by Tony Jones
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Newly elected Shelby County Commission Chairman Justin Ford (District 9) faces a potentially bare-knuckled debate over the makeup of subcommittees when the Commission meets on Monday (Oct. 13th).
Two weeks ago, after a unanimous 11-0 initial vote during the nomination process, Ford presented his nominees to the Commission for final approval. But then, much to his surprise and many others, a 7-5 vote forced the process back to the drawing board.
Commissioner Walter Bailey (District 13) orchestrated the baffling move. He requested that the two resolutions forming the nominee slate be moved from the “consent” agenda, where items considered a done deal are parked, to the regular agenda to allow a full vote.
With a deliberateness that reflected prior conversation, the six Democrats (not counting Ford) on the commission then nixed Ford’s subcommittee selections. Their surprising move took on decision-making weight when Republican commissioner Steve Basar (District 13) sided with them. Basar’s fellow GOP member George Chism (District 2) was not in attendance.
Bailey says he persuaded his fellow Democrats that Ford’s subcommittee selections were not strong enough for the greater good that he said the Democrats represent.
“There are seven of us that represent the urban community, all Democrats. Seven votes are required to get resolutions passed,” Bailey told The New Tri-State Defender.
“We (Democrats) feel we have a golden opportunity to control committees like Budget, Education, Law Enforcement, which have authority over the courts and Juvenile Court; critical committees that shape the direction, destiny and priorities for this county and the committee chairperson usually is the one who gives a committee the impetus to move forward. We need it to be individuals that can be consistent with our priorities.”
Bailey said Ford cut a deal with the Republicans to become chairman.
“They preferred him because I was up for chairmanship, but it was not something that I really coveted. They preferred him because they feel they can manipulate him.”
Ford said Bailey’s move was out of bounds.
“Traditionally, the chairman of the body is nominated by your peers and you are elected by your peers. As the chairman of the body I have to take a neutral position on most issues, and I have to chair the meetings, run the office and preside over the meetings for the people of Shelby County from that perspective.”
Not only are his appointments sound, Ford counters, there’s no way he would turn his back on his roots.
“I’m African American, and the chairman. I am the youngest chairman in state history and the youngest chairman to sit on any major government body in this country. I think it does a lot for African Americans, and especially young African Americans,” he said.
“I have also been appointed to the board of the National Organization of Black County Officials while I was at the Congressional Black Caucus. So when we discuss the issues that are important to this community I think I am on the forefront, I think I am part of what is needed to bring solutions for the communities that I represent.
“My district includes Whitehaven, Boxtown, Mitchell Road, the Florida street area. There’s no way I’m not going to watch out for the interests of my voters.”
As chairman, he works for the entire county, said Ford.
“We can do more on the commission now than we have ever been able to do. I think we can do more than we ever did before because we have a commission that can work together. We can transcend racial lines and we can move forward for the people of Shelby County,” said Ford.
“We went on a three week tour of Shelby County … we went to Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Memphis, Arlington. What we are trying to do now is have a respectful, honorable government, a government for the people by the people that will be problem-solvers not problem-causers.”
But, said Bailey, if the Democrats can unify, there will be several key issues where Ford, as chairman, may become the deciding vote.
- Written by By Tony Jones
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