Walking and Chewing Gum Is Too Hard for the Memphis City Council

City Council Attorney
Alan Wade
via Main Street Journal
If the Memphis City Council were conducting a survey on their strengths and weakensses, procrastination would be a huge strength, coordination would be a serious achilles heel.

Grasping the magnitude of the issues and realities facing the city would be a mixed bag between the members, some performing better than others, some not even registering.

Understanding the role of a legislative body befuddles between 5 and 6 members of the body, depending on the day, and executing those duties can be a difficult task for anyone, that’s just the God’s honest truth.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have high expectations of our local elected officials, despite the crappy pay, oversized districts, and disproportional racial balance of the City Council. All of these things could be changed if there were enough people in Memphis that paid attention to more than budget time. There aren’t, so they don’t change, and we can point fingers at them all we want, but we put them there. Shame on us.

We live in a world where all of us have more responsibility, are asked to do more with less, are asked to find creative solutions to complex problems. But for what ever reason, we don’t hold the Council to the same standard, and when we get the opportunity to, just once every four years, we fall back on name recognition and allow old divisions to drive our choices.

So it should come as no surprise that Memphis is contracting. It should come as no surprise that the City has less density, more blight, and more poverty than ever before. If the Memphis City Council can’t get it together, why would anyone think they can even begin to address the multitude of problems facing the City.

They can’t and they don’t… none of them, because none of them can do it alone. It takes 7 to get anything done, no matter how good or potentially disastrous, it takes 7. And until we get 7 people who can find their ass with both hands, we’re screwed.

So when the City Council, in the midst of a difficult budget year, is also tasked with redistricting itself, it’s no surprise they can’t seem to get it together to walk and chew gum. Just walking is hard enough, chewing gum is sometimes an impossibility.

And that’s where we’re at folks. The filing deadline is July 21st, and the absolute soonest anyone will know what the districts look like will be July 19th, just 2 days earlier.

When I spoke to the Council, last month, I tried to be measured and polite. I wanted them to know someone was watching. Most of all I didn’t want to come across as threatening because I don’t think that’s how you start, that’s where you end when all else fails.

It’s failed folks. It has failed. We could blame it on City Council Attorney Alan Wade, who is overburdened with more court business than just about any other single lawyer that isn’t hanging out trolling for clients at 201 Poplar, but he works for the City Council, and they can light a fire under him if they want to. They didn’t.

We could blame it on OPD who has been tasked with taking the census data and applying it to the City districts, but they didn’t get the data until two months after it was released. Saying they’re having trouble with it is a weak excuse in light of the delay.

But at the end of the day, not enough of us knew about it, or cared to know, or pushed, and so nothing happened. The City Council didn’t push for it, Alan Wade let it slide, then blamed someone else, and no one knows what district they’ll live in, much less run in, until it’s too late. Good times.

So despite what City Councilman Bill Boyd said, this will not be open, this will not be transparent, this is an incumbency protection program and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it but sue, which still won’t resolve the issue for now.

I’m upset about this, but not just because of the way it entrenches power and makes it harder for the electorate to check that power at the ballot box, but because this issue is endemic of all the problems the city faces. If the City Council as a body can’t get it together to address a simple administrative task, what can they do?

I’m still assessing what I’ll do, but I can tell you I’m not too jazzed about jumping into my first campaign as a candidate not knowing my district, or any potential opponents, or where to start on the ground game in a district with a minimum of 90,000 citizens. Just saying, that’s a lot of voter contact in a very short period of time.

One thing I do know is this Council is terribly dysfunctional, despite the huge turnover we experienced back in 2007. 9 new members were elected that year, the election as a whole gave us 4 maybe 5 keepers out of all 13 elected. That’s 38%, and that’s a huge part of the reason we’re in the situation we’re in as a city.

Until we get rid of some dead weight, and some entrenched power, nothing is going to change around here, and we’ll just keep subsidizing our demise by doing what we’ve always done.

Honestly, it’s sad.

PS: I’m hitting the City Council pretty hard, but this also applies to the County Commission, so guys, don’t think you’re any better, you’re not.

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