Norris and Haslam on MLK Day

A busy holiday in the city and the National Civil Rights Museum seemed to be the epicenter for much of that action.

As is the case every year on the federal holiday honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., thousands have come to the museum built on the site where King was assassinated in 1968.

Among the visitors was the new governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, with both mayors and several state legislators from Big Shelby in tow. That included state Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

The definition of Norris’s role in the current schools standoff depends on who you talk to. Norris, himself, describes himself as a mediator between the two school systems — not by choice — but because mayors Wharton and Luttrell — asked him.

We’ll have an updated web story posted this afternoon with the quotes and other more precise points. But Norris tells us Tuesday’s special meeting of the Memphis City Schools board will be key to whether he pushes ahead with legislation that would make the consolidation of the two school systems a longer process requiring participation by Shelby County voters outside Memphis.

The MCS board is considering a compromise offered by the Shelby County school system that is different than the legislation Norris is sponsoring in Nashville. Norris insists that his legislation puts on record what is already in state law for such a consolidation including participation by county voters outside Memphis.

He also acknowledges there is disagreement on this very crucial point and that the disagreement may be the point where this fast moving dispute produces a lawsuit and a court, or several courts, decide the point.

One of the Shelby County school board’s attorneys, Chuck Cagle of Nashville, has already told that board that planning commissions similar to the ones in the compromise and in Norris’s legislation apply to different kinds of consolidations, not one that is the result of a school system charter surrender.

Cagle said there are no ground rules for how a transition to a countywide school system works in this case which is why he advised his clients to begin planning for the transition now as if such a merger is inevitable.

Haslam, meanwhile, continues to express hope this will be resolved locally without his new administration having to wade into the fray before they’ve even unpacked their boxes.

Haslam has filled in all of his important cabinet positions with the exception of a commissioner of education. He has appointed the state’s coordinator of federally funded Race to the Top education reforms to be the interim commissioner. But Haslam said today he hopes to have a permanent choice for the post this month.

We also talked with him about the executive order he issued over the weekend that changes financial disclosure requirements for members of his cabinet to match those of the Tennessee legislature. It’s a different and less specific standard in terms of dollar amounts disclosed than the standards under former Gov. Phil Bredesen.

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