VOL. 129 | NO. 205 | Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Turner, Chism Survey New County Commission
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners Van Turner and George Chism belong to different political parties. Turner is a Democrat and Chism is a Republican.
George Chism and Van Turner
But both said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines” that the commission’s beginning of the term argument over committee assignments and a Democratic chairman elected with the votes of six Republican commissioners isn’t necessarily an omen for the next four years.
Democratic Commissioner Walter Bailey objected to the committee assignments for new Chairman Justin Ford and delayed a vote on them for several weeks before they were ultimately approved this month.
“He wanted to revisit that. I think we needed to do that. I didn’t see anything wrong with that,” said Chism who attributed some of the reaction to the media. “Some Republicans might have blown it up a little bit more.”
Turner agreed that the reaction off the commission might have been more than was warranted.
“I’m 39 years old. He’s been on the commission 39 years. He doesn’t like me to say that,” added Turner. “The point is he’s seen many things happen on the commission. … I think as our senior statesmen on the commission, if he wants a second look at something … he should be afforded that opportunity.”
The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
Turner and Chism are two of the six new commissioners elected to the 13-member body in the August county general elections.
With the August elections, the commission also converted to a set of 13 single-member districts replacing a set of districts each of which was represented by three elected commissioners.
The districts are now smaller as a result.
And the commission’s newest members are at least examining the commission’s relationship to services within the city of Memphis as they prepare for their first budget season in the spring.
It will be the third fiscal year in which Shelby County government is the sole local funder of what is now a smaller Shelby County Schools system and along with the municipal governments of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County is also funding the six suburban school districts that opened in August.
“We want to make sure that the funding gets to where the needs are,” Turner said. “The legacy Memphis City Schools system … is where the bulk of the students are in the county but we do understand there are improvements and needs for students outside (that). We want to have a fair process. We want to have an equitable process.”
Chism also notes there is more discussion among the commission at the start of its four-year term of office about issues like crime.
“I do think there are things that are going to fall on the County Commission that have not in the past simply because of some of the problems within the city schools, within the city of Memphis government,” he said. “We’re going to have to think outside of the box a little bit.”
Turner said the commission is careful not to usurp any authority within any of the cities and towns within the county.
“I think we are there to assist all of the municipalities. Directly we fund education. We cover the jail. We cover the courts,” he added. “I think that will deserve a little more focus than some of the other municipalities. But that doesn’t mean we neglect all the other municipalities. I’m of the opinion that we really do need to move forward as one county. We really do need to get beyond some of the racial issues that we’ve had in the past and really move this county forward.”
Turner termed Bailey’s issue with Ford a “bump in the road.” And Chism saw different reactions from commissioners starting their second term.
“I think the commissioners that have been on before have a little more of an agenda than maybe some of us coming on new,” Chism said. “Some of us haven’t been involved in politics a lot. We’ve been active in our communities.”
Turner, however, is no stranger to political considerations. He is a former chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party.
“If you are going to run countywide as a Democrat or Republican, you have to some extent satisfy your base of voters who are Republicans and who are Democrats,” he said. “Those philosophies play out more acutely on a national level and a state level but not so much locally. We understand that. But because we are in an environment where we do have these partisan elections, you have to respect that fact and you have to navigate it.”