The two biggest issues revolve around A) a city’s right to annex area to expand its borders, and B) the desires of the residents of that area to remain autonomous.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled on this issue this week, and a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’. Ugly things have been said about both sides by both sides. A quick look at the Letters to the Editor in this morning’s Commercial Appeal as well as others from earlier in the week show that pretty conclusively.
Us v. Them
Certainly, there’s an “Us v. Them” element to any annexation. In every city I’ve ever lived in there’s always been an “Us v. Them” scenario where annexations were concerned.
In Jonesboro, AR back in the early 1990′s, which is anything but a metroplex, the annexation of Valley View was greeted with much the same rhetoric that we in Memphis see coming from not just the residents of Gray’s Creek, but a lot of the suburban areas ringing the eastern border of the City.
In Little Rock, throughout the 1980′s and 90′s the attitudes of people in the surrounding cities of North Little Rock, Sherwood, Jacksonville, as well as those in the counties surrounding Pulaski; Faulkner and Saline, reflected a kind of disdain for the ever expanding Capitol city.
The reality is, these kinds of attitudes dominate in any potential annexation, as noted in this Editorial by Otis Sanford from this morning’s CA. Here’s part of what he had to say.
…The point is, Memphis, by necessity, has always relied on annexation as a primary tool to maintain revenue. That reliance has grown in recent decades because tens of thousands of residents — and their tax dollars — have left the city.
Many Memphians who remain — like those in the 1960s — believe suburbanites take unfair advantage of all the amenities Memphis has to offer, but are unwilling to share in the cost.
But instead being of the municipal equivalent of Pac Man, perhaps it’s time for Memphis and its suburban neighbors to revisit their 1998 annexation reserve plans.
Instead of trying to expand all the way to the Fayette County line, perhaps it’s time to put serious effort behind helping Memphis grow and revitalize from within.
Sanford is both right and wrong.
Sanford is right in that Memphis should be working to revitalize from within. It can’t do this alone. The damage that the perpetual eastward expansion in the County has done to the city hinders its progress and makes the kind of annexations we saw from the late 1960′s through the present, necessary to maintain revenue. This isn’t about waste, its about a highly mobile tax base and a growth policy at the county level that has ignored the symbiotic relationship that Memphis and its suburbs have, as noted by Chris Peck’s editorial from this morning.
Shelby County can no longer afford to have an “Us v. Them” mentality. There is no them. And while this “Us” may be very diverse and have a huge diversity of opinions, the end result is that we must acknowledge and accept the roles we have played in creating and maintaining this “Us v. Them” mentality, both in the City and in the Suburbs, because both sides are culpable in defining a “other” to blame for its problems.
But Sanford is also wrong and ultimately misses the larger point on the issue of annexation generally. The 1998 agreement that set up the annexation reserve we currently have must be honored, not only by those who made that agreement, but also the State.
By seeking to effectively “go over the heads” of the local governments that made this agreement some 14 years ago, the City of Memphis was forced into action to protect its right, as set forth in that agreement, to extend its borders. Honestly, any of the cities involved in this agreement would have sought to do the same thing under the same circumstances.
That Sanford conveniently ignores this point, is a critical flaw in his analysis.
Bigger Than Annexation
The larger point is that Memphis government has a lot on its plate, and declining resources to get that plate of things done. The County plays a huge role in the fate of Memphis. Until these two entities get on the same page, Memphis and the region as a whole is going to continue to suffer.
Looking at the political climate, it seems the outlier is the County Commission, where in the past it was pretty much all parties concerned. There is a growing consensus between the Administrations on the City and County side, as well as the City Council that the two governments must work together to maintain the economic driver of the region, which, by virtue of its size and infrastructure is Memphis, not the surrounding suburban and rural areas. That the County Commission hasn’t gotten on board with this is due in large part to the investment many on that body have and continue to make in the rhetoric of division on the grounds of location, class and yes, race.
But it’s not just suburban Commissioners that engage in this, its also Commissioners representing people inside the city that maintain the division. In doing so, they do harm to their own cause by using the rhetoric of their opponents to further their point rather than building their own rhetorical case to push the debate forward.
If rural and suburban Shelby Countains want to maintain the status quo in terms of boundaries and annexation, it would serve their best interests to play a long game of working to strengthen the entire community rather than a short game of immediate self-interest. This means working to build bridges instead of walls.
