On Monday, the effort to determine if County Commissioner Henri Brooks does indeed live in her district will come before the County Commission again.
This time will be different, as the Commission will have to begin the process anew in the wake of a completely expected and predictable ruling by Chancellor Kenny Armstrong.
Reports of the ruling (which can be found here, here, here, and here) say Chancellor Armstrong gave Brooks the injunctive relief she was looking for (effectively stopping the current effort to declare her seat vacant), and call for the Commission to set up some kind of trier of fact (either the Commission itself, a designee, or a court) to: 1. Determine where Brooks actually lives, and then 2. Determine if the seat is, in fact, vacant…before going on to seek to fill the vacancy.
One of the problems of this whole affair is that the Commission relied on Administration policy to determine residency, believing that Commissioners should be treated as normal employees hired through the HR process.
But this is not the case. HR only handles paperwork for the purposes of payroll and other basic employee issues, not the hiring process. That duty falls to the voters, which is one reason this administrative investigation didn’t pass muster.
The other, of course is that the investigation didn’t actually determine where Brooks lived, which is problematic.
A third problem is that the investigation was treated as fait accompli instead of something that should be seen as the plaintiffs evidence, up for cross examination, and contestable by countering defense evidence…which would also be crossable by the County Attorney, some other plaintiff attorney, or even the Commission. Then, with the Commission acting as a tribunal…as set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-48-106, they could rule one way or another based on the facts presented.
One thing that we’ve learned from this affair, is the Commission (and likely all other elected officers) cannot fall under common employee standards or rules as set forth in County HR policy. The Commission has the power to set its own rules for dealing with issues relating to qualifications of its members…not the administration or any other administrative function.
This is a simple separation of powers issue.
So, the Commission must adopt a process by which these issues are to be dealt with, and pass it by a majority to avoid these complications in the future.
This could be done by amending the Permanent Rules of Order (which I could not find online by the way), or ordinance (either three readings or by vote of the electorate).
Regardless of how its done, standards must be put in place detailing due process (evidentiary rules, burden of proof, and the appropriate venue (who will be the trier of fact…either the Commission, or some external body designated by the Commission)).
Ultimately, the Commission itself would have to act on the recommendation of any external organ, which the Commission regularly does anyway.
The long and the short of it is, this isn’t complicated. This is the way legislative branches of local governments work anyway. It should be the way they work for the purposes of residency or even other membership qualifications as well.
And even though this process may be set up by ordinance or an amendment to the Permanent rules, it would still be up for Judicial Review, because that’s how things work in the good ole U.S. of A.
So the Commission will have to start this whole thing over on Monday. By the time they actually act on it, the issue will likely be moot.
The last Commission meeting before the next term is August 18th. Any action after that point would have no tangible effect other than making a show of it, and any action before that point will probably end up back in court unless the aforementioned rules are in place.
Also, Commissioner Brooks will be able to vote any rules going forward, because regardless of how you feel about her, people are still innocent until proven guilty in this country (though you’d be hard pressed to know that’s the case far too often), meaning Brooks could seek to gum up the works or amend the standards in such a way that is beneficial to her if she wanted to.
In any case, the incoming Commission, which will take office in early September, should seek to quickly address this issue and make rules for itself that would establish an internal administrative and final judgement process to clarify the boundaries of the issue. This would hamper frivolous charges from being brought based on personal or political vendetta, and make it simple for people to understand what was kosher and what wasn’t.
This process may already be set forth in the Permanent Rules, but if it is, and the Commission followed it up to this point, it doesn’t pass muster in the eyes of the Court.
Residency may seem like a simple issue, but as with so many things that revolve around the legislative branch of any division of government, it can get complicated quickly.
This is because legislators are loathe to make rules for themselves, and often set up easy outs in the rules, which makes them about as rock solid as swiss cheese.
Of course, we all expect people to be honest and forthright…especially if they are serving in public office. We’re not surprised when it doesn’t happen, or we perceive that it hasn’t happened.
