Ford has emphasized what he believes is a strong record since taking office in December -- he was appointed by the Commission to complete the final eight months of the final term of A C Wharton, who left the county to become mayor of Memphis last October. Luttrell is wooing voters with promises to bring the same management efficiency and success he and his supporters claim turned around a troubled sheriff's office. As Ford told us after winning election, he believes the pressure is on Luttrell to make that case, because, as Ford says, if he gets 90 percent of the Democratic vote, Luttrell will have no margin for error.
Memphis Flyer columnist Jackson Baker and Danielle Schonbaum with the League of Women Voters of Memphis & Shelby County will moderate. We will post occasional updates from the forum, but look for a fuller report later this afternoon at www.CommercialAppeal.com and another view in Wednesday's print edition.
Open up some of that scrumptious Pancho's cheese dip (you know you've some in the fridge) and follow along, beginning around noon:
(FULL REPORT AVAILABLE ON THE JUMP).
11:47 p.m. Cannot. Stop. Eating. Cheese. Dip. To keep my journalistic bona fides, I promise to purchase said cheese dip. Wonder if Joe Ford or Mark Luttrell will talk about the county's obesity problem?
12 p.m. On question about school funding, Ford and Luttrell both avoid talking about single-source school funding for Memphis City Schools. Luttrell points out MCS spending per pupil is $2,000 more than state average, says entire "business plan" for it must be evaluated, as with other areas. Ford just says school systems will be adequately funded -- he has said many times he's opposed to the county taking over the Memphis's current tax burden as it relates to the city schools. No other cities in Shelby County contributes municipal tax money to their schools.
12:05 p.m. On a question that touches on functional consolidation of services, Ford ignores the details and restates that he is fully opposed to full metro consolidation. "My commnet would be I'm against it and I don't beleive it will pass," Ford said. Luttrell insists he would look for efficiencies wherever they can be found, and restated his desire to let the Memphis Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission do its work and produce a charter for merged governments that voters will consider on Nov. 2. "You are going to hear me time and again come back to looking for efficiencies and cost savings," Luttrell said. And: "Consolidation is certainly on the table and will be decided by voters."
12:15 p.m. Luttrell boasts of areas where he found costs savings in sheriff's office through outsourcing. Ford says he voted against all of them, and insists his record will show he never votes for outsourcing. This area may show their differences in philosophy as much as any other, because it is hard to imagine Luttrell delivering this quote, which comes from Ford: "I'm totally against outsourcing. We have about 6,300 employees in county government. I want to keep our employees and keep them working. You lose jobs and benefits when you outsource."
12:20 p.m. Here we go -- The Regional Medical Center at Memphis is saved! The Med is NOT saved! Is too! Is not! Actually, here are the exact quotes. First, from Luttrell: "The Med has not been saved ... The Med has survived to fight another day ... The Med has a big band-aid across it ... We must start by looking at The Med's business plan." Here's Ford: "Let me just go on the record as mayor of Shelby County and let everybody here know as overseer of this county, the Regional Medical Center is saved regardless of what the Sheriff has said here today. The Med was scheduled to close Feb. 1. It has not closed. We have $15 million in the bank now. We had $1 million in the bank in November." NOTE: The Med had said its regular emergency room would close in February if more funding was not found.
12:30 p.m. One odd and possibly embarrassing moment for Ford comes when a question is asked about the "weak mayor" form of government that the Shelby County charter mandates. Luttrell basically said he would strengthen it by forming strong relationships with those who have power and try to push his agenda through cooperation. But Ford took umbrage to the word "weak" altogether, apparently not understanding that "weak mayor" form of government is a term of political science vs. the "strong mayor" form of government that defines the city of Memphis. "I don't think the Shelby County mayor's office is a weak position," he said. "You have to serve in that position to really know what the mayor is doing." He added: "County mayor is a powerful job, sometimes it even supercedes the city mayor. You saw that in this recent disaster."
12:40 p.m. When candidates have an opportunity to ask one another questions, Ford tries to make Luttrell give consolidation an up or down vote. Ford says, "I can look everybody in the eye today and say I'm against it, I've been against it since I've been in politics." Luttrell holds to his oft-stated position that he thinks its unfair to judge the charter before the Charter Commission has finished its work. "I have not been an advocate or proponent of consolidation," Luttrell said, and pointed out he feels it is important in public service to "listen" to others. "We have a Charter Commission that is doing the due diligence right now and I don't know what they are going to put on the table." Luttrell does say: "I'm waiting to be convinced. At this point I'm not convinced."
Ford then says "I didn't get an answer." This is an interesting back and forth, Ford (who now lives in a $400,000 house in Bartlett) clearly aiming for votes among suburban voters, but Luttrell secure that even the most anti-consolidation voter likely would not move into the Ford camp.
12:50 p.m. We'll have a fuller report in a few hours. Thanks for following along.