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VOL. 125 | NO. 157 | Friday, August 13, 2010

Metro Charter Backers Begin Campaign

By Bill Dries

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The campaign for a consolidation charter kicked off this week in a stifling heat on the Main Street Mall between City Hall and the County Administration Building.

Leaders of Rebuild Government announced the group has changed from one that provided information on the drafting of the charter to a group that will now campaign for the charter.

“This is a constitution for our community,” said Rebuild Government executive director Brian Stephens. Stephens described the proposed government structure as “a lean, mean, fightin’ machine.”

The Metro Charter Commission completed work on the charter proposal, filed it with the Shelby County Election Commission and went out of business this week.

The charter goes to voters on the Nov. 2 ballot. It would replace the existing city of Memphis and Shelby County governments with a metro government if it passes in two separate votes – one inside the city of Memphis and the other in the county outside Memphis.

Former Memphis City Council member Jack Sammons will be general chairman of the pro-charter campaign.

“There comes a time in all of our lives when doing nothing is not an option,” Sammons said.

Sammons admitted the campaign for the charter will be “challenging.”

Meanwhile, their service on the charter commission now ended, several commissioners endorsed the effort. While serving on the commission, they were prohibited from any kind of advocacy for the proposal.

“We absolutely have to do something if we want our children to come back and live here and actually have a future,” said FedEx executive Richard Smith, who described himself as initially skeptical that the charter effort was the way to begin to address problems in economic development.

“You cannot build a wall around Collierville, Germantown and Millington and ignore what’s going on in Memphis. … Memphis is the economic driver of the entire area,” Smith said.

Opposition to the charter as it was being written was a dominant theme in the Republican primaries for the Shelby County Commission on the May primary ballot. Most candidates – including some who were elected – emphasized their opposition to consolidation in any form. It was also an issue in the general election for Shelby County mayor.

“Don’t put too much stock in what politicians say in an election cycle,” Smith said of the political undercurrent. “There was a lot of noise and misinformation out there before the charter was even written. These are folks trying to get elected.”

The only suburban mayor on the commission, Millington Mayor Richard Hodges, voted against the charter – the only “no” vote. Hodges’ opposition is a sign of the entrenched long-term opposition to any kind of consolidation in the county outside Memphis.

But among the backers of the consolidation proposal is former Collierville Mayor Linda Kerley, who also served on the charter commission.

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