County Commission Backs Medical Marijuana, Opposes School Vouchers

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Commissioners endorsed state legislation Monday, Feb. 20, that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes, came out against a school voucher bill by state Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown and turned away a social media use policy for county employees.

The commission’s 9-2 vote to back the medical marijuana bill sponsored in the Tennessee Legislature by state Rep. Jeremy Faison came without debate – one in a series of votes that are part of the commission’s group of positions on legislature pending in Nashville.

Commissioners Mark Billingsley and Heidi Shafer voted no with commissioner George Chism absent and commissioner Justin Ford not in the commission chambers when the vote was taken.

In December, the same commission defeated an ordinance on final reading that would have allowed Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies to write a civil citation or ticket for possession of half an ounce or less of pot.

There was much more debate among commissioners Monday on the social media policy changes prompted by a November post from Shelby County Corrections Center Deputy Director David Barber that the Klan is more American than then-President Barack Obama, on his personal Facebook page. The page listed his job with Shelby County government. Barber retired during furor over the post.

The policy amendment proposed said an employee’s personal social media use “should not be attributable to an agency” of county government.

“Be aware if you identify yourself as an employee of SCG (Shelby County Government) or an affiliate organization/department on your personal social profile, any information you post will be held to a higher level of scrutiny,” the amendment read. “And you should determine how you wish to present yourself as a SCG professional, appropriate with the public trust associated with our position, and conforms to the policies and procedures of SCG and its officials.”

Commissioners had lots of questions about Facebook posts by county employees who don’t show where they work but who are outed as a county employee by others. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Kim Hackney said any county action would depend heavily on the posting and how that relates to other county government policies against racial, religious and gender discrimination.

“This is a first line of defense,” commissioner Mark Billingsley said. “It provides clarity around our county’s values and culture.”


Commissioner Terry Roland, however, said the policy is wrong and that county government would quickly become entangled in questions of Constitutional law and freedom of expression.

“The social media thing, I think, is wrong,” he said. “You cannot tell somebody how to think. There are so many variables. What if I get tagged?”

Roland acknowledged social media posts by him in recent weeks have been highly critical of Planned Parenthood.

“I don’t give a damn who watches mine. Next they’ll be looking at your emails,” he said. “We’re starting to take right away from people.”

The amended social media policy would not have applied to elected officials just as the current policy does not.

Commissioner Walter Bailey who is politically the opposite of Roland on many issues, agreed with Roland in his position as well as being a vocal critic of the rule.

“I think we expose ourselves to litigation,” he said. “That’s their privacy.”

Bailey called the policy change “a slippery slope” that could have the effect of “putting a chill” on free speech and expression.

The resolution on the policy change fell one vote short of the seven votes needed for approval. Commissioners Bailey, Roland, Steve Basar and chairman Melvin Burgess voted no.

The commission also approved Monday a resolution coming out against Kelsey’s school voucher bill which would apply only to Shelby County.

The 10-0 vote, with Shafer abstaining, came the same day that a fiscal note attached to the legislation in Nashville by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee estimated Shelby County Schools would lose $18.6 million in revenue a year as a result, starting in 2019.

“I don’t know why he continues his assault on education in Shelby County, when his constituents and our constituents do not support it,” commissioner David Reaves said. “If this goes through, I think we need to be prepared to challenge it. … Even our municipal districts, it will continue to expand and eat away at education funding.”