Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Merger Mania Needs To Give Way To Reality Check

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 consolidation.

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.

Tiny Towns

When Memphis completely executes the annexation agreements reached in the wake of the “tiny town” controversy of the late 1990’s, 65 percent of Shelby County will be inside Memphis, which will be almost 50 percent larger than today (about the same land area as the city of Los Angeles).

The fixed order will be transformed, and smaller cities will find that their futures will no longer be defined by their relationships with Shelby County. Rather, it will be with Memphis.

Memphis will overshadow and drive the futures of all the other cities in Shelby County even more directly than now. 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.


Outside Memphis, only annexation provokes more enmity than consolidation. It was a similar anti-annexation attitude that led to Nashville’s successful consolidation 46 years ago. Faced with the choice of consolidating governments or being annexed by Nashville, voters in Davidson County opted for the merger.

But there was something else. The consolidation vote in Nashville became a referendum on who voters had the most confidence in – the county executive or the city mayor. In the end, it was Davidson County Judge Beverly Briley, a staunch consolidation advocate, who won the vote of confidence and became the first mayor of the new consolidated government.

That too offers a useful lesson for consolidation proponents here.

A Change Is Gonna Come

If consolidation passed here, city government would cease to exist.

The best chance for consolidation presupposed that Mayor Willie W. Herenton was serious about changing the Tennessee Constitution to remove the dual majority that now makes consolidation all but impossible. The dual majority requirement sets up two hurdles that consolidation has to clear to take place – approval by a majority of voters inside Memphis and also approval by voters outside Memphis.

Mayor Herenton’s amendment was supposed to allow passage of consolidation with only one vote tally for the entire county. Realistically, the only thing more challenging than convincing non-Memphis county voters to vote for consolidation is convincing the Tennessee Legislature and state voters to approve an amendment to the state Constitution. Perhaps that's why Mayor Herenton abruptly dropped yet another consolidation plan after promising another all-out battle for government merger.

New Lens

Even if Mayor Herenton's plan had been successful, the earliest that a consolidation vote would have been held was 2011, and if the amendment hadn't been passed in the current session of the Legislature, it moves to 2015.

Without a change in state law, the only way to consolidate government is the old-fashioned way – with voters outside Memphis coming to grips with the idea that they may actually prefer a merged city-county government to the massive annexation that lies ahead.

It runs counter to everything the mayors of the municipalities now believe, but there may be a time not too far in the future when they look back and realize they missed their best chance to negotiate what they want most in return for supporting consolidation – frozen school boundaries, special school district, and freedom to control development in their annexation areas.

By then, they will have watched as Memphis ballooned and Shelby County Government dwindled away.


Midtowner said...

If the judges were to actually follow TN law on annexation, annexation would be much more difficult.

6-51-102. Annexation by ordinance.

(a) (1) A municipality, when petitioned by a majority of the residents and property owners of the affected territory, or upon its own initiative when it appears that the prosperity of such municipality and territory will be materially retarded and the safety and welfare of the inhabitants and property endangered, after notice and public hearing, by ordinance, may extend its corporate limits by annexation of such territory adjoining its existing boundaries as may be deemed necessary for the welfare of the residents and property owners of the affected territory as well as the municipality as a whole; ... (emphasis mine).


Now who really thinks that the prosperity of the any territory in the county will be materially retarded and the safety and welfare of the inhabitants and property endangered and that it is really necessary for the "welfare" of the people being annexed???

Memphis needs to take care of what it already has rather than spread out the resources even more.

cdmemphis said...

Great points! This needs to be published in the CA.

hectorspector said...

Memphis will not annex their reserve for fifty years. There is no way, for example, that Memphis will Annex Northhaven.
Collierville 50,000 people
Germantown - 50,000 people
Bartlett - 50,000 people
Arlington - 20,000 people
Lakeland - 20,000 people
Millington - 30,000 people
Tell me why they need Memphis? Everything that Memphis offers comes from the feds or the state. Memphis is a net tax loss for the federal government, state government, and local government. When I-269 is completed the outlying communities will need Memphis even less. Memphis offers nothing but crummy schools, rampant crime, red tape, and corruption. Welcome to the post industrial migration revolution. A center city is not necessary.

antisocialist said...

hectorspector is correct. The notion that Memphis is going to annex Northaven is laughable.

Center city's are an anachronism in todays global market place. Now, the market is right here on my desktop, not downtown.

