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Memphis City Council reaches compromise in early discussions of consolidation with Shelby County Commission

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 7:49 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The topic of consolidating Memphis and Shelby County governments was brought back onto the agenda of Tuesday’s Memphis City Council meeting.

The issue was tabled during the August 17 city council meeting after many council members on the Personnel and Governmental Affairs Committee felt there was not enough information readily available to form a charter commission, which would draft a new charter that would merge the two governments.

“I think the hard part for me on this is that once we form this [charter] commission, it sort of goes out of our hands,” said Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren. “I think that’s where people are having a difficult time, to allow someone to bring forth documents that we don’t really have any input in.”

Tuesday, however, a compromise was made between the resolution’s co-sponsors, Councilmen Chase Carlisle and JB Smiley, and other members of the committee.

The committee voted overwhelmingly in support of forming a study committee, that for 90 days would research the pros and cons of forming a charter commission and come back with a recommendation on if it’s in the best interest of the area.

“Maybe we should look and see if this is the option or structure that will help us the most, instead of everybody getting behind one option,” said Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas, advocating for the compromised resolution.

Outside of the council, the Greater Memphis Chamber is throwing its support behind forming the charter commission.

“It’s worthy for us to have this discussion,” said Bobby White, the chamber’s chief public policy officer.

White sad the board unanimously supports a charter commission but remains neutral on consolidation.

The chamber board is interested in seeing what the study committee, if formed, reports back on what the best course of action is for local governing.

“Whatever this study committee, what it looks like with the formation of these two bodies [Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission] coming together, we are offering ourselves to be a source, a resource, of data and information gathering just to ensure that we are looking at all things that we should be considering in such an important decision in our community,” White said.

Though the board’s neutrality on consolidation was emphasized by White, he did mention that, in theory, a consolidated government could prove beneficial when it comes to businesses wanting to come to Memphis.

Having to deal with only one form of government is more appealing than dealing with two.

“Bureaucracy can get in the way of a whole lot of things, including economic development,” White said. “You want to simplify. And so, [the study committee] is an exercise in simplifying what government could be, finding areas to streamline, areas to make things easier and simpler.”

The study committee still needs to be voted on by Shelby County Commission.

If approved by the commission and after 90 days the study committee recommends moving forward with a charter commission, that decision will go back before the city council and county commission.

Should that be approved, the charter commission, which will have 20 members (12 appointed by county commission and 8 appointed by city council), will be given nine months to draft a new charter that will merge the two governments.

That charter would then be voted on by Memphis and Shelby County citizens.

The goal is to have the new charter on the November 2022 ballot during mid-term elections.

As it stands, other municipalities within Shelby County, such as Collierville, Germantown, and Bartlett, will not be included in the consolidation.

Carlisle has stated that those municipalities will keep their local governments and public services, but could join the metro government if they wanted to.

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