Jul 21 2014

August Election – Early Voting Map

Posted by Steve Ross in elections


View Early Voting Locations, August 2014 County General, State & Federal Primary in a larger map

Early Voting at satellite location runs Monday, July 21st through Saturday, August 2nd.

Weekdays 10am to 7pm
Saturdays 10am to 4pm

Click the map to find a location near you.

GOVOTE!

Jul 09 2014

Playing to his base

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County

The suburbs get a tax break this big...the city? Well, about that...

The suburbs get a tax break this big…the city? Well, about that…

Every once in a while someone does something that makes you wonder if they think you’re stupid.

You’ve probably felt what I’m talking about a time or two.

They give you that look.

They slight you in some way.

Or they sell you on a tax cut in an election year, to hide the fact that they gave someone else an even BIGGER, and unjustified tax cut.

If you left Monday’s Shelby County Commission meeting with that taste in your mouth, there’s a good reason…that’s exactly what happened.

Bad Taste in your mouth

In setting the County’s tax rate Monday, the Shelby County Commission gave a 5-cent tax cut to everyone outside of Memphis, and a 1-cent tax cut to people inside Memphis.

How’d they do that? They got rid of a 4-cent rural school bond passed years ago for the construction of Arlington High school.

The bond was only paid by residents in the former Shelby County School District because they got a school out of the deal. Tennessee’s ‘rural school bond’ law, allows a County to issue bonds, set to be paid by a specific group of people for a school, without matching funds for the other schools in that county. So for years, folks outside Memphis have been paying this additional 4-cents for the bond that paid for the construction of Arlington High.

Well, now that the old Shelby County Schools are no more, and only Arlington and Lakeland are using the Arlington High School, folks out in the ‘burbs don’t wanna pay that extra 4-cents for a school that’s not part of their district. And for Arlington and Lakeland to raise enough money to pay the four something million bucks of debt service would have meant raising their County tax rate something ridiculous, and that just doesn’t play in an election year.

So instead Mayor Luttrell,led by Harvey Kennedy talked some hapless County Commissioners into turning their backs on their constituents, to vote for a bigger tax cut for folks they don’t represent.

Fun times huh?

Turncoats

Do they really represent Memphians?

Do they really represent Memphians?

In all, four of the seven votes for this tax ordinance came from folks whose districts primarily represent the City of Memphis.

They are: Heidi Shafer, Steve Basar, James Harvey, and Justin Ford…who you may remember also has a residency question, that apparently no one is interested in pursuing at this point (maybe I’ll file a complaint with the District Attorney General).

These four think its just fine for Memphis to carry the load for the ‘burbs…which is what voting for this tax rate did…while getting nothing in return but more tax incentives for sprawl and the continued hollowing out of the city core.

Apparently, in Memphis, that’s the way we ‘represent’ Memphis. Way to be, folks.

But to add insult to injury, these four didn’t vote for adding in the matching funds that would have come with new construction to the newly constituted Shelby County Schools. Nope. They just ignored that completely, even as the School district has tens of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance for their buildings.

Way to put education first guys.

Playing the Game

Dance with those who brung ya

Dance with those who brung ya

But as bad as these four are, Mayor Luttrell’s assertion that they just want to “normalize” the tax rate is a slap in the face to Memphis.

Of course, Luttrell’s electoral base isn’t really in Memphis, as the map to the right shows. In fact, its out east and north…the burbs.

So what Mayor Luttrell has done is he’s bought Millington, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, Germantown and Collierville a tax cut at the expense of Memphis.

That’s what I call taking care of your own.

What’s more, this goes against some of Mayor Luttrell’s own policies. His website talks about smart growth, but in fact, “normalizing” the tax rate…which really means taking people off the hook who were happy to pay a little bit more before, does nothing to encourage ‘smart growth’. If anything, it encourages sprawl.

But Mayor Luttrell isn’t really interested in the kind of redevelopment and revitalization of the inner core of the city that most ‘smart growth’ advocates long for. His administration hemmed and hawed at a plan to make tax dead properties productive again.

This was something that passed unanimously on the Memphis City Council, but on the County side, anything that benefits Memphis, even if it also benefits the County coffers, is looked upon with scorn.

That’s really ‘smart’ if you ask me. /sarcasm

Conclusion

Its a month before an election, and it would be silly not to expect election year politics to enter into issues like the budget and the tax rate. But I don’t think anyone expected that Mayor Luttrell, a guy who went out of his way to court Memphis moderates in 2010, would do something so brazenly against their interests.

Sure, most of his administration he’s been able to rest on his ‘nice guy’ persona…and there’s no doubt, every time I’ve had the opportunity to meet the guy, he seems genuinely nice. But ‘nice guy’ doesn’t equal ‘working in your best interest’.

That’s the primary problem I have with this policy, it helps one group literally at the expense of another.