I-269 is posited to become a key component in the transportation hub providing easy access to the rest of the continent. What better place for small manufacturers to locate than along I-269? Right to work state, no state income tax, good distribution infrastructure...

Smart City Consulting said...

That's why we've repeatedly said I-269 needs to be eliminated. The delusion that this region exists without a healthy Memphis is the height of absurdism. And, keep in mind that the regional trends outside Memphis lag behind other major metros that we compete with.

Collierville and Germantown and Bartlett need consolidation unless they want to be surrounded by Memphis, and if it does not pass, Memphis will begin an aggressive annexation program like one you've never seen. It's already being planned.

Kid yourself if you like, but clinging to two government business models that do nothing to move this community ahead is merely self-destructive behavior.

Also, Collierville and Germantown need consolidation to stabilize the tax rate (like it's done in other areas), to have a larger voice on decisions about their future (they will have nil as county government vanishes), and to do something dramatic to jump start our economy and to revive a national image that is choking us to death.

Provincialism is at the heart of many of our community's problems, and Collierville and Germantown mayors prove every day.

Finally, if you'll check the commuting patterns, you'll find that the people in most of these towns drive into Memphis to work every day. Why do they need Memphis? The obvious reason - for their livelihoods.

Smart City Consulting said...

antisocialist: We know something about center cities from our professional work, and if you think they will become irrelevant, you misunderstand the trends and the research on economic growth, branding, and on urbanism generally. And more to the point, why wouldn't we all want it to be?

In this city, downtown is a bellwether, and if it fails, it is a precursor to the entire region failing, and you can't say that about downtown Bartlett, Collierville, etc.

Anonymous said...

Anti - You and helterskelter (a better name for him) make me sad. You sound like you're gleeful about the chance that Memphis will fail, but you don't seem to get that you're going under with it. Get on board or get on a bus.

Would you feel different if Memphis was mostly white? Yea, that's what I thought.

antisocialist said...

Households have been relocating because of the problems hectorspector listed. Businesses can relocate too and I-269 will make it easier to do so.

antisocialist said...

anon 10:09 I am not gleeful in the least. I live in Memphis and I wish the reality here was different. I wish Memphis wasn't plagued with "crummy schools, rampant crime, red tape, and corruption."

antisocialist said...

Anon 10:09 said:

"Would you feel different if Memphis was mostly white? Yea, that's what I thought."

On second thought, gth.

hectorspector said...

How many Memphians commute to Carrier in Collierville everyday. Last I check that was about 5,000 jobs. How many Memphians commute to Brother in Bartlett every day? How any Memphians commute to Wright Medical in Arlington everyday. I could go on and on and on. The concept of a central city is so last century. Memphis cannot afford the services to annex, so that threat doesn't work. What exactly does Memphis provide? The feds provide the roads the airport the river port. The feds even paid for memphis's water treatment plants. The state and the feds provide the funding for the universities. Memphis brings nothing to the table. You mentioned LA, well look at the tiny towns that cover all of LA county. Do I wish Memphis fails - No. I wish that Memphis would clean up their act and help the region grow. Memphis will never do what they need to do as long as they can annex their way out of failure. Yes consolidation is annexation. Luckily they won't get it and the state won't change the law. Collierville, Bartlett, Millington, Arlington, and Lakeland will continue to grow and prosper. The only bedroom community is Germantown.

Smart City Consulting said...

We want to step in, not that antisocialist needs us to, but he's a regular poster, and we appreciate him. Although we often don't agree, he's always helpful in promoting a provocative conversation and in making us all think. We need more thinking around here for sure.

Smart City Consulting said...


We hope Memphis will clean up its act, too. That's why we think we can't continue with the same old government structure. Perhaps we agree more than we think. We can't just keep going in this direction, because we will end up like Newark and when economic disaster strikes, no one is immune, no matter where they live.

Also, yes, there are pockets of jobs in the towns, but if you'll look at the commuting data, you'll see that it's Memphis that is the destination more than all the others put together.

No, consolidation is not annexation, and for the almost 100,000 people who are in the path of annexation, I think they will vote to blow up the governments and start over so they are not annexed.

hectorspector said...

Two things:
1. (Smart Cities)-Read the book "An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths", and then talk to me about "Center Cities"
2. (Anon 10:09) The race card, reallllly. I know I moved here from the left coast and I don't know the ins and outs of Memphis, but the race card about an annexation and economic debate - realllllly?

Smart City Consulting said...

