Metro Charter Commission Meeting – 12/03/09 – Updated (12/8/09)

Edited To Add: Added some links to the post and to the Resource Page

Last night the Memphis/Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission met for the third time.

As with any new board tasked with such a huge mandate, there are still some structural and organizational issues to be decided, as well as a lot of information gathering. Foremost among these was deciding when and how often to meet. Chairman Ellis proposed that beginning in January, the Commission would meet every other Thursday starting with January 7th. Four dates were approved in addition to that date; January 21st, February 4th and 18th. All meetings begin at 4pm. The next meeting is December 17th.

The actual location of the next meeting was also up for discussion. Several members expressed a desire to have the meetings streamed on either the City or County sites. The Large Mayor’s Conference room on the 8th floor of the County Administration building doesn’t have the equipment necessary to allow for live streaming. There was some discussion about moving the meetings to the City Executive Committee room, or the County Commission Committee room. It was decided to hold the next meeting at the Commission Committee Chamber to allow for streaming.

While this may seem like a fairly mundane conversation, I was glad to hear that several Commissioners were concerned about access to the meetings and the documents those meeting produce. This discussion also folded into a broader discussion of transparency, including the development of a web site for the public to access information. The web site is forthcoming, but until some of the technical issues are ironed out documents are available on request, you can also find many of them here. The documents on my site are hardly comprehensive, but I am working to make as many available as possible, particularly until the Commission’s site is completed.

Project Management was the next order of business on the agenda. Commission Secretary Lou Etta Burkins put together a preliminary planning document and gave a presentation to the Commission. In a previous post I discussed the timeline as mandated by the resolutions approved by the County Commission and City Council as well as Tennessee State Law in some detail. This document was more task oriented, and while it’s still a work in progress, it gave all in attendance an idea of the several issues that must be addressed as the Commission continues it’s work.

Edited to Add: At a previous meeting a Staff prepared timeline was also distributed.

From there, County Policy Advisor Kelly Rayne gave a brief presentation on the structures of the City and County Governments. While both have areas of overlapping functions, their structures are quite different. The County Government only has 6 divisions, though those divisions are quite deep in the services they provide. By contrast, the City Government is wide, with 14 divisions, even though only 5 are mandated by the City Charter (Article 8, starting on page 26). There was a great deal of discussion on how to best address areas of overlap in working to unite the two governments, and a detailed analysis of the subtasks of each division on the City and County side is forthcoming to help inform the Commissioners going forward. Other areas covered are the Courts and Constitutional officers, which are mandated or defined in State Law.

Defining the best method for unifying the functions of government alone is a Herculean task. In the coming weeks and months I expect that, in addition to consulting with division directors on both sides of Main St., the Commission will break down into several committees or task forces to focus on these issues and make recommendations to the full Commission.

Next on the agenda was a discussion of other consolidated cities. The four cities discussed were Nashville, Jacksonville, FL (1,2,3), Indianapolis, IN, and Lousiville, KY.

This was pretty interesting. Each Metro government, as well as the manner, timeframe, and circumstances under which they merged is unique. While all of them share many characteristics generally, the specifics are quite different. Legislative bodies range from 19 to 40 members, and the manner in which the seats are distributed (single member districts or at large) is different for each government. All of this, of course, spurred some interesting discussion.

Of the four cities, Marion Co./Indianapolis closest in total population. Louisville/Jefferson County, on the other hand, has a population of nearly 200,000 less, but shares some of the regional issues that Memphis has being near the border of another state (Indiana). What was most interesting to me was that while Nashville chose a Metro government the earliest and is the least populous of the four, it has the highest level of direct representation with 35 districts and 5 at large positions. For people, like myself, who are concerned with the level of direct representation that the proposed charter ultimately provides, this was of great interest to me. Knowing how other areas have done things, based on attitudes of the areas and the perception of needs is really intriguing. The biggest thing I took from this discussion is that there is no one right way to do any of this, though there are likely MANY wrong ways. I look forward to more discussion on this, and will be writing something about the makeup of the legislative branch of the proposed government in an upcoming post.

The last two items on the agenda included a presentation by Scott Sigman from the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce about consolidated cities and a discussion of Committees/task forces. Scott is a native of Indianapolis and had some interesting first hand information about the manner in which the consolidation of city and county functions occurred there in 1970. I hope to have an electronic copy of his presentation up later on today.

The committee discussion revolved around setting up five areas of concentration, however, I haven’t had time to really review this yet. I’ll update this post once I have more time.

All in all, while the meeting was a bit on the dry side, it was interesting. It was encouraging to see just how engaged and committed the members of the Commission are in the process. Also the broad depth of perceptions is going to make for some lively discussions in the future.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the day as time permits. Also, don’t forget to visit my resource page which I will also be updating as documents become available.

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