VOL. 127 | NO. 89 | Monday, May 7, 2012
Redistrict Fight About More Than Map
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners begin a fourth effort Monday, May 7, at a redistricting plan that is five months overdue and counting.
But the new effort is more about the Shelby County charter than it is about drawing the district lines for their own districts.
The first of three readings and votes on a redistricting plan is being proposed by Commissioner Terry Roland.
The commission meets Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building.
Roland intends to start with a plan that would convert the commission into a set of single-member districts with seven districts having a majority African-American population. The plan is one of several since late last year that got a simple majority of seven votes on the commission, but didn’t get the nine-vote, two-thirds majority required by the Shelby County charter on third and final reading.
Roland is one of three commissioners who filed suit in Chancery Court over the redistricting stalemate. But last month he and Commissioner Mike Ritz dropped out of the suit as plaintiffs leaving only Commissioner Walter Bailey.
Bailey, in his latest filings, has changed his position. He no longer wants Goldin to simply rule on a redistricting plan. He wants Goldin to declare the county charter provision is invalid because it conflicts with state law that requires only a majority vote to approve a redistricting plan.
Because the two-thirds majority in the charter applies to all ordinances, Roland and other commissioners say a ruling by Goldin on the charter provision has broader implications than the once-a-decade redistricting process.
“We’re not really fighting over that map anymore. We’re fighting over the charter versus the state. If state law trumps this charter I’m afraid it will come back to haunt us,” he said in committee sessions last week.
Roland said 2013 could be a “perfect storm” with county government taking over all funding of the merged local public school system that begins in August 2013. It’s also a reappraisal year in which the county property tax rate may not generate as much revenue as it currently does, creating political pressure for a property tax hike.
“If you give that kind of power to seven people to go up on taxes, I think it is very, very dangerous,” Roland added as he pushed for a nine-vote approval of a redistricting plan before mid-May when county government’s attorney, Rick Winchester, is due to file his final response for Goldin’s consideration.
Goldin could rule at any point after the Friday, May 11, deadline.
“Time is of the essence,” Winchester said. “I cannot tell you when he’s going to rule. He is not going to let any dust settle on this case.”
Winchester has replaced Ronald Krelstein as county government’s attorney in the case. Krelstein stepped down after telling the commission that he could not argue for preserving the charter provision.
Winchester said he will ask Goldin to pick a redistricting plan and order it to be implemented and not deal with the majority vote conflict between state law and the county charter.
“If he ruled, he could rule that the county charter is illegal because it is in conflict with the state statute. … The second way he could do it is to not address the county charter and simply say under law, a plan has not been adopted and by law I’m required to adopt a plan,” Winchester said. “I’ll be asking him to adopt a plan, but I’ll be asking him to refrain in doing that from addressing the legality or not of the charter provision. I’ll be arguing that it’s not necessary for him to do that.”
Other agenda items Monday include a $1.2 million contract with Lehman-Roberts Co. for the repaving of 36 roads and streets across Shelby County including parts of State Line Road, Houston Levee Road, Woodstock Cuba Road and Old Brownsville Road.
The commission will also consider a one-year renewal of the county’s contract with Rural/Metro Mid-South LP to provide ambulance service to unincorporated Shelby County as well as Arlington, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington.
The renewal would run to June 30, 2013, with funding of up to $3 million.