With the largest ballot Shelby County has ever seen arriving in voting booths this August, the Coalition for a Better Memphis wanted to help local citizens choose highly qualified candidates. The coalition devised a ranking system for candidates and released its first set of results -- evaluating those running for County Commission seats -- just a few weeks ago. The results have caused perhaps an expected stir among candidates: The winners think the system works; the losers see it as flawed. The Flyer recently spoke with Dean Deyo, one of the coalition's organizers and the chairman of the Leadership Academy. -- By Ben Popper
Flyer: How did you get the idea?
Deyo: We would have to give credit to the Regional Chamber [of Commerce] in Memphis. They do something called Best Practices, where they travel to other cities and try to exchange ideas and steal whatever they do best. They looked at what they were doing in Atlanta and said this would be fabulous for us.
How were the criteria for the rankings developed?
In order to expedite the process we hired the same consultant who was hired by Atlanta, a group called Civic Strategies. They came to Memphis, interviewed our community leaders, and read everything they could in the archives of The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer. They went and pulled copies of the Shelby County five-year plan. From that research, they developed a list of qualities a County Commission candidate should have and the issues they should know about.
We have also created a "transparent" system. You as a voter may appreciate what we're doing but feel that at the end of the day the only issue that matters to you is ethics. That is why we posted the candidates' individual scores on the Web site, as well as their written responses to each question.
Who is in the coalition?
We knew from the beginning that we needed a diverse coalition. If you look at the enrollment online you will see we have everything from AutoZone to neighborhood associations like the 35th Ward Civic Club to 100 Black Men, the Urban League, and Memphis Tomorrow. So we had over 110 people with nothing in common, white and black, young and old, Democrat and Republican.
Politicians have always been elected on rhetoric. What's wrong with that?
One example I used at our first meeting that seemed to ring true to people is the District 29 election: Ophelia Ford and Terry Roland. Ford won by 13 votes. Because it came off-cycle, we didn't know much about either of them. But perhaps a more important point is that there was a third candidate in that election: Robert Hodges, better known as Prince Mongo. He got 89 votes. Now there might have been some people who voted for him because his name appears on nearly every ballot, and they assumed he was a credible candidate. If information had been out there, maybe this election could have been different from the beginning.