When former municipal employee Kenneth Moody announced he would challenge Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks for Juvenile Court Clerk in next year's Democratic Primary, some watchers of local politics quickly pointed to the influence of Brooks' commission colleague, Sidney Chism.
Brooks, who was questioning the operation of Juvenile Court long before the U.S. Department of Justice determined there was much seriously amiss, announced her candidacy many months ago. When The New Tri-State Defender asked Chism to comment on whether he had a hand in Moody's planned challenge of Brooks, he chose to remain mum for now.
Candidate Moody said those who see his bid as some type of mini-machine manipulation need to think again.
"I'm nobody's puppet," said Moody. "I was approached several years ago by others closely affiliated with the Juvenile Court Clerk's office that felt I would be a good candidate, but I chose not to run then," he said.
"Sidney is one of the people I spoke to about running in this primary. We talked about my candidacy, but I'm not running because he wants me to run. I'm a man. I don't fight anybody else's battles. I choose what is best for me in my life, so it needs to be made clear that I'm not running because Sidney Chism asked me to run."
Brooks said she views the contest for Juvenile Clerk as a cause, not a political race.
"I have worked long, hard and tirelessly for decades to try to bring some light to how Juvenile Court is run. The individual you have referred to is a Johnny-come-lately looking for a job," she said.
"And I say it is a cause because I see God's hand in it. This was not my decision to run for another office, that is why this is a movement. I've never had any intention of running for the Juvenile Court Clerk's office, but the need for these children to have a real advocate is pushing me to do so," Brooks said.
"I thought after my current term with the Shelby County Commission ends (August 2014) I would finish out my life in a career as a grandmother. I started this work decades ago and it escalated when I filed the complaint with the Justice Department in 2007 because the Constitutional rights of children and their families were being violated and I felt it was necessary to skip the local structure and seek federal redress," she said.
At this point, dealing with the betterment of family health and children is a priority for her, Brooks said.
"All I ask is that people look into the record of my work and ... find out more about me."
Moody envisions bringing focused change to the Juvenile Court Clerk position.
"People feel they aren't treated with respect when they go to Juvenile Court. That has to change. There are many areas that need to be modernized. The computer system, customer service, being able to provide legal information in a timely fashion, and we need to see if the Maximus contract is the most effective and efficient way to collect and distribute child support.
A lot of people don't even know who the clerk is, Moody said, vowing to bring a lot of new ideas and methods to communicate with the community.
The things he brings to the race include a stint as director of the Memphis and Shelby County Rape Crisis Center and another as head of the city's animal shelter, two entities saddled with an overflow of bad-news headlines.
"I experienced some challenges, but it shows my ability to manage," Moody said. "Look at my 13 years in city government. I was initially appointed as Manager of Community Affairs by Mayor Herenton and worked my way up to the director's position. I understand the issues kids and families face and I am a married man with children. I think I'm well qualified to lead the Juvenile Court."
The Republican incumbent is current clerk Joy Touliatos, who is expected to run again.
Brooks said her website – www.henriebrooks.com – goes online Thursday (Dec. 12).