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VOL. 128 | NO. 80 | Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Special Elections Take Shape in Suburbs

By Bill Dries

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It looks like 2013 will be an election year in the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County.

But Memphis may not join the forming set of special elections until very late in the year if at all, according to one estimate by the Shelby County Election Commission.

Suburban leaders are preparing to make their move toward referendum votes on forming municipal school districts after the Tennessee General Assembly passed a state law this month that lifts the statewide ban on forming such school districts. The bill is awaiting the signature of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner has said his town could tentatively set the referendum vote for some time in July.

This is a regularly scheduled election year in Arlington and Lakeland already with Election Day in the nonpartisan municipal races in each of the suburban towns on Sept. 19.

Meanwhile, the Shelby County Election Commission estimates a special election for a countywide school board of 13 members with a new set of district lines probably couldn’t go on a special election ballot until December at the earliest.

That is after the commission’s goal of seating six new school board members by Sept. 1.

The Election Commission estimate comes in a Monday, April 22, filing by its attorney John Ryder in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

Ryder was asked by Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to come up with a cost estimate for holding a special election this year for six new seats on the school board the Shelby County Commission wants to add effective Sept. 1. Most of the territory in those districts is within the city of Memphis.

Sept. 1 is when the school board, now a 23-member body, becomes a seven-member body covering the entire county.

In a 2011 settlement among all parties in the schools merger lawsuit, all sides agreed that the commission had the authority to expand the board at that point to a total of up to 13 members. Mays made that contingent on his approval of the expansion.

At a hearing last week on the commission’s formal motion to permit it to expand the board to 13 members and appoint the six new members between now and Sept. 1, Mays said there is nothing in the settlement agreement that specifically gives the commission the power to expand the board through appointments.

He hasn’t ruled on the commission’s request pending a round of filings from all sides in the lawsuit by Friday and another April 30 hearing.

Attorneys for the countywide school board and suburban leaders oppose the commission’s appointment of the six new members. They have each urged Mays to permit a delayed expansion of the board by putting the six new positions on the August 2014 county general election ballot.

Mays specifically wanted some estimates from Ryder on the timing and cost of holding a special election this year for the six new school board seats only.

Such an election would involve 107 election precincts and would likely cost approximately $425,000, according to Ryder. That is based on the cost of a March 8, 2011, Memphis special election involving 171 precincts. The March 2011 special election was the citywide referendum on the proposal to merge city and county public school systems as well as an election to fill a vacant state House seat. The special election cost $551,846.

State laws set a timeline by which public notices must be posted a certain number of days before an election as well as specific time periods for early voting and mailing ballots for overseas and military voters as well as absentee voting.

The Election Commission would also need time to adjust the district boundaries of precincts to match the new school board district lines involved.

The commission’s information technology department would need until Nov. 6 just for that, according to Ryder.

“Applying the legal timeframes for early voting, military voting and ballot approval, the Election Commission believes that it could not hold an election prior to December 5, 2013,” Ryder wrote in his filing.

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