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


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


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


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?

Jul 20 2009

City Council Meeting Tuesday, 7/21/2009 at 3:30

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis

Yes kids, that’s right, it’s time for another City Council Meeting. Even though I’m not in Memphis, I’ll be able to follow along with the fun via the intertubes (assuming the connection at this hotel in Jersey isn’t a piece of crap). I’ll be live tweeting the meeting on my twitter acct. Vibinc under the hashtag #memcc0721.

There are a lot of things on the agenda, but the thing that may be the most contentious is at the very top of the list, the approval of the minutes from July 7th.

For those of you not following along, that meeting, which I covered here featured an exchange between the majority of the Council, who sought to declare a vacancy in the Mayor’s office without a letter of resignation or retirement, and a very vocal minority of the Council, led in emotion, if nothing else by Janis Fullilove, who sought to let the Mayor leave before taking any action.

Both courses are sketchy.

I’ll delve further into that “sketchiness” in my next post. (I’m such a tease).;

Jun 15 2009

MSARC Resolution

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Shelby County

Today the Shelby County Commission unanimously approved a resolution by Commissioner Ritz to assume control of MSARC. The resolution includes the creation of a Victim’s Services Board, but was soft on funding and other details. Ritz’s resolution was an alternative to the one brought by Commissioner Mike Carpenter, but it is currently not available on the County Commission’s site.

This is a victory for victim’s advocates and the community at large for several reasons. First, it places all victims services under the purview of one governmental agency rather than splitting the duties across two. Hopefully this will not only create efficiencies, but also ensure better continuity of service. Secondly, by creating a “Victim’s Services Board” it ensures that the community is providing direct community oversight to avoid the problems that ultimately lead us to this circumstance. Finally, but perhaps least importantly, it takes a regional service and places it with every other regional service in the area, the County.

There are a lot of people that need to be thanked for their hard work, advocacy, and continued push for a solution to the failures that led to this change including; Mid-South Peace and Justice, Memphis Area Women’s Council, elected officials on the City Council and County Commission who advocated for the shift, and finally, Mayor Herenton and Mayor Wharton. Without their leadership in coming together to find a solution, MSARC may have been caught between a rock and a hard place for some time.

There are still a lot of issues to be resolved. The audit initiated by the city, currently scheduled to be completed in the next 60 to 90 days will, perhaps, shed some light on what led to the initial failure, and hopefully provide some learning on how to avoid this in the future. How MSARC will be integrated into the County is also an issue that is a bit murky, despite the actions of the County Commission tonight. Finally, how the Victim’s Services Board will operate, and who gets appointed to it is, perhaps the biggest unresolved non-operational issues going forward.

The community is watching, and we expect transparency and accountability. As new developments come to light, I’ll report them here. Until then, here’s to hoping that MSARC can regain and maintain its place as a national model, not only in the way it’s organized, but also in the care and quality of services it provides.

Aug 28 2008

City Council Race Comes into Focus

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Well, it’s been an interesting day, and I missed the best part. As I noted this morning several people dropped out leaving the field at four: Kemp Conrad, The John Willingham Experience™, IBEW BA, Paul Shaffer, and Arnett Montague III.

This is the opportunity we longed for last year in the District 9 Position 3 race, one Democrat against a divided Republican field. The only way this could have been better is if Stephens could have stayed in and only drawn support from Conrad. As it stands right now, the math has shifted dramatically in Shaffer’s favor.

Despite all this “feel good” there’s a good bit of work ahead. Money is going to be a big issue in this campaign. Shaffer will be fighting for name recognition against two well known, well funded opponents. Boots on the ground are going to be critical, both canvassing neighborhoods, and outside the polls. People don’t volunteer for City candidates in the same numbers that they do for State and Federal races, but this one is so close to home and so important for our future. We need to get out there and make it happen.

Congratulations Paul, and thank you to all the people who worked together to thin the field and make this possible. As Holt says over at WTL

Let’s come together and elect a great labor leader to the City Council!

