But first, some housekeeping. We now know what areas would be impacted by the bill, as seen in the image to the left.
We also know that the members of the Shelby County Delegation that are sponsoring the bill, include one member who could be directly impacted by it… Senator Reginald Tate who lives in Southwind.
Finally, the cost of de-annexing all the areas brought into the city since May of 1998? It could be as much as 10% of the current city tax revenue. I can guarantee, the City won’t let that go without a fight.
See, de-annexation is a breaking of a partnership…a divorce, if you will, or perhaps better yet, a splitting off of a business unit, ala what HP did recently.
But its much more than just the splitting. There are assets and liabilities to be divided. There are lawyers to be paid. Make no mistake about it, de-annexation will be more than a referendum, it will be a heavily litigated split that makes Kramer vs Kramer look like Love Story.
In this post I’ll explore more of why Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says the idea of de-annexation may be more of a false hope than a real solution for the people who feel aggrieved by their annexation…which in some cases, happened nearly two decades ago.
Section 5a(1) of the amendment that makes the bill says the following:
SECTION 5. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 6-51-204(a), is amended by deleting the subsection and substituting instead:
(1) Except for responsibility for general obligation debt issued during the
annexed period, all municipal jurisdiction shall cease over the territory excluded from the municipality’s corporate limits on the date of certification of the results of the election. The municipality may continue to levy and collect taxes on property in the excluded territory to pay the excluded territory’s proportion of general obligation debt issued during the annexed period.
What this means is, any debt issued by the City of Memphis for any purpose in the ‘de-annexed’ area would have to be paid proportionally by the departing residents of said area.
That debt could have paid for parks, streets, streetlights, police and fire houses, and any of a number of other things.
So even after an area chooses to ‘de-annex’ they will still be liable, and can still be taxed for covering the debt for the benefits they received while inside the city limits.
But those benefits don’t live there on their own, they come with other costs.
Police and Fire houses mean specialized equipment and the hiring of more personnel. By removing part of the area these men and women were hired to protect and serve, the City may find they need fewer of them, which could mean layoffs.
Conversely, the County could decide to contract with the City to provide police and fire, and then assess a special use tax on the former residents to cover the difference of their decision to leave an area that had services already budgeted.
Further, there are other costs associated with the hiring of personnel…namely pension, healthcare, and OPEB. While the bill specifically spells out that the folks leaving the City would be responsible for the debt, nothing is mentioned about other costs associated with being a city in an area. So we’d most likely have to litigate whether or not the folks in the de-annexed area would be responsible for their proportion of these long-term costs.
Gets complicated doesn’t it?
While the City will lose tax base and population, the County will gain more responsibility in a de-annexation.
As I mentioned before, the County, now responsible for providing services to these newly de-annexed areas, will have to tool up to provide services. That means perhaps buying City of Memphis assets, like Fire and Police stations. Don’t think that gets you out of your proportion of debt, because the way bonds work, they might have to be held to a predetermined date (maturity or call) and that date could be a long way away, since the city has done a good job of refunding (refinancing) a lot of its debt and taking advantage of low interest rates.
The County, which is also strapped for cash much like the city is (though you’d never know it from the media) would have to pay for this some way some how. And that would mean a tax hike, likely for everyone in Shelby County.So newly de-annexed area, you get the joy of several things:
1. Paying your part of the debt for a city you’re no longer a part of.
2. Paying a higher County Property tax rate because now the County has to provide more services.
3. Being responsible for everyone else in the County having a higher County tax rate.
These are innocent bystanders who pay their taxes and go about their own business…now strapped with the cost of your selfishness.
I can tell you, we won’t be happy with you.
Way to go Private Pyle.
When I first saw this floated in the Commercial Appeal I cried alabaster Schadenfreude tears that tasted like the sweet nectar of sweat from Odin’s furrowed brow.
For all your efforts to separate yourselves from Memphis, you could be stuck with us anyway.
