VOL. 133 | NO. 160 | Tuesday, August 14, 2018
County Mayor-Elect Harris Starts Transition with Long- and Short-Term Tasks, List of 142 Positions
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Mayor-elect Lee Harris met for the first time Tuesday with his 35-member transition team chaired by Paul Morris, left, and Lionel Hollins, right. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
Shelby County Mayor-elect Lee Harris told 35 members of his transition team that they will probably continue working through the end of October, two months after he takes office as mayor.
Meeting at the Burch Porter law firm Tuesday, Aug. 14, Harris told the team he is looking for short-term and long-term recommendations. He said he would continue to use the group as a sounding board as he moves into his administration.
Almost two weeks after his election as mayor, Harris used a description he frequently used during the campaign to describe the pace. “It’s still like drinking water from a fire hydrant,” he said of the gap between the election and taking office Sept. 1.
"There are so many ideas in this room. People really talked about a lot of things," Harris said after the session. "They're lasered-focused on education, they're lasered-focused on poverty. It’s a challenge that’s affected so many generations in this community and they want to talk about how we turn the corner and how we reduce it.”
Transition team co-chairman Paul Morris circulated a list of 142 high-level appointments the county mayor will make and urged the group to forward resumes and other contact information for those who might fill the jobs.
Morris also said that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a change in every position from the administration of outgoing county mayor Mark Luttrell.
“There are a lot of incumbents who are doing really good work,” Morris said. “We are not looking to clean house.”
But the new administration wants to make sure all of the positions are open for citizens to apply for.
“The best person may be the person already doing the job,” Morris said.
The transition team is a mix of business leaders, those new to public service and veterans of past administrations and transition teams in city and county government.
Transition team co-chairman Lionel Hollins noted the diversity.
"They have great things going on in their own lives and to be able to come together and bring this transition smoothly, and even further, as we help the mayor to implement what he set out to do in his campaign," he said.
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love emphasized a "living wage" and better public transportation, urging Harris to appoint "people on your team who know and understand inner-city communities where most of the problems are happening."
Former Memphis City Council member Jack Sammons recalled being part of Dick Hackett’s transition team when Hackett became Memphis mayor in 1982. That continued all the way through the resignation of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to the election of A C Wharton.
Sammons urged a partnership with City Hall for the new county mayor.
“I’ve seen mayors together and apart,” he said. “If you start off in a collaborative manner, it’s amazing what you can do."
Sitting next to Sammons, outgoing County Commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer urged Harris to recognize the limits of county government.
“A lot of things people want to fix are not the county’s purview,” she said.
The day after she proposed putting more responsibility for EDGE – the Economic Development Growth Engine – with the county commission and council as well as the EDGE board and away from the two mayors, Shafer also told Harris, “There’s too much under EDGE.”
After the meeting, Shafer contrasted her working relationship with Harris thus far to that with Luttrell.
“He’s (Harris) already called four times and that’s more than our existing mayor has called me in the past three years put together, so I do think that’s hopeful," she said. "It’s not uncommon for the legislative and executive branches to disagree, but if you have those ongoing communications and that mutual respect and trust, you don’t sue your legislative branch. It makes a much better chance of working out something that everybody will be happy with.”
Harris noted that Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland changed the structure of the mayoral administration shortly after taking office in 2016. And Harris floated the idea of an “office of innovation.”
Morris said there will probably be a “rolling process” of appointments ,with Harris taking the counsel of the transition team but making the actual decision within a smaller group that includes Morris and Hollins.
“We should be advisers, not deciders,” Morris added. “We are bringing him the best people. We are bringing him the best information.”
Josh Spickler of the criminal justice reform group Just City urged Harris to seek to reverse the call by Luttrell and other county leaders to end U.S. Justice Department oversight of Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court.
“We need to move quickly to see if we can salvage that oversight,” he told Harris.
He also called for “completely rethinking criminal justice.”
“Who we are putting in that jail and what we are doing with them when they get out – that all needs to be rethought,” Spickler said.
Dale Lane, director of the county office of preparedness and the Republican nominee for Shelby County sheriff in the August elections, agreed about the jail concerns.
“We need to make sure that only the most violent individuals in our community wind up there,” he said.
The group’s next meeting is Aug. 28.