Chris Caldwell

Shelby County Election Commission falls behind as voting starts

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

The Shelby County Election Commission officials say they have not uploaded more than 100 financial forms from Shelby County political candidates, more than a week after they were turned in. That includes five school board candidates. The financial forms detail who has donated to the candidates’ campaign and how much money candidates have raised.

The Shelby County Schools board race is hotly contested because the next slate of board members will have to make high stakes decisions about how to improve failing schools while their revenues are shrinking.

The commission has not made public the financial disclosures for five Shelby County Schools candidates, a week after they were due to be posted. After numerous emails and phone calls, the commission still could not confirm whether the missing candidates did not submit their forms on-time or whether the forms are sitting in its offices somewhere and just have not been made public. Normally, the forms are uploaded within a day, according to its policy.

The candidates whose forms are not available and may have not been submitted on time are Teddy King, David Winston, Jimmy Warren, Miska Bibbs and William Orgel.

If candidates did not submit their financial disclosures by July 10, the commission is supposed to send the delinquent candidates certified letters, giving them five extra days to comply before turning them over to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance for fines that start at $25 per day and can be as much as $10,000.

But with early voting starting Friday along with staff shortages, Director Richard Holden said that there had not been time to verify all of the candidates’ financial disclosures and send out the certified letters.

“The timing is such that we’re busy. We got more than we can say grace over,” said Holden. “Let’s say you send me a voter registration card that changes your address: clearly that’s a higher priority than sending someone a letter telling us how much money they raised and wasted.”

Tennessee law requires that the letters be sent, according to documents on the commission’s website. “[If they didn’t send the letters] their office has violated the statute but we don’t have any authority to take any action against them,” said Drew Rawlins, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

According to the law,

The Registry staff or the county election commission, whichever office should have received a required campaign financial disclosure statement, must notify the candidate or committee by personal service or by return receipt requested mail that the report has not been received and that civil penalties of twenty-five dollars ($25) a day will begin to accrue five (5) days after receipt of the notice until the report is filed or for thirty (30) days, whichever occurs first. T.C.A. § 2-10-110(a)(1)(A) and T.C.A. § 2-10-110(a)(1)(B)  Tennessee Law from Shelby County Election Commission website

Robert Meyers, the chairman of the election commission’s board, agrees with Holden that preparing for the election takes priority over sending out the required letters to candidates. “Sometimes that can get done and sometimes it becomes impractical at some point,” said Meyers. “That really relates to a staffing issue. We have a manager that is out. We have asked the county for some additional positions.”

This election is especially busy because more than 60 judge positions are up for election this year, which only happens every eight years.

“There are over 100 forms that haven’t been uploaded,” a representative for the commission said on July 18. “We’ve been assigned to a different project.”

The election commission faced a critical audit last year that cited 19 high risk problems, including failing to register voters and making changes to forms without identifying who made the change.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede