MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Democratic Party should be celebrating some big recent wins and gearing up for the next election, but instead they’re in a leadership crisis.
Three members have filed a grievance with the state in hopes of ousting new chair Michael Harris.
Harris has only been on the job since April.
Outgoing treasurer Julie Byrd Ashworth said the vote to make Harris party chair shouldn’t count because he didn’t get a true majority when they excluded abstaining votes.
“Mr. Harris only had 37 of the votes, and 38 were required. We think he was just not elected," she said.
She and two others explained that in a grievance letter that was sent to the Tennessee Democratic party.
WREG also found documents from 2017 showing Harris has declared bankruptcy eight times in two years; a judge dismissed him with prejudice and banned him from filing again for five years.
"That is a sanction from a court that, based on my experience, is exceedingly rare” Ashworth, an attorney, said.
The Supreme Court of Tennessee suspended Harris’s law license in 2017 and accused him of mistreating client by taking their money and not fulfilling any work.
The Board of Professional Responsibility also said he charged “excessive fees” and ordered him to pay clients back a total of more than $20,000.
"Part of what we expect of elected officials is to show the highest degree of moral integrity and ethics, and I believe based on what we’ve produced and found out since the vote that Mr. Harris does not exemplify those characteristics," Ashworth said.
The Tennessee Democratic Party rejected their grievance and sent WREG this statement: "The TNDP County Party Development Committee passed a resolution determining that the state party does not have the jurisdiction to take action against Chairman Harris for missteps that occurred before he was elected. However, it also points out that members of the Shelby County Democratic Party can pursue a change in leadership through an internal vote. TNDP Chair Mary Mancini approved the resolution."
That’s exactly what Ashworth hopes to do. Though she admitted the timing is urgent.
"That’s why we’re very concerned for 2020. We want to make sure we have the right leader that can exemplify the morals and characteristics and standards of the Democratic Party," she said.
Harris declined to do an interview but said he was confident going into Thursday night's party meeting at the IBEW. He said he believed he had the support of the Tennessee Democratic Party.