The toughest job in Memphis is selling annexation to the 36,000 residents of southeast Shelby County and Bridgewater who are supposed to join the city next year.
By comparison, selling Grizzlies tickets to Shane Battier fans, extra homework to seventh-graders, and E-Cycle Management to state legislators is a piece of cake.
After 50 years, during which Frayser, Raleigh, Parkway Village, East Memphis, Whitehaven, Hickory Hill, and Cordova were annexed -- boosting the population of Memphis to 672,277 and the land area to more than 300 square miles -- the policy appears to have run off the rails. The proposed annexation of land 20 to 25 miles from downtown would further stretch an already undermanned police force and shake up the uneasy truce between the city and county school systems. Politicians and lawyers have gerrymandered the boundary line to exclude the wealthy residents of Southwind while taking in their middle-class neighbors who share the same roads, sewers, stores, and public services. Mayor Willie Herenton all but pulled his support for the annexation this week, warning that the cost of extending city services could outweigh the increase in tax revenues.
And, most important, many of the Memphians-to-be feel the same way as Rufus Washington, president of the Southeast Shelby County Coalition.
Last week the Memphis City Council set the wheels in motion to bring Washington and his neighbors into our fair city on January 1st, 2007, by passing an ordinance on the first of three required readings. Due to a procedural screw-up by the council, however, Washington and 20 others who came downtown to protest the annexation were denied a chance to speak until a public hearing on November 21st. In an interview last week, he said he and his neighbors were "bamboozled" by the City Council.
"A lot of people are pissed off," said the 68-year-old retired RPS/FedEx Ground manager, grandfather, and ex-Marine captain, who can still fit into his dress blues.
Washington bought his house in 1993 for $165,900. Today it is appraised at $189,000, giving him a negative annual return when adjusted for inflation, while suburbanites outside the annexation have enjoyed double-digit annual appreciation.
"Annexation does nothing for me," said Washington. "It is not a value-added move. It's all about revenue, all about the dollar."
Eleventh-hour protests may not do Washington and his neighbors much good. "If you don't have a solution you are going to get annexed," says Jackie Welch, who developed Washington's subdivision and others along Winchester. An attorney familiar with annexation procedures agreed.
"The most effective strategy has been to negotiate it out several years, which the city has been more than willing to do," said the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But the opponents are not going to beat it."
The delaying strategy allowed thousands of residents of Cordova and Hickory Hill, most of them white, to move outside the ever-expanding city limits and avoid paying city property taxes for as long as 10 years. The importance of the boundary line and the effective date of annexation is especially clear in the case of Southwind, the gated residential community around the Tournament Players Golf Course.
According to the Shelby County Assessor's Office, there are 494 dwellings in Southwind with a total appraised value of $308 million. Thanks to an agreement negotiated by their attorneys and agreed to by city attorney Sara Hall in May, the residents of Southwind and Windyke, a less-exclusive area south of Winchester, will not be annexed until 2013.
"It was an unfortunate turn of events in the courtroom," said City Council chairman-elect Tom Marshall. "It should have required the approval of the council."
In Southwind alone, the city is leaving $2.6 million in property taxes on the table for six years, or $15.8 million total. Using the Memphis Crime Commission's figures, that $2.6 million would pay for hiring and training 26 new police officers.
After annexation, Washington will pay another $1,620 a year in property taxes. A neighbor in the nearby Richwood subdivision, former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout, will pay an extra $2,145 a year on his house, appraised at $250,000. But Southwind's residents get a six-year tax holiday. Jerry West, president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, will save $31,727 a year on his $3.7 million house, and Alan Graf, chief financial officer for FedEx, will save $14,577 a year in taxes on his house, which is appraised at $1.7 million. (As part of the deal, which neither Graf nor West had anything to do with, Memphis has annexed a commercial strip along Hacks Cross Road and, therefore, its share of the sales tax from businesses as well as the world headquarters of FedEx at Winchester and Hacks Cross.)
