Dec 31 2009

This is Not Another One of Those Stupid End of the Year Lists

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Puke, RNC, State Politics, TNDP

… but I am glad that this year is finally almost over.

In all seriousness, this year has been just plain crappy for just about everyone I know. The economy has sucked, the political dialogue has been shrill, and everyone, whether they recognize it or not, is worse off for the wear. I’m not positive that 2010 will be any better, but I pray that it’s no worse. Here are some of the things that made me want to stab myself in the eye this year.

Republicans – I know for a fact that there are some sincere Republicans in this world. Some of them I am proud to call my friends. Unfortunately for them, and the GOP brand, they are not the ones that get phone calls from the media for interview requests. The result, is a national and state party that has positioned itself somewhere between the Know Nothing Party and a team of trained monkeys being fed a steady diet of Crystal Meth.

The GOP has been foaming at the mouth, and doing just about everything in their limited power to obstruct solutions brought by the President and Congressional leadership, while offering NO ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION, period. Yet somehow, through all the ridiculous rabidity of the GOP, the media has taken their non-position seriously, and reported it on a continuous loop as if it’s some kind of real alternative.

I hope they get what they deserve in 2010, heavy losses, but I fear that while their strategy won’t really “work”, it will appear to in the face of the next thing that makes me want to stab myself in the eye…

Democrats – If I were to write a book about the past year in Democratic politics, I think I would call it The Weakest Majority or Rudderless Politics. From the actions of many in Congress, and to a lesser degree, the President himself, one would think that Democrats have a fundamental misunderstanding of furthering their agenda or even the most basic tenets of majority maintenance.

From the ever-shifting rationales for opposing Health Care Reform to the unpopular sweetheart deals used to buy some legislators off, both houses of Congress, but particularly the Senate, seem mired in a “what’s in it for me” type attitude. It’s the kind of ridiculous self-hating stupidity that makes posts like this resonate with me, and pray for someone, anyone in the Democratic Party to show up with a pair they haven’t borrowed from a lab rodent.

Some National Bloggers – I’m not really sure when it happened, but sometime during the last year I began slowly weaning myself from certain national blogs and/or bloggers. The cause, a persistent and annoying line of reasoning that went something like this: Any kind of negotiation regarding the long and grueling Healthcare debate is the complete and total abandonment of the progressives that got you elected.


Invoking the names of former and current “progressives” including the recently deceased Senator for Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, these individuals filled my inbox, and countered the national GOP’s steady stream of


with threats against fellow progressive Members of Congress if they didn’t deliver. Brilliant!

The issue for me is not that I necessarily disagree with the policy positions of these people, but that their tactics are ridiculous. Virtually every plea, every call for support, every post that flooded my inbox like year-long projectile vomit came from an adversarial position, littered with threats and this and that and the other, while ignoring that the legislative process is not a dictatorship, but a negotiation. With the subtlety and tact of a bull in a china shop, these individuals spent the entire year yelling “The sky is falling” instead of putting together a consistent positive message that the majority of the population, that doesn’t keep a running tally of every legislative burp, could get behind. In short, they Tea Bagged their way into irrelevance.

There most certainly is a place for issue advocacy in the political discourse. If I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t be writing this right now, but for the love of God, build a message beyond a series of threats that you can’t deliver on! Keep doing the petitions, and the letter writing campaigns and the phone calling, all of that stuff is good, but don’t marginalize yourself with rhetoric that puts you further out on the crazy side of politics than the REAL CRAZIES out there. You’re not only hurting your credibility, but also your cause.

Tennessee Democratic InstitutionsComa and Aunt B have a couple of good posts up about some of the issues surrounding Democratic institutions in Tennessee, but I want to go a little further.

Anyone who thinks the issue with Democratic Institutions in Tennessee, from the TNDP down to the lowliest of lowly county parties falls on the shoulders of one man or woman is trying to deflect blame from someone who probably REALLY deserves it, that someone either being them, or someone they support. The truth of the matter is that they all have issues that have been around longer than I’ve been paying attention.

I could go on and on about all the crap that shoulda, coulda, woulda, but I’d just be rehashing posts from last November through February, so if you want to know what’s wrong, go back to those posts and apply it to just about everything that has a “Democratic” anything to it in this state, including myself.

In all seriousness, there have been some baby steps in the right direction, but from the TNDP and the Caucus organizations down to the county parties it’s just not happening fast enough.

