Memphis, Shelby County government consolidation talks tabled, for now

Joint resolution met with questions and concerns
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 5:27 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The joint resolution that would establish a charter commission to research a potential consolidation of Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission has been tabled until the next city council meeting.

This was the first step to begin discussions of possible consolidation, by presenting the resolution before Memphis City Council’s Personnel & Governmental Affairs Committee.

Councilman Chase Carlisle, who chairs that committee, is the main supporter of the resolution, saying consolidation would streamline the area’s government and could grow the economy at a faster rate.

Carlisle said as an example, “You’ve got two people vying for and trying to help economic development on two bodies in the same area, so who is leading the economic development as the representative for that area? Is it the county commissioner? Is it the city council member? Is it the county mayor? Is it the city mayor?”

The Super District 9-1 councilman seemed confident during the introduction of the resolution, just before noon Tuesday, having Memphis City Attorney Allan Wade walk council members through the resolution.

Wade explained the commission, which originally was to be made of 15 members, would now be 20 members selected by both bodies, the Memphis City Council (8) and Shelby County Commission (12).

The charter commission would be given up to nine months to research and draft a new charter that would show what the new metropolitan government would look like, which would be voted on by citizens.

The intent is to have the new charter on the November ballot in 2022.

When Wade concluded, there were many questions and concerns from fellow council members.

“All of this needs to be discussed beforehand,” said Councilwoman Cheyenne Johnson during the committee meeting. “We are talking about a decision that’s going to be long-lasting for many citizens. How many jobs are we going to lose? We don’t necessarily want a commission to tell us that.”

“My concern is that we don’t have enough information right now as a counsel to state yay or nay that this is in the best interest of our community,” echoed Councilwoman Patrice Robinson.

Both Johnson and Robinson, as well as others during the meeting, stated they would like to see their own sub-committee formed that would decide if a charter commission is the right direction.

“You’re allowing someone else to make the decisions for us, and we don’t have all the information on the front-end. We’ll get it on the back-end when it is already carved in stone,” Robinson said.

However, Carlisle argued that many of the answers and information the council is looking for can be found through forming the charter commission.

“That’s ultimately what this is, a committee to explore what a consolidated government would look like,” said Carlisle. “It seems prudent to me, and then we can let the voters decide whether or not they think it’s a good idea.”

Another argument was that other municipalities within Shelby County, such as Collierville, Millington, or Bartlett, would have a say in how Memphis is governed.

Wade pointed out that the other municipal governments within the county would keep the municipal status, along with their public, that the metropolitan government would consist of the county government and the principal municipality, Memphis.

However, if a municipality wished to join the metro government, they would be able to.

Conversations went on for the next hour before Councilman Edmund Ford, Sr. demanded the committee meetings move on from the topic.

“We need to hold this for three weeks,” Ford said. “Do not bring nothing in here and think everybody is going to do something today. Hell, ain’t nobody done any research on it.”

The council agreed to postpone discussions on the resolution until the next city council meeting in three weeks.

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