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VOL. 131 | NO. 167 | Monday, August 22, 2016

Local Task Force Prepares For Return of Deannexation Issue

By Bill Dries

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You might call it round two of the deannexation battle.

In Nashville Monday, Aug. 22, a summer study committee of legislators picks up where the debate on a deannexation proposal during the Tennessee Legislature’s regular session ended earlier this year.


The bill was effectively killed for the session in return for a summer study committee that could craft another bill for the session that starts in January.

State Rep. Larry Miller of Memphis is certain that backers of the bill, which enables residents in some areas annexed by Memphis to petition for a referendum to deannex those areas, will return with essentially the same general proposal. The bill would pertain to annexations in other major Tennessee cities as well.

“Once we return to Nashville in January, I can assure you that Representative (Mike) Carter and probably Senator (Bo) Watson (both of Hamilton County), there may be some others, will have their legislation ready to go,” Miller told the local task force on deannexation Thursday at City Hall.

Carter and Watson sponsored the bill in the House and Senate in the 2016 session.

The local task force was formed by city and county leaders in response to the proposal that was opposed by the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

The task force includes Shelby County Commission chairman Terry Roland and others who have favored deannexation in general, as well as critics of it.

City Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen goes to Capitol Hill Monday with others from the administration for the opening of the summer study committee.


Task force chairman and Memphis City Council member Bill Morrison said Thursday he thinks the city’s message should be that there is some support for deannexation, but through “enabling legislation that allows us to draw the lines to the point of where ‘Box A’ was brought in, but all of ‘Box A’ may not go out.”

“We’re going to need some tools from Nashville, particularly the ability to not look at it inside the box,” he said. “And we’re also going to need some time to make this happen. But I want to go on the record very clearly in a message to Nashville that this city council member believes the city needs to shrink and is prepared to do that in a strategic, purposeful way.”

Morrison said deannexation should be “supported by data and supported by what is best for all of the entities, city and county.”

The 2016 bill nearly passed, but ran out of time in the session following the mobilization of mayors of the city’s largest cities, including Strickland, opposing it.

“They are passionate about this,” Miller said of Carter, Watson and other supporters of the 2016 bill.

“I would suggest that that’s a little premature to come from the chairman,” he said of Morrison’s expression of support. “I’m trying to stay open until we get all of the facts. I don’t want to send any message to Nashville. … It’s probably not the wisest thing to do right now.”

Council member Patrice Robinson agreed.

“You don’t give them more information than they ask for,” Robinson said of her experience with the Legislature.

She cautioned against working on a strategy of following the Legislature’s lead.

“They will mess it all the way up and then there’s nothing you can do about it,” Robinson said. “I’m just being honest. I know what can happen. We can start down the course following their rules and they will change the rules.”

Roland, however, said the city could deannex areas now by ordinance – a move that some legislators favoring deannexation saw in other cities that prompted them to drop those cities from the legislation.

Other legislators who favored the concept of deannexation withdrew their support because the law wouldn’t have applied statewide.

McGowen said his message to legislators Monday will be that there is a local task force that includes all sides of the issue and all of those affected who are working on some kind of “local control” of such changes, with “long-term planning” if the city’s size shrinks.

McGowen said the city will also review the 1998 growth plans for counties required by state law that established annexation reserve areas for all seven cities in Shelby County.

“It was supposed to eliminate any kind of fear of incorporation out of fear from being annexed,” McGowen said. “It was supposed to provide for some predictability. It was to match growth to the provision of utilities. It was to minimize urban sprawl.”

Since then state law has changed, requiring approval of such annexations in a referendum of those affected.

The growth plan will be 20 years old in two years, which is when it is to be reviewed. McGowen said that review could include the issues raised by the deannexation push in the Legislature.

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