VOL. 130 | NO. 220 | Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Commission Cancels Veto Override Meeting
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners were set to meet in special session Thursday, Nov. 12, before calling off those plans less than 24 hours later.
The session was to consider overriding Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s veto of their plan to hire their own attorney.
Commission chairman Terry Roland called – and canceled – the meeting following Luttrell’s Friday veto.
The commission on Oct. 26 approved the resolution to hire its own legal counsel and fund the position. The action came after Roland appointed attorney and former commissioner Julian Bolton as a special counsel to investigate whether the commission could hire him as its lawyer on a permanent basis.
County Attorney Ross Dyer contends the county charter allows his office and only his office to offer legal advice to the body.
Dyer offered a compromise in which his office would have hired Bolton as an assistant county attorney with the understanding that Bolton would be the legal adviser to the commission
But the compromise fell apart as commissioners questioned why they needed to go through Dyer’s officer. They also questioned whether relying on the county attorney – a position appointed by the mayor – would get them an attorney who is independent of the administration.
Dyer has maintained that he represents county government as a whole and that the mayor’s office does not influence his legal advice to the commission.
After analyzing the charter, Bolton reached a different conclusion than Dyer: The commission, Bolton said, could hire its own attorney without mayoral approval. The body approved the position’s creation and Bolton’s appointment to it.
Overriding Luttrell’s veto will take an eight-vote, two-thirds majority of the 13-member body.
The resolution at the last meeting in October was approved on an 8-5 vote with commissioners Steve Basar, Mark Billingsley, George Chism and David Reaves voting no. Commissioner Van Turner abstained.
Commissioners who support having their own legal counsel have said their dispute is not with Dyer or his advice in general.
They’ve said they want the same kind of legal counsel the Memphis City Council has had for more than 20 years. In some discussions, commissioners have referred to the position as having their own “Allan Wade” – a reference to the council’s attorney.
Dyer has said the city charter, which permits the council to have its own attorney, differs from the county charter on that specific point.
Differences between Luttrell and some commissioners over county government’s direction and finances reached a high point in the last budget season and escalated even more after the budget was set for the current fiscal year.
County tax revenue collections for the fiscal year that ended June 30 wound up being $22 million more than expected. Some commissioners say the overage meant they could have lowered the county property tax rate.
Luttrell has argued that the higher revenue collections, while a trend, don’t mean a property tax rate rollback should be the response.
Roland, who earlier this year announced he would be running for county mayor in 2018, has said the commission sets the budget and the administration carries out the wishes of the commission.
Luttrell and his administration have said that is not the relationship between the two branches.