Ultimately, until the rules for dealing with residency questions are defined for elective office the issue will continue to end up in court. Hopefully, the proposal Commissioner Ritz presents on Monday will set up a process that both meets the needs of the Commission for dealing with questions of residency qualifications for elective office, and addresses the due process concerns already ruled on by the court.
That’s the only way to get to an end game in this controversy…and even still, it may be that the Commission has enough bigger fish to fry that the issue rolls over to the next term.
So it was with both surprise and resignation that I saw reports around midnight Tuesday (going into Wednesday) of Judge Joe Brown’s ridiculous statements about DA Amy Weirich’s sexual orientation. The video, by the time I started looking for it, had been removed, but everything lives forever on the internet. Fox 13 has snippets of the video up now (Memphis Flyer has the whole ugly affair).
Wednesday afternoon, Bryan Carson, Chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee released a statement distancing the party from Brown’s out of line comments.
Brown has blamed “mavericks” who are helping his campaign. He should ask them to stop helping. They’re not.But Brown’s excuse doesn’t take away the fact that he said these things, as if sexual orientation was some kind of disqualification for office. His excuses fall flat. His justification that he has “gay friends” sounds strikingly similar to claims by white people who have a “black friend” but still tell racist jokes.
Back in March I stuck my neck out for Brown and now I wish I hadn’t. I’m not willing to say what happened in Juvenile Court that day was a stunt…but rather, it seems to be the behavior of a man who exercises no self control, who speaks before he thinks, and who either hasn’t found or doesn’t possess a line between his famous television persona and who he is as a person/candidate.
There are real issues to contrast against Weirich’s administration that have not only gone unsaid, but have been completely lost in the cult of personality that is the only thing the Brown campaign has going for it.
From police coercion in confessions,and filming of officers with cellphones, the Rape Kit debacle,a nd her anti-immigrant stance on U-Visas (h/t Brad Watkins)…to the unacceptable number of Juvenile cases that end up in adult court, or her unwillingness to publish a freakin’ annual report to inform the public about the doings of her office.
There are lots of reasons to want to look for an alternative in the DA department. But Brown just can’t get past himself to actually do it…and that means another cycle of defeat for the folks who put their faith and trust in him, and eight more years of the aforementioned bad policies from the Shelby County District Attorney’s office…which will have devastating effects on people from all walks of life, but mostly poor minorities.
But lets not kid ourselves, Brown’s shenanigans in the wake of months of campaigning in absentia are just the beginning of the disappointments for this election cycle.
I started writing my post-mortem for this cycle a couple of weeks ago. It sounds premature, but considering the lack-luster effort brought by too many candidates on the Democratic slate (Brown included), and the Party’s inability to raise funds, I don’t see this ending well for candidates from my party.
There have been some exceptions. Deidre Malone’s campaign for Mayor has been active and effective. I’m not counting her out. She’s a smart lady, and a fighter.
Cheyenne Johnson has kept her campaign discipline this cycle as well. I think she has a good chance to win re-election.
On the Commission side, many candidates are running unopposed. Most of those that have opposition are in relatively safe districts. But District 13 is different. Its a split district on a good day. Candidate Dr. Jain has mounted an impressive effort. He’s a smart guy that the County Commission will need in the upcoming term.
I only hope that these smart candidates don’t get dragged down by the distractions that others on the slate have created. Guilt by association is a real thing in politics.
And the distractions have been far too many. Between Brown’s foibles, Henri Brooks’ shenanigans, and candidates running on name recognition alone rather than putting together a bona fide county campaign, its looking like its going to be a tough year for Democrats countywide.
Just after the County primary elections, I made a prediction about turnout placing it in the 130,000 range. What I didn’t say is that at 130k voters, Democrats are in a footrace in countywide elections. Its more likely most of them will lose. If you’ve heard me speak about turnout in Shelby County, you already knew this.