That hardly seems like something a ‘nice guy’ would do, but it’s definitely something a guy who’s well versed in hard nosed pandering to your base would do.

Jul 06 2014

Defining the Residency Process

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County, shenanigans
County Commissioner Henri Brooks filing her petition for Juvenile Court Clerk - via her Facebook Page

County Commissioner Henri Brooks filing her petition for Juvenile Court Clerk – via her Facebook Page

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.

Making the Rules Stick

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.

Starting Over

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.

Conclusion

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.

Jul 03 2014

Stupid, stupid, stupid

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County, shenanigans

Please just stop talking

Please just stop talking

One of the things about working the 3rd shift, is that you’re often greeted with tomorrow’s news today…or at least the news most people didn’t see before they decided to disconnect from the constant influx of news items, large and small, that we’ve come to accept.

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.

Poor Excuses

Brown has blamed “mavericks” who are helping his campaign. He should ask them to stop helping. They’re not.

Prejudice isn't monochrome

Prejudice isn’t monochrome

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.

Its unfortunate.

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.

The Pre-Post-Mortem

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.

Time to Triage

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.

May 21 2014

The greatest compliment

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

I’m coming up on my eight year anniversary at this blog, 10th of blogging overall if you count previous platforms now defunct, and the bad old days of literally coding every single thing in html (that really sucked). I really enjoy doing this, even though the pay is bad (none) and the benefits are even worse (none).

But one of the things that keeps me going are the discussions that pop up from time to time as a result of something I’ve written. There really is no greater compliment…whether the reaction is good or bad. Someone took the time to read what I wrote, and then, even more time to respond.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all kinds of awesome people, on both sides of the aisle. That’s what I treasure most about blogging…the relationships that get built over time.

So it was with a great deal of pleasure that I received an open letter from Shelby County Election Commissioner Dee Nollner regarding this post on the close District 10 race (and more).

I’ve included the full text of the letter below my comments on the issues raised for you to peruse. I figure, if its good enough for all the Democratic email lists out there, its good enough to be searchable so it can be easily found in the future.

If you want to read it first, click here to skip to the bottom of the post. There’s a link down there to get you right back here.

Responses

Ms. Nollner:

Thank you for your email. I hope you’ll allow me the opportunity to respond to some of your points.

The issue at hand is whether or not I have my facts straight on a series of questions. I freely admit that as a human, I am prone to error. But I’m not sure the errors pointed out are the best ones to make your case.

Far be it for me to correct you…but I would like to respond to some of the statements you made.

For instance, I was aware that the Election Commission retains two attorneys (a Republican and a Democrat) for advice on election issues. However, there’s no question that Mr. Ryder holds more sway with the Commissioners. Mr. Ryder is very involved in election issues in his role as General Counsel for the RNC, not to mention his prior role as Special Redistricting Counsel to the GOP led TN General Assembly…a process that was held largely in secret.

It is for his body of work both with the Election Commission, and in other places, not his partisan bent or his ability as an attorney to hatch a legal opinion that I question some of his advice the Commission. It is curious that Mr. Ryders recommendations consistently meet the mere letter of the law rather than seek to ease the unease that surrounds the Election Commission…unease which you apparently dispute in your 5th point. I’ll get to that later.

Perhaps Mr. Ryder only believes it is his place to advise on legal matters. But I know Mr. Ryder to be an intelligent man, who is capable of expressing many perspectives on a single issue. Certainly additional insight could be offered if asked for.

Statements 2 & 3 - I agree that no challenge can be made until the election is certified. I never said one way or the other. I merely reported what transpired at a meeting…just like Jackson Baker, who was sitting right next to me.

Its not until later that I get into my opinion on the matter, which in no place did I say there could be a challenge before certification. I merely said the Election Commission should either 1) Publish a schedule of when documents would be available, or 2) Just make them available noting they are preliminary…just like the results in the Commercial Appeal.

Statement 4 – Having spent literally hundreds of hours dissecting the horribly organized SOVC reports for every election since 2006 (which, unquestionably is the worst) for analysis, I am quite aware that absentee ballots and election day ballots aren’t mixed. I never said they were. In fact, it would mess up most of what I wish to analyze if they were mixed. I only said that it is possible some absentee ballots received on election day had not been counted due to human error.

Statement 5 - This one is my favorite. If you’re unaware, or have perhaps forgotten about the past problems at the Election Commission, let me give you a quick refresher.

3000 voters received the wrong ballot in 2012
In that same election, two contests were overturned by a judge, here, and here.
Which led the newspaper of record to as why the Election Commission wasn’t better prepared, which seems like a fair question.
All of this led to the suspension of Elections Administrator Richard Holden, which some believe was too light a punishment.
This was followed by another critical audit of the Election Commission by the Shelby County Government, and eventually a no confidence vote led by a Republican County Commissioner…who you scolded for attacking another Republican…and questioned the basis (which is chronicled above) for the No Confidence vote. The City Council did it too.

