When last year's county elections ended with eight new members taking office in the 13-member Shelby County Commission, hopes were high that the body might avail itself of the opportunity to start anew, casting aside the partisan divisions of the past and working in unaccustomed harmony. A breath of fresh air, as it were.
Then came the exhalation — and some disillusionment — as personal and political agendas made for what was arguably tougher going than before. A cynic might look at it this way: Some on the commission are running for county mayor or other higher office down the line, while others are hoping to expand their power base on the commission itself or in the community at large — or maybe just working on their resumes.
Whatever the case, the partisan divides have reasserted themselves, for better or for worse. An example of the former, in our judgment, was the recent passage of living-wage legislation, more or less a party-line affair, with Democrats in control. An example of the latter was the pell-mell rush to establish a second Juvenile Court judgeship — an end justifiable in itself, we think, but one that has often progressed without benefit of ordinary protocols or simple civilities.
In some ways, it would appear, the turnover of the commission's members has made for minimal continuity and a bumpy transition indeed. A tip of the hat here to commission chairman Joe Ford, whose work ethic and generally acknowledged sense of fairness have kept the body more or less on course and less quarrelsome than it might be.
All of this is relevant to new developments on the Memphis City Council, which last week saw two more members — the legally beleaguered Rickey Peete and another council veteran, E.C. Jones — announce that they would not seek reelection this year. That makes six dropouts so far, and it ain't over yet.
The strong likelihood exists, in fact, that, by the time the 2007 election season is over, the council will have experienced a shakeup in its membership at least as complete as the one the commission has undergone.
This could be good news or bad news, depending on who the replacements are. We are inclined to be optimistic, in that city voters are likely to be motivated much more by reaction to real or alleged scandals, some of them quite fresh, than were county voters last year.
Indeed, since a full month and a half remain before the filing deadline for city office, the opportunity for a full and systematic regeneration would seem to be at hand. One of the persistent refrains during last year's 9th District congressional campaigns was a general lament at the presence of so many worthy candidates, many of them new and promising faces, in a race that