I didn’t explicitly say that in May because I wasn’t as sure as I am now. Based on what I’d observed in the primary, and the results…the 5000 Democrats who didn’t vote for Joe Brown, the 10,000 that didn’t vote for Bennie Cobb, the 12,000 that either didn’t participate, or didn’t vote for Henri Brooks…those are indicators that should have caused unease with Democratic leaders. I don’t see that a single Tums was consumed in the wake of those results…and no one asked me what I thought so… yeah.
Democrats may make up 68% of the voting public in November, but only 20% of those Democrats show up in August. That makes every countywide race a serious contest.
At this point, Democrats need to be realistic, and focus their donations and volunteering efforts on the people who are actually trying to win.
Deidre and Cheyenne are the top prospects on the Countywide ballot.
For the Commission, Jain is the only candidate in a split district that could take a seat from the GOP, but Reginald Milton, in Dist. 10 has a 3-way race that could split in unpredictable ways. Both have been working hard in the community.
I’m not sure who a second tier might be at this time. So few have raised any money, its hard to tell who’s viable. Most of the Clerk campaigns seem to believe the (D) next to their name will help them coast to victory, which is both wrong and a big part of the problem.
Running for office is hard. If anyone knows it, I do. If I decide to run again, there are scores of things I will do differently.
I hope some of the candidates not mentioned take note, and get their organizations up and running in a hurry. Because theres no letter in the alphabet you can put next to your name that will get you instantly elected.
You have to show up, not show out, and prove to the public why you’re the best choice for the job.
Oh to be a fly on the wall at MLGW this week. I suspect they got a lot of $175 deposits from area politicians who have made a home outside of the area they represent.
But my purpose is not to throw out allegations, or anything of the sort (I’m not nearly the attention whore that some are…ala Thaddeus Matthews), but rather to mock the maker of the original accusation, the target of the accusation, the so called “conclusive” investigation, and the County Commission for making a mockery of itself.
Its too bad for Terry Roland, we live in a chess world. The guy plays checkers pretty well. I’m sure he has all the strategies to get that last checker cornered in such a way that he can go in for the kill.
But Roland hasn’t been as successful in the real world of politics where chess reigns. Sure, he’s garnered a lot of media attention, but most of it, in the end is just the fruitless flailing of a guy who quite frankly is more about attention than effectiveness.
Terry set off this chain of events, and in one way I’m glad, because this has been known a problem for some time, though not necessarily in this instance (that remains to be seen). But in another way, like checkers vs. chess, he forgot that the queen can “move” anywhere on the “board”, and the absence of a queen in one place doesn’t mean the queen isn’t still on the board.
In the letter to Commission Chairman James Harvey, Ingram provides evidence that Brooks does not live at the location listed on her disclosures, and offers one eyewitness account that she frequently visits her daughter and grandchildren in Cordova (which is what grandparents do, by the way) and may have established MLGW service at that Cordova address (which is also something a parent might do if their child is in financial distress).
Unfortunately, Ingram does not establish anything other than the fact that Brooks does not live at the address on Crump, which is problematic. There are literally thousands of other addresses in District 2 that Brooks could live at. Merely proving she no longer lives at one of them does not prove she doesn’t live at another.
In fact, the lack of evidence establishing that Brooks lives outside District 2 (rather than just not at the Crump address) means that Ingram’s conclusion that Brooks lives outside the district is a huge leap in logic, not to mention other things.
In essence, Ingram sets up a “guilty until proven innocent” scenario in her letter…a flaw that Brooks was ready to exploit.
I wasn’t at the County Commission meeting on Wednesday, but coverage from the event show Brooks sitting next to Walter Bailey looking like the cat that ate the canary. And despite her counsel getting the address wrong, Brooks did exactly what you would expect her to do in the face of a faulty report by the County Attorney…she offered up another address in District 2 as her residence.
The media guffawed at the new assertion, while failing…as I did initially, to note that Ingram’s report only established where Brooks does not live…rather than affirmative proof that she DOES indeed live outside the district.
