New City Councilman Jim Strickland recently learned a key lesson about local government – many elected officials essentially see government as a jobs program.

On its face, Councilman Strickland’s proposal to allow emergency workers to be drawn from a 100-mile radius of Memphis made perfect sense. After all, we’re already lowering educational credentials in hopes of finding candidates for police jobs.

Somehow, it’s hard to imagine that taxpayers don’t really prefer to lie in bed at night feeling safe, rather than to lie in bed at night with the secure feeling that only Shelby County residents are patrolling the streets. Unfortunately, despite the obvious logic of his proposal, Councilman Strickland could only coax one additional vote to support his change.

That’s too bad, because in painting itself into a corner, Memphis City Council are guilty of putting political interests ahead of public safety. However, while many observers saw it as a city versus suburbs issue or a white versus black issue, it was in truth more of an economic issue.

That’s why change is resisted so vehemently, not only in City Hall but in other places like Memphis City Schools. It is these government jobs that anchor the black middle class in Memphis. At a time when African-Americans could find little openings in the private sector, it was the public sector that provided the pathway to decent jobs, as shown by the fact that almost two out of three employees of county government are African-American.

As a result, any suggestions that can attack the stability of these jobs are always met with fierce resistance. As a result, any discussion about reducing residency requirements need to start with this in mind.