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VOL. 124 | NO. 169 | Friday, August 28, 2009

County Commission Preps For Consolidation Vote

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. already has a list of possible nominees to a Metro Charter Commission. The names have been submitted by Shelby County Commissioners.

The commission will vote Monday on a resolution that would authorize the city and county mayors to form the group that would draft a consolidation charter proposal. The Memphis City Council is scheduled to discuss a companion resolution Tuesday in its committee sessions.

Moving along, despite concerns

The resolution won a key test vote in committee this week when nine of the 13 commissioners on the body voted for it. The two no votes in committee were from Republican Commissioners Joyce Avery and Wyatt Bunker, who represent the County Commission district that includes all six of Shelby County’s suburban municipalities – Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington.

“Skepticism in my district is very, very strong,” Bunker said, citing the lack of any suburban mayors or aldermen on the recent ad hoc committee on local education funding.

Several others echoed that this week, including some proponents of consolidation, as the reason the choices by the two mayors will be watched closely.

The specter of consolidation is already making itself known in the early campaigning for county offices on the 2010 ballot.

Chris Thomas

County Commission candidate Chris Thomas mentioned it at a kick-off fundraiser earlier this week in East Memphis.

“My concern is that until someone can prove that it would benefit this whole community, including outside the city of Memphis, I’m not for it,” Thomas told a group of several dozen people at Owen Brennan’s restaurant.

Thomas, the Probate Court clerk, is running for County Commission District 4.

“What I’m trying to do is say that we need to stop it,” Thomas told The Daily News. “But if they appoint the commission, I want Mayor Wharton to make sure he appoints people from the suburban areas, and the business community to make sure that their interests are protected. But I really don’t know if it’s got enough support outside the city of Memphis to happen.”


Wharton said he would wait on the city mayor to make five appointments to the panel before settling on his 10 appointees. He told commissioners at least one of his choices probably would be an elected official of one of the six suburban municipalities.

Wharton acknowledged a lot of “mistrust” and “valid concerns” on all sides of the idea.

At this tentative stage in the process, there are strong reservations about even the first steps of what would be the most significant move toward consolidation in nearly 40 years. The last time a proposed consolidation charter reached voters was in 1971. The proposal won the referendum inside the city of Memphis but lost in the county outside of Memphis. The pair of referenda is required by Tennessee law.

Commissioner Mike Ritz cautioned against any “lightning rods” on either side of the consolidation debate that has been a staple of local politics for decades.

“Who is appointed to this committee is probably the most important first step. If we have people on the committee … who are lightning rods for any purpose whatsoever, it is going to destroy the trust and the opportunity of both sides,” Ritz told Wharton as he expressed concerns over appointing any elected officials – city or suburban. “If we start off with a group of people that are so alienated – city versus county – to start with, then I think we start off with a bad situation. This whole thing to me is a matter of impression.”

County Commissioner Sidney Chism said he still has reservations about Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery making appointments while he is running for city mayor. Wharton is running in the same election. But Chism said his concerns about Wharton had been assuaged for the most part.

PROPERTY SALES 50 389 12,758
MORTGAGES 21 248 8,003
BUILDING PERMITS 295 813 29,934
BANKRUPTCIES 35 164 6,064