Because Ingram never affirmatively proved where Brooks lives, she also hasn’t proved that Brooks doesn’t live in District 2.
All of this could have been avoided if Henri Brooks had only provided the address on Mississippi to the County Attorney. But Brooks seems to relish being in the limelight this way.
Indeed she’s built her career on “standing up for her constituents” by launching invective at both friend and foe, while seeking to highlight an issue. Its unfortunate that she chooses this tactic, because it has made her one of the most disliked and ineffective members of the County Commission during her time in office.
Brooks doesn’t seem to understand that in order to be effective, you can’t shit on everyone around you and then claim moral superiority in the same breath. Her unwillingness to cooperate with the County Attorney’s investigation is just one example of the arrogance she demonstrates on a regular basis to the detriment of both her self, “her constituents”, and the County Commission as a body.
Indeed, she did set off an unnecessary shit show as Memphis Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden put it.
Yes, I still hold that she should prove her residency and end this foolishness.
But this is classic Brooks being Brooks as this CA profile put it. I’m not sure why anyone would expect anything different.
Now that there’s another Commissioner whose residency is in question, the County Commission should put in place a process by which they may remove a member who has violated the residency requirement set forth in both State Law and the County Charter.
I tend to agree with this editorial at the CA, the lack of a defined process, and the legal tests that must be met to “prove” someone to be in violation of the law, means that future efforts to enforce the residency requirement will indeed be met with both resistance, and dragged out to the point that they are moot (which is what will most likely happen in the Brooks case).
Residency questions should fall to a body outside the County Commission itself, to remove the appearance of playing politics. Perhaps the County Ethics Committee should be the one to investigate such claims, or the District Attorney (though neither necessarily mean the claims themselves, nor the investigations would be devoid of politics at its worst).
Regardless, there needs to be a real process in place rather than what is happening now, which is a half-assed attempt at best.
Failing to do something of this sort almost ensures another “shit show” such as this one…which is something the public shouldn’t have to endure again.
Lets give credit where credit is due…this whole misadventure getting to this point (and the future if the Ford question comes up) is the direct result of an elected official believing they don’t have a duty prove they meet the qualifications of service.
This belief is founded on something more akin to divine right rather than representative democracy, and has no place in our government on any level.
Scrutiny is the check that should help give us faith in our government. This may have been lost somewhat in an era of scrutiny for sport, which has dominated the past several years, but that doesn’t make elected officials any more immune from answering to the public, even when the question is stupid or politically motivated.
It speaks volumes about the individuals who believe they don’t have a duty to answer to such scrutiny. It says they don’t understand the fundamental nature of their relationship with the public.
It says a lot about a person who would rather allow a fight to escalate unnecessarily than choose to bat it down before it matures into a crisis. This kind of self-absorbed lack of care is all too present in our current political climate…at all levels of government.
But while Brooks’ character flaws (both real and perceived) may make it easy to dismiss her, dislike her, or hold any number of ill wishes on her political future…the simple fact remains that this process is as flawed as the witch trial in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail…which is at least as bad for our republic as Brooks’ irrational behavior, and many other completely preventable incidents she’s been a party to.
You don’t have to like her. You don’t have to support her. But until the County Attorney can prove where she lives and that her address is actually outside of District 2, the conclusion that she’s in violation of any State or County statute is not based on the fact that she doesn’t live in her district…only evidence that she doesn’t live where she previously said she does.
While the standard offered by Ingram may seem on its face to prove something, it doesn’t rise to the standard of proving a violation. Until the County Attorney can provide hard evidence that proves guilt (by proving where Brooks lives and that it is outside the district) rather than lack of innocence (which what Ingram has proved thus far), this whole charade is nothing more than a distraction initiated as a political ploy, continued by a hasty determination, fueled by a bullheaded and self-absorbed elected official, and fanned by an all too compliant and complacent media.
I really hope this works out for both Wendi and the CA, but I’m afraid it won’t for either.
