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<br />It’s down to a vote and the date is March 8

By order of State Election Coordinator Marc Goins, the Shelby County Election Commission has set Tuesday, March 8 as the date for Memphis voters to decide by referendum who will control Memphis City Schools. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

By order of State Election Coordinator Marc Goins, the Shelby County Election Commission has set Tuesday, March 8 as the date for Memphis voters to decide by referendum who will control Memphis City Schools.

Barring interruption by the courts – or some other intervention – early voting would begin Wednesday, Feb. 16 at the Shelby County Office Building, at 157 Poplar Ave., from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Downtown early voting would end Thursday, March 3.

 Shelby County Election Commission board members J.H. Johnson (right) and Steve Samson after the Commission set March 8 as the date to vote on the controversial referendum. (Photo by Earl Stanback)

Voting at satellite precinct locations would start Saturday, Feb. 19. On weekdays, voting would be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.   Satellite early voting would conclude Thursday, March 3.

News of the setting of the date was delivered at the Election Commission’s site at 980 Nixon during a three-minute press conference that also carried the news that the referendum would be on the same date as the special election to choose a new state representative for District 98 following the passing of the late Ulysses Jones Jr.

The Election Commission’s action came on the heels of Tuesday night’s Memphis City Schools Board’s 7-2 vote rejecting a “compromise” that the Shelby County Schools Board had made to stave off a showdown that loomed large after the City School board voted on Dec. 20 to move to cede control to Shelby County Schools. Supporters of that earlier move, which was designed to put the matter before Memphis voters, have argued that it was needed to offset the Shelby County School’s projected bid to seek special school district and forestall consolidation of the two school systems.

The track toward the referendum was cluttered with myriad legal opinions affecting the setting of an election. And in the mix was a move by Sen. Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) to pass legislation that would put in place a one-year period for planning and set up a countywide vote on consolidating the two school systems.

With the Norris legislation – and the possibility of related legislation – in mind, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously went on record in support of the earlier school board vote that opened the door for the referendum. The 10-0 Council vote was seen as a hedge giving Memphis voters an out should the Norris measure pick up steam and threaten the Memphis vote.

Several voices already are calling for federal oversight of the March 8 election, citing Memphis history dating back to the election of former Congressman Harold Ford to recent problems stemming from the August 5 election.

Now that the Memphis Board of Education has voted down the SCS “compromise” that called for more time to dialogue with consolidation talk put on hold, State Rep. G.A. Hardaway is among those who has fine-tuned their receptors for any sign that Gov. Bill Haslam may look to play a bigger role in the eventual outcome.

Haslam was in Memphis Monday as part of his statewide get acquainted tour. Hardaway told the Tri-State Defender that Haslam is well aware of the current situation in Memphis “on every level.”

 “He knows of the legislative initiative that Norris has, he knows some history of the legislation that has been proposed in the past and he is also well aware of the issues with the election coordinator and the voting rights of people in this city, which tends to interfere with the one man, one vote rule and puts restrictions on the ability of Memphians to decide their own destinies.”

According to Hardaway, Haslam has stated privately that he won’t sign the Norris bill in its current form.  

“I don’t know where or how that would morph into something that he might sign, but what I would like to hear from him is that this is Memphis business and that it should be decided by the voters and the legislative bodies here and that the state has no business in this matter,” said Hardaway.

 “The default for education for all of the children in Shelby County is the Shelby County Schools System and to change the rules in the middle of the game cannot be something that he supports if he wants to be fair and equitable in the governance of the state,” Hardaway said.

“He was here for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and for him to sign something that would trample on voting rights would be simply unacceptable. I believe he is a man of his word and would stick to his commitment to try to help Memphis as opposed to getting in the middle of a local situation.”

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