Some straight talk here: The Metro Charter referendum is clearly in jeopardy, both in outer Shelby County, where a Yacoubian Research poll recently showed voter sentiment running four to one against it, and in Memphis' inner city, where successive damnations by the Shelby County Democratic Party and the chief litigants in the current election suit may have given consolidation a bad name.
Ironically, attempts at compromise between urban and suburban points of view seem to have backfired. When controversial blogger/broadcaster Thaddeus Matthews delivered a blast at the referendum idea at a recent rally to protest the August 5th election results, he proclaimed, "It's only black folks that are being consolidated. White folks are not being consolidated." He was referencing a decision by the citizen framers who put the document together to gain the favor of the residents of places like Germantown, Bartlett, Millington, and Collierville by allowing these municipalities to keep their city charters while Memphis would be surrendering its own.
The concession clearly offends a good many Memphians, while it did little to sell the suburbanites on the idea of closer bonds with a city that many of them had consciously exiled themselves from. It was like asking a newly liberated spouse to go back and live with the partner that he or she had sought a divorce from — all in the interests of maintaining good relations or, more to the point of an event last week, because sharing a common household might make economic good sense transcending all else.
Now, that argument has been made — as it perhaps should have been made from the beginnings of the current campaign to consolidate city and county, by the local captains of commerce whose word can be trusted on such a thing. Acting in concert with veteran medical executive Gary Shorb, who seems to have hatched the idea, public relations maven Dan Conaway organized a press conference last week at Methodist/Le Bonheur Hospital in Germantown on behalf of an ad hoc organization called "The Charter Means Business." Answering his call were such commercial and entrepreneurial eminences as Pitt Hyde, Bill Rhodes, Nick Clark, Fred Jones, and Luke Yancey. Perhaps we should stop the roll call there. These were, after all, just some of those who spoke. Many more were in the audience, lending consent to the undertaking by their presence.
Whether by statement or deed, all were underwriting the same assumptions — that industries putting the Memphis area on their possible list would prefer to deal with one governmental entity, not two intermittently competing ones; that municipal separatism locally has led to a constellation in these parts of Tennessee's highest tax rates; and that a fragmented Shelby County is in clear danger of falling further behind such consolidated rivals as Greater Louisville and Nashville/Davidson County.
To paraphrase the poet Friedrich Schiller, the business community comes late to the debate, but it comes. It remains to be seen whether the luminaries who testified in Germantown last week are speaking only to each other or to a larger audience that might actually care to hear them.