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VOL. 128 | NO. 201 | Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Basar Looks to 2014 County Commission Election

By Bill Dries

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It may be the first time that a Shelby County Commissioner has given public notice of a barbecue.

Commissioner Steve Basar has held four at his house in the year that he’s been on the elected body. And he told political supporters at a fundraiser last week that he has “sunshined” all of them, a shorthand term to describe the public notice required by Tennessee’s open meetings law – or Sunshine Law – for any deliberative gathering of two or more commissioners.

“I think it’s started to change the culture of making people friends outside of work,” Basar said.

As a busy 2013 election season continues across Shelby County, candidates on the 2014 county ballot are beginning to stir, holding fundraisers and other campaign events.

Basar drew a crowd of around 30 to 40 supporters at a fundraiser Thursday, Oct. 10, at Ciao Bella in East Memphis.

“I know it’s going to be a big ballot,” he said. “I haven’t really stopped campaigning from last year, knowing that I’ve got to run again next year.”

The group included Memphis City Council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr., Ron Belz of Belz Enterprises, Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority Chairman Jack Sammons and attorney and Republican National Committee member John Ryder.

“Management is doing things right, and leadership is doing the right thing,” Basar told the group. “So what I want to try to do as a commissioner is do the right thing and make sure we’ve got our eye on the ball and are not distracted by a lot of this infighting.”

He won the Republican primary and then the special general election to fill the commission seat vacated by Mike Carpenter.

The county commission lineup elected next August will be a different group for several reasons. Six of the 13 commissioners cannot seek re-election because of county term limits of two consecutive four-year terms. And with the 2014 elections, the commission converts to members elected from 13 single-member districts; currently, the structure includes four districts with three commissioners each and one single-member district.

A map of the new district lines was prominently displayed at Basar’s event.

“It’s focused on East Memphis, the border between Memphis and Germantown. To the east and the west is Highland,” Basar said in his definition of the district. “The north quarter is pretty much Walnut Grove. To the south it’s Nonconnah and the (Interstate) 240 loop. … It’s got the Poplar corridor.”

The fundraiser came the same week that Basar voiced his concerns about plans by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration to finance a revitalization of the Mid-South Fairgrounds with a tourism development zone that captures an increment of sales tax revenue for the project. Basar is concerned the sales tax increment will take part of a share of the sales tax revenue that goes to Shelby County Schools.

He took the concern to Robert Lipscomb, director of the city’s Division of Housing and Community Development, at a public meeting in Cooper-Young. Lipscomb denied public-school funding would be lost in the tourism development zone plan, despite contrary opinions from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s administration.

“I’m not somebody who wants to be combative with other people. And it was his meeting,” Basar said of the encounter with Lipscomb. “So I made my point. … I just sat down and let him finish his presentation”

Basar’s next step is to take his concerns to state officials in Nashville who must approve the tourism development zone proposal.

Basar said he is in favor of the idea of a revitalized public recreation space at the fairgrounds that has drawn the interest of several private individuals and group.

“What is an iconic gateway? Why?” Basar asked of one $3 million part of the still-tentative city plan. “Just give them the land, and they’ll do the rest. The city doesn’t need to get involved in funding that. The city really needs to get away from kind of a command-and-control philosophy and look at their assets more like a business would.”

Meanwhile, early voting opens Friday, Oct. 18, in four of the six sets of suburban school board races. Election day in the school board races is Nov. 7.

Early voting periods in Arlington and Collierville have been canceled by the Shelby County Election Commission because all of the school board races in those two cities are uncontested.

The early voting periods in Bartlett, Germantown, Millington and Lakeland will begin Friday at the election commission’s offices Downtown, 157 Poplar Ave., and then will move to sites in the four cities starting Oct. 28.

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