A challenge of Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks’ residency is serious enough that her fellow commissioners are prepared to discuss it at a special meeting next week.
The Shelby County Attorney’s office is investigating whether Brooks lives in the district she has represented for the last eight years.
And the report to come at a special commission meeting, tentatively set for June 26, could determine whether the body moves to oust her from the seat and appoint a replacement for the remaining two and a half months of her current term.
Word of the investigation surfaced at the commission’s Monday, June 16, meeting, when Commissioner Terry Roland objected to an unnamed commissioner voting on matters in violation of the county charter provisions on residency.
Roland later confirmed he was referring to Brooks.
“I wasn’t going to say anything today while she was abstaining, but when she voted in the affirmative or in the negative I said, ‘I can’t let this happen. I’ve got to say something,’” Roland said later. “This is not personal against her. But I think the stuff we are voting on now is such important issues – her not living in that district but voting really disenfranchises everybody else in Shelby County.”
Commissioners already planned to meet in special session before the end of the month to resolve several budget items for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.
The residency question was added to the agenda for the special meeting when Commissioner Mike Ritz said the commission is unlikely to get seven votes to set a property tax rate without the body being up to its full 13 members.
And without an item on the agenda to specifically deal with that, the item could not be acted on at a special meeting.
If the county attorney’s office concludes Brooks does not live in the district she represents and the commission moves to oust her, commissioners would set a timeline including a deadline for citizens to apply for the appointment and a date for the body to vote on a replacement.
But County Attorney Marcy Ingram warned that “it may not be that simple.”
Brooks could file suit in Shelby County Chancery Court to contest an ouster attempt.
Brooks, who has reached her term limit on the commission and is the Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court clerk, was present for Monday’s meeting.
When Chairman James Harvey asked if she wanted to say anything about the investigation, Brooks replied, “Why would I need to comment? I haven’t heard my name referenced in this discussion.”
When Brooks pulled a qualifying petition to run in the May Democratic primary for Juvenile Court clerk, she listed an address in the 1800 block of Crump Avenue near Rhodes College. It is the same address she listed on her January, April and May 2014 campaign finance disclosure statements, as well as statements in 2012 and 2013.
According to records from the Shelby County Assessor of Property, the house is owned by Robert and Betty M. Brown, who list the Crump residence as their owner address. The Browns appear from sales records on the assessor’s website to have owned the house since March 1984.
In 2009, Brooks was living in South Bluffs. The Downtown gated community was picketed that year after Brooks opposed a plan by developer Harold Buehler and his company to build 125 rental homes on 140 parcels of tax-delinquent land. Organizers of the protest said they picketed outside the South Bluffs gates to show Brooks’ “hypocrisy” for renting there after a bankruptcy and foreclosure on her South Memphis home and then opposing affordable housing.
Aside from the possibility of a protracted legal skirmish that could easily last longer than the two and a half months Brooks has left on the commission, contesting the residence of an elected official holding a district office is a challenge on several fronts.
Residency standards differ from the County Commission to the City Council to the Tennessee Legislature.
The county charter says in order to serve on the County Commission, citizens must be at least 18 years old and “registered voters in the district from which they seek election on the date they filed their nominating petition and have been residents of the county for one year prior to the election.”
Tennessee law says members of a county legislative body “shall reside within and be qualified voters of the districts they represent.”
Almost certain to come up in any discussion of state law is whether a provision in state law applies to a county government that has a home rule charter, as Shelby County government does.
Meanwhile, Brooks resigned from her job at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Tuesday, June 17, according to the hospital. Her resignation comes after a dispute over a parking space last week that ended with Brooks being charged in a warrant with simple assault. Brooks had been a community and government research specialist for Methodist.