Moving Past the Metro Charter – The Opportunity Ahead
Let’s start from the beginning
We understand the desperation and the frustration of our neighbors in watching our city spiral into a kleptocracy of ineptness, corruption, and cronyism. Reforming government cannot wait or be curtailed. It must be done now. We want Memphis to succeed. We need Memphis to succeed.
Real Problems Require Real Reform
The stakes here are very high. The difficulties faced by Shelby County, and most notably Memphis, of slow growth, low income, crime, poverty, poor education, racism, unskilled labor force and population flight must be addressed. It’s time to revisit many of these issues and make politically difficult decisions. We challenge the new city executives to aggressively search out and hire world-class talent, and ruthlessly execute a thoughtful plan with the most meaningful of civic metrics (crime and education). Tough issues require tough approaches. If progress cannot be made, we must our change our leaders. If leaders cannot be found, then it’s too late for our community. The next generation will inherit what we could not solve.
Leadership at the Top and Throughout
Mayors AC Wharton and Mark Luttrell along with our six suburban mayors must take the lead in pushing for much needed reform. They are our elected leaders. The status quo is unacceptable. Our neighbors and potential neighbors are telling us that crime and schools are basic problems that must be addressed. As uncomfortable as it may be to some to talk about, an emphasis on strengthening the family can no longer sit on the sideline as a political hot potato or a political slogan. Strong families must be the bedrock of our community going forward. There is no strength or sustained effort going forward without this core belief that families are our most valuable support system in the community. New voices must be brought into the conversation to solve the most thorny issues around schools, crime, and family. Everything else is secondary to this.
Everyone has a Stake
It doesn’t just stop with Memphis. There are other changes that must be made to remove impediments to reaching shared regional goals for the economy and quality of life of the whole area. We should consider the adoption of a regional structure. A good example is the Hampton Roads Project in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area. The region of Hampton Roads contains the largest military base in the world, is a major transportation hub, a world-class tourist destination, and an important matrix of institutions for research and higher education. Regions such as this are the primary units of economic competition in the global economy. Memphis has all of the same basic ingredients but with two important differences — missing synergy among the local governments and lack of a regional structure.
By “regional structure” we mean the institutions that deal with the shared issues that comprise the regional agenda — their membership, powers, internal procedures, and relationships with each other and with external governments.
Leaving Behind “The Herenton Era”
First, create a strong regional voice. Establish a Shelby Metropolitan Council composed of the mayors and the chairs of the City Council, County Commission and the various Boards of Mayor and Aldermen. The Council would speak for the region and provide stronger political leadership for fostering regional visioning, economic development, and a regional legislative agenda. Improve public participation in decision making by using modern methods of communications. Organize a regional review board to evaluate the performance of the various independent agencies and report to the Metro Council.
Second, improve economic development by reforming the various planning organizations. Involve legislators in the planning, and upgrade staffing and procedures to national best practices. Strengthen the Shelby Metropolitan Council to realize its potential for being the most representative regional leadership body by adding non-profits to the present government-business board, communicating more openly with the public, implementing regional visioning and organizing the process of producing a regional legislative agenda. The local governments should coordinate tourism development through a regional plan and regional marketing initiatives implemented by a regional agency, as they should for economic development.
Finally, regional efficiency should be improved. In some ways, the eight local governments already share services in a number of ways, but a mixed commission of officials, accountants and management consultants could use modern telecommunications, information technology, transportation and management systems to create savings through more shared regional services.
Focus on what matters
The starting point of these actions rests with putting a good faith effort into fixing Memphis first. Secondly, Memphis, Shelby County (along with its component cities), and the outlying counties must build a regional organization to create a strong regional voice, improve economic development and regional efficiency. Finally, AC Wharton and Mark Luttrell must move forward in the best interests of our community. Failure is not an option for them or us. The voters have spoken. It is time to start reversing the poor decision of the past, and focus on what truly matters to our citizens. We have a great opportunity ahead of us. Let’s move forward in solving tough issues together.