Jacksonville, Florida, consolidated in 1968 after a period of widespread public corruption, problems with the school system, and an inferiority complex.
And in the 40 plus years since then, Jacksonville has thrived. They now have an NFL team; their citizens have fewer taxes than in other large Florida cities; and they're not dependent on tourism.
"Our darkest hour became our finest," Richard Mullaney, Jacksonville's general counsel, told the metro charter commission Thursday afternoon. "In my opinion, some forms are local government are better than others. Some provide a competitive structural advantage over others."
With charter commission members in attendance, as well as sheriff Mark Luttrell, County Commissioner Mike Carpenter, MLGW head Jerry Collins, and Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn, Mullaney gave an overview of Jacksonville before the merger and after.
"What we've seen ... is a remarkable change in Jacksonville over the past 40 years, and that change has been consolidated government," he said.
Pre-1968, for instance, different branches of government each had their own legal counsel.
"That model was good for lawyers," Mullaney said. "It slowed things down, it was very expensive, and it was very difficult to get anything done."
But getting rid of lawyers isn't the only reason to consolidate. Mullaney laid out six benefits of the transition for the commission:
1. Savings due to efficiency
2. Less bureaucracy and a streamlining of government
3. More accountability and transparency ("If you have shared responsibilities, no one is responsible.")
4. No intergovernmental litigation (Having recently covered the ongoing school funding crisis, no comment.)
5. An opportunity to create public policy on a countywide basis
6. Clout — you can leverage all of the area's assets
The first two are helpful in terms of economic development, and Mullaney predicts more cities will be looking at consolidation because of the economic downtown.
Interestingly enough, residents of Jacksonville's suburban municipalities voted for consolidation of Jacksonville and Duval County, but also voted to stay autonomous.
"While I think it would be better for us all to consolidate," Mullaney said, "it worked out fine this way. Jacksonville acts like a county government to those municipalities."
But for consolidation to occur, Mullaney said that two things have to be present:
Extraordinary statesmanship and a crisis.
Elected officials have to be forward thinking/unselfish enough to put the area's best interest before their own personal power.
And you have to have enough of a crisis for people to decide the current system isn't working.
"I'm not here to pretend this is easy," he said. "As stewards for the future, it's something to think about."