VOL. 129 | NO. 210 | Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Commission Chair Sued by Seven Members
By Bill Dries
Seven Shelby County Commissioners are suing commission chairman Justin Ford for stopping them from adding items to the body’s agenda.
The lawsuit was filed Monday, Oct. 28, as the commission was meeting a block away from the Shelby County Courthouse. Commissioners who were not involved in the lawsuit got word of it Tuesday.
The plaintiffs are Commissioners Walter Bailey and Van Turner, who are also the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, as well as Willie Brooks, Melvin Burgess, Eddie Jones, Reginald Milton and Steve Basar.
Basar is a Republican commissioner. The other six are Democrats, with Ford being the seventh Democrat on the majority Democratic body.
The specific issue is a proposal by Bailey and Basar that would change commission rules by allowing an item to be added to committee sessions and vote by the full commission later with a simple majority of seven commissioners. The current rule requires a nine-vote, two-thirds majority.
Basar submitted the proposal first this month. According to the lawsuit, the commission staff sent him an email saying Ford wanted it to be presented later in the month.
When Bailey did that, Bailey got an email from commission staff saying Ford had indicated “he does not want the permanent rules amendment … to move forward at this time.”
Outside of court, Ford has said he wants to appoint an ad hoc committee for a broader look at commission rules.
But the commissioners who filed suit contend submitting items for consideration is a basic part of their duties as elected officials and that Ford is causing “great and irreparable injury to plaintiffs rights and duties by precluding them from executing their functions as members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in sponsoring resolutions for committee consideration.”
The lawsuit claims Ford’s actions are “arbitrary, capricious and (an) abuse of discretion or a clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.”
The plaintiffs want a temporary restraining order “declaring commissioners have these rights and privileges.” A hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order has been scheduled for Nov. 6 by Chancellor Walter Evans.
Ford is the third commission chairman in as many years elected as chairman with a majority of his votes coming from commissioners of the other party.
Commissioners critical of Bailey’s complaints have said they believe the issue is Ford’s election with the support of Republican commissioners.
This is not the first time commissioners have sued fellow members of the body in Chancery Court.
Bailey and commissioners Terry Roland and Mike Ritz filed a lawsuit in January 2012 against the commission as a whole over redistricting when the body couldn’t get the nine-vote majority required to approve a new set of district lines under its rules of procedure.
Chancellor Arnold Goldin later ruled the plan that passed with a simple majority of seven votes was the plan in place because state law only required a simple majority vote approving such a plan. The county charter required nine votes.