That’s right folks, you get us anyway, and all of these valuable prizes:
• The spending of time and money organizing for a ballot initiative,
• The ruinous tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on attorney’s fees,
• The taxes for a City you no longer belong to,
• The new taxes for a County that thinks you’re a selfish dick because now everyone’s taxes are higher to pay for your services.
All of these prizes could be all for naught, if you break the City of Memphis. Because that could set into motion a scenario where the County becomes effectively consolidated (not a metro government) and the whole damn thing falls apart at the seams.
Actions have consequences. De-annexation is not something to throw around like a tennis ball…its a grenade that can hurt everyone in the process.To his credit, Mayor Strickland has said that he’s open to a discussion about decreasing the footprint of the city. I think that’s a pretty brave position to stake out considering the fiscal challenges that face us, and the generally nasty taste that a ‘shrinking city’ leaves in the mouths of people.
There is a way to do this. Just like there’s a way to have a divorce where the kids don’t suffer, and there’s a way to split up a business that ultimately adds value for the shareholders.
This bill ain’t that. Its ill conceived, and based on a personal beef the two primary sponsors of the bill have with a former Mayor in Hamilton County.
Perhaps theres another way. A way where we could avoid all this by starting a discussion instead of (spoiler alert) ending up on the floor, shattered, like the Roses.
Just a thought.
That’s not to say their disdain for Memphis has diminished any, just that they’ve been too busy fighting the United Nations, Affordable healthcare, and and closing down rural hospitals as a result, and fighting for the right to dump pig shit in rivers and streams.
In short, its been the same as it ever was up on the Hill in Nashville. They’ve mostly left us alone…too busy posturing to propose something truly ruinous, and with just enough sane people to keep that really bad legislation from getting too far or being too effective.
Its kinda like free range parenting…keep ’em off the highway and out of the bear traps and most everything else will work itself out.
In all seriousness, our General Assembly consistently does stupid stuff. So much, that there’s no way I could keep up with all of it. And if I did, I’d be so depressed about the state of our state, I’d need to open a hospital to deal with it.
The De-Annexation bill, or as I like to call it, the “Safe Haven from Majority Minority Cities Act”, or the “Those folks who moved to DeSoto County had it right act”, or best still the “We’ve been in the City for nearly 20 years, but we’re still racists and still want to leave ASAP bill”, would create a way for people who don’t like the city they live in to leave it, without having to go to all the trouble of moving (certain restrictions apply).
No matter what you call it, this bill is designed to purposefully kick Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knockville in the dainty bits.
Carter and Watson also helped pass the 2014 bill that basically made it impossible for a city to annex an area without approval of a majority of the people to be annexed.
This is their crusade…a crusade that began a long time ago, but seems to be centered around the tenure of former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, though there’s probably more to it that neither you nor I actually care about.
The bill sets the arbitrary date of May 1, 1998 as the deadline for people wanting to leave their city without actually leaving. Why is that? I dunno. I guess they thought going all the way back to the 70’s…the 1870’s was just too far.
While this seems to be centered around something particular to Chattanooga, it also has an impact here in Memphis. As you can see from the map above, there are areas that would have the right to vote themselves out of the city if this bill passes. And some of those areas are the home to some big time commercial real estate. Losing them would hurt the city both in property tax and sales tax collection.
So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Mayor Strickland is worried about this. Its a legitimate concern…but one that’s largely out of his hands.
The best case scenario is that this bill quietly dies, like it did last year. But that’s not a sure thing.
What this bill does is make it hard for cities like Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and strangely enough tiny Connersville, TN to have any say in their destiny. Much like the strict forced annexation law of 2014, this bill would make it impossible for cities to plan for the future. Any area covered under the legislation could spend years organizing to leave a city, despite services being delivered, then with one stroke, go their own way, regardless of the investment the city put into the area.
One of the things that came out of the Commercial Appeal article is the statement made by Mayor Strickland that he’s ‘open to the discussion of shrinking the footprint of Memphis.’
This isn’t a new idea. Its something that the Wharton Administration considered, though no one knows how seriously. And its something Smart City Memphis blog has openly discussed.