Defining a Bridge
Demanding that the county take care and maintain the property it is responsible for in the City, including the 3600 some housing units owned by the Shelby County land bank is a step in the right direction. Asking the County government to work with the city to redevelop that land, and in the process, better the living conditions of those who have had to live around these vacant and often blighted properties will bring both better living conditions and better outcomes for all those involved, including people outside the City limits.
This is a “We” issue. “We” must agree that we will not allow our governments in the County and the City to maintain substandard living conditions in our community through a policy of neglect that has been prevalent for some time. “We” must agree that it is in the best interest of all: urban, suburban and rural County residents to create an environment of prosperity for everyone. Doing so will net long-term rewards by eventually reversing problems that have dogged our county for decades: declining density, poverty, blight, low educational attainment, and want.
But these things can’t happen in a vacuum, and they can’t be conditional. They have to be addressed in a coordinated fashion and with a kind of resolve that we simply haven’t seen in this county, well, ever.
By demanding that their suburban Commissioners get on board with dealing with the problems the County government has jurisdiction over in the City and working to make a better Memphis, the people of Gray’s Creek, and other areas in the City’s annexation reserve can protect the lifestyles they seek to maintain by building a bridge rather than building a wall.
That bridge is finding common cause with the City to increase density and remove blight within the city to increase the standard of living throughout so the City doesn’t have to look at its annexation reserve. This is a positive action based on offense (bridges) rather than defense (walls).
Walls work until they are overcome. Bridges, on the other hand, have a positive impact on people on both sides of the bridge. That’s what this county needs. We have enough walls, we need more bridges.
What am I talking about? The growing number of investigations concerning divisions of the City of Memphis government.
The long hard truth is there will probably be even more investigations in the coming months.
It would be easy to simply dismiss these developments as confirmation of a lot of long-held assumptions about City government, but there is something very positive in all the negative attention. While concerning, these investigations are a good thing for the city. They represent an opportunity to root out problems and bring a level of accountability to City government that many people have been longing for for decades.
But its also more than that. This is a reset opportunity. This is a chance for the administration to put policy in place that helps build trust with some of Memphis’ greatest detractors. Its a chance for the City to lead the way and surpass County transparency, which is not nearly as strong as some would have you think.
This also represents an opportunity for the City Council to assert itself by expanding its proper role as a check on the current and future administrations. I’ve believed for some time that the City Council should demand a greater level of detail from City divisions to better understand both the challenges faced by those divisions and areas of unnecessary duplication and/or waste. While the City Council cannot mandate changes in the administration, it can use its role in the budgetary process to push the administration in directions it sees necessary, and use this information to assist public understanding.
Both the City Council and the Administration can use this opportunity start re-writing the city’s story. For as long as I can remember, the narrative about Memphis has been one of crime, poverty, and corruption. No city can grow and thrive under these conditions. While City Government may not have the resources available on its own to deal with all three, crafting a narrative of self-evaluation and corruption busting is one of the first steps in rehabilitating an image, both inside and outside of Memphis, about our community.
Its easy to focus on the negative: reports of corruption, crime, blight, poverty, and coverups. But for each division that is cleaned up, each bad guy that is caught, each neighborhood that gets a problem property dealt with, and every other problem that is dealt with head on, what we often forget is that the resolution of these issues ultimately represent net positives.
To restore faith, we not only have to continue tackling these problems head on, but start telling the story of successes. The simple truth is that for every story you hear about anything bad happening in the city, county, state, or nation, there are 20 good stories you NEVER hear about. Its hard to remember that in the barrage of “bad news”, but its important to try. Its even more important for the powers that be to tell those stories, when they can, to help restore faith.
You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it. – Samuel Butler
Just a week before came news that the National Folk Alliance was moving to Kansas City.
Airfare in and out of Memphis is high. It has been since I moved here. After I started freelancing again in 2006, I found that out first hand. Clients that bought my airfare regularly asked if I would consider driving to Little Rock to catch a Southwest flight, or would complain about the cost of the flights out of Memphis.
This was before the merger of Northwest and Delta. In short, its been this way for a very long time.
But how bad is it, and how much of an impact does it really have on tourism, including the convention business, here in Memphis? I was curious too, so I spent some time Saturday afternoon and took a look.
To test this, I used 18 departure cities made up of cities that I traveled to frequently when I was traveling. I then used 5 destinations, including Las Vegas, Orlando, Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Memphis.
