Back in October, a coalition of Shelby County commissioners — newly elected ones in the van — combined to put the county commission on record as opposing the then pending November 2nd referendum on city/county consolidation.
This was the same county commission which (though differently constituted) had combined with the Memphis City Council a year earlier to create and subsidize the Metro Charter Commission which developed and proposed the referendum in the first place.
And, of course, the voters on November 2nd pretty much obliterated the consolidation concept. The referendum lost by a majority of 85 percent in the outer county, and though it passed muster in the city, it was only by the barest of margins, 51 percent. Decisive? Enough to put the issue on hold for the generation that usually passes before wiped-out consolidation proponents decide to try again?
Nah! Not by Steve Mulroy, the intrepid and decidedly un-bashful commissioner from District 5, an East Memphis-based swing district on the seam of city and county. Mulroy believes that what was defeated so badly on November 2nd was not consolidation per se but only the somewhat feckless variety that was proposed by the 2009-2010 version of a charter commission, one that was basically put together by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who transitioned from county mayor to city mayor during its formation and thereby was able to name all its members.
So Mulroy, less than a month after consolidation was rejected, has a brand-new resolution proposing that the county commission (yep, the same county commission that said no in October) give its approval to — are you sitting down? — a “Resolution In Support of the Concept of Consolidation,” which would provide for a new charter commission.
The measure was scheduled for discussion in committee this Wednesday and, presumably, will be taken to the county commission’s regular biweekly public meeting on Monday for a vote.
Mulroy professes to believe that the commission will be open-minded, particularly his fellow Democrats — several of whom joined the majority of the commission’s Republicans in October to reject consolidation.
At the time there was an ongoing backlash against the referendum among African Americans in the inner city, and both Sidney Chism, the current commission chairman, and James Harvey joined newcomer Justin Ford in voting no to consolidation, along with GOP members Wyatt Bunker, Terry Roland, Heidi Shafer and Chris Thomas — the latter three being new members representing suburban areas outside the city.
Mulroy’s resolution suggests that the commission’s October vote, like that of the voters on November 2nd, “could be misinterpreted as opposition to metro consolidation generally,” which is described as “appropriate and inevitable.”, .
The resolution proposes that “the City Council and County Commission have greater input into the selection of members of any appointed Metro Charter Commission;” that “[g]reater efforts are made to achieve racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity among any Charter Commission appointees;” and that “[a]ppropriate efforts are made to avoid any undue influence of corporate interests on the process.”
Lastly, the resolution declares, “The issue of school consolidation, if still applicable, should be given weight equal to that of any other major issue in Charter Commission deliberations.”
That, of course, is an allusion to the currently raging controversy between the city and county school boards, who seem locked in a race to transform the relationship between the two school systems of Shelby County. The Shelby County School Board may seek legislative approval in January for a separate county school district for county schools, while the city Board is considering a proposal to surrender its charter, a move which, if approved by city voters in a referendum, would automatically consolidate the two systems.
One of the ironies of the current situation is that the issue of school consolidation, carefully sundered from the November 2nd vote, is now front and center, and Mulroy’s more inclusive resolution clearly acknowledges the issue as relevant to his proposal -- which, at very minimum, is that the county commission formally withdraw its prior renunciation of consolidation and underwrite his suggestions for how a new Metro Charter commission might be composed.
Mulroy’s resolution had already prompted a response by one prominent opponent of consolidation, Tom Guleff of Save Shelby County, an organization formed last spring to combat the consolidation effort.
Guleff has emailed his network of consolidation foes, alerting them to Wednesday’s committee meeting and proclaiming the following:
“The pro-consolidation forces are back. To be honest, the cult-like fascination with Consolidation is creepy. After being soundly defeated by an 85% margin in the county, the losing side wants to re-write the narrative of its demise and bring it back to life. I could understand the current effort, if the vote was close, but it wasn’t. This small group appears disconnected from political reality. This is just plain weird.”
The fat, as they say, is once again in the fire.