The area that makes up the Memphis City Limits is enormous. The size of Memphis has grown exponentially since the 1990’s with no real increase in population, which leads to a net decrease in population density. That means it takes more dollars per person to provide the service that a city needs to deliver…which in turn, contributes to higher property tax rates.
The argument goes, that by de-annexing some parts of the city, we could reduce our cost per square mile, and by extension, reduce our tax burden. I’m not saying this is an argument I completely buy, but its one that’s been put out there. I still haven’t seen hard data that supports these claims, just theories.
Personally, I’d rather focus on making those areas that aren’t that ‘productive’ in terms of revenue, more productive so they’re less of a drag on city resources (this would also mean the people living in these areas would have better jobs, which is something Memphis desperately needs). But that’s not something that happens over night. It takes a lot of time and planning…which is not our forte around here.
As for the bill, its in Calendar and Rules in both the House and the Senate, which is the final step before being moved to the floor. We’ll just have to see if the bill moves from there. Considering how opaque the General Assembly is on what gets out of Calendar, we might not know about it until the last second.
But I don’t want to get into the specifics of the issue. I think others have captured what’s going on there better, and with more detail than I could.
The events of last Tuesday set off a lot of complicated thoughts that have lingered in the background of my mind for some time. Those thoughts were stirred up by the following two Facebook posts. One, from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, posted just minutes after the City Council’s action:
And this reaction from friend and local organizer, Brad Watkins:
For a week now, I’ve been thinking about these two statements, and what they mean for Memphis. And for a week, these thoughts have been disorganized and jumbled like the sounds of an orchestra warming up before a performance…with moments of clarity, like a melody that sings over the noise of the musicians for a moment, then is overtaken in a wave of disorganized dissonance.
That dissonance became more quiet after reading this article: Memphis Burning: Housing and Inequality.
There’s a lot to unpack in the article, but through it all there’s a consistent theme:
That in Memphis, political power is used as a blunt object to defend the powerful few, rather than a positive transformative power to lift up the many.
Last Tuesday’s Kabuki Theater serves as a prime reminder to Memphians that if you’re a well placed individual or group, like the people serving on the Zoo board, you can get the City Council to act swiftly and decisively on your behalf.
If, however, you are not, you can expect little more than words. Which is all the 300 families soon displaced from the Warren and Tulane Apartments, received on that same night.
With all that said, not everything is all gloom and doom. The passage of the resolution gifting the Greensward to the Zoo has ignited more interest from the people who live in the area…working to spare the space from the indignity of becoming a parking lot. One can only hope the fire doesn’t diminish over the coming months, as winter turns to spring and summer…and the continuing crush of cars descend on the zoo, complete with a new attraction, but with no corresponding infrastructure to deal with the additional visitors.
And hope springs eternal as the City waits, with baited breath, for the Mayor to release some sort of plan addressing the “crime, blight, litter, creating jobs, minority and women-owned business development, and the significant financial issues in front of us” for “hipster activists” to coalesce around.
In his defense, Mayor Strickland is on board with a short-term plan to revamp public transportation, though the impact of those changes to actual riders isn’t currently known. We’ll have to wait and see if the concerns of actual bus riders are dismissed as freely as the supporters of the Greensward were.
Over the past 12 years I’ve watched as citizens who show a little too much interest in local affairs have been derided. Hell, I’ve been one of those derided citizens. We’ve been dismissed, by both the powers that be and the media. We’re characterized as malcontents trying to sow dissent, and we all know, in Memphis dissent is something to be violently squashed.
Our politicians hate dissent so much the City Council wanted to do away with public comments a few weeks ago because they couldn’t take the heat of being public officials.
And dissent is messy. Too messy or the local media to report on regularly…even though its a fixture of local politics everywhere. I mean, its hard to drill down a story to a 45 second VOSOT or a 200 word bullet point when you’ve got to tell both sides of the story…with more detail than a he said/she said.
And when the reporters don’t even understand the basic civics of the area, all that noise of people with good intentions makes it too hard. Better to talk about demonic weaves than…you know, real shit.
