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.
Over the past week I’ve written several posts about the contract to provide Family Planning services to individuals in Shelby County. The first post dealt with the political issues involved. The second post took a look at the services to be provided and inconsistencies in scoring based on the quantity of those services. Yesterday I pointed out concerns relating to the ability and/or willingness of one of the potential contractors to fulfill the requirements of the Title X program. Unfortunately, the County didn’t respond to my inquiry about who asked the questions that would lead one to believe they could not fulfill these requirements on the grounds of their “ethical beliefs”.
On Sunday, Wendi Thomas at the Commercial Appeal wrote an article about the issue, and brought up some additional concerns. In that article, she quoted a previous article where the founding physician of CCHC indicated they would not follow the letter of the regulation relating to referrals for pregnancy termination. From her article:
“We really try to provide women with other options and make sure they have those possibilities. And if they at the end still want a pregnancy termination, we know they know where to go,” Rick Donlon told The Commercial Appeal last month. (Source)
There’s one simple truth about receiving public money for a service:
“Play by the rules, or the money goes away.”
For something like Family Planning, the cost of the money going away is huge. The thousands of people served by these funds would be left abandoned without the benefit of these services. If they go away that means a whole lot of women will get pregnant, quite possibly at a time when they aren’t ready. The pressures that unwanted pregnancy will place on them, and the community at large, are huge. Quite honestly, we can’t afford to play games with this money.
I understand there are those in state and local government that have a problem with PPGMR, who has been providing the services for some time in this community. I wish they would acknowledge that those problems have little to do with the actual services that PPGMR renders with this money, and more to do with a service they provide that the money doesn’t touch. Remember, no Federal money can go for providing abortions according to the Hyde Amendment.
That said, Title X funds recipients are bound by the terms of their contract to refer women who ask to a place that does provide abortion. Saying “I think they know where to go” doesn’t fit with the demands the money places on the provider.
There’s another issue that I haven’t touched on, and that’s of staffing. PPGMR already has staff in place to serve people under this program. They’ve been doing it for years, so of course they do. CCHS doesn’t. They explicitly list that they will have to hire 7 people just to execute the contract (you can find this on p. 14-15 of their proposal). That’s a huge problem. How long will it take to get that staff in place and trained? What makes CCHS so much different from the Health Department, who initially refused the money for the very same reasons? Why does CCHS think they can ramp up services quickly enough to be an effective provider?
Another really important question on this same line is why isn’t this weakness in the CCHS proposal reflected in the scores given by the 6 member ad-hoc purchasing panel? The RFP itself expressly states that the personnel must be in place. Here’s the section from page 15 of the RFP:
That this weakness in the CCHS proposal isn’t reflected in the scores, nor addressed in any official statement from the Shelby County Government, raises many questions about the fairness of the process. This is something that all the evaluators need to account for, as it is listed as a requirement, not a goal.
On Wednesday at 9:45 am the Health and Hospitals Committee will take this issue up again. As of right now there’s 1 hour scheduled for the discussion, though I feel certain that it will last much longer than that. I hope that the Commissioners give the issues I’ve raised over the past several posts a serious look. The lives of thousands of people in Shelby County are depending on them to exercise their oversight over the Administration, and get real answers.
Considering the challenges we already have in Shelby County with poverty, infant mortality and teen pregnancy, it hardly seems like a time to politicize a process that will directly impact some of the most at risk individuals in our community.
We’ll see on Wednesday.
Thanks again for reading.
One of the things that has been largely absent from the ongoing discussion regarding the fate of education in Shelby County, as well as the rest of the nation for that matter, is the question, “How do we best educate our children for whatever the future may hold for them?”
Answering that question is really difficult. When I began my education, in a small Northeast Arkansas town in the late 1970′s, education consisted of “the three R’s” Reading, writing and arithmetic. That was the focus of everything we did. Through about 6th or 7th grade, as a general statement, the first 9 weeks of class consisted of review, and the last 27 was a slow slog through new material.
One thing I remember about my first 8 years of schooling was that I liked math a lot. In 5th grade I had a math teacher that basically said “The 5th grade curriculum is all review. We’ll finish this book this year, but you can go on ahead at your own pace if you want.” That year everyone completed the 5th grade book in a measured way. I and about 5 other students completed the 5th grade book, the 6th grade book, and made it about half-way through the 7th grade book…which began introducing Pre-Algebra concepts.
What I gained from that year in Mr. McKinney’s 5th grade class was a love of math that sticks with me to this day. That love carried me into an advanced math program after we moved to Little Rock in the mid-80′s and kept me in Math classes through my senior year in High School, even though I had finished all the graduation requirements.
