As we head into a new year, casting about for reasonable resolutions to make, it strikes us that a good one might be to cut our city leaders a little slack. It ain't easy, trying to chart a course for this Bluff City metropolis.
In theory, for example, the city council, whose membership is balanced somewhat in both race and political ideology, should be able to find and maintain some policy median that serves — or seems to serve — the disparate needs of the city and its various populations. But often attempts to do just that backfire. Take the matter of employee pay and benefits. First, an austerity-minded council votes a budget that imposes a 4.6 percent pay cut on employees and trims some of their benefits. Then, months later, as the holidays approach, it votes to give modest bonuses to these selfsame workers.
Taken together, these actions please nobody. The employees protest that, when all the adding and subtracting is done, they are still losers in the give and take of things. And taxpayers grumble that the city has dared to be profligate with their money when it has just raised their property taxes.
And, while there are both economic and aesthetic advantages to be had in pumping some new money into Overton Square, as the council has just voted to do, it is certainly true that other neighborhoods and other projects — notably the long-pending renovations of the Graceland area and Elvis Presley Blvd. — have been on the queue board longer and have equal or better justifications.
After all, one might say, just south of Overton Square is the thriving Cooper-Young entertainment district, serving similar needs for residents, night-lifers, and tourists, whereas Graceland is a uniquely deserving attraction with no equivalents far or near.
Time can resolve some of these conundra. Surely few can be found among those who originally resisted the city/county financial commitment to build FedExForum who would now deny the positive impact the Grizzlies — and the arena — have had on the community. But around this city are the husks and fossils of too many white elephants to feel an excess of confidence about any of the initiatives currently under way. Bud Beach, anyone? How about a ride on the Madison Avenue trolley? And anybody want to buy a used Pyramid?
Actually, of course, the city, after an on again/off again courtship that's lasted for years, has found a taker for the Pyramid, which is even now being gutted to make room for a proposed mega-version of the Bass Pro Shop franchise. That's another iffy situation that may or may not work out, like the $40 million Beale Street Landing now under construction, a riverboat gamble if there ever was one.
There are no sure things in local government. Memphis mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell are working well together in the areas of industrial recruitment, but their prize acquisition, a proposed new Electrolux plant for Presidents Island, came with some formidable front-end expenses and few, if any, back-end guarantees.
Still, if we all keep trying, maybe we can get this civic development thing right. We hereby resolve to extend the benefit of the doubt to all concerned but reserve the right to employ some healthy skepticism. Fair enough?