VOL. 123 | NO. 196 | Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Regardless of Own Role, Mayor Wants Consolidation
By Bill Dries
LIGHTNING ROD: Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said last week he doesn’t want to lead another consolidation drive because his mere presence could cost the proposal necessary political support. – PHOTO BY BILL DRIES
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton’s latest consolidation call goes to a special joint meeting of the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners today.
The afternoon session was arranged hastily minutes after Herenton raised the perennial issue again at Friday’s education funding summit at the University of Memphis. But Herenton told the room full of politicians that he’s not looking to lead on the issue.
“I don’t want to take the leadership,” Herenton told council chairman Myron Lowery as the two huddled after his remarks. “But where in the hell is the leadership going to come from? I want to be a follower.”
It was the second time in a week that Herenton acknowledged there’s a downside when he weighs in on an issue.
Herenton told the Memphis Cook Convention Center board days earlier that he would not be involved in any study of a new convention center he advocated just last month. He said he wanted to remove himself because he had become a “lightning rod” for criticism of the idea.
Lightning and thunder
As he talked with reporters Friday about consolidation, Herenton began by saying he would not talk about his remarks to the convention center board.
But he expressed similar sentiments about the consolidation push.
“For whatever reason, some of the stakeholders, political establishment and maybe some of the business leaders and really some of you guys in the media, whenever Willie Herenton is involved in the leadership initiative, it takes on different motivations,” he told The Daily News. “All I want is constructive change for my community. I don’t have to lead it. I want to be a follower.”
Today, Herenton will tell council members and commissioners that he wants them to consider a city charter surrender as a step toward a metro form of government.
The specific option is a 2009 citywide referendum proposing the city of Memphis surrender its charter. The County Commission is involved because of the role it would play in forming a metro government that might emerge from a city charter surrender.
Herenton has repeatedly kicked off campaigns for consolidation in the 17 years he’s been mayor. He has either watched as they floundered before clearing any of the multiple political hoops or he has moved on to other topics after the call garnered no critical mass from other politicians.
“I always sought to make a decision I thought was the right decision to make and to hell with whether people re-elected me or not,” Herenton said last week as he urged other elected leaders, city and county, to put aside their political survival.
This time, Herenton said he believes the recent financial industry upheaval has combined with gathering national economic storm clouds to make his case stronger.
“Please believe me, the fiscal crisis is predictable,” Herenton said Friday. “We can no longer continue to do business as usual. Come out of your comfort zones. Face some realities. We cannot continue to tax people to death. We’ve reached our limits on taxation. Economic growth is declining. The challenge is how to do we consolidate government?”