Republicans blocking agenda, leaders say

By Daniel Connolly, Memphis Commercial Appeal
April 13, 2009

Shelby County commissioners angered Republicans with their recent vote to pick a Democrat to fill a vacancy on the commission.

Now, some commissioners say that Republican state legislators are retaliating by blocking bills.

Commission Chairwoman Deidre Malone and other commissioners say most of the blocked bills had bipartisan support at the local level. Items on the commission’s long wish list include the creation of an alert program for missing senior citizens and a measure that would loosen requirements for funeral directors working at public cemeteries.

“It’s an issue of transparency,” Malone said Friday. “It’s an issue of we shouldn’t play games with the people’s business.”

Malone said she has encouraged members of the county commission to call Republican leaders and urge them to let the legislation move forward.

There were signs that the conflict is cooling down, commissioners said at a Wednesday committee meeting.

There isn’t an organized effort to block legislation that Shelby County wants, said state Senate majority leader Mark Norris, R-Memphis.

But he said Republicans were upset with the commission’s vote in February to select former Shelby County Democratic Party chief Matt Kuhn to fill a seat vacated by Republican David Lillard, who left to become state treasurer.

That choice went against the tradition of picking a replacement from the same party.

“Constituents in (commission) District 4 are concerned about their representation,” Norris said. “They elected a Republican and they’ve been handed a Democrat. It’s disruptive, let’s put it that way. But in terms of an organized boycott or whatever, that’s not accurate.”

The county commission routinely sends Tennessee legislators a list of the bills it would like to see pass.

This year, the list includes a bill to allow secret meetings of civil service merit boards and a bill that would make it a felony to be convicted of 10 or more serious misdemeanors within 10 years.

“These items are urgent, they affect all people in Shelby County, Republican and Democrat, and almost without exception were endorsed by both (Republicans and Democrats),” said commissioner Steve Mulroy, a Democrat.

Republican Commissioner Mike Carpenter joined Democratic colleagues in calling for state legislators to move the agenda forward.

But not everyone agrees — at a committee meeting this week, Republican Commissioner Mike Ritz said Republicans in the state legislature were behaving no differently than Democrats did when they dominated Nashville.

“Unless all the parties are in line up and down the food chain, this is what you’re going to experience,” he said.

— Daniel Connolly: 529-5296

Shelby County’s legislative package

Here are a few of the items the Shelby County Commission wants the state legislature to pass:

A bill that exempts cities and counties from funeral directing and burial requirements if they’re burying corpses in city or county-owned cemeteries.

A bill to create a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation alert system for missing senior citizens.

A bill to allow county conservation boards to meet quarterly rather than monthly.

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