I hope that by Jan 4th, when petitions are available for state races, there’s some kind of plan in place, at least that’s known by the leadership, that contests the 11 first term and the 10 second term House Republicans in November, in addition to dealing with the incumbents and any retirements/open seats that may come up, but I’m not all that hopeful. I haven’t seen a concerted effort from all the stakeholders to work together on anything but the House 62 special election and that was a nightmare. I hope November isn’t a replay of that.

Here’s to hoping for a better year ahead, and for some of my “targets” to get it together. I don’t think I can stand a 2009 part 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Dec 18 2009

Metro Charter Commission Meeting – 12/17/09

Last night, the Metro Charter Commission met for the fourth time. From looking at the agenda one might conclude that it was going to be a barn burner with topics such as the fate of the two school districts, annexation, and Constitutional officers on the agenda. While the meeting was interesting, a barn burner it wasn’t. In fact, many of the “big fights” surrounding these issues are kind of moot based on opinions from the State Attorney General and County Attorney. Of course, these are just opinions. There’s still a possibility of litigation to actually “settle” these issues, but that seems unlikely at this point. So without further ado, here’s what happened.

The first item on the agenda, after the normal opening business, was a presentation by Brian Stephens and Darrell Cobbins of Rebuild Government. This consisted, primarily, of informing the Commission about the mission of the group and a rundown of the activities that the group has planned going forward. I wrote about the organization, which launched Monday here.

There were some questions for the group, one of which is a question I’ve been asked about 20 times since Monday. Commissioner and Millington Mayor Richard Hodges asked where the funding for this organization came from. Stephens replied that the early fundraising efforts had come from the business community, but that as the organization continues on it’s mission it will be soliciting donations from philanthropic organizations and individuals.

The second question/comment came from Commissioner and former Collierville Mayor Linda Kerley. Kerley was concerned that the information given out to the public by the group be as accurate as possible and reflect the intent of the Commission. Stephens replied that Rebuild Government would accept any and all information from the Commission and work to ensure that the both the information distributed and the intent was as comprehensive as possible.

This presentation was followed by a statement by Memphis Mayor AC Wharton on the issues of the Metro Charter and schools.

The crux of his message was that because of the way that both the Shelby Co. Schools and the Memphis City Schools are established, that neither “body politic” could be forced to come together by any other entity. “…not gonna have a shotgun wedding.”, was the quote that perhaps most captured the sentiment of his message.

The Mayor’s comments were followed by some quick business about the Commissions task forces. I hope to have a list of all the task forces, their Chairmen, and members soon.

From there, things got a little interesting…but just for a second. Commissioner and City Councilman Jim Strickland put forth a motion to exclude the topic of schools from the entire purview of Metro Charter Commission discussions. Waiting in the wings was County Attorney Brian Kuhn, with testimony, an opinion and State Attorney General opinion on the state’s school provisions in regard to the formation of a Metro style government. This motion was tabled until after Kuhn’s testimony.

County Attorney Brian Kuhn then started laying out his opinion, backed up by a State Attorney General’s opinion on what powers and responsibilities the Metro Charter Commission had in regard to the schools. As Mayor Wharton noted, because of the way the Shelby Co. and Memphis City schools are organized, two separately chartered organizations with separate legislative bodies, the Charter Commission has no right or duty to try and merge the two districts. According to his testimony, the only thing that the Charter Commission must do, is set forth the manner in which the two school districts are to be funded.

But even the funding issue has a twist. According to Kuhn, a measure that may come up this spring in the State Legislature would allow taxing authority to school boards. Such a move would allow the Charter Commission to establish a process by which the two individual entities could tax constituents according to the needs of each district. This would eliminate one area of disagreement and fade some of the heat off of the resulting Metro Council or Commission, but would also increase the profile and importance of the boards for both Memphis and Shelby Co. schools.

At this point, Commissioner and City Councilman Strickland amended his motion to only deal with the issue of funding. The motion was approved unanimously.

Next, County Attorney Brian Kuhn talked to the Commission about Constitutional Officers, or officials that the state mandates every County have. In the opinion he provided to the Commission, Kuhn lays out in great detail the officers that must remain and what options the Commission have in front of them. According to the opinion, Sherriff, Trustee, Register, County Clerk and Assessor of Property are all mandated by the state. However, the duties of these offices are not. The Charter Commission can decide to define the duties for each of these offices as they see fit.

