The double standard of Concerned Citizens of Shelby County is mind-boggling.
The organization founded by Germantown resident John Lunt in 2004 to demand a charter commission to review the Memphis city charter and correct a set of grievances that often seem more personality-driven than philosophically grounded.
Their explanations were often peppered with words like “abuse,” “arrogance” and “unchecked power.” They called for city government to be more efficient and they advocated provisions that purportedly would save city tax dollars.
Strange, but these days, the same people are standing foursquare against any proposal to remove the unnecessary and expensive county elected officials whose futures are threatened by a charter commission provision that could call for removal of the register, clerk, trustee, assessor and sheriff.
This time around, faced with costly duplication of services and the election of people who are at best department heads for county government, the Concerned Citizens of Shelby County are calling for the retention of these elected positions.
It seems to us that if they think this array of county elected department heads is such a good idea, they would have included in their catalog of city charter provisions a proposal to create an elected Memphis Treasurer, an elected keeper of public records and an elected director of Memphis Police Department.
We respect the efforts of Mr. Lunt to spark grassroots interest in the government that they pay for (we need more of it, not less), but on this one, we think his group sacrificed consistency on the altar of partisan politics and anti-Herenton passion.
As we have said before, if we’re serious about consolidation and the attendant cost savings, it should begin with consolidation within county government.
It’s seductive to see these elected officials as charming anachronisms of another age – back to the days of the ox road in medieval England. But there is actually additional costs that result from these extra elected offices.
The most graphic example was the money spent by an elected official in one of these minor offices for computer technology that would not even “talk” to the county mainframe. The elected official was convinced that he knew more about computers than the entire floor of technicians in the county building, and before he could be reined in, more than $1 million had been spent on redundant systems.
One elected official held up an online GIS system for years because that person disagreed with the administration’s position that it was public information and the public who paid for it in the first place should be able to access it at no charge. Instead, that elected officials plodded on with a plan to charge the public for this information and refused to share GIS information with other county departments, essentially keeping county government in the Internet backwaters.
We’ve said before that we think that the assessor should remain an independently elected official and perhaps the sheriff, but we’re hard-pressed to come up with any compelling reasons why we should pay the considerable costs of the elections for officials who supervisor a handful of employees and for the additional operating costs that come from the lack of centralized management.