And consequences? What consequences? I mean, this one elected official said it would be good… isn’t that enough?
So while the city faces the loss of 300 low income housing units with the closing of the Warren and Tulane Apartments, there are still plans to demolish 900 more when Foote Homes comes down, with no idea of where those people will land, and no chance of even trying to ensure that where they land will be more suitable than what they have now.
I’ve only seen one person talking about that, and it ain’t a politician or any person in the media.
We just don’t plan for those things, much less report on them, or hear from people who don’t wear $1000 suits. I mean, what about the developers feelings?
And so the people most impacted by these decisions, the working poor, are an afterthought in Memphis. A group to be blamed for not Horatio Algier-ing themselves into success while carrying the crush of history that is both summarily ignored and dismissed from our fair leaders.
In the end, I keep going back to one passage in that Memphis Burning piece:
To this day, many believe that King’s death coincided with the death of Memphis, that it marked the beginning of a half century of decline. It’s a convenient notion, but it doesn’t ring true. The assassination merely punctuated events set in motion decades earlier, when Boss Crump suppressed Bob Church’s dream of social equality and economic justice.
And every time I read it, I think about our elected leaders in Shelby County, and I laugh a little. Because who, of those people, have the stones to really talk about social equality and economic justice with any authority, credibility and political ability to get any of it done? Who is going to be the point-person that gets the City Council, County Commission and the County School board on board with social equality and economic justice?
No one…that’s who.
Its not funny, its comically tragic.
Because when it comes down to brass tacks…social equality and economic justice will always be framed as too financially expensive…when in reality, we’re going broke trying to ensure it doesn’t happen.
The truth is, social equality and economic justice are too politically expensive for our political leaders to bear.
And while what happened last week with the Zoo resolution may not be the ‘social equality and economic justice’ issue of our time. You can bet your ass that anyone who advocates for such policies will be dispatched, derided and dismissed with as much, if not more haste than the folks standing up for the Greensward.
Because, as Boss Crump says, “This is Memphis”, and that kind of justice ain’t how we do things around here.
At the time, people didn’t see it that way. So many were ready to lash out after the stunning events a few days earlier, that it became a rallying cry of sorts… A call to patriotism to avenge the deaths of so many innocents.
In our fevered state, perhaps we can be excused for missing that we were being presented with a false dilemma. That dissent, in and of itself, is not unpatriotic, and didn’t necessarily mean the dissenters were turning their backs on the events just 9 days before.
But it was powerful language that launched our nation into a decade and a half of war. War in a failed state that never recovered from Soviet occupation in the 1980’s. War in a dictatorship that, while horrific, served as a hedge against Iranian aspirations. War that left untold thousands of our sons and daughters scarred physically and emotionally. War that left two nations in shambles, and with little expertise or experience in putting themselves back together.
The first 8 years of this millennium were devastating for the world, and set in motion a series of events that we, the people of this nation, of this 3rd rock from the sun, are still recovering from.
Its important that we remember this. That no matter how we feel about the past 7 years; the challenges, the personal loss, the pain we’ve endured… they never would have turned out this way without the 8 years before them.
I think about all of this, as the man who was President for those 8 destructive years plans to begin campaigning for his brother, a brother who seeks to continue this legacy.
If this primary has reinforced anything in my thinking, it is that we Democrats are not immune from pushing a false binary such as the many George W. Bush was gifted at presenting to the American people.
The entirety of the GOP platform, including all the sideshows, are predicated on this false binary.
It must be one, or the other.
If you speak out against one, you must be for the other.
There is no third, or any of a litany of other options.
You cannot like both. You must choose, and fight to the death for that choice, no matter how strongly you feel one way or the other.
But this is not a Cold War drama. This is not Game of Thrones. This is how we see our world…as an either/or.
Are we really this short sighted?
Several years ago (long enough that I don’t even remember when), I wrote something criticizing a Democratic politician. I’m sure I was disappointed with a vote, or something stupid they said, or some other type thing.