About a week after the Brooks flap, there were some folks who expressed to me they were worried she was being silenced. I don’t work for the CA so I have no knowledge one way or the other.
But I held out hope that her most recent column dealing County MWBE contracts (current policy and the impact) was a way to deal with the issue that started the mess without getting into the distraction that Brooks herself created.
Now, just days after that column, it appears on first glance that the former is true.
I do hope, as others have suggested in other forums, that this turns into a new way to report and talk about crime in the media. There’s no question the current model (bleeds it leads) not only doesn’t address the societal ills that exist, but also enables a guilty until proven innocent attitude that is contrary to our legal system, and in some way glamorizes the crimes themselves.
I don’t have much faith that this will be the case in the new era of “You can have it your way” journalism…but one can hope.
That’s the comment I left in response to this article at the Memphis Flyer regarding the reassignment of now former Metro Columnist Wendi Thomas.
The CA’s decision to reassign Thomas comes at an inconvenient time for the paper. Now, just two months out from County elections, it goes without saying that there would be a great deal to comment on as campaigns kick into high gear. But apparently that’s not on the menu for the CA.
In fact, Thomas’ most recent column probably hit too close to home for some of those candidates…and future columns might have cast doubt on some of the forthcoming endorsements from the paper’s editorial board…a body that consistently engages in false equivalence, lightweight analysis, and an inattention to detail that would lead one to believe they don’t read the very paper in which their editorials are published.
Those issues aside, Thomas’ last column served to illustrate the way local government seeks to shield itself from criticism by using the ‘rhetoric of inclusion’, while hiding persistent sins of omission in terms of published data, and offering little if any true self-examination.
County and City government does and has consistently gone out of its way to do one thing and say another on a whole host of issues, all the while shielding themselves from analysis behind a wall of cloistered data (One can’t ask for it if they don’t know its there).
This strategy isn’t remarkable in any way. It happens everywhere to one degree or another. Its an easy way to say a policy is working without having to do the heavy lifting of actually showing its achieving the intended result. It also shields those who may profit from said policy at the expense of others from being found out…which might be embarrassing or something.
And while Thomas hasn’t always used data to support her arguments, and I certainly have had differences with some of her columns…its mighty suspicious that a county where a large portion of the population is African-American women wouldn’t have a columnist who is an African-American woman…something Betsy points to here at Pith.
So, I go back to my original comment…and wish Wendi well on her new and surprising assignment. I hope she can find a way to use her new role to bring forward some of that cloistered data in a meaningful way, that will help illustrate how some really bad policy is impacting our community.
According to this article at the Commercial Appeal, the district doesn’t have the in house resources to fill the 800 – 1000 teacher and teacher aide absences that happen each day. The district says they’re operating at 80%, which means classrooms could be teacherless (which we all agree is bad). So they propose to do this deal with Kelly Staffing, so they can use their existing staffing model to get the subs to the schools at a higher assignment rate.
Now I see both sides of this argument. Its a liability for the district to have classrooms without teachers (or subs). On the other side, using a temp agency makes it sound like any ole Joe Blow will be able to go in and play “teacher” for the day.
Well, that’s not how its gonna work…in theory.
Current subs will be grandfathered in, and Kelly will use its massive resources to get other folks to fill in when they need them.
This all sounds good in theory, but I can’t help but wonder what happens when it doesn’t work, or some guy on the sex offender registry gets assigned to a school (which would be a catastrophe of epic proportions).
Will Kelly be required to get certified teachers? Better yet: What will the qualifications be to become a sub in the Shelby County Schools? Heck, what are they now? (Here’s the answer)
Here are the top two things the district expects of Kelly:
1. On average, SCS experiences approximately 800-1,000 teacher/teacher assistant absences/day; Due to staff capacity issues, SCS HR has only been able to maintain a fill rate of about 80-85% (there are only two people on staff who are assigned to substitute management, and who also have other duties), leaving dozens of classrooms empty on any given day. Our recommended vendor has an average fill rate nationally of 98% and locally (surrounding districts) of 100%
2. Next year the district will be responsible for providing employer paid health care for employees working, on average, above 30 hours per week. We estimate this would add 200 employees to the district’s health insurance plan – estimated cost is being researched and will be provided in Board presentation
Subs in the Kelly system will be able to buy into their health insurance…assuming they keep their hours above 30/week.