I used priceline.com for the results, which was for a booking in the second weekend of February 2012, 3 months out. The lowest fare, regardless of whether I would ever want to fly at that time, or on that airline, was recorded, which means, depending on the person, their cost may be higher.
In the end, I found that fares into Memphis are, on average, $100 more than my test cities, even with a lot of lead time. In most cases, you may not have that kind of lead time to prepare, which will likely make the fares higher.
Just to show how much the fares go up on average, the closer to the travel date you get, on a second sheet below there’s a look at the same cities 3 months, 2 months, 1 month, and 2 weeks out.
Here is the raw data.
I think the article at the Flyer does the best job of any addressing many of the problems with the travel side of our troubles. But there are a lot of things that aren’t covered.
I’ve written about this before, so I don’t want to rehash old material. However, even though those posts are two years old, they still apply.
We’re not Orlando, Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas or even St. Louis. We don’t have the facilities they do. We don’t have the infrastructure either. That’s not to say we couldn’t, but there’s a whole lot more than just buildings or cheaper, or more flight availability thats involved.
We have to market ourselves better as a destination. No, we don’t have Disneyworld, or a huge strip of casinos, but that doesn’t mean we’re not a destination. It just means we have to make our case better to the world to attract events to Memphis.
I’m mostly out of the convention business these days. What used to be over 275 days in show or traveling has dwindled down to around 100, by choice. But my perspective now, based on the revelations about the impact of airfare on the City’s convention business is the same. If we’re not willing to tell people, loud and proud, who we are and what we have to offer, we should just be content with the business we get and stop fretting over it.
If, on the other hand, we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is and work to change our perception of ourself, and the world’s perception of us, we can be a destination like some of these larger cities over time.
It ain’t gonna be cheap, easy, or fast. We’ll have to be more patient than we’re used to being. But if the willingness is there, if we can commit to it longer than a typical political cycle, we can make it happen. Smaller markets than us have. There’s no reason we can’t.
I hate to spill ink over something as ignorant as this, but I had to come back swinging eventually, so here goes.
Yesterday on twitter I let loose a series of tweets and decided, this morning to use them to test Storify.
What brought all this on? A lot of things. First, the virtual media blackout on the Title X issue of anything other than the most surface details. Quite honestly, I did more digging into that than the media did. This was a huge story that began back in February in the State legislture. Yet the details were summarily ignored with the exception of a few updates here and there and an editorial. For an issue that impacts our community this much, that’s just unacceptable.
I should say, it was ignored until there were 300 people at the County Commission meeting. Then it was an opportunity to drive their outrage quotient. They got their ratings, but they never really informed the public about any of the details of controversy. All this leads me to believe that the majority of the 4th estate in this city has taken a permanent vacation.
Then there was this ridiculous story about the city working to build a new website. Apparently the writer, or the editor decided that .04% of the total city budget for an enterprise website that will potentially require hundreds of people to be trained on and will provide a new, more navigable experience for people to better connect with their government is too much money. This “my 6th grader could do it” attitude is dumb.
I suggest that if WREG really wants to look at some big ticket items they expose how much of the budget toner cartridges and paper consume. How about pens and legal pads. Certainly employees should be able to bring their own. Or the overall printing budget of the city. We don’t need all those fancy forms in triplicate, right? We’ll just scratch them down on a cocktail napkin.
If the local media really wants to contribute to informing the people, they need to stop looking for the easy outrage and find one of the many REAL stories in this town to report. There’s plenty of REAL waste in the City and County government. There’s plenty of things to be suspect about. But all that’s too hard, and would require the reporters to have something more than a passing understanding of how government works, which ain’t gonna happen because no one thinks its important enough to be willing to pay for it.
So there ya go. If you’re ok with news reporting that is as substantial as Funyuns, then look no further than your local tabloid media outlet. If you want something a little more in depth, you’ll have to look really hard. Apparently the 4th estate is neither interested in investing in, nor do they see the need to, provide that to the people.
That’s sad, and it ultimately hurts our Democracy.
I’m not sure if there will be more public meetings on the development, or when the issue will come before the City Council, but I do know that Councilman Flinn said let the Council know how you feel about it, so you know what to do. Apparently so does Loeb because they put the email addresses right on their page.
This looks like a good deal to me, and something that will revitalize a once vibrant area. Not to mention the additional tax revenue. I like what I see so far, and will be telling my City Councilmen that.