At a time when the Metro Council remains an object of citywide ridicule because of its disbanded meeting earlier this monthas opposed to all the other reasonscouncil member Carolyn Baldwin Tucker recently asked Vice Mayor Howard Gentry if she and colleague Adam Dread could, um, switch seats.
The legislative body has an informal practice of seating at-large Metro Council members according to the number of votes the members received. After the 1999 citywide elections, Chris Ferrell, Leo Waters, David Briley, Howard Gentry and Tucker finished first through fifth, respectively, and so that’s the order in which they were seated in the council chambers. When Gentry became vice mayor last fall, Adam Dread won an election to fill his unexpired council term. So when he arrived to the council, Dread simply sat in Gentry’s seat; after all, that was the unoccupied desk.
But Dread’s election posed a dilemma to at least one council member. Tucker received more votes in her 1999 election than Dread did last year. But then Dread replaced Gentry, who garnered more votes than Tucker in 1999. (If you find this sort of procedural quandary intriguing, you need to develop some hobbies. Seriously.) Meanwhile, you’d think most council members would be focusing on several looming and important issuesa complicated financing plan for a new downtown ballpark, for example, or how to curb the city’s stray dog population.
But Tucker was more focused on the seating chart. She approached Gentry to see if, as vice mayor, he could make Dread switch seats with her when they moved out of the courthouse, which is being renovated, into their temporary digs at the old Ben West Library.
“I made the decision,” Gentry says. “She asked if when we moved into the new facility we could be seated based on the number of votes. I checked with Metro legal and the council staff, and they didn’t have a problem with it.”
Gentry adds, “I don’t think that request had ever occurred before.”
Meanwhile, some poor city attorney went to law school only to answer a question about council seating arrangements.
On May 6, Dread and Tucker switched seats without incident. Gentry says that Dread didn’t contest the decision. “I kind of looked at it like a kooky, annoying relative who shows up at your house and rearranges your furniture,” says Dread, who no doubt hopes to garner more votes than Tucker during this summer’s Metro elections. “It’s easier just to leave and then put things back in order later.”
Most of Dread’s colleagues seem to attach a similar degree of importance to where they park it. “Where we sit is no big deal,” says at-large Metro Council member Chris Ferrell. “There had to be some system for arranging us, so they figured it out by our vote tallies.”
Told about Tucker’s request, district council member Janis Sontany says, “I guess my reaction is one of surprise. There are more pressing issues for us to be concerned about than where we sit in the council chamber.”
Tucker didn’t return repeated calls for comment, but this latest episode will probably do little to convince her many skeptics that she should be reelected this August. In the recent debate about a measure that would prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians, she disjointedly linked the motivation of Ferrell, the measure’s co-sponsor, with Marxist indoctrination. She also claimed that the words “sexual orientation,” which were obviously a focal point of the anti-bias measure, were confusing. And at the most recent council meeting, which extended past midnight after the body lost its quorum, she contributed to the protracted proceedings by sponsoring a resolution recognizing “Mrs. Bess’ Third-Grade Class at Westmeade Elementary School.” Given that approximately 70,000 students attend Metro public schools, if all of Tucker’s colleagues chose to memorialize individual classes, the meetings would never enda truly horrifying prospect.
Interestingly, Dread says that Tucker never approached him directly about switching seats, instead going directly to the vice mayor. Dread probably could have saved Tucker a trip. “I think I have more important issues,” says the law student who’s trying to reform the city’s outdated beer laws. “I couldn’t care less where I sit.”
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