The backdrop for a potentially fateful Thursday morning press conference, concerning a “Clean Green Shelby Initiative” and called by interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford at the Shelby Farms Visitors Center was very likely a luncheon meeting held last week in the mayor’s 8th floor conference room at the county building.
One of the most significant acts of Ford’s five-month tenure, the luncheon (catered from organic sources, naturally) doubled as a forum for local environmental leaders, and ironically it took place at a time when Ford himself, sidelined by illness, was not able to be present.
Ford’s deputy Pamela Marshall presided in his stead, along with such attendant county officials as John Freeman and Matt Kuhn of the mayor’s office, Tom Moss of the county Land Bank, Public Works director Ted Fox, and Bob Rogers, superisor of pollution control efforts in Shelby County.
Present were representatives of numerous local organizations, including the Sierra Club, Greater Memphis Greenline, Friends of the Riverfront, various area conservancies, and numerous other groups — almost 30 articulate and keenly interested people altogether, mostly volunteers.
As Don Richardson of the Sierra Club, one of the organizers, put it, “You’re looking at a room of community problem solvers….The ‘E’ word doesn’t cover it. Everybody here is the tip of an iceberg.” Gathered in one room was “tens of thousands of dollars of free consulting,” and, Richardson said, “We need to finish unfinished business.”
That unfinished business included a dizzying variety of subjects: among them bike lanes, greenways, air quality control, protection of the city’s aquifer, community clean-ups, creation of new parklands, waste treatment, clean water — everything and anything, in short, which related to the whole ecology of Shelby County.
As the group found itself coming to a consensus — or at least perceiving that one might be possible — Joe Royer of Outdoors, Inc., summed up, “We’re not going to do this with brochures and website. We’ve got to clean the parks up. Out irrigation system is broken. We never have enough money…We’ve got to treat the waste, treat the air, support these agencies.” Royer looked about him in some wonder. “This is the first time I’ve seen this elevated to the mayor’s conference room.”
After some two and a half hours of animated discussion, those present had discussed numerous practical projects, but their crowning achievement was the epiphany that there should be a county environmental department as such, one concerned with pragmatic planning for a green revolution in Shelby County, step by step.
Maybe something comes of the initiative right away and maybe not, but at the very least an idea was born that, at some point later on, may, like last week’s summit meeting itself, come to seem historic.
Marshall had noted at several points of Friday’s luncheon discussion the prospect of some concerted activity to come, related perhaps to the Sustainable Shelby program initiated by A C Wharton during his tenure as county mayor and continued under Ford.
Whether it’s that or something closer to the new department sought by the luncheon participants, the chances seemed better than even that it would be discussed at Thursday’s press conference.