Why Now – Metro Government Resolution

One of the biggest questions asked about the Metro Charter Resolution is Why Now?

To be honest with you, I don’t have an answer, but there do seem to be a set of circumstances and realities that make the possibility of creating Metro Government more likely.

Public Opinion

Just days before the 2007 City election, a poll was released that showed 55% of City residents favored some form of “Consolidation”. The poll, sponsored by Fox 13 and carried out by Rasmussen had a MOE of 4.5% and was the most accurate poll of the election (actual election results were nearly within the MOE).

So, taking the MOE into account, back in late 2007 somewhere between 50% and 59% of Memphians were in favor of “Consolidation”. That’s not a huge margin of victory, but only 35% were against, and 15% were not sure, making the “swing vote” very favorable for passage in the City.

The Listening tour

There have been conflicting reports on the results of the listening tour, but that’s to be expected. 15 events, all over the County are going to net at least 2 opinions of success or failure per event, if not more. Obviously, someone thought, taking all 15 events into consideration, that there was enough support to make a go of it.

A Shift in leadership

The departure of former Mayor Herenton may have been a signal to many that the time was now. Herenton was a long-time supporter of “consolidation”, though many of his ideas about how it could, should, or would be done were unsaid. However, Hereton was also a galvanizing figure against “consolidation” to many, particularly in the County. His heavy handed style just exacerbated that situation. His exit from the Memphis Mayor’s office likely played a role, though was most certainly not the deciding factor.

Timing

I wrote about this three weeks ago. The provisions in Tennessee law concerning the formation of a Metro government provide for a special election. This, of course, assumes that there is no actual election scheduled. Based on the timeline provided in the resolution, we would be voting on this measure in the November 2010 election. This is a good thing. Thanks to the Gubernatorial race turnout will likely be high. This creates an opportunity to accurately hear the citizens of Memphis and Shelby Co. I’m not sure if the 1962 and 1971 referenda were part of a special or general election, but after some 38 years, it’s about time we hear the voice of the people on this issue.

Stop the Bleeding

As I noted in this post from May, the Western Division is contracting as a percentage of the entire population of Tennessee. Based on 2008 Census estimates, Shelby County has gained just 8000 people since 2000. Davidson, on the other hand, has seen an increase of 55,000 in the same time frame. In fact, Middle Tennessee and East Tennessee are responsible for 95% of the population growth in Tennessee.

There are more reasons than I can list that contribute to this condition. Slow income growth, widespread economic stagnation, and societal problems that ultimately affect the entirety of the population are just a few.

It can be argued that a single government solution in Shelby Co. may not be able to address these issues any better than our two government solution currently does. While this may be true, that argument acknowledges that the current arrangement also isn’t working. By uniting the two largest governments in Shelby Co., we eliminate an excuse for inaction and create an opportunity to deal with these issues as a community and a single government with one voice.

Achieving our Potential

In a piece from 2007 that I somehow managed to both forget, and never posted, I found that Shelby Co.

…has a GDP larger than 12 states in the US and 123 countries in the world. With an estimated 911,438 people living in Shelby County, we have a larger population than 6 states and D.C.(Source). With numbers like that, it’s time we started governing Shelby county the right way, like a state within a state instead of a city trapped in a 1960’s era arrangement.

Since then, the numbers have likely shifted a bit, but the message is the same. The totality of Shelby Co. is, both in population and economic activity, greater than, or equal to several states. Unifying the two largest governments in Shelby Co. gives us the opportunity to speak with one voice to ensure that our metropolitan area not only maintains, but builds upon these numbers.

Conclusion

So the question remains, “Why now?” As Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery said in Executive Session on Tuesday, “Why NOT now?”. The stars will never be aligned perfectly, there will always be an excuse to put this off, but looking at the conditions surrounding a broad range of issues, now is as good a time as ever.

Like I said before, regardless of whether this is ultimately successful or not, we DO need to have a frank and actionable discussion about local government. We’d just as well start that discussion now.

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