Shelby County Commissioners appointed Shante Avant, a mother who has worked for the Women’s Foundation and other local nonprofits for 17 years, as the newest members of the countywide school board.
Avant garnered eight votes in the first round of voting Monday, Sept. 9, by the commission over four other contenders. Church pastor Rosalyn Nichols, who ran for Memphis City Council in 2011, had the votes of three commissioners. With one vote each for Rhoda Stigall and Cherry Davis. David Page, the fifth nominee, got no votes.
Avant’s appointment to the seat vacated by Reginald Porter, when Porter resigned in August to become chief of staff to schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson, is effective immediately.
Avant will attend her first school board meeting Tuesday evening, a special meeting in which the seven-member board will decide on a new meeting place and a new meeting time.
She holds the office through the August 2014 school board elections with the winner of the election taking office on Sept. 1, 2014. Avant said Monday she has made no decision on running for the seat next year.
The aftermath of the vote on Avant plunged the commission into a raucous opening meeting for the chairmanship of commissioner James Harvey.
As soon as the roll call results on Avant were read, commissioner Terry Roland accused commissioner Sidney Chism of voting for Nichols because they are cousins.
Chism accused Roland of having “a vindictive attitude about black folks.”
“He’s just basically a person who’s against blacks,” Chism added. “In my opinion, he’s a racist and he’ll be that way for the rest of his life.”
Roland who has an ongoing ethics complaint pending against Chism said Chism was dodging the issue of what he believes is another conflict of interest that should have prevented Chism from voting.
The rhetoric cascaded into a challenge by a group of Democratic commissioners of Harvey’s committee assignments for his year-long tenure as chairman – in particular his selection of commissioner Heidi Shafer as budget chairman replacing Melvin Burgess.
Harvey and Burgess are Democrats. Shafer is a Republican. Harvey was elected chairman with the votes of five of the six Republicans on the commission plus Democrat Justin Ford.
Commissioner Walter Bailey moved Monday to replace Shafer with Burgess, who had been budget committee chairman under Harvey’s predecessor as chairman, Mike Ritz.
“I do take issue with her politics,” Bailey said. “Her politics had her to vigorously fight to decrease the (county property) tax rate. … It was irresponsible. It suggests to me that her approach … would not be in the best interest of a sound county government budget process.”
“Really I think it’s silly,” commissioner Chris Thomas countered as he responded directly to Bailey. “I hate that you want a tax increase every time the door swings open but I wouldn’t oppose you as chairman of the budget committee.”
Roland then brought up a dispute between Bailey’s brother, retired Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey, and the county retirement board.
“They call me a racist,” Roland said. “But I ain’t crooked.”
Bailey called the comments “character assassination.
Bailey’s amendment failed on a five-to-seven vote with commissioner Steve Mulroy abstaining. Democratic commissioner Justin Ford joined Harvey among those voting no.
In other action, the commission approved the reappointment of Al Bright as the chairman of the Economic Development Growth Engine – or EDGE – group.
Ritz directed the county attorney’s office to begin drafting a resolution he intends to propose that would block future approval of appointments to the EDGE board until the city of Memphis pays its part of financing both local governments pledged to put up to fund the work of the economic development agency.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said he had talked as recently as last week and received a pledge from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. that the city would pay its share.
The commission also approved a $1.5 million contract with AllliedBarton Security Services LLC to provide security at county government buildings as well as two contracts totaling $1.7 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funding to replace flood pumps and make bank repairs in the Millington area from the 2010 flooding there.
The commission also approved the addition to the Spring Creek Ranch golf course at Collierville-Arlington Road and Raleigh LaGrange Road. The item had been delayed several times as commissioners verified the owners of the property had paid their property taxes.
The addition approved Monday includes single family housing, an events center including a culinary school and microbrewery and a day spa with a pool.