PS: In many cases, it's been Memphians who have paid the lion's share of the costs for the roads, schools, etc., that the county subsidized the towns with, and propped up their lower tax rates.

The towns, by the way, have the same revenue sources as Memphis, so the notion that somehow Memphis is supported by the federal and state government is sadly not true. And the towns have the same revenue sources, so they're doing the same as Memphis, so we're not sure what your point is.

Finally, we hope you've read our concerns about Memphis' annexation policies. These issues are complicated, and we need to have a serious countywide conversation about them, which is exactly what a Charter Commission would do and why we are for it.

hectorspector said...

I have read your blog for a while, but this issue seems like an attempt at a shotgun wedding - and the bride is missing a lot of teeth.

antisocialist said...

SCM - those remarks weren't necessary but are appreciated. If I run into you in a bar, I'll buy you a drink.

Speaking of drinks - hectorspector owes me a keyboard.

Anonymous said...

"The state and the feds provide the funding for the universities," according to the antisocialist. Every single year the percentage of the budget funded by the state at the University of Memphis is lower than the year before. A young woman I know who transferred from Ole Miss to the U of M and pays in-state tuition asked me why the U of M costs so much more. The answer is easy: Mississippi is more supportive of higher education. How embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

great post. but of course the town mayors will plow on with their path to their cities being marginalized and with no control of their own destiny.

Anonymous said...

Hectorspector, I would say that the suburban cities need Memphis to thrive because most people like to live in suburbs close to good cities with bustling a downtown, midtown, arts district, business district, and entertainment district. Many living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, etc do so because of the proximity to a nice city.

Why not help Memphis become a great city of choice to work, live, and play. I agree that the services in Germantown, Millington, Collierville, etc. are better than Memphis as is the emphasis on parks and recreation, crime prevention, schools, and quality of life. I also think it's worth the effort to improve Memphis and the greater Metro area so we all can thrive.
Have you ever been pulled over for speeding driving through Memphis. Do you hate going to 201 Poplar for a 9 am or 2pm court date? With a consolidated government the courtroom could centrally located. Court rooms and offices would be located in each region of Memphis. Thus allowing residents to handle their issues in their respective neighborhoods.

I see a consolidated Memphis-Shelby County as a government broken in to small pieces that serve each neighborhoods helping place an emphasis on crime prevention, quality of life, improved neighborhoods, improved parks, and a strong midtown and downtown for geared toward young professionals.

This could also be an opportunity to strengthen colleges and universities like CBU and Lemoyne Owen. Their is no reason for CBU not to become a Division 1 institution with an increased enrollment and expansion in ten years.

Anonymous said...

Here is the problem with the Memphis Reserve areas. Everybody knows where they are and no one will build anything there because it would get annexed if it looked like a gain for the tax base.
At this point, Memphis isn't going to annex anything because everything in it's reserve area already built is in decline. Take for example the area south of Nonconnah Pkwy and east of Riverdale. There was a lot of development there prior to 2007, but it turns out much of it was people living beyond their means and the area has been decimated by foreclosures. Memphis City government knows this and will not touch it with a 10 foot pole. The County knows the problems there too but doesn't have much resources to deal with it.

When I-269 gets built, it will be a boom for the reserve areas of the outlying communities such as Collierville, Arlington, and Millington. The Memphis reserve areas will be avoided by larger scale development. In addition, Germantown Pkwy will begin to look like a larger version of Austin Peay Hwy in Raleigh as the economic gravity pulls higher end businesses further east. Memphis will be economically choked. Unless a metro government can seize those reserve areas of the other cities, I'm not sure how consolidation is going to help Memphis.

Anonymous said...

Imagine 2035-

vast areas of memfis will be vacant land al la detroit city.

there will be another concentric ring of retail/residential around the voided core.

the suburban municipalities can pick and choose the businesses fleeing the growing black hole, vultures picking over the mouldering carcass.

from which ever fainter protestations of racism and random gunfire are sometimes heard.

life will go on.

Anonymous said...

The saddest part about this discussion is the attitude of hectorspector and antisocialist and others, which is basically "F" Memphis.

I'm afraid that many suburbanites have the same attitude.

Let's assume that their arguments are right, the the center city is now irrelevant, that the stronger and more prosperous the burbs are, the better. So what do you do with poor ole Memphis? Let it rot? Do nothing and have no concern about crime, about an undereducated work force, and a crumbling infrastructure? Do you move the U of M and other colleges/universities to the burbs too?

We are truly a sad place with a selfish, uncaring attitude towards everything that doesn't serve us directly.

