Former Shelby County Commissioner Chairman Sidney Chism will face questioning in July before the county's ethics commission involving his former ownership of a daycare center and his votes on school funding issues.
The hearing was prompted by a complaint filed by fellow Commissioner Terry Roland.
They may not like his manner, his style, his boisterous language, but as he has proven in the past those who underestimate Commissioner Roland will figure to feel his wrath at some time or another - whether you've been a past chairman or not.
Chism investigated over Head Start $, daycare
In the tradition of Clint Eastwood's iconic character "Dirty Harry," Commissioner Roland is man "who knows his limitations."
"I don't get my answers out of a law book," he said. "I don't know how to manipulate the law."
But, considering the ethical bind the firebrand Millington Republican has apparently roped his fellow Commissioner Chism, into Roland might be underestimating his "legal eagle" abilities. For months, Roland has been persistent in pursuit of a formal complaint he filed with the Shelby County Ethics Commission against the former commission chairman and Democrat.
Roland alleged Chism had a conflict of interest in voting on school funding issues due to his previous ownership of a number of daycare centers in Whitehaven. An ethics hearing as been set for July 23.
"Those charges stem from Commissioner Chism voting for various matters that involve Head Start funding and certain services that children who attend his daycare center received based on state and or federal dollars," said Rickey Wilkins, Chism's attorney.
"One of the fact issues that's a little bit unclear is when he divested himself of his interest in the daycare and transferred it over to his wife and granddaughter," said U of Memphis law professor and Commissioner Steve Mulroy. "Did he do that before or after the school system decided they were going to do Head Start at his daycare after all?"
The allegations come at a critical time as the Commission takes on the thorny issues of passing a budget, raising the tax rate and funding the Unified School System. A vote on Monday to raise the tax rate to four dollars and thirty-six cents to cover school funding resulted in Chism choosing to abstain from voting on a second reading. The ordinance failed by one vote.
"It's not clear whether he can vote on the tax rate. I think the County Attorney has said he may be able to just disclose his conflict and still vote. But, he's decided to play it safe. In an abundance of caution he's not participating in the vote," said Mulroy.
With seven votes needed for passage of the funding package, Melvin Burgess Jr., who himself has come under attack from Roland on alleged conflict of interest, still figures to cast the key vote when the Commission meets again in two weeks.
It's produced even more anxiety among a body that's seen its share of strife.
Commission Chairman Mike Ritz said, "Most of the Commissioners, I think, are not enjoying this issue at all. I don't think, but one Commissioner is enjoying this. I think the only person who believes there's a conspiracy about anything down there right now on our side of the street is Commissioner Roland."
Chism's attorney says, "We don't believe that there's any violation of any ethical code of the County or any other applicable ethical code. These accusations are not well founded and should be dismissed."
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