VOL. 132 | NO. 183 | Thursday, September 14, 2017
Touliatos Set To Make Run For Shelby County Mayor
By Bill Dries
Since her office is not term limited, Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos could stay for a while in the clerk’s position she has held for nearly two terms.
Instead, Touliatos is running as a Republican for Shelby County Mayor in 2018 on a platform calling for cooperation among elected officials, lower taxes and smaller government.
With more than 20 years in Shelby County government, Touliatos is emphasizing her experience and knowledge of the inner workings of county government.
The inner workings are different than City Hall because of the numerous elected officials like the Juvenile Court clerk, which makes for a different relationship with the county mayor.
“It’s not for me to sit there and say you don’t need this position or you don’t need that position,” she said. “But if we all come to the table together we can come up with ideas.
“The bottom line is we all want to decrease the footprint of county government,” she said. “But you have to do that as a group. It can’t be me telling everybody what they are going to do.”
Decreasing the footprint includes lowering the county property tax rate that the county commission lowered by two cents in the most recent budget season after the rate was set at a lower certified rate to create the same amount of revenue the previous rate brought in before the 2017 countywide property reappraisal.
“I think we can always do a better job and I do think it needs to be lowered,” Touliatos said. “I think there are ways that we can work together and lower that property tax. Anytime you can take that burden off taxpayers I think there is always going to be a benefit. I think people are always looking for something better in government.”
Touliatos is part of a still-forming field that so far has more Republicans than Democrats as declared contenders in the May primaries. She is joined by Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland and Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir. On the Democratic side, former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism is running.
Contenders in the May primaries can’t start pulling qualifying petitions until Nov. 17 with a February filing deadline to make the ballot.
Roland is expected to emphasize his role in the property tax rate cut and Lenoir has talked for several years about reducing the county’s property tax rate or other taxes in his role as the county’s tax collector.
Outgoing Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has differed with some who think improving the county’s economy is heavily dependent on cutting the tax rate. He didn’t oppose the most recent cut in the property tax rate but urged caution in making cuts that might hamper county government’s ability to deliver essential services.
Touliatos described the county mayor as a facilitator to build consensus not only with those other countywide elected officials but with the 13-member Shelby County Commission.
“You don’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” she said. “But at the same time the mayor is there. You’ve got to work together. There’s no way around that and you have to cross party lines as well.”
Touliatos and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael clashed three years ago when Michael sought an additional clerk for detention hearings. While the clerk’s office is not a party to the ongoing agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to change conditions at Juvenile Court, she says the changes affect the clerk’s office.
But like Michael, Touliatos is an elected official. She filed a lawsuit in Chancery Court over the difference and what amounted to a clash in who had control over what part of the process. It was quickly resolved and the case dismissed.
“We had to put another clerk in a detention hearing, which we didn’t have in the beginning,” she said. “It was something they asked us to do. And me, rather than going to the commission and saying I’ve got to have more clerks because I don’t have enough, I have utilized a manager, a supervisor and my own secretary to go into that docket. You have to kind of think outside the box.”
These days she said her office and Michael’s office work together.
“We are both focused to do what’s best for Juvenile Court,” Touliatos said. “I will always do my job no matter what. Whether I agree or disagree with people, I am going to do my job.”
Touliatos said her priorities in the campaign are public safety, lowering county property taxes, economic development and improving education.
She got the political bug while working in the family business, the Fairview, a restaurant on East Parkway directly across from the western entrance to the Fairgrounds.
She recalls an uncle who followed politics. And the restaurant’s meeting rooms hosted political events of all stripes, including the Loeb Dutch Treat Luncheon, the post-mayoral political forum hosted by Henry Loeb. Future Shelby County and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was also a frequent customer at the Fairview.
From there she went to work in the General Sessions Court Clerk’s office while attending college and thought about going to law school.
“It’s just not for me,” she said. “I enjoyed helping people and being around people. I just worked my way around county government in General Sessions.”
She joined the staff of Steve Stamson when he was elected Juvenile Court Clerk in 2002 and was chief administrative officer when Stamson retired in 2010. She won the clerk’s office that year and won re-election in 2014.
Touliatos was campaign co-chairman for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s 2015 campaign in the city’s nonpartisan elections. Strickland is a former Shelby County Democratic Party chairman.