In today’s highly structured educational climate, I don’t think any teacher would feel empowered enough to allow their students to take their own initiative to move ahead at their own pace. For that matter, considering all the additional paperwork and rules that have been passed down, largely unfunded, from Federal and State governments to school systems and teachers, I don’t think teachers have the time to create opportunities that encourage students to strike out on their own and accelerate their learning. Instead, we have relied on a testing regime so stringent and punitive that every student suffers from the rigidity of a system that is largely confined to teaching to a test, the standards of which, are largely arbitrary, and not at all reflective of the rapidly changing world these students will encounter once they leave High School.
The truth of the matter is, while there has been a large push for “educational reform” that reform has been mostly focused on reinforcing an educational system modeled after the manufacturing economy that rose from the industrial revolution. Even though that “manufacturing economy” is gone, and likely not coming back, the educational system designed to support it remains.
Last weekend, two articles caught my attention that focus on education. In one, Wendi Thomas looks at the current situation for local education and sees possibilities for the future. Those possibilities are only bounded by our ability to dream up new ways to think about education.
The other article was written by Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. In that article, Ball looks at the costs of our patchwork thinking regarding education reform. She also points out a reality, long ignored by both policy makers and the public, that creating a standard with no support, and expecting new outcomes is unrealistic. From the article:
What we need instead of a new war is a realistic action plan to build a system that can deliver good education to the 50 million school-age youth in this country. The Common Core Standards, which specify a set of learning goals in mathematics and English language arts, are an important first step. Armed with unprecedented agreement about what students should know and be able to do, we must now build usable resources to support the teaching that it will take to help all students reach those goals. Tests of students’ progress are needed, but to be useful, they must be geared to the actual curriculum. Useful tests must provide information not only for evaluation but also for instruction.
And we need a new system to equip the huge workforce of teachers in this country with the skills and knowledge needed to teach this curriculum effectively. Firing those who cannot do it, and hoping that the rest figure it out on the job — or just increasing salaries of those who do figure it out — will not make large numbers of teachers more effective.
What Ball points out in this snippet is something anyone who has looked for a job recently knows intuitively. We don’t live in the same world our parents did. While our society relies on credentials (High School Diplomas, College Degrees, Professional Associations, etc.) more and more those credentials don’t fit the needs of employers in our economy. Further, even if those credentials do fit the needs of some employers, those needs are shifting faster than our ability to shift credential requirements. In short, while we are experiencing some of the highest unemployment in decades, there are some jobs out there (not that many, but some), unfilled, because people lack the foundation to meet the needs of a new economy.
The same holds true for educators. In an environment where the educational needs are constantly shifting, and policy makers and politicians are imposing new regulations and expectations on those educators, doing so in a “sink or swim” environment ultimately does a disservice both to the professionals that have spent their lives in the service of education, and the children they’re seeking to educate.
It seems to me that, rather than focusing on some outmoded idea of “education” we need to be focusing on the concept of learning. By focusing on “education” we are, in effect, doing the same thing to our workforce as a whole that we’re doing to our teachers, telling them to “sink or swim”. As a result, more and more are sinking. The challenge for reformers is not just to teach kids how to swim, but how to thrive living a life in and around the water where the tides are not only constantly shifting, but completely unpredictable. To do this, our educators must be equipped with these skills, which also means we have to stop blaming them when they don’t have the skills we never before expected them to have in the first place.
What this requires is a shared sense of responsibility from all of us, in a world that’s more fragmented than ever before. What this should tell us is that a “standardized experience” in this fragmented world does a disservice to those who will eventually inherit it. Our emotional reflex is to double down on standardization when that standardized world no longer exists. We have to realize we can’t standardize our way through an uncertain future.
We have to equip our educational system for future uncertainty by focusing on constant learning and critical thinking skills. These critical thinking skills will better prepare our children in their lives going forward by giving them the tools to seek new learning opportunities to propel them forward, rather than resting on information that is either out of date or ill informed. We have to teach our children to be active learners rather than passive “instructees”. That can’t just come from schools or teachers, it has to come from all the social institutions we encounter.
In addition, parents have to accept that the world in which they received their education bears little resemblance to the world we live in now. Education today cannot mirror the experience of the 70′s or 80′s. The needs of our economy and our society have moved beyond the basic education that the system we were educated in provided.
This represents a massive shift in thinking for people, but it is a shift that is critical to the future of our nation and our world. By doing things the way we’ve always done them, with little tweaks here and there we’re no longer standing still, we’re falling behind. The sooner we can force ourselves ahead of the curve, the better we can individually and as a society, navigate the uncertain future that is ahead of us.
As creatures of habit, we are uniquely ill-suited for this task. It’s always easier to do what we’ve done and expect similar results. However, we don’t live in the world we once did, and those past results are an inadequate preparation for the future.
If we want our kids to be prepared for the future, we have to stop educating them for the past. Giving them the tools to continually learn and grow is the best preparation, and a good lesson we should take to heart for ourselves.
Just because the future is uncertain, that doesn’t mean we can’t be better prepared or equipped for uncertainty.