In short, you would have to live on a completely different world to believe that there is no chronicle of failures at the Election Commission. Furthermore, the absence of problems in subsequent elections is not “praise worthy”, as I note in the post, because doing exactly what you’re supposed to do is what you’re supposed to do. Doing more than you’re supposed to do is praise-worthy, but that isn’t happening.

In fact, the Election Commission isn’t even doing the bare minimum. Your online meeting notices are behind, as are the available agendas, its interesting to note there is no posted agenda for tonight’s meeting. And the meeting audio link only lists audio from October of 2013.

Statement 7 - I have never once faulted poll workers for anything. I have no idea why you brought this up or them into it. I respect their service, and hope to one day be able to serve in that capacity as well.

I’m not sure what the point of this is, other than to use these innocents as human shields to deflect criticism…which is truly bad form.

Ms. Nollner, I’m happy to help distribute “facts” as you ask. I have, over the course of my time writing here in Memphis, always done so to the best of my ability. The “facts” you assert that I have misstated are not misstatements, except to your perspective. We can agree to disagree, but I will not back down on criticism when criticism is due.

Process is very important to me. Process is the means by which the public can observe what the various organs of government are doing. Violations, real or perceived of process will be met with extreme prejudice…regardless of who commits it.

Ask the State and Local Democratic parties if I have ever withheld criticism for their lack of transparent process. Ask my friends who serve in elective or appointed positions if I have ever held fire on the boards they serve on. I am very consistent on this point.

So when the information available is unnecessarily vague, difficult to navigate, or filled with civic sins of omission, I will speak up. If you don’t appreciate that, so be it. But I will not be deterred.

If you are truly interested in the “facts” getting out to the public, your organization, the Shelby County Election Commission will have to choose to do more than the bare minimum.

As it stands, the average citizen has no chance of knowing what in the world is going on at the Election Commission unless they have also looked at the TN Secretary of State’s election page or dared to delve into the TCA, which is more than unwieldy.

The information the Election Commission puts on its website is consistently out of date, and difficult to navigate.

This wasn’t always the case.

Once upon a time I even praised the Commission for updating its website. Unfortunately, those strides have not been maintained.

I’ve written more than one blueprint to correct some of the problems of information dissemination at the Election Commission. I even served on an election reform board with Commissioners Stamson and Lester…that included much of this blueprint in its final recommendations.

This is something I care deeply about…not a political football to be flung around when its convenient.

So let’s make a deal rather than fling invective at each other in a truly pointless fashion.

I know the Commission is short on staff, so let me take this opportunity to offer my services to make the Election Commission website more navigable, on a volunteer basis (20 hours to start).

I have 20 years of experience with web development, publishing platforms, and audio and video editing/streaming. I feel confident that I can come up with a plan and present it to the Commission for your approval, to make the site more navigable under the current content management structure and a strategy to help keep content up to date.

It seems clear that the Commission doesn’t have the resources to do this, so let me help. Maybe I’ll get some additional perspective on the challenges facing the Commission…which could work to the organization’s benefit.

If you really want me to be involved in distributing “facts”, let me help the Election Commission do that which you apparently are unable to do yourself.

I would be happy, and honored to serve.

Sincerely,

Steve Ross

P.S. If you would like to contact me about this offer, please go here and fill out the form. That goes straight to my email. I don’t publish my email address, or anyone else’s for security purposes.


Full Text of the open letter from
Shelby County Election Commissioner Dee Nollner

Mr. Ross, your blog regarding the Jones-Milton election brings to mind that old saying “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing”. Misinformation harms everyone and deprives the public of facts they need to make an intelligent decision.
1. The SCEC has two attorneys, Monice Hagler (D) and John Ryder (R) they concurred regarding the TCA law applicable to this situation — TN State Party Primary Board is the authority for a primary challenge.
2. Clearly no challenge can be made until a decision has been made – two separate auditors (an R and a D) verify every item before submitting the audit for certification.
3. After they have audited the information it will be available for review.
4. Absentee ballots are not mixed with Election Day voting.
5. Well chronicled is defined by the chronicler!
6. At the conclusion of precinct voting, a tabulation is run for all the machines in that precinct – 3 identical copies are printed, one copy is posted on the wall of that precinct and the other two copies are packed separately and delivered to the SCEC that evening for auditing purposes.
7. Approx. 1,400 of your friends and neighbors answer the call to be election workers so the other 531,600 registered voters have the privilege of voting. Some of your friends and neighbors are more capable than others. Election workers are assisted by the 14-member staff. Our temp workers do a remarkable job and we are grateful they are willing to work the 13+hour Election Day. Understandably, some make mistakes but our system is set up to identify and address those errors in an orderly manner through audit.
8. I assure you that the SCEC goes by the law. Will you please help convey facts? I am happy to try to answer questions anytime.

Sincerely,
Dee Nollner

Click here to return to my responses.