Jan 01 2014

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the County, 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in Memphis Politics, Shelby County

This is part 3 in a series of 3 posts (part 1, and part 2) that looks at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR

#Winners

Dorsey Hopson

It could have gone either way for the former legal counsel, turned leader of the largest school district in the state. Sure, there were some problems…an early rough start getting kids to and from school and the municipal schools talks could have derailed the whole thing, but Hopson persevered and has largely come out ahead and smelling like a rose.

Hopson has some big challenges this year…including the possible closure of schools, and what will likely be another bout with the County Commission…not to mention the likely shrinkage that will occur when those muni-school districts come on line. But if the past several months are any indication, he’ll find a way to make it through without too many dings.

Of course, there are still the long-term lingering problems that face the district…which include teacher retention (from munis and retirements) and increasing educational outcomes. The latter doesn’t have to be completely fixed overnight (and can’t be, by the way) just show some improvement. The former is the bigger immediate problem. One that will no doubt cause his administration a good deal of trouble over the coming months.

2014 Outlook – Partly Sunny

John Aitken

They say cats always land on their feet (though I’ve seen more than a few fall on their asses) Aitken had the pick of the litter when it came to which municipal school system he would lead. Courted by all, and on the payroll (as a consultant) of several, Aitken not only landed on his feet, but called his shot.

From here the outlook gets a little murkier. There’s no question Aitken is an adept administrator, and political operator, but is he a builder? Can he build Collierville schools from the ground up?

Time will tell, and how well he fosters relationships with his school board will probably have more to do with it than anything else.

2014 Outlook – had to stop in his tracks for fear, of walking on the mines he laid

Terry Roland

It doesn’t matter how you feel about Terry Roland, he has, by all accounts had a banner year. Consistently sought after for comments from the media, and on a continual crusade to “do what’s right” in his own mind, Terry is one thing, and that’s consistent.

Sure, his efforts to raise ethical questions about his colleagues may not hold any water according to the law, but they hold water to his constituents, and that’s all that really matters in the politics game.

I can’t think of a day when I’ve been at the County Commission office where Roland wasn’t either there talking to constituents, or either coming or going. That’s saying something. Since I’m not a constituent I can’t say whether he does constituent services well, but he does it harder than anyone else, and that makes him a hard mark for anyone looking to rid the Commission of his presence.

Is Roland effective? That’s a good question. I’m not sure he is in the long run, but so long as he keeps fighting his “gold fight” (even when its not “the” good fight) he’ll stay within his definition of success…and I’m convinced that’s all he worries about.

2014 Outlook – “Terry-bull”

Muni schools – The hard work may just be beginning for the 6 newly minted municipal school districts, but the first fight is won…the fight for survival.

All the districts now have buildings they can call home, though perhaps not all the buildings they wanted. No matter. Its done. Now comes the hard part. Educating. How soon that starts happening is going to be one of the most interesting elements going forward.

2014 Outlook – Honeymoon Over

County Commission – The County Commission makes the winners list for one reason and one reason only…Brent Taylor is no longer on it.

That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of his replacement, but much of the drama that ensued in 2012 was due in large part to Taylor’s presence. Folks who don’t understand that, weren’t paying attention.

Now if they could just coalesce around something they could accomplish before 2014 other than cut staff and raise taxes, they’d be number one on my list.

2014 Outlook – Partisan

Losers

Teachers – Screwed out of raises and with many on the chopping block due to funding and attendance issues, can anyone truly say that Teachers haven’t gotten the raw end of the deal this year? On the local level it has been bad, but not as bad as on the state level. Still, they’re included here for the cumulative effect of all of the above.

2014 Outlook – Cloudy, with a chance of apocalypse

City Council

134274_164698823574207_100001022724059_386483_4907964_o The City Council came this close to being on my winners list. I mean, it was virtually handed to them. But their inability to get beyond two things: the “what’s in it for my district” syndrome, and the “I’m legislating to be Mayor” condition, that they end up being losers.

