aIt was one of those weeks that just wears on our souls.
That’s why we’re hoping that things will be better this week. It would almost have to be.
There was the expected: approval by the gun nuts in the Tennessee Legislature responding to the burning need for people to carry firearms into restaurants. There was the customary: more pandering by Tennessee Rep. Brian Kelsey, who this time proposed a bill to condemn socialism and to urge Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to turn down economic stimulus funds.
We can only assume that he sent back the economic stimulus payment that he received last year from the Bush Administration, but it’s no surprise that he had no complaints in the days when his party’s president oversaw the largest expansion of the national debt and government employment.
All of a sudden, he’s religiously taking up the right wing talking points, summoning up the specter of socialism although average Americans are in crisis and unbridled capitalism has concentrated wealth among the top five percent of our people and pushed our national economy to the brink of disaster.
It was the same sort of closed mindedness and sloganeering that was on display with the Tea Party in Audubon Park and in the meeting of the town mayors with the editorial board of The Commercial Appeal.
Both had a vein of racial prejudice running through comments by some of the participants. At the tea party, it was on vivid display as some people clearly saw the purpose of the event as attacking Barack Obama for alleged policy differences when the real crime was that he was a black man in the White House.
Surely, no one in their right mind condones photos of President Obama morphed with photos of Adolph Hitler or signs that demonize him as the devil, a terrorist or the anti-Christ. But the fact that tea partiers weren’t offended by such hate-propelled vitriol says volumes about the real intent of the event.
Closing Their Wallets After Closing Their Minds
Clearly, the group lacked historical accuracy – not to mention context. Otherwise, a sign saying “Bring Back Reaganism” would have triggered laughter. These are the people who now react to a term like “distributing the wealth” by an improved tax code as a sin, but they have no qualms about the fact that Saint Ronald oversaw the greatest redistribution of wealth (to the wealthy and very wealthy) in the history of the nation.
We’re still waiting for the trickle down, but that era gave us the “if we don’t regulate business or tax rich people as much, they will take care of the rest of us” government policy that remained in place long after it was shown that the incomes of middle income families were not growing.
Then, last week ended with the town mayors’ Greek chorus about the evils of consolidated government. The cast has changed over the last 30 years, but the words never do. Because of it, the mayors seem unfamiliar with the fact that of all options for the future, there’s not one that says “things will stay the same.”
New Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner is the latest to drink the Kool-aid, asking: “Why would we support it?” Of course, there is no “it” at this point since there is no proposed charter for a new government, but more to the point, if the mayors could clear the rhetorical cobwebs from their minds, they’d see that the question is actually, “Why would we not support a new government?”
As we have been saying for two and a half years (and now say to clients), the mayors would do well to set aside the kneejerk reactions that serve their cities so poorly now and consider what the future will be if nothing changes. In the not-too-distant future, government in Memphis and Shelby County will look nothing like it does today. And it will happen with or without city and county governments merging.
Voters outside Memphis who reflexively oppose the merger of Memphis and Shelby County governments haven’t grasped the realities of this brave new world. If they had, they might decide they prefer consolidation to the government behemoth that Memphis will become when it’s fully annexed out.
When Memphis completes the annexation agreements that they towns signed with it, 65 percent of Shelby County will be inside Memphis. That’s almost 50 percent larger than today and about the same land area as the city of Los Angeles.
The fixed order will be transformed, and smaller cities will find that their future is no longer defined by their relationship with Shelby County, but with Memphis. It will overshadow and drive the futures of all the other cities. Meanwhile, Shelby County government will morph from a major force in our community to a government more like rural counties that deliver little more than schools, jails and justice, and public health.
The First Casualty: Facts
In that future world of massive Memphis, the town mayors will be spectators on the outside looking in. That’s what makes all the mayors’ comments so off the mark, such as the notion that if there is a new metropolitan government, the towns would have less representation and the cost of some services would be shifted to their citizens.
We hope that Lakeland City Manager Robert Wherry’s math is better when he’s drawing up his town’s budget. He said that if a new government is created, the area outside Memphis would only have one representative on the new government’s legislative body.
First off, the towns are legally assured of proportional representation, and if the structure of a new county legislative body goes the way that they have in most places where the major city and county governments unified, the legislative body here will be expanded, which would in fact allow for most of the towns to have their own individual legislators.
As for so-called city services being moved to the county tax base, that is more likely now, and it can be done now with the agreement of the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.
Here’s the math: there’s 26 elected local legislators and the area outside Memphis has three of them. A new government would probably give the towns more than twice that many, which gives them the opportunity to fashion coalitions that don’t exist today.
It is curiously ironic – not to mention revealing – that the mayors seem to base their concerns about shifting the tax burden on the understanding that Memphians are paying more than their fair share as a result of paying twice for a variety of services.
Rather than urging an honest discussion about what is a municipal service and what is a county service, so all citizens are treated fairly, they simply want to make sure that this unfair burden and unlevel playing field continue.
It’s another Chicken Little impersonation by mayors who appear to have unthinkingly inherited this anti-consolidation fever from their predecessors (one of whom was related to one of us, by the way). What they should be doing now is stepping back, getting some facts and most important of all, creating some realistic scenarios of what the future could look like.
That’s what real leadership looks like. You just wouldn’t know it by the events of last week.