Higher taxes and last week's little lesson in parliamentary procedure was only a taste of what the city has in store for its future citizens. In addition to being denied the right to speak until the third reading of the ordinance -- which won't become effective until the minutes of that meeting are approved later, giving council members yet another chance to change their minds -- this is what comes with the annexation deal:
* City schools instead of Shelby County schools.
* Law enforcement by the Memphis Police Department, which Herenton and Police Director Larry Godwin recently said is understaffed by 650 officers. Asked this week if annexation would further stretch law enforcement, Herenton said "the mayor does not annex" and suggested that the City Council and planning office give the matter "careful analysis."
* City parks, which tend to become overgrown and neglected every time the city coffers run dry or the mayor wants to make a statement, as he did in the summer of 2005.
* Roads and sewers, which residents already have in abundance but haven't had to pay for, or at least not the city share.
* Garbage service and the bills and add-ons that come with it.
* Streetlights and annual car inspections.
If the annexation is completed, the population of Memphis will "grow" overnight to more than 700,000, or more than twice the population of St. Louis, which cannot annex. Schools and libraries, including the new Southwind High School opening in 2007, will sooner or later shift to the city, if the city doesn't immediately take possession. And the history of Memphis since 1950 suggests that over time most white residents who have not left already will move out of the annexed areas into Germantown, Collierville, and other parts of Shelby, Fayette, and DeSoto counties beyond the grasp of Memphis.
The annexation line in the Southeast Extended area is so gerrymandered that it looks as if it were drawn by a drunk with the shakes. At one point, just east of the new high school, it makes an elaborate jigsaw cut to exempt a developer's partially completed subdivision, while taking in others a few hundred yards away. Marshall said it is possible that the line will be redrawn to conform to more logical natural boundaries.
Overriding all annexation decisions is this stark reality: Directly west of Southwind's gated community, on the west side of six-lane Hacks Cross Road, there is an attractive, tree-covered parcel of land that retains the pastoral look of this area 20 years ago. When Nonconnah Parkway, now Bill Morris Parkway, was extended to Collierville in 1997, a developer put in streets, curbs, sewers, and utility hook-ups for a high-end residential subdivision. But the property was inside the Memphis city line, if only a stone's throw from Southwind. Today, not one single house has been built.
In addition to the crime problem, the police and sheriff's department have a trust problem and a communication problem.
Victims can't get their 911 calls answered or routed promptly. Community watchdogs can't get officers to respond to known trouble spots. Prosecutors can't lock up all the violent criminals they convict. City Council members don't necessarily believe additional cops would be deployed wisely and well, and they're reluctant to raise property taxes to pay for them. And the federal investigation of police corruption, Operation Tarnished Blue, has taken a toll on public confidence.
These are the messages that come out of community forums, press conferences, and interviews with elected officials and crime experts. To use a football analogy, Mayor Willie Herenton and Police Director Larry Godwin are backed up inside their 20-yard line as they push for 650 more officers over the next three years and a property tax increase of at least 50 cents to pay for them.
A community forum hosted by councilwoman Carol Chumney last week in East Memphis produced these comments:
From a neighborhood leader, speaking to a police captain: "What can we do if we know there's a problem and we can't get you?"
From Sheriff Mark Luttrell on the 911 problem: "Bartlett, Memphis, and Shelby County each have separate 911 systems. Consolidating it is expensive. It will be two years until it will happen."
From Chumney: "At a Crime Commission meeting two months ago, Director Godwin told me point-blank they did not need more officers."
From Shelby County prosecutor Tom Henderson: "We [Tennessee] have some of the weakest gun laws in the United States. Our laws suck."
From former Police Director Buddy Chapman, now head of Crime Stoppers: "A community suffers only as much crime as it is willing to."
A police captain and an inspector from Central Precinct listened and responded for nearly three hours, as did Chumney, Luttrell, Henderson, and Chapman. But there was no consensus on what works to reduce crime and what should be done.
Chumney, a likely candidate for mayor in 2007, couldn't resist the temptation to lecture Herenton and Godwin, who, not surprisingly, had declined her invitation to attend the event. She thinks the police department's problem is management more than manpower. It's a fact that Godwin has done a complete turnabout on overtime and more cops this year, and Herenton's plan looked slapdash. His cost numbers, for example, are based on 500 cops, but he asked for 650. But Chumney's political digs aren't helping. The issue isn't who was first; it's what to do now.