I agree that in a “Strong Mayor” governing system, a lot of the “vision thing” lands on the executive to both articulate and propose. But the Council has also gone above and beyond in their attempt to discredit the Mayor and damn near anyone else that crosses them individually, including each other, that they are a ghost of what they could be.

Vision doesn’t have to come from above. But the Council has largely allowed it to have to originate there so they can play the foil. That may score political points, but it doesn’t make you a leader.

2014 Outlook – Jockeying for position

A C Wharton

Political capital is a funny thing. Think of it as a commodities market. When people are buying, your price goes up. When they’re selling…getting any value out of it is damn near impossible.

Such is the state of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. He rode in on a 75% margin of victory, with a fist full of political capital. Sat on it, then sat on it some more, and ultimately squandered it. Now he’s in many ways, a man without a country. The City Council doesn’t trust him (for many reasons), he’s articulated no real vision to move people (his 5 year plan is still at unicorn status) and his inability to put a proposal before the Council that stands up to scrutiny has many asking if he’s in over his head.

I think I’d rather be a leper colony resident than A C Wharton right now. He’s thrust himself in a position of extreme scrutiny by not playing offense and letting his defense spend two years holding down a stool at Krispy Kreme. Now that he needs both, he’s too slow, and out of shape to move the ball in any way but the way others want him to.

That’s no way to lead.

2014 Outlook – Needs a miracle

Unemployed – The unemployed have made every list because they’ve been failed at every level. At the local level, the failure is more about sacrificing solutions focused on the systemtemic problems in Shelby Co. in favor of the more immediate political considerations. It’s about not playing a long game. The unemployed need someone in Shelby Co. to play a long game, because the employment picture here isn’t getting any rosier.

2014 Outlook – more screwed (if that’s possible)

Poor neighborhoods – Executive programs to address blight notwithstanding, poor neighborhoods have suffered another year of severe neglect at the hands of both legislators and executives in local government. Both have chosen to look at the poor in the “Ronald Reagan” way…as just one step above the “Cadillac Driving welfare Queens”. The implication is that the poor have chosen to be poor…somehow, despite the fact that their parents were poor and their parents parents were poor, etc.

Poor neighborhoods suffer much the same fate, and easy judgement as the poor, except the drag on society is due SPECIFICALLY to this very attitude, which would allow property values to plummet in exchange for the new and expensive growth that we’re just now coming to pay for…that started over 25 years ago.

Nevermind that dead beat property owners have exploited the City and County’s weaknesses for their own personal gain, or that they’re making wild profits at the expense of the very poor they serve. Poor neighborhoods, like poor people just need to pick themselves up and dust themselves off in the eyes of those who judge on the Council and Commission, who…by the way, have largely never been poor, nor from the looks of them, ever missed a meal.

2014 Outlook – compassion will continue to be absent

Faith in government – State House Democratic Caucus leader Mike Turner has a saying, “Republicans run on a platform that government is broken, then get in office and do everything to prove it”. Locally, that’s what it seems like is happening, though in a bipartisan fashion.

It didn’t happen overnight. Two governments, city and county, that have largely been built on patronage rather than proficiency…(which in both cases the patronage system was started by white folks for those of you who want to make this racial)…are mired in a condition where neither of them really work because folks are more interested in the “right” candidates for the positions than…you know, people who can actually do the job.

Add to that the toxicity in the legislative bodies, and ineptitude at the top and you’ve got a recipe for success at failure. A recipe that no one seems genuinely interested in correcting, including the electorate.

2014 Outlook – Failing Forward

Draw

Mark Luttrell

In the world of County politics, few are as popular as County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Of course, that popularity is more based on his personality than his policies.

Luttrell gets a draw because as an administrator, he hasn’t really done much. He’s got no signature agenda, on the hard stuff, he’s dispatched his chief henchman Harvey Kennedy to do the dirty work. Luttrell doesn’t have to do much politically, because he knows the more he does the more scrutiny he opens himself up to.

Because of this under the radar tactic, you can’t really rate him an anything. So he gets a draw…and a question…am I reading Mark wrong?

2014 Outlook – Can he stand up to a challenge?