Even if somehow the transportation hub didn't collapse, that the loss of jobs in Memphis (Fedex included) didn't affect the suburbs, then a few years from now the outer burbs in collar counties would be saying how the inner burbs (Gtown, Cville, and Bartlett) don't really matter. It goes on and on.

Smart City Consulting said...

Thanks. Beautifully said.

Anonymous said...

The suburbs view Memphis in much the way AA views alchoholics. They cannot be helped until they commit to helping themselves. Memphis, via its elected officials, engages in some self-destructive behavior. Until the city acknowledges that the problem is leadership and shows strides in correcting that problem, there is nothing the suburbs can do to help. A wife cannot stop drinking for her husband; the suburbs cannot stop the city from electing poor leaders. Look at the school funding debacle; a city council votes for a measure in violation of state law, sends its school system into turmoil, and wastes the money "saved" on higher spending in support of a smaller population. It remains to be seen whether or not Wharton is the leader the city needs to "bend the curve" from a city in decline to a city on the rise.

Having said all that, SmartCity has hit on the only possible avenue to get consolidation approved: Promise the Southwind and Cordova residents that they can avoid annexation by voting for consolidation.

SmartCity made another point that he thinks argues for consolidation but I think is a strong argument against. Wharton's consolidation tour was quite clear that the municipalities will remain intact after consolidation. When all of the annexations are complete, there will be no unincorporated Shelby County. Residents of the smaller municipalities do not want to see one governement entity responsible for delivering both city services for "Memphis" and county services for Memphis plus the municipalities. The temptation to redirect funds will be too great. We would prefer to have a very small county government with a small tax rate. With separate county and city governments, it is very difficult to tax Collierville residents in order to provide parks in Whitehaven. With a combined government, tax money raised in the suburbs will be used to fund services delivered in the city.

Smart City Consulting said...


There are two tax districts under consolidation - urban and general.

General services are the services that are countywide and urban are the services that are more municipal in nature. Residents of the county towns would pay the general services tax because they fund the urban services through their own town taxes.

Zippy the giver said...

20 more banks are about to tank.

"We are truly a sad place with a selfish, uncaring attitude towards everything that doesn't serve us directly."

If only that were all of the problem, if only that was the worst of the problems, if only.
Hey, it is true that the cultural malfunction is all pervasive. I like the idea of starting over, designing a future worth living instead of living a default future created by accident in a long series of cultural kneejerks, over 40 years.

The good news is when you design your future and execute the plan all the way to fruition, all that crap from the past becomes a story you may tell and information
instead of
a story about yourself you tell to explain your disfunction, like we did here.
The past, it's no longer happening, it's no longer real, and it's not a threat.
BUT, as long as the past and living in it has more value for citizens with money and people in charge, I mean some kind of payoff, Psychological or monetary and probably both, Memphis will continue to decline.

Anonymous said...

anyone who thinks this metro area will continue to grow and prosper if Memphis sinks into detroit-style oblivion is smoking something. think fedex will stay here? think again. we all have a vested interest in making the city AND suburbs prosper. and gosh, that means people might have to compromise on some issues and work together.

Zippy the giver said...

We DON'T owe it to anyone to act desperate or settle for crappy handouts either.

Zippy the giver said...

Oh, and I forgot, Anonymous, if you think that the inner city neighborhoods that have historically NOT STRUGGLED for a better atmosphere are suddenly going to start, you haven't been paying attention to the last 20 years.
Ever heard of "COACT" station?
We call them "NO ACT" stations because the officers that staff them become too familiar with the criminal element and get into the drug and burglary business with them. When the police get the idea that you have to rotate officers in and out of these areas and never let a commander stay in one spot long enough to oversee crime as a participant in crime, maybe, but, I doubt it in Memphis.
The whole thing rings hollow with the citizens who did fight for a long time, lost everything in the process, and are now destitute or darn close to it.
Also it is a symptom based approach, it doesn't address the root cause, poverty, the secondary cause, criminal record and no effective rehabilitation or ongoing support. 3/4 of the city could be declared an "ex-convict re-entering halfway village" due to it's makeup.
That says a lot about how little has been done about this in the last 40 years HERE.
I'm waiting on AC Wharton's statistics on his latest program to surface somewhere. I hope he doesn't think that failure equals a condemnation either, he should know that it is information on effectiveness. If it isn't working well at all then we have to get the right program going and stop ramming inappropriate solutions into the system.

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