint is identified if charges are brought as a result. If a court judges the claim to be frivolous, the judge can then assess court costs against whoever filed the complaint.
Critics of the ordinance, which would apply to Shelby County outside Memphis, have expressed concern that neighbors and animal rights groups might see an emaciated dog or an animal that has lost some fur and assume there has been abuse when it is an animal being cared for but recovering from an illness.
Proponents of the measure say it allows animal control officers to take action against abuse after an investigation but before an animal is beyond help.