By Jimmie Covington

It seems like it would be a simple thing to understand but the top elected officials in Shelby County, the general public and the news media have not been able to grasp it.

Schools are not included in the part of county government that the county mayor is elected to head. The Shelby County Board of Education is a separate branch of government.

The board’s budget goes directly to the County Commission and does not pass through the county administration which the mayor heads. The mayor and the schools are in competition for county funding.

The Shelby County Government Restructure Act, which created the county mayor’s position in the 1970s, said the act did not apply to the school board or school funding “for any purpose” except for two very minor exceptions. The same wording was carried into the county charter, which was approved by voters in 1984.

The last two county mayors, A C Wharton Jr. and Mark Luttrell, made budget proposals and participated with county commissioners in limiting the amount of operations funding schools could receive from county revenue sources. Was this proper?

Lee Harris, the new county mayor, made education a major part of his campaign. Since taking office, Harris proposed and the commissioners approved a new position of schools liaison.

Presumably, the mayor will appoint the liaison. Is it proper for the mayor to have any involvement? Shouldn’t the liaison be an appointee of the commission alone?

This post is written by Jimmie Covington, veteran Memphis reporter with lengthy experience covering governmental, school, and demographic issues. He is a contributing writer with The Best Times, a monthly news magazine for active people 50 and older, and this column is in its October issue.