Oct 09 2015

Time for a change

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

Richard Holden

Richard Holden

Another election, another election night with glitches.

At this point, we don’t really know what caused the problems that marred election night 2015 in Memphis, but what we do know is that the Election Commission isn’t very good at doing elections.

In nearly every election since 2012 there has been some problem. And while some, but not most, of those problems might have been excusable, the response from the Administrator of Elections, Richard Holden, has been nothing short of disdain and ‘get off my lawn’ isms.

An audit in 2012 conducted by the State of Tennessee into the wrong ballots fiasco faulted Holden’s leadership.

The Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission gave the Election Commission a vote of no confidence after problems.

Heck, even Republican Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said enough is enough.

But this isn’t about politics, its about competence. That’s what it was about in the 2012 election when thousands of people got the wrong ballot.

And here we are again, this election, with people getting wrong ballots!

Its not that the job is easy, because it isn’t. But now 5 years into his tenure, Mr. Holden has had plenty of time to get the problems fixed, and not only have they not been fixed, there seems to be no timeline or urgency to fix them.

Taken at 12am from the Shelby County Election Commission results site

Taken at 12am from the Shelby County Election Commission results site

Election Commissioners have tried to vote him out, failing on a party line vote.

Maybe this time it will be different, maybe it won’t.

But if the Commissioners themselves won’t take the mantle that’s been given them by members of the Shelby County Delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly, then one has no other option but to assume they’re just as much a part of the problem as Holden.

We’ll see what they do at the next meeting later this month (it wasn’t posted as of the writing of this post).

Oct 08 2015

Congratulations Jim

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections

Memphis Mayor Elect Jim Strickland

Memphis Mayor Elect Jim Strickland

I wasn’t able to make it out to the festivities tonight, but I wanted to take a moment to congratulate my friend Jim Strickland on his win tonight in the Memphis Mayoral contest.

This is the first election I’ve had to sit out since the 2007 City election. Its been kinda weird from the sidelines.

All that said, I know Jim will do his best for Memphis, and even though we’ve disagreed on the finer details of policy over the years, he’s a good man who really wants Memphis to shine.

I’d also like to thank Mayor Wharton for his service to Memphis and Shelby County over the years. He has a distinguished career as a public defender, County and City Mayor, among other titles. I wish him the best in all his future endeavors.

As for the other races, at this point we’re still waiting for results. I’ve got several friends running in several contests. Hopefully we’ll know more in the morning.

There are some other things that need to be talked about, including the glitch that slowed results, the way the campaign was conducted and the final results, and concerns about racial representation in the City’s top job.

All of these topics deserve some time, and I’ll get started on the easiest one, the glitches, tomorrow.

Sep 19 2015

Memphis City Elections – Early Voting Locations

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Early Voting locations for the 2015 Memphis City Election.
Locations are open September 18th – October 3rd.
10am-7pm M-F
10am-4pm Sat

For more information go to: Shelby County Election Commission

Jul 28 2015

Profiles in Cowardice

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections, Memphis, shenanigans

Backing off his support of the CLERB isn’t the first time the Mayor lost his backbone at the last second

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton

Monday, the Memphis City Council met with key stakeholders to finalize a draft ordinance that would give additional oversight of the Memphis Police Department.

The Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board, an entity that has existed in name only for years, would be given additional powers to investigate complaints brought forward against the Police department. One of those powers would be the ability to compel testimony, and the handing over of documents from the Police department.

Until last night, it seemed everyone was on board…the majority of the City Council had pushed through two readings, and the Mayor had signaled he supported the draft that included the above changes. Even the super secret 14th member of the City Council, Alan Wade, had been placated it seemed.

But for reasons not immediately apparent, the Mayor withdrew his support of the ordinance at the 11th hour, and wasn’t even man enough to deliver the news himself.

Considering recent events, many observers wondered why the Mayor would do this? But if you’ve been paying attention, this has been this administration’s Modus Operandi from the very beginning.

Shifting Sands

Wharton is no stranger to randomly, and seemingly without warning, changing his positions.

In 2010, the Mayor withdrew his support for a non-discrimination ordinance that he previously supported. The ordinance was eventually withdrawn.

He did it again in 2012, citing mysteriously vague objections, and trotting out Attorneys Alan Wade and Herman Morris to do his dirty work.

He’s done the same thing to the folks seeking to keep a section of Overton Park from being a defacto parking lot for the zoo. The mayor, at first seemed to support the idea, then both backed off at the last second, and changed his ‘opinion’

In fact, if you look for any issue you’ve seen the Mayor speak on over the past 6 years of his tenure, you will find articles and appearances in which he regularly supports both sides of the issue, sometimes at the same time, and in the process, preserves his political capital for the masses who generally aren’t paying attention to such things.

It is both sad testimony that the local media has largely allowed him to do this, and that he thinks we’re too dumb to notice.


The City has had a Civilian Review Board ordinance on the books since 1994. The ordinance, in its current form, has no teeth. As a result, the board went dormant until a series of actions, both locally and nationally, brought the idea back into the spotlight.

Now, in light of a the local shooting of an unarmed black teen… another in a string of nationally spotlighted shootings of unarmed black men, it would seem like the perfect time to institute some independent oversight of the police…not to go on a witch hunt, but to both provide the public with assurance that the investigations into possible malfeasance by officers are above board, and to root out those few officers who don’t like playing by the rules.

People who don’t like civilian oversight of anything have called supporters of the CLERB “anti-cop”, but that is a gross mischaracterization. If anything, the CLERB would help restore faith in the police by bringing the findings of investigations out into the open where regular folks can see what’s going on.

Many other cities have Review Boards…some with more powers than others. Knoxville has a review board that has many of the powers sought by advocates for the Memphis ordinance. In fact, restoring the relationship between the public and police is job #1 listed in the Knoxville ordinance.

It doesn’t seem like a crazy request or an unreachable. But to the Mayor, in an election year, it scared him so bad, he couldn’t even come down and deliver the news of his flip floppery himself.

Civilian Oversight is the Essence of Our Republic

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” –Thomas Jefferson

Every two to four years we have elections for various and sundry offices in this country. In Memphis, those elections seem to be every 90 days or so, but they still happen.

Its natural for people in power to try to put the best face forward, to obfuscate somewhat, to use misdirection to confuse people.

But there’s nothing confusing about what Mayor Wharton’s administration did yesterday: It purposefully withdrew support for political purposes. Mayor Wharton figures the politics of not supporting this ordinance, and possibly upsetting some police officers, is more important than the public having a voice in the workings of an agency of their government that, under the long veil of secrecy, has continued to lose the faith of the citizenry.


You can be a strong supporter of the Mayor and still support the CLERB ordinance.

You can be a strong supporter of local law enforcement and support the CLERB. In fact, regular cops who serve the public well on a regular basis have nothing more to worry about from the CLERB than they do from the current Internal Affairs process.

You can’t, however, proclaim to be a strong supporter of transparency and at the same time, oppose giving powers to a board that would seek to bring more transparency to an unnecessarily veiled process.

In fact, it is one of the very ideas the Mayor solicited from former County Commissioner, Mike Carpenter when he asked him to review the city’s transparency process.

Its high time the Mayor stood by that 2009 Executive Order and let the sunshine in on local government.

One way to do that, is to support all the changes the new CLERB ordinance proposes.

Doing anything else, means the Mayor has just added to his growing list of flip-flopery on the important issues of the day.

Mar 15 2015

Congratulations Delegates #SCDP

Posted by Steve Ross in Memphis Politics, SCDP, Shelby County

The Shelby County Democratic Party held the first part of their biennial convention Saturday, and with it comes a fresh crop of delegates to the Convention on March 28th.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve already picked a candidate for Executive Committee to represent your House District, or if you’ve settled on a candidate for Chair, you’ve got just under two weeks to decide. Take your time.

Yesterday, I published a post targeting participants in the caucuses. Those things apply to you too (you were a participant after all), but as an elected representative of a precinct (which is what you are), you have some additional responsibilities beyond just showing up in two weeks and voting.

See, one of the (many) things the Shelby County Democratic Party lacks is a robust party leadership structure. I’m not talking about the folks who will be on the Executive Committee (though they definitely need some help), but leadership all the way down to the precinct level.

Guess what…you are now part of that leadership structure. Congratulations!

If the past decade of watching and being involved in the party has taught me anything, its that the Executive Committee alone just can’t (and often won’t) get the party on the right track by themselves. They need help. And as an elected representative of your precinct, you’re just one of the many people that will be needed to do it.

You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Here are some ideas to help stay involved, and get other people involved as well.

1. Meet the other delegates – Chances are you are backing one of the candidates for Chair. If you are, chances are you’ve either met with, or know who you’ll be supporting for the Executive Committee spots in your district. But if for some reason you don’t you’re going to be contacted by them, asking for your vote. Don’t commit without asking some questions, such as:

  • What specifically will you do as a member of the Executive Committee?
  • Don’t let them off easy. Demand specifics. If they can’t give them to you, then maybe they’re not the right horse to back no matter how many votes they’ve locked up.

  • Who are they supporting for Chair, and what is that candidate’s platform?
  • Like I said, most of the sorting with the usual suspects happened weeks, maybe even months ago. Make them say it out loud. Make them email it to you. If elected, they’ll be working for you. You need to make sure you have something tangible to hold them to.