Chapman's comment seemed to blame the victims. Was he suggesting Memphians are apathetic? That they should arm themselves? Move away? Spring for 650 more cops? Hire 650 more teachers instead? He didn't say.
Henderson, when pressed, said Memphis needs a lot more cops. But the veteran prosecutor also noted that his office handled 100,000 cases last year. Even with tougher laws and stiffer sentences, locking up all the bad guys would require another jail.
The one we have processed 53,000 people last year. Luttrell said he would ask for 35 to 40 more deputies in his next budget because calls for service are up. But when he fielded a question about why crime is currently on the rise, he lapsed into banalities about social inequities. Everyone knows Memphis has poverty, gangs, and injustice. The question is why people in the same circumstances decide to start or stop committing crimes. The "broken windows" approach to crime epidemics says that context matters and that smart policing and swift prosecution can significantly influence behavior.
The Memphis Police Department answered 540,000 service calls during the first eight months of 2006. Godwin has said the manpower shortage is so severe that lieutenants are responding to calls because no officers are available.
Asked about the proposed 650 new cops, Michael Heidingsfield, president of the Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission, said, "It certainly can't hurt, as long as they're deployed properly. But the number of police is never the long-term solution." He favors getting rid of the residency requirement but opposes relaxing the education standard. Corruption is a confidence killer, he said, and without public confidence "the cause is lost."
By now most everyone is familiar with the term "tipping point" thanks to the bestselling book by Malcolm Gladwell about how little things can make a big difference.
At a time when Memphis is being called the second-most violent urban area in America, when a fire has turned the next big downtown thing into the next bad downtown thing, when the City Council has been asked to raise taxes to hire 650 more cops, and when thousands of people leave the city each year for neighboring counties, it's reasonable to wonder if Memphis is at a tipping point.
With a year to go until the next city election, the man who will have a lot to say about that is Mayor Willie Herenton. His 16th year in office could be either his greatest or his worst. Even though he sometimes gets booed at public appearances and blasted on the radio and in letters to the editor, a longer and more balanced view of Herenton's career suggests that he will rise to the occasion and that 2007 will see him at his best, which is better than anyone else in local politics.
Here's why: Before the tipping point there was the "tilt factor." In Memphis, that term was coined by former Memphis City Schools administrator O.Z. Stephens, a colleague of Herenton's when the mayor was a teacher, principal, and superintendent. The tilt factor was the point where white-student enrollment fell off the table and a school went from mostly white or mixed to all black. Stephens put it at about 30 percent. He saw it happen dozens of times in the 1970s and '80s, after the onset of busing and the Plan Z desegregation plan, which Stephens co-authored.
As a young superintendent, Herenton's response to the tilt factor was to start and support the optional-schools program. Its purpose, as former Grahamwood Elementary School principal Margaret Taylor recalled last week, was "to keep all the white students from leaving the school system." This is the same man who is now accused of driving Memphians away to DeSoto County.
Over the next 25 years, all but about 10,000 white students would leave anyway. But Herenton's advocacy was crucial to getting the program started and defending it against opponents. His next big move as superintendent was to close 18 schools. His successors have been unable to close more than a handful of schools even though the combined enrollment (and more important, the number of graduates) of the four smallest city high schools is now less than the enrollment at either of the two largest high schools.
Herenton has said several times that more schools should be closed. He has recommended for at least 10 years full or partial city and county consolidation, with or without separate school systems. He proposed rebalancing city and county property taxes 10 years ago. He explored the sale of MLGW, whose pension obligations could one day outweigh the benefits of public ownership. All of these proposals were dropped, maybe because of Herenton and maybe because Memphis wasn't at a tipping point.
Herenton's crime proposals were, in part, a response to meetings with Memphis Tomorrow, an elite group of business leaders. Ken Glass, president of Memphis Tomorrow, said crime has taken on "greater urgency" and Herenton and Police Director Larry Godwin must use "known, proven ways" to fight it. The model will be New York City and the "broken windows" approach outlined in Gladwell's book.