Kuhn noted that in Davidson Co., for instance, the Sherriff was only responsible for the jails and courts. Also in Davidson, the Trustee only collects the taxes, an appointed official deals with investments and warrants (checks).

This will likely be one of the more lively and possibly contentious discussions in upcoming Commission meetings.

A discussion about the County and City government functions was largely tabled until a later meeting. As I noted in my post about last meeting, both function very differently, and with new administrations in both the City and the County, it is possible that some areas will be a moving target for the Commission, and the staff that seeks to help provide them the details of both.

Kelly Rayne also gave a presentation on the current annexation plans and what will happen to them should the citizens of the Memphis and Shelby Co. decide to form a Metro government. On page 12 of the document is a map that describes the current annexation arrangement between the cities located in Shelby Co. If I’m understanding correctly, the resulting Metro government will either inherit Memphis’ current annexation areas, or will have to be given via the new charter, those areas. This, however, is a question that will likely be referred to the County Attorney, or the State Attorney General.

Finally, the Commission spent some time on how to best deal with media interviews and Task Force scheduling going forward. Due to the holiday, the task force issue will be primarily dealt with after the holidays. Task Force meetings will be announced at the next Charter Commission meeting on January 7th.

Dec 15 2009

Democratic Apocalypse

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m packing my stuff and bustin’ up outta this state before Brian Kelsey, Stacey Campfield & an angry mob of the 2% majority that makes up the Tea Partiers come to town on white stallions, raids my house and puts me and my Democratic friends into some Red Dawn-esque re-education camp, or worse!

Now that Long Tall Johhny T. and Big Bad Bart are callin’ it quits, not to mention Phil and his Phunky bunch getting’ term limited out, we just might have to compete for an election! God knows, if there’s one thing Democrats hate more than anything it’s competition!

Yessir, it’s a lookin’ pretty grim out there for folks like us. I guess we just oughta fold up shop here and start lookin’ for another state that’s more in tune with Tennessee Democratic values… I don’t know what state that is, but we need to be lookin’ and lookin’ hard. You can only pee in a busted radiator so many times before your truck starts smellin’ funky & I’m sure the effete liberal palettes of most Tennessee Democrats just couldn’t stand the thought of peeing standing up.


Dec 15 2009

Be a Part of the Conversation

Back in August, before the Metro Charter Commission was formed, I wrote a post about having a “frank and actionable discussion” about government. Yesterday, at Shelby Farms, I was pleased to participate in the launch of an organization whose mission is to help foster that discussion.

Rebuild Government, organized by Brian Stephens, seeks to build community awareness and participation in shaping the Metro Charter process. I am honored to be one of the Co-Chairs of this effort.

In the five and a half years that I’ve lived in Shelby County, the biggest thing I’ve seen lacking is the opportunity for citizens to have a direct voice in how local government works, outside of the regular election calendar. While I can’t speak for everyone, I’m sure just about every citizen of Shelby County has a suggestion for making government more effective, responsive, and representative of the community.

This is our chance to not only raise our voices, but effect a change.

The truth of the matter is that while opposition to “Metro Government” has been lining up for months now, that opposition has nothing to oppose but the process. Not one single line of a new proposed Charter has been committed to paper. And while it’s certain that the Metro Charter Commission will be meeting personally with citizens all over the County to listen to their thoughts and concerns, there’s no way that 15 Commissioners can effectively engage the nearly one million people that live here by themselves.

That’s one area where this organization comes in. While Rebuild Government, makes no claims to be a surrogate for the Charter Commission, it does seek to be a conduit to help educate, engage, and empower the community on the activities of the Charter Commission and take advantage of the opportunity we have before us to build the best possible government for our community.

Shelby County needs this discussion. We may or may not end up in a Charter that both city and county residents can live with, but without the conversation, we’ll never really know.

– Steve Ross is a Co-Chair of Rebuild Government, an organization committed to build community awareness and participation in the Metro Charter process by creating and giving voice to an informed and engaged citizenry. The views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of Rebuild Government, its Co-Chairs, organizers, or affiliates.

Dec 04 2009

Metro Charter Commission Meeting – 12/03/09 – Updated (12/8/09)

Edited To Add: Added some links to the post and to the Resource Page

Last night the Memphis/Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission met for the third time.

