Opinion » Editorial

Bicameral Government?


By now, there's an unofficial consensus on last week's meeting of the Metro Charter Commission with officials and legislators from the city and county, along with members of the general public. Conventional wisdom holds that the meeting in the FedEx Technology Center at the University of Memphis was a failure.

That judgment is based on the fact that members of both blocs — city and county — found fault with this or that aspect of the prospectus laid out by Charter Commission chair Julie Ellis. (And never mind that the complainers, for the most part, had brought their complaints with them, ready-made.)

Conventional wisdom further holds that the current attempt at consolidation, like the several which preceded in decades past, is a non-starter — certainly in the outlying county and very likely within the Memphis city limits as well.

And there is a growing consciousness that the August deadline for a finished charter proposal, followed by two up-or-down votes in November — one in the city, one in the county — will be upon us much too quickly for any missionary work, no matter how inspired, to succeed with the electorate. (And let's face it, most of the exhortatory agit-prop and dutiful lobbying by consolidation support groups has been well short of inspired.)

Now for the good news. The very fact of the meeting — with core groups representing both city and county confronting each other in organized dialogue — was something of an accomplishment. It looked, sounded, and felt perfectly natural. So the thought came to us: What if such joint meetings of the City Council and County Commission occurred once a month and in the same venue? Joint sessions, as it were — empowered not just to exchange viewpoints and check signals but to generate common resolutions of intent?

For all the talk of "functional consolidation" of various governmental components — the fallback position of consolidation proponents and opponents as well — no one seems to have considered the application of such a principle to the two basic governing bodies themselves: the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

We've been there and done that, and, even if the two bodies seemed to agree on little more than the fact of their general disagreements, that's a starting point. And the fact is that in recent years council and commission members, in small groups and large, have met to consider a variety of issues.

Were we to pursue regularly scheduled joint sessions, the habit of colloquy might grow into something else — if not a concord on consolidation, then maybe the habit of functioning like a de facto bicameral legislature.

Though it may have frustrated some and disappointed others, the back-and-forth of the council and commission on the matter of Bass Pro and the Pyramid undoubtedly sharpened the terms of the eventual deal and improved the prospects for something actually coming to pass in that iconic but unused facility.

Regular bicameral meetings: It's worth considering, regardless of what happens in August and November.

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