VOL. 132 | NO. 99 | Thursday, May 18, 2017
Luttrell: Mend Issues That Divide Region
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says his hope for a more civil national political discourse may be “a little Alice in Wonderland.” And there are times when he sees local discussions veering in the direction of “Nashville and Washington,” he told the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday, May 16.
But Luttrell said the challenge in how local elected officials work together countywide is a different one.
“There is an urban, suburban, rural divide. And it’s national,” he said. “People live in the suburbs because they don’t want to live in the city. So that’s normal.”
But Luttrell said there are some “strong” opinions about the independence of the six suburban towns and cities.
“I was talking to one of our mayors in the suburbs who said, ‘We are not a suburb. We are a stand-alone city,’” Luttrell recalled without naming the mayor. “Well, yes. But I don’t see the Grizzlies playing out there. We’ve got to work on some of the issues that so deeply divide us.”
Among those issues is a “significant gap” between those looking for jobs and jobs that are going unfilled as the city and county seek to better train the existing workforce. Part of that is also aligning education with workforce training.
Luttrell said the changes in public K-12 education that began with a 2010 decision by the Memphis City Schools board to surrender its charter and put the question to city voters in a 2011 referendum started a 15- to 20-year transition that is still underway.
Luttrell had just been elected Shelby County mayor at the time of the decision and urged the school board not to do it.
Since then, Luttrell has been a key player in the merger of the county’s two public school systems into one, and then the demerger into seven public school systems within the county, including six suburban school systems.
He also said Tuesday consolidation of city and county governments will happen “no time soon” after a 2010 referendum in which a metro consolidation charter was defeated soundly in the county and only narrowly passed within the Memphis city limits. Under the state’s dual referendum requirement, such a merger must be approved outside the city and within the city.
“I have never been convinced that consolidation is a panacea,” Luttrell said. “Most of the (local) governments in the United States are just like us … They are not consolidated and they are working quite well.”
While there was an initial clamor by consolidation proponents to try again in the wake of the 2010 votes and to also seek a change in state law requiring the dual referendums, that hasn’t happened.
“Until we start addressing the issues that separate us we’ll never consolidate,” he said. “Let’s work on the core issues and then if consolidation comes and those core issues are addressed I’m not opposed to it.”
Luttrell also said de-annexation recommendations the city of Memphis is considering “would not impact the county that much,” if they were approved by the Memphis City Council.
“You are going to pay county taxes whether you live in Memphis or you live in unincorporated Shelby County,” he added. “So financially it wouldn’t impact Shelby County government unless we see huge swaths of de-annexation, which I hope does not take place.”
Luttrell has about a year and a half left as mayor. He is serving his second term of a two-term limit.
“Any time you have an open race it’s going to draw a crowded field,” he said of a field that already includes Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir and Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland on the Republican side and former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism on the Democratic side.
“I think we will see a good crop of people coming up,” Luttrell said without mentioning any of the contenders. He did say he has urged Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner to run for mayor in the Democratic primary.
Turner, who introduced Luttrell Tuesday, has said he intends to run for a second and final term on the commission in 2018.
Luttrell said he could make an endorsement in the mayor’s race. He has already endorsed Dale Lane, the director of the county Office of Preparedness, in the Republican primary for sheriff, the job Luttrell was elected to twice before being elected county mayor.
“I think every incumbent in elected office wants to leave a legacy,” he said Tuesday. “I would hope that the candidate who wins will be someone that can embrace the progress that we have made in my administration and carry it on to the next level.”