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City, county leaders push to consolidate Memphis and Shelby County governments

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 10:56 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2021 at 9:56 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A push is on to take a look at consolidating Memphis and Shelby County governments.

It’s been tried before. A Memphis City Council member and a Shelby County commissioner want to take another look, saying Memphis and Shelby County are falling behind places like Nashville.

“The status quo is not working. And so we are just suggesting that maybe looking at metropolitan is the change that we need,” said Councilman Chase Carlisle.

Carlisle and Commissioner Reginald Milton are both leading the push to take a look at consolidation. It’s the first time in almost 12 years.

“We’re having our lunch eaten by Nashville and other cities,” said Milton. Everyone talked about Memphis used to be competition, either Memphis or Nashville. Nobody brings that up anymore.”

Nashville consolidated decades ago. Carlisle and Milton point out the difficulties of attracting business when representatives have to go before two bodies, the county commission and the city council.

Carlisle says the COVID-19 pandemic showcased the division.

“When you talk about COVID and you talk about the duplicative nature of our system of government, COVID shined a light on a lot of those issues,” said Carlisle. “Who is in charge? Is it the mayor of Shelby County? Is it the mayor of Memphis, the health department?”

Milton and Carlisle say the status quo is not working and not delivering the prosperity and growth people want and should have. Carlisle says a consolidated government would give Shelby County more power in Nashville before the legislature.

“There’s no doubt a metropolitan form of government will give us more sway in Nashville,” Carlisle said.

Here’s what has to happen. A joint resolution from the city and county would form a charter commission that will study the consolidation for about nine months. Then, a constitution will be written and it will be put to a vote.

“My position is we need to do something,” said Milton.

If this consolidation effort is put to a vote by citizens, it won’t happen until next year.

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