The Shelby County Democratic Party has called a special meeting to determine the fate of its recently elected chairman.
The decision was made Thursday during the executive committee’s first meeting since Michael Harris was elected chairman in April. Party member Sanjeev Memula motioned for a meeting in 20 days to reconsider the election of Harris.
Memula and two other party members, Sarah Turner and Julie Byrd-Ashworth, filed a grievance with the Tennessee Democratic Party, citing improper voting practices during the local election that resulted in Harris being declared the winner. The trio’s complaint was denied by the state body and directed back to the Shelby County party.
In a recent addendum to the grievance, Byrd-Ashworth also called for Harris’ removal due to him having filed bankruptcy eight times between May 2016 and May 2017. Also in 2017, the Tennessee Supreme court, citing client misconduct, suspended Harris’ law license. Some party members point out that Harris addressed his personal and professional issues before he was elected and that he has done nothing detrimental to the party since taking office.
“We are a democratic party and (Harris) won a democratic vote,” one of the members said. “I am embarrassed this is coming back up. And this should be the end of it in my opinion.”
Harris ran unopposed in the April election, receiving 37 favorable votes and 35 opposed. Some members abstained from voting. That’s where Memula, Turner and Byrd-Ashworth said the improper voting practice occurred. In their grievance, they cited that Harris was not elected with a ‘true majority’ because the party excluded the abstaining votes.
“Everyone needs to respect the vote and get in where you fit in,” said Theryn Bond, an executive committee member, who is also running for a Memphis City Council seat in the October election. “We need team players moving forward. Filing this grievance totally obliviates what our vote was.”
But Memula said to deny a hearing in 20 days is also to “deny democracy.”
“I am asking for due process of the grievance. We have the right to appeal,” he said.
Despite the large number of committee members’ opposition to the special-called meeting, Harris obliged.
“Because I believe in fairness, I believe in democracy,” he said. “I, as chair, will call the special meeting.”
Harris said he’s not offended by the grievance.
“It’s OK,” he said to the committee. “We can feel differently and disagree, but we cannot be disillusioned.”
Before the tense debate, the party’s first meeting yielded the election of several officers: Sarah Beth Larson (first vice chair), Bryan McBride (second vice chair), Regina Perry (secretary), Emily Fulmer (assistant secretary), and Jesse Huseth and Williams Brack (steering committee members).
Additionally, Harris nominated local healthcare professional, Lacretia Carroll, as treasurer. The nomination was accepted by the committee.