Hours, maybe even days later, I was presented with a series of emails and phone calls asking me why I was attacking ‘our side’? Had I changed my mind? Why not train your anger at the people who would never agree with you?
My belief was questioned. My resolve was belittled. My understanding of the ‘situation here in XXX’ was dismissed.
In one stroke, I had been relegated to a place, in the minds of the people who called me, where years of boosterism, donations, and toil were diminished because I dared do the one thing that politicians, as a general statement, can’t bear…question them.
I may not remember what it was about, but I remember how I felt…It was disheartening.So earlier this week, when I saw that Ta-Nehisi Coates was voting for Bernie Sanders despite a quite public disagreement with the Senator on reparations I felt like maybe something would start to change.
It reminded me that we don’t have to follow blindly. That we can have differences and still support each other.
It reminded me that, even in our world of drilling things down to the lowest common denominator, we can admire someone we don’t completely 100 percent agree with. We can support the greater good, even if that good isn’t as great as we’d like it to be, or as we imagine it could be.
Mostly, it reminded me that we are all different, and have different priorities. We see the world in different ways, and visualize different paths to often similar goals. It reminded me that we don’t have to resort to mindless rigidity to show support. That dissent is a tool to change what we don’t like so we can hopefully, get more of what we do like.
Democrats, as we continue through this nominating process, we need to remember what the real goal is. Its not burning down Bernie, or hollowing our Hillary. Both have more similarities than differences.
We must continue to rebuild what was nearly lost in the first 8 years of this century.
We must fight for justice: in our economy, our opportunities, and our courts.
We must stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
We must honor the sacrifice of those who gave themselves in the service of our country, and whose sacrifice has too often been forgotten when the photographers leave.
We must rebuild what has been destroyed or left to decay, from our institutions and infrastructure to our communities to ensure we all can be safe and live and grow freely.
These are just some of the prizes we must keep our eye on as we continue over the coming months.
These are things that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders want to do, each in their own way.
We can personally choose one way as preferable to the other without vilifying or demeaning the other. The truth is, we don’t know which one will work better. We can never know.
But we can pick a side without destroying the other.
In fact, we’re duty bound to do just that. Because the other side will stop at nothing to make sure neither wins in November.
Come the convention, there will be a winner and a loser. Its my hope that in our fever to select our preferred candidate, we don’t destroy the one left to stand up for us in the fall.
It doesn’t have to be ‘With us, or against us”, because Democrats, we’re all the same ‘us’.
That’s a pretty big accomplishment for a campaign that was declared ‘too radical’ just a few months ago.
And while I know that New Hampshire isn’t exactly ‘reflective of American diversity’ as so many Clinton supporters have pointed out in the past 24 hours, and that it’s right next door to Vermont, its still a big win for a campaign that has eschewed some of the more unsavory elements of national campaigning.
So kudos to Team Sanders. You’re 10 days from the Nevada Caucus, 17 days from South Carolina, and 20 days from Super Tuesday, which will be a real hard test of the mettle of the campaign.
The past week has featured a lot of bullshit in the media…concerning both the Clinton and the Sanders camps. Story after story from the punditocracy, a term I first heard from media critic, Eric Alterman about the Sanders electability gap and trouble in the Clinton Camp.
Remember people, its early. Two states have voted.
Media folks, for profit bloggers, and commentators aren’t necessarily in the game for altruistic reasons. They make money peddling this stuff, and the more money they make, the more likely they are to keep their job.
I’m not saying all the commentariat is full of shit, but there’s a lot of brown eyeballs out there who are writing for the specific purpose of revving up the perpetual outrage machine.
Outrage, after all, is the currency of the digital age.
Lets get serious, and talk about something that’s related to the Presidential contest, but that’s not about the top two Democratic contenders.Democrats need to flip 30 seats in the US House and 4 seats in the Senate to really get anything done.
As sexy as Presidential politics are, without more Democrats on the Hill in Washington, any Democratic President will be hamstrung by Congress, and that includes potentially nominating 4 justices on the US Supreme Court.
