VOL. 129 | NO. 169 | Friday, August 29, 2014
County Leaders Make Transition to Governing
By Bill Dries
For government officials, the oath of office marks the boundary between the ability to get elected and the ability to govern.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is sworn in by General Sessions Court Judge Joyce Broffitt. There were several days of oath-taking ceremonies last week, as the winners from the August elections begin their new terms.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
But it’s not always apparent to those taking the oath what they have gotten themselves into.
Former Shelby County Commissioner Julian Bolton can acknowledge that.
“I had no idea,” Bolton, a 24-year veteran of the commission said last week. “I really did not appreciate at that time how important county government is for the quality of life of each of you. … County government has the bottom line that’s closest to you for the things you need – security, safety, health, schools, homes, roads, economic opportunities.”
Bolton spoke Thursday, Aug. 28, as 12 of the 13 county commissioners elected or re-elected in August took the oath of office at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.
Rather than a single oath-taking ceremony, there were several days of ceremonies, starting with the swearing in of Sheriff Bill Oldham Wednesday.
Commissioner Mark Billingsley took his oath of office Friday – and the other 12 commissioners took theirs again – at the same time as Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and other countywide elected officials who begin their terms Sept. 1.
“This is an important event in this life of politics,” Luttrell said at the Thursday ceremony. “The jobs that we have in the political world are important. They are honorable. We do not own anything that we decide on day to day.”
There were plenty of reminders that the real work and the real legacy is in the governing and not the campaign folklore or vote totals.
Rev. James Netters administered the oath of office to County Commissioner Eddie Jones, a politico who worked in numerous campaigns with several unsuccessful campaigns of his own before he won a seat on the commission.
Netters remembered taking the oath of office on the first Memphis City Council under the mayor-council form of government in January 1968 at Ellis Auditorium, which stood where the Cannon Center is now.
Less than two months later, the first council was a key player in a wildcat strike by city sanitation workers that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis and his assassination. The impact of the strike and its related events, including the assassination, on the city and on the relationship between future city councils and mayors is still being calculated.
More than 45 years later, the details of the 1967 city elections for the new posts aren’t as well remembered as the details of what happened once the council and Mayor Henry Loeb took office.
Netters was also the first council member to lose a re-election bid in 1971, when he lost to John Ford.
Among the county commissioners taking the oath of office for a second term last week was Justin Ford, nephew of John Ford and son of former county commissioner and interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford.
Joe Ford watched as his son took the oath a second time from incoming Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey. A few hours later, Bailey took his own oath of office a block away at the Shelby County Courthouse.
Meanwhile, Bailey’s brother, Commissioner Walter Bailey, took the oath of office from Circuit Court Judge Jerry Stokes.
Walter Bailey was among the first political casualties of term limits on the commission. He hit the limit of two consecutive terms in 2006. Although the clock on the two-term limit began ticking with the 1998 county elections, Bailey was first elected to the body in 1971 when it was the Shelby County Quarterly Court and its members were referred to as “squires.”
He served 35 years continuously and 39 years so far, counting the term of office from 2010 to 2014.
Bailey has been an integral part of every commission redistricting since the landmark Baker v. Carr U.S. Supreme Court decision that required a once-a-decade reapportionment of legislative bodies, including Congress and state legislatures, based on the U.S. Census.
The case itself originated with the Shelby County Quarterly Court. The plaintiff was Charles Baker, the longtime chairman of the court at a time when the chairman’s job was the equivalent of a county executive. County government at the time did not have the position of Shelby County mayor.