  • How committed are they to developing and building a precinct based organization in their House district to strengthen the Party
  • If they look at you like you’re crazy, or seem confused by the question, they haven’t considered the fullness of their responsibility as a potential member of the Executive Committee and may not deserve your vote.

    2. Show Up – It happens every two years…a bunch of delegates don’t show up to the second round (which will be held March 28th), and that swings the election of Executive Committee members, and ultimately the Chair, one way or the other. Usually it doesn’t end up as an upset, but with several candidates vying for the Chair spot, it could this time. Regardless of whether the candidates for Executive Committee met your expectations in answering the questions above (and possibly others), if you don’t show up, you have forfeit your vote, and from my perspective, ill served the people who voted you in as a delegate. Don’t be that guy/gal.

    3. Stay Strong – Don’t get too disappointed if you want to be an Executive Committee member and don’t make it. There are only 29 spots for 14 districts. Chances are, you won’t make it. But if you stay involved, show up to meetings, and keep your constituents informed, there may be a spot for you either on a committee, or on the EC when/if someone resigns, or gets kicked for not showing up. It happens every term. Being there is the best way to ultimately get what you want.

    4. Learn Something – Anyone who thinks the work of the party is sexy doesn’t really know what the party is supposed to do. The main things are:

  • Raise money
  • Recruit/train/elect candidates/volunteers
  • Get more people involved
  • The party regularly fails at at least two of these each term. These things sound intuitive, but they’re not. Raising money is tricky. Training and recruiting candidates and volunteers requires a special skill set. Getting folks involved means there has to be something for them to do.

    I mentioned the training conference in Spring Hill in my last post, but if you can’t make it to that, there are plenty of other opportunities out there from all kinds of progressive groups like Democracy for America, Wellstone Action, and many more. Some have online training options. No matter how much you think you know, you can always benefit from learning something new.

    5. Do Something – Another thing to think about…you don’t have to wait for the party to get it together to do something. You can start today.

    Maybe its something simple like registering voters. That’s easy. Just print out copies of this form, then get some friends, and some pens and clipboards, and set up a registration drive. Here are some good guidelines for doing a voter registration drive. Make sure you have permission to do this on any private property. You can do it at any number of places, even church.

    There are other things you can do as well, like throw a house party, or a neighborhood meeting. These take a little more organization, and usually need to be tied to a specific goal (financial or policy driven). If you want to do something like this, feel free to shoot me an email or contact your Executive Committee member for details on what information you need to collect and the state rules (for donations). Raising money is great, but also just making contact is a step. Don’t underestimate its importance.

    (Quick Note: Be sure to communicate your plans to your EC member. They may be willing to help, or get more people involved. The more the merrier.)

    6. Demand Accountability – As a delegate, you have a voice in determining the future of the party. That voice doesn’t have to end with the election of a Chair. If you’ve done your due diligence, and networked your way into people’s email/phone lists, you’ve positioned yourself to stay on top of the Executive Committee members who represent you…and you can make some demands.

    Most importantly, you should encourage EC members to inform their constituents. All too often they expect to be sought out for information. Members that think that way have the relationship exactly backwards. Its their job to inform you, not your job to track them down and ask questions (though if you do have questions, its on you to ask them). Demand that they do this (in a nice way). This will be foreign to some, so some coaching might be required. Set up meetings, or email lists or other networking opportunities to inform yourself, and the people you represent. This way, you won’t be surprised if something goes horribly wrong, and you might even be able to catch a problem before it becomes a problem.

    Ask for meeting agendas, copies of the rules (and that they adopt real rules not the bullshit standby of ‘Roberts Rules’ which no one really understands), and resolutions. If they can’t/don’t live up to that expectation and you’ve made contact/expanded your network of people, you’ve set in motion the beginnings of booting them in two years for someone (like yourself) who will do what you believe needs to get done.

    For the past 10 years, I’ve seen EC after EC come in good intentions, then behave like the Caucus and Convention are the end of organizing. They’re wrong, its just the beginning. If you can treat it like its the beginning, stay in touch with people in your House District, keep them informed, and prove you’re interested…you’re a step ahead for the next time around.

    As a delegate you need to demand the EC treat it like the beginning. Do that, and you’ll have played a role in helping strengthen the party going forward.

    The truth is, elections are a 24/7/365 affair now. They have been for a long time. It begins with the first actions those elected officials take in office, and while 2/4 years may seem like a long time, its not. Staying up to date on what these folks are doing (in your name) is the best way to: 1. Communicate and eventually get what you want, and 2. Hold them accountable if they aren’t moving the ball forward.

    Remember, you are a part of the party…simply by saying you are. Showing what you’re willing to do to move the party forward is just one of the many ways you can be a part of getting this County Party and this County back on track.