Two defections by Democratic commissioners spelled doom for passage of the proposed Shelby County budget for the 2014 fiscal year. It resulted in a stunning defeat for County Mayor Mark Luttrell's administration.
There was high drama in part because of the vote of Commissioner James Harvey, whose political star many felt had dimmed after a failed run for mayor of Memphis.
Yet, Harvey's surprising rejection of a budget he once supported appears to have worked to his advantage.
He delivered a soliloquy so filled with inner turmoil, angst, soul-searching and pregnant pauses it was reminiscent of a scene from Hamlet. At its conclusion Commissioner Harvey delivered the surprising death blow.
"You probably want to know where I am? I will not be voting for a tax increase," Commissioner Harvey said before Monday's commission meeting.
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On a night of political surrealism and intrigue, Harvey's dramatic rejection of the county budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 may have signaled a new direction toward bipartisanship for the embattled governmental body. Or was it just a reassurance that the old "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" of back-room dealing is still very much in play?
Either way it was the Democrat Harvey who seized the moment to torpedo the budget vote and in doing so gained enough Republican commission votes to be named the next commission chairman.
"Those two events were not isolated," said Memphis Daily News reporter Bill Dries. "They were very much connected and one influenced the other. Definitely!"
"By no means does that mean I have an evil heart or I've changed over into something," Harvey said. "I haven't changed over into being white or changed into being a Republican."
"I was pretty sure James Harvey and Justin Ford were going to be voting for it," said Commissioner Steve Basar. "So when
he announced he wasn't going to be voting for it, I think he surprised a number of people in the room."
Certainly, Harvey, who was unavailable for comment on his vote Monday night and Tuesday, was the beneficiary of a tumultuous political upheaval among the commission's Democrats that also included the unexplained defection of Ford as well.
Commissioner Mike Ritz, who hoped to retain his chairmanship another year, was undone by a strong rebuff from his fellow conservative Republicans. Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who was defeated in votes for the chairman and vice-chair positions, chose to be reflective in recognizing a major change in the body he was elected to seven years ago.
"My first term as a county commissioner was more collegial," Commissioner Mulroy said. "This second term we are more contentious."
It was documented Harvey missed four commission regular sessions over the last year due to his financial advising work in North Carolina. But, now employed as a Memphis bank executive, Harvey's absenteeism shouldn't become an issue. If it does, Basar, the commission's new vice-chairman, is ready to step in.
"I think we're going to be a good team," Basar said, a Republican. "I think we're going to work very well together."
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