A few weeks ago, I realized that many city and county residents really don't know or understand what's going on with the consolidation drive. Maybe it's just that, as a community, we've talked about consolidation for so long that it seems like it will always be hypothetical.
But the talk right now is more than just talk; it comes with a vote November 2nd.
In light of that, we decided to do a cover treatment on consolidation. (It should be hitting the streets today and should be live on the website tomorrow.)
I'll admit it's kind of a tricky thing on consolidation right now. There's not a lot of specifics to talk about, since the charter commission still has to write the new document. But if we don't start talking about it now, a lot of people are going to be taken unaware on August 10th when the new document is filed, and on November 2nd when city and county residents are asked to vote on it.
And then we started writing, and it turned out there was more to talk about than I originally thought.
Starting today, I'm going to be posting some of my note overflow: mostly things people said that I thought were interesting but didn't quite make it into the paper because of space. And because you can't just run a bunch of quotes. It's a journalism rule.
Rebuild Government is a non-profit begun by Brian Stephens and Darrell Cobbins to get more public input in the drafting of the new charter. They host small home meetings to discuss consolidation, asking residents for input and questions, and then pass that information on to the metro charter commission.
(If this does not make sense to you, or you want the terms "Rebuild Government" or "metro charter commission" defined, please stop reading right here, get in your car, go to Schnucks, and pick up a copy of this week's paper. Or, wait, you can click here or here for earlier stories.)
The group got off the ground after both the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission voted unanimously to create a joint metro charter commission.
"I took that to mean that they thought there could be some reshaping of government," Cobbins says. "It helped me to see that this whole thing could become a reality."
Though Rebuild Government as an organization is officially neutral on the subject of consolidation, Cobbins, also one of the founders of New Path and MPACT Memphis, isn't.
"We have a lot of duplication in government," Cobbins says. "At a minimum, it creates a uniform, efficient set of departments and strategic focuses that I think would allow government to better deliver services to citizens."
Cobbins says he doesn't think people realize the power they have right now to help craft a new government. The last time the area really considered consolidation was 1971, and Cobbins (along with many of us) wasn't even born then.
"A lot of times we seem to be waiting for some Caped Crusader to come in and save the day," he says. "If we acknowledge that the Caped Crusader probably doesn't exist, we'll more readily accept responsibility to say, 'What can we do to correct what we see as deficiencies and reposition government to give us what we want?'"
Cobbins thinks people want to see more job creation, less crime, improved government ethics and accountability, and more equable taxes.
"I would add poverty," he says. "It's already bad here and it's projected to get worse, and there isn't a lot of talk about it."
He thinks a consolidated government would have certain advantages dealing with those issues.
"I think what's getting lost in the discussion is that this isn't just about right now. A lot of this is about our children and what community they'll grow up in," he says.
And if consolidation doesn't pass in November, what will that say about us as a community?
"That, to some degree," he says, "the status quo is acceptable."