Iowa only has 1 Democrat in its delegation to Washington. 1 of 6. This year, 5 of those six seats are up for grabs, including one Senate seat against longtime Senator Chuck Grassley.
For either Democratic Presidential candidate to be successful if they’re elected, they’ll need more than 1 from Iowa.
New Hampshire has 4 members of Congress, 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans (One of each in each house of Congress). First term Senator Kelly Ayotte is up for re-election this time around. Nabbing that seat will be crucial for any Democratic president in the coming years.
My point. The President isn’t king (or queen as the case may be). They need people that will help their agenda get through the legislative branch. That has been the single biggest issue President Obama has faced since 2010. No real progress will be made without gaining seats in the House, winning the Senate, and making gains in state legislative races (which I’ll talk about in another post).
So while its sexy to talk about the Presidential race, as the primary contests continue, folks who have had their time in the voting booth need to either follow their respective campaigns on to other states, or look for a local candidate that will be running for House, Senate, State Legislature, or Governor. Because that’s where Democrats have been getting their asses kicked since 2010.
Regardless of who wins the nomination, or the upcoming Presidential primaries, its going to be critically important that those volunteers from the Clinton and Sanders camps refocus their energies to those local races…helping them get the word out about the candidates, and using their experience to propel them to Washington.
You don’t have to completely abandon the Presidential contests, but you should try to make contact with the people running for these seats, and get involved in some way, if you really want to change the country.
Because neither Hillary or Bernie can do it by themselves. They need a team. And the people who would be on that team, need a team too.
The most discouraging thing I see every four years is a huge base of volunteers that show up for the Presidential contests, who then disappear for four years, which leaves us high and dry in the off years.
Democrats can have the whole pie if we decide to focus on it, rather than just the prettiest piece.
So, you want to be a candidate for US Senate, US House, your State Legislature, or some other political subdivision? Here’s some free advice. Pay attention to the activists in the party (from both the Clinton and Sanders camps).
You’re going to need these people. They are plugged in and want to change the country.
But its not on them to find you (even though I just told them to). Its on you to find them.
That means you have to have a message that will draw them to you (you know, not some bullshit political speak). And you have to build a machine to identify them, and keep them when they come.
You may not have the ‘fuck it, I’m saying what I want’ charisma that Sanders has, or the political instincts and connections the Clintons have, but by virtue of being the nominee, you have a voice.
Don’t hide your campaign away until Labor Day then expect people to give a fuck about you when the Presidential campaign really heats up. Get ’em now, while they’re hot.
Go meet with leaders of the Sanders and Clinton camps in your district before the primary. Make contact. It doesn’t matter who you’re voting for.
Talk to them about your vision for the country, and the people you are serving, or hope to serve.
Listen to them about their concerns, and what’s important to them. You will win more hearts by listening (the hardest thing for a politician to do ever), showing empathy, and talking about how you will support the candidates proposals.
You don’t have to be on board with the gory details of every idea, but don’t hedge…be authentic. People respect that more than base pandering…which is the currency of too many politicians.
Then go back to your team and use this intel in a way that will bring some of this energy to your campaign. Because the way so many contests are stacked against Democrats, you’re going to need all the help you can get.
But do it now. Campaigns are about people, money and time, and you can get more people and money, but time is against you. Use all of it wisely.
As I said in my last post, we’ve got two strong candidates that are building strong networks of volunteers. They’re not spouting the crazy that has been the currency of the GOP candidates. They’re both offering real solutions, in their own ways.
If you want those solutions to have a chance of coming to fruition, you have to be willing to work for it. That work begins with these primaries, continues with the local elections, and, quite frankly, never ends. Even after you get a Democratic President, and majorities in the House and Senate, you’re still going to have to work your ass off to get the things done you want done.
Elections aren’t the end of the political cycle, they’re the beginning.
Its a reality Democrats forget about every time.
If we, as Democrats, both Clinton and Sanders supporters, are really going to make it “Alright”, we have to focus our energies on the things that will move the ball forward, and not fall into a circular firing squad, or worse, become the thing we’re fighting against.