Herenton kept his own counsel and told the businessmen that crime was going to get worse before it gets better. He'll need all the help he can get to sell his crime plan. By opposing a payroll tax and recommending efficiency studies but ducking consolidation, business groups have left the mayor and City Council no options besides a tax increase to pay for 650 more cops. Citing a big drop in the number of fire calls due to code improvements, some council members think fire stations can be closed to shift more money to police. But that was before last week's rash of downtown fires.
At his best, Herenton can lead a New York-style turnaround in Memphis. At his worst, he could lose key supporters and his job.
Pat Halloran may have the best job in Memphis.
The guiding force of The Orpheum theater is a talented speaker, raconteur, and author. He hobnobs with famous actors. He gets to see the most popular shows on Broadway. As president of the not-for-profit Memphis Development Foundation (the business name for The Orpheum), he is the gold standard for big-stage theater managers. He is also the bronze standard, silver standard, and platinum standard since there is only one Orpheum and Halloran has been its public face for more than 25 years.
His board likes him, too. So much that he earned $420,105 in salary and benefits last year. His $375,000 salary -- which is more than the combined salaries of the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County -- puts him in the top ranks of executives of Memphis nonprofit organizations.
Memphis nonprofits are increasingly influential but rarely scrutinized, despite the efforts of Congress and the Internal Revenue Service to publicize their Form 990 tax returns. Curiously, most local reporters ignore them. For example, a recent story in The Commercial Appeal about The Orpheum possibly changing its name to generate sponsorship income made no mention of anyone's salary.
Nonprofits are tax-exempt because they perform some public purpose, thereby relieving the public sector of some of its burden. They include organizations as diverse as Rhodes College, Memphis Country Club, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, the Mid-South Chapter of the American Red Cross, and the Memphis Humane Society. As governments reach the political limits of their taxing power, they increasingly turn to nonprofits for help. The Salvation Army, for example, is a possible key player in the redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
Some nonprofits, including the Memphis Development Foundation, hold fund-raising events, recruit volunteers, and seek donations. Others, such as the Plough Foundation, manage old money and give it away. Grassroots organizations such as Friends for Our Riverfront and Parents for Public Schools operate on shoestring budgets of less than $50,000 a year. United Way of Greater Memphis and Senior Citizen Services, on the other hand, have budgets of more than $25 million.
Quasi-public nonprofits like the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) and the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau work closely with the city and county on downtown development. Three former city division directors work for the RDC, which has taken over some of the duties that used to belong to the Memphis Park Commission.
The IRS requires nonprofits to make their tax returns, including executive compensation and program spending, available to the public. Many organizations post their Form 990s on their Web sites. Another place to look is www.guidestar.org. Some nonprofits describe what they do in great detail. See the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center's return. Others require you to do a little digging. For example, you wouldn't know it by looking at its tax form, but Senior Citizen Services, which got $26 million in government grants last year, is managed by another nonprofit: Generations Inc.
Here is a sampling of Memphis nonprofit organizations, what they do, and what they pay in salary and benefits to their key people.
MIFA; provides meals and services to the needy; Margaret Craddock, $112,000.
Memphis Tomorrow; corporate execs tackle big issues; Blair Taylor, $150,731.
Partners in Public Education; leadership training; Ethele Hilliard, $178,080.
Senior Citizen Services/Generations Inc.; home-based care and other services for seniors in four states; Deborah Cotney, $216,011.
United Way of Greater Memphis; Harry Shaw, $250,101.
Memphis Union Mission; houses the homeless; Donald Bjork, $83,743.
Plough Foundation; manages $163 million endowment and supports various causes and organizations; Rick Masson, $200,767.
Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau; Kevin Kane, $243,691.
Riverfront Development Corporation; Benny Lendermon, $201,830.
Bridges USA Inc.; supports youth programs; James Boyd, $125,650.
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center; performs peace vigils, supports a living wage, opposes prison privatization; Jacob Flowers, $15,000.