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    County Commissioners approve school board member, committee appointments

    Shante Avant

    Photo by Mike Maple

    Shante Avant

    As she accepted her appointment Monday as a Shelby County School Board member, Shante Avant said she is “committed, committed, committed, committed to the children of Shelby County.”

    The County Commission voted to name Avant to the board’s District 6 seat, left vacant when Reginald Porter resigned to accept a job with the school district.

    On Aug. 28, commissioners interviewed 11 applicants for the place on the seven-member school board. Avant received eight votes from the 13-member commission.

    Avant, 40, is deputy director of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis. She is a graduate of Immaculate Conception High School and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

    The commission also approved chairman James Harvey’s slate of committee appointments after the promised fight to try to block one of them.

    Despite a long debate, Republican Commissioner Heidi Shafer was appointed chairwoman of the commission’s budget and finance committee. Commission Democrats tried to block her appointment with an amendment that would have retained Commissioner Melvin Burgess, a Democrat, as budget chairman.

    The vote ended a drama over the appointment that had supporters saying the block was sexist and opponents saying it was a political move.

    Monday’s meeting was Harvey’s first as commission chairman, a job he took over from Commissioner Mike Ritz. One of his first acts in the position was to select leaders and members of the commission’s committees.

    Democrats on the 13-member commission have claimed Harvey, also a Democrat, was rewarded with the chairmanship for siding with Republicans in voting against Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s tax increase. Some said the Shafer appointment was a political repayment.

    The amendment to block the Shafer appointment was proposed by Commissioner Walter Bailey Jr., who said he took issue with Shafer’s politics, particularly her support for a tax cut in the latest county budget process.

    “If we had followed that leadership, we would have seen a decrease in the tax rate by $53 million and that would have done violence to the county school budget and to the health and safety and welfare of the citizens of the county,” Bailey said.

    “It was irresponsible. Nevertheless, she had every right to do it and she did it.”

    Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said a chairman of one party often appoints a committee chairman of another party.

    “Every chairman, without exception, that I can remember made appointments not on ideology but on diversity and balance of power, and on fairness and respect for their colleagues,” Bunker said.

    A group of Shafer supporters sat front and center at the commission meeting, some holding Shafer campaign signs, and spoke on her behalf.
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