As with any new board tasked with such a huge mandate, there are still some structural and organizational issues to be decided, as well as a lot of information gathering. Foremost among these was deciding when and how often to meet. Chairman Ellis proposed that beginning in January, the Commission would meet every other Thursday starting with January 7th. Four dates were approved in addition to that date; January 21st, February 4th and 18th. All meetings begin at 4pm. The next meeting is December 17th.

The actual location of the next meeting was also up for discussion. Several members expressed a desire to have the meetings streamed on either the City or County sites. The Large Mayor’s Conference room on the 8th floor of the County Administration building doesn’t have the equipment necessary to allow for live streaming. There was some discussion about moving the meetings to the City Executive Committee room, or the County Commission Committee room. It was decided to hold the next meeting at the Commission Committee Chamber to allow for streaming.

While this may seem like a fairly mundane conversation, I was glad to hear that several Commissioners were concerned about access to the meetings and the documents those meeting produce. This discussion also folded into a broader discussion of transparency, including the development of a web site for the public to access information. The web site is forthcoming, but until some of the technical issues are ironed out documents are available on request, you can also find many of them here. The documents on my site are hardly comprehensive, but I am working to make as many available as possible, particularly until the Commission’s site is completed.

Project Management was the next order of business on the agenda. Commission Secretary Lou Etta Burkins put together a preliminary planning document and gave a presentation to the Commission. In a previous post I discussed the timeline as mandated by the resolutions approved by the County Commission and City Council as well as Tennessee State Law in some detail. This document was more task oriented, and while it’s still a work in progress, it gave all in attendance an idea of the several issues that must be addressed as the Commission continues it’s work.

Edited to Add: At a previous meeting a Staff prepared timeline was also distributed.

From there, County Policy Advisor Kelly Rayne gave a brief presentation on the structures of the City and County Governments. While both have areas of overlapping functions, their structures are quite different. The County Government only has 6 divisions, though those divisions are quite deep in the services they provide. By contrast, the City Government is wide, with 14 divisions, even though only 5 are mandated by the City Charter (Article 8, starting on page 26). There was a great deal of discussion on how to best address areas of overlap in working to unite the two governments, and a detailed analysis of the subtasks of each division on the City and County side is forthcoming to help inform the Commissioners going forward. Other areas covered are the Courts and Constitutional officers, which are mandated or defined in State Law.

Defining the best method for unifying the functions of government alone is a Herculean task. In the coming weeks and months I expect that, in addition to consulting with division directors on both sides of Main St., the Commission will break down into several committees or task forces to focus on these issues and make recommendations to the full Commission.

Next on the agenda was a discussion of other consolidated cities. The four cities discussed were Nashville, Jacksonville, FL (1,2,3), Indianapolis, IN, and Lousiville, KY.

This was pretty interesting. Each Metro government, as well as the manner, timeframe, and circumstances under which they merged is unique. While all of them share many characteristics generally, the specifics are quite different. Legislative bodies range from 19 to 40 members, and the manner in which the seats are distributed (single member districts or at large) is different for each government. All of this, of course, spurred some interesting discussion.

Of the four cities, Marion Co./Indianapolis closest in total population. Louisville/Jefferson County, on the other hand, has a population of nearly 200,000 less, but shares some of the regional issues that Memphis has being near the border of another state (Indiana). What was most interesting to me was that while Nashville chose a Metro government the earliest and is the least populous of the four, it has the highest level of direct representation with 35 districts and 5 at large positions. For people, like myself, who are concerned with the level of direct representation that the proposed charter ultimately provides, this was of great interest to me. Knowing how other areas have done things, based on attitudes of the areas and the perception of needs is really intriguing. The biggest thing I took from this discussion is that there is no one right way to do any of this, though there are likely MANY wrong ways. I look forward to more discussion on this, and will be writing something about the makeup of the legislative branch of the proposed government in an upcoming post.

The last two items on the agenda included a presentation by Scott Sigman from the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce about consolidated cities and a discussion of Committees/task forces. Scott is a native of Indianapolis and had some interesting first hand information about the manner in which the consolidation of city and county functions occurred there in 1970. I hope to have an electronic copy of his presentation up later on today.

The committee discussion revolved around setting up five areas of concentration, however, I haven’t had time to really review this yet. I’ll update this post once I have more time.

All in all, while the meeting was a bit on the dry side, it was interesting. It was encouraging to see just how engaged and committed the members of the Commission are in the process. Also the broad depth of perceptions is going to make for some lively discussions in the future.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the day as time permits. Also, don’t forget to visit my resource page which I will also be updating as documents become available.