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VOL. 129 | NO. 135 | Monday, July 14, 2014

Brooks Challenge Grows Toward End of Term

By Bill Dries

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The last six weeks of the current terms of office of the 13 Shelby County commissioners will be marked by a series of political challenges involving Commissioner Henri Brooks.

Shelby County Commissioner Justin Ford, left, was cleared in an investigation of whether he lives in his district. The residency of Commissioner Henri Brooks is still being questioned.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Meanwhile, Shelby County Attorney Marcy Ingram has resolved a residency challenge of Commissioner Justin Ford, concluding Ford’s “primary residence is probably” at Fairways Apartments, a South Memphis apartment complex in his district, even though Ford claimed in the investigation that he lived there for more than two years without utilities.

The July 4 letter from Ingram to commissioners setting out her findings was released Thursday, July 10, near the end of a week in which commissioners voted to move ahead with their own determination about where Brooks lives.

After the commission voted to do that, however, Ingram advised the commission to call off their inquiry because of an investigation by a special prosecutor named in place of the District Attorney General’s office. Commissioners were still working on a date to conduct their own hearing on the residency matter as well as procedures.

They took the action after Chancellor Kenny Armstrong blocked the commission from declaring her seat vacant based on Ingram’s investigation. Her investigation reached no determination on where Brooks lives but concluded Brooks doesn’t live in her district and declared her seat vacant immediately.

Armstrong, ruling in a lawsuit filed by Brooks, faulted Ingram’s report as not enough to remove an elected official from office and effectively overturn the results of a popular election. He also said an unelected government official should not have the power to remove an elected official and that the commission itself is a more suitable group to first make a determination on Brooks’ residency and then move to the question of declaring a vacancy.

The prosecutor from outside Shelby County who is investigating Brooks’ residency is Garry Brown, the district attorney general for Crockett, Gibson and Haywood counties.

It’s not clear how that investigation began. The commission specifically voted down a move to refer the residency question to the district attorney’s office.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Mike Ritz has filed a complaint against Brooks alleging she is using county government supplies and mail in her campaign for Juvenile Court clerk. The material at issue is a guide to elected officials that Brooks reworked to put her picture on the front cover.

For the residency investigation of Ford, Ingram’s office followed much the same procedure it did in investigating Brooks’ residency. Her office did informal interviews with neighbors and visited the different addresses involved.

Unlike the Brooks investigation, Ford talked with Ingram and her staff and specifically said he lived in the apartment on Tulane Road he claims as his residence.

“When asked, he denied that the apartment is being used as a business office and indicated that he lives there, has clothes, furniture and other personal property in this apartment,” Ingram’s report reads. “When asked why his (Memphis Light, Gas and Water) services have been disconnected for such a significant period, Commissioner Ford explained that he does not have a high salary and has faced financial challenges that have required him to make sacrifices. He was asked if he lived at the Tulane address without MLGW services in the summer and winter months and he responded in the affirmative. He also asked this office if there is a law against not having utility services.”

Ingram’s office could not get a copy of Ford’s lease from a leasing office employee or the office manager although the office employee said Ford leases an apartment there.

Ingram concluded there is “not enough substantial evidence” to make a finding that Ford does not live in his district.

“If a parallel investigation is being conducted by the District Attorney General’s office, the AG may reach a different conclusion,” the report reads. “As it stands, commissioner Ford remains in good standing and we consider this inquiry closed.”

Ford is running unopposed on the Aug. 7 ballot for a second term on the County Commission from the new District 9. Those running for the commission are running from and to represent a reconfigured set of 13 single-member districts replacing the multi-member districts the commission consists of until the election winners take office Sept. 1.

Brooks is serving her second consecutive four-year term on the commission and is term-limited as a result.

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