I get being all cost conscious, but I’m still not comfortable with the idea that people are these expendable things that can be shuffled around over a couple percentage points of your budget. I know…this is the world Reagan built for us, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
My biggest problem with this is the top number…$11,000,000.
Let’s do some simple math…but first, lets look at what subs get paid:
|Fewer than 20 consecutive days||$128.95/per day|
|Certified Substitute Teacher (after working 20 consecutive day in the same assignment and has a valid Tennessee Teaching license in the subject area in which he/she is subbing)||$214.35/per day|
Now, lets do some math here…
|# Absent||Cost Per Day||Cost Per Year|
|400 Teachers/400 Assistants||$84,460||$15,202,800|
|200 Teachers/600 Assistants||$75,110||$13,519,800|
There is no way to get to $11m…unless you’re not really having to place 800 subs a day.
Which begs the question…how many are you really having to place a day?
According to next year’s school budget, there will be 7,191 teachers and 1,395 teacher’s aides (p.20) or about 8,600 folks who would fall under the ‘needs a sub’ category (not sure if guidance counselors, librarians, etc. fall under that category, but I don’t think so).
For the district to have to fill 800-1000 subs/day, between 9.3% and 11.6% of next year’s teacher population would have to be out on EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE SCHOOL YEAR.
Now, when there’s a flu or something like that going around, I get it. Maybe it peaks at 1000. But 1000 on a daily basis? Seriously?
I find that incredibly hard to believe.
Here’s another thing. Last year, the district says they budgeted $11,517,482 for substitutes. Last year there were a whole lot more teachers (because every school in the county was in the district). This year, the budget calls for $8,436,504 for substitutes (p.89).
But we’re gonna pay $11m to get someone else to do the heavy lifting and get around paying health insurance?
Is that what I’m to understand?
We’re going to pay over $2.5m more for a private company to handle our subs so we won’t have to hassle with assigning them or pay health insurance.
That’s what I’m reading into this whole thing.
In the process, you’re going to make an already difficult job even less attractive (the few who actually work every day a year (and its gotta be a few) probably qualify for ACA subsidies…if they aren’t already covered).
The most a sub could make is just under $37k/year. That’s assuming they work every day, which knowing some subs I can tell you, they don’t.
But I know, I know, we gotta make sure people that don’t send their kids to public schools don’t feel double taxed by their discretionary spending on private schools!!!
SIDEBAR: yes, some of them actually have the gall to think they’re being double taxed for paying private school tuition…when they’d do it no matter how good public schools are because its just as much about what the Jones’ down the street are doing (ie. status) as education.
Look, I don’t have a problem with fiscal restraint. I understand that we can’t throw money at every project in the public schools. But seriously people…this crap has gone way over the top.
I also understand that the schools are treated like society’s social workers…tasked with fixing all the things we, as a society, have screwed up, while at the same time being society’s whipping boy for not getting it done on a budget.
But that’s what we expect…cure poverty, reduce crime, end teen pregnancy (without mentioning how it happens), and for God’s sake, bring up our low graduation rate/college degree attainment…and do it for nothing, because we’re just that damn self-absorbed to believe we can have it all and pay nothing for it.
Teachers, look out. The way things are going Kelly will be your new boss next year. Your union’s already been busted by the State Legislature…don’t think this school board won’t do it to you as well…and with a grin that says “fiscal responsibility”.
And while you’re at it… you better keep that performance up, lest someone decide you just aren’t getting it done cheap enough for their bottom lines.
Because that’s where we’re headed…and folks, it ain’t pretty…unless you keep your rich uncle on your side…which I just didn’t do.