VOL. 130 | NO. 156 | Wednesday, August 12, 2015
County Commission Chairmanship Given, Taken Back
By Bill Dries
For a while Monday, Aug. 10, it looked like the Shelby County Commission had shaken off several years of political conflict in the annual selection of its chairman.
As was the case the three previous years, a commission chairman had been elected with most of his or her votes coming from commissioners of the other party. The body currently is made up of seven Democrats and six Republicans.
Democratic commissioner Justin Ford frequently votes with Republicans and Republican Steve Basar frequently votes with Democrats. But it only took the commission six rounds of voting to elect Basar as its chairman for the next year starting in September.
It was first on Monday’s 24-item agenda and it took the commission another hour to get through the remaining items.
That’s when the years of conflict came to the surface. Two or three commissioners began meeting privately during the meeting.
Democratic County Commissioner Eddie Jones, who had voted for Basar on the sixth round, moved for reconsideration. With seven votes, the question of who would be chairman was open again.
“I think it’s unfortunate that some members of the commission bullied other members of the commission and threatened them in order to get votes. I’ll just leave it at that,” Basar said. “You know who sits next to who up there.
Jones sits next to Republican commissioner Terry Roland, whom Jones voted for on several rounds of balloting before switching to Basar.
By the ninth round, no one got the seven votes necessary to become chairman. The commission then delayed a chairman vote until its Sept. 14 meeting.
Commissioner Heidi Shafer said the move shouldn’t have been a surprise given the tumultuous recent history of the annual selection as well as attempts to remove current chairman Justin Ford.
The same thing happened a year earlier with Democratic commissioner James Harvey as well as an attempt to oust Shafer as Harvey’s choice to be budget committee chairwoman.
“I think that opened up the door for this circus,” Shafer said. “I didn’t do it to him. This is exactly why I questioned trying to unseat chairs two years ago and again last year. Once you let the genie out of the bottle, then you are also subject to that.”
There is nothing in the county charter that says the new chairman for the next year must be elected by Sept. 1. But Ford, the outgoing chairman, leaves the chairmanship at the end of August.
That means Democratic commissioner Van Turner, who was elected chairman pro tempore Monday, will preside over the election of the next chairman.
Shafer expects the vote alignment might change between now and the Sept. 14 meeting, agreeing that five weeks is a long time to hold votes in any political situation much less one as charged as who is chairman of the commission.
“I think that what we’ll see is a lot finagling, wrangling and positioning,” she said.