Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Debating a merger for Memphis

A briskly-debated referendum seeking voter approval of consolidation of the city of Memphis and neighboring Shelby County as a way to streamline regional government and increase competition is, according to polls, doomed to failure in the Nov. 2 election.

The measure, supported by business leaders but opposed by citizens, has been seen by Memphis residents as a dilution of the city's influence, since Memphis city government would be absorbed into the county government under the proposal.

Proponents of consolidation cite the increased efficiencies of government, and blame consolidation opponents as mossbacks doing all they can to keep the region from growing.

Shelby County was the object of two previous consolidation efforts, in 1962 and 1971, years after the state's "dual majorities" rule required two votes -- a polling of Memphis residents and a vote of country residents outside Memphis -- to achieve a metro consolidation.

For some of the city's 415,000 African-American residents, 62 percent of all Memphians, consolidation efforts have a racial undertone. But the issue doesn't conveniently break down along racial and ethnic lines of pro and con. Black business groups are some of the more ardent supporters of consolidation envisioning bottom-line benefits to the region, despite the just-as-strong opposition of the Memphis chapter of the NAACP.

It may be a sign of the times: A stagnant national economy and concerns about diminished American competitiveness have made government efficiency a watchword of the midterm campaign season. Talking points of candidates have focused on bloat and waste in governments from the statehouse to Washington. The consolidation measure plays strongly to businesses' drive toward achieving that bottom-line efficiency.

Read the rest at theGrio
Image credit: Memphis skyline: Tennessee Department of Tourism Development.

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