Aug 28 2008

The Crowd Thins, the Plot Thickens – Updatedx2

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Update 3:10PM: So I go out to run some errands and what happens? Lit and Parkinson get out, as did Ogle. Now it’s a four man race, Kemp Conrad, The John Willingham Experience™, Paul Shaffer, and Arnett Montague III. Memphis Democrats, it’s time to get behind Paul. I hope to have more soon.

Update 9:18am: Just got an email that Mary Wilder has withdrawn from the race. This is very surprising, but considering the mountain of cash she faced, a very good move on her part. The original text of this post follows.

As reported in this morning’s CA, three people have decided to drop out of the City Council District 9 Seat 1 race; Brian Stephens, the second place finisher from District 2, Regina Morrison Newman, and Robert Stringer. This brings the count down to 8, but only 4 or 5 candidates will probably bring anything to the table.

There are rumors flying around that some of these candidates will spend a couple hundred thousand bucks to get elected. In order to stay competitive, the following 5 are either going to have to rob a bank, win the lottery, find that long lost rich uncle, mortgage their homes, tap into the bags of money they’ve been hiding all these years, or run an absolutely brilliant campaign with no mistakes, sleep, food, and probably a bunch of other necessities.

Here’s the list, in order of Money to burn:

1. Kemp Conrad – I’ve heard he’s putting his house up to pay for the campaign. Watch out for shady lenders Kemp! I’m working on something really entertaining to call the former chair of the Shelby County Republican party, but I’m waiting for the censors in DC to clear it. Damnable bureaucracy! In the meantime, here’s his questionnaire from last year’s race, courtesy of The Coalition for a Better Memphis

2. The John Willingham Experience™ – Who loves ya baby? You know he has bags of money, that’s all well and good, but The John Willingham Experience™ has something even better, a true, deep, resentment for Kemp Conrad. Hate may be too strong a word, but you get the distinct feeling that The John Willingham Experience™ would rather not trifle with the likes of Mr. Conrad. Hit him hard and over and over! The John Willingham Experience™ did return a questionnaire in last year’s Mayoral race, so have at it, if you aren’t just following him to watch him beat Conrad bloody.

3. Lester Lit – The other day I said I didn’t know why Lit was in the race. Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that Lester just really wants to win. He really really wants to win, like, really bad wants to. Looking at his handwritten answers to last years’ questions, he may not be a bad choice. He’d be a helluva lot better than the first two jokers mentioned. I’m sure he’ll join The John Willingham Experience™ in taking some of the shine off Mr. Conrad, and I hope to be in the general vicinity when that happens.

4. Mary Wilder – She may be fourth in the money race, but don’t let that fool ya. The top three guys have A LOT of cash to throw around, I’m not sure Mary does. Money is important in politics but policy is what it’s all about…unless you’re up against a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY, then no one cares what you think. This is the candidate that would have to run that “absolutely brilliant campaign with no mistakes, sleep, food, and probably a bunch of other necessities”.

5. Antonio “2-Shay” Parkinson – I know you’re in Denver, and aren’t going to withdraw, but you should at least think about just sitting this one out, or campaigning with someone who has a chance. I agree that it’s wrong that, between all the frontrunners almost a quarter a million dollars will be blown on a race for a job that pays about $30k, in a city that has declining wages and rampant poverty. I’m with ya on that one. Seriously, it’s beyond criminal. But you have a lot of potential, and you shouldn’t blow it on this one. Here’s your questionnaire from last year. I don’t know what else to say.

6-8. I don’t know about Montague or Ogle. Shaffer doesn’t have piles or money hanging around. I’m withholding any rankings from this point down, because, well, what’s the point? (No offense intended guys). The timeframe for this race is so short that fundraising will be nearly impossible, counting out both money and time for these guys. Ideas are great, but they don’t put food on the table, unless you invent something that’s really cool and have enough money and time to promote it…get where I’m going here? Yeah.

Democrats of Memphis, it’s time to pick your consensus candidate if you want to win. I’m taking nominations at this time. You know what they say, ” a house divided ensures some Republican punk from east Memphis wins”.