Each year the Board of Commissioners elects a Chair and a Chair Pro Tempore to lead meetings, oversee the back office, handle administrative duties, communicate with the Mayor’s office and other stakeholders, and execute other tasks.
In previous years, all commissioners were eligible to serve in these temporary leadership roles. That tradition is now at risk.
In years past, members of both political parties had an opportunity to lead, often with a regular rotation at both Chair and Vice Chair.
That’s how things started last term. Republicans unanimously supported Van Turner, and Democrats mainly supported Mark Billingsley for Vice Chair in 2018, then for Chair in 2019.
A Republican was selected for Vice Chair in 2020, but Democrats have filled both roles since 2021.
This term, Republicans unanimously supported Mickell Lowery for Chairman, but so far, not one Democrat has voted for any Republican.
Now Shelby County Democrats are attempting to make leadership votes a purity test, threatening their elected members with expulsion from the party.
That is a new and disturbing development.
Since 2018, Democrats voting for a Republican Chair or Vice Chair have included all of the Democrats returning for a second term, as well as all of the ones who rolled off the board: Michael Whaley, Willie Brooks, Tami Sawyer, Mickell Lowery, Edmund Ford, Reginald Milton, Eddie Jones, Van Turner.
Every last one of them voted for at least one Republican. None of them were threatened with expulsion.
And the Republicans have done the same. Every Republican elected last term, and this term, supported multiple Democratic members for leadership roles.
The grids below show how every Commissioner voted throughout each round.
To depart from this practice would be a loss for Shelby County.
The Democrats should know, it is not the Republican Party who loses from this new purity test. We all lose an opportunity to create trusting relationships that benefit our county, create unity, and help us grow as leaders.
I explored this issue in an opinion I wrote for the Daily Memphian after the last U.S. Presidential election.
In it, I explain why it’s a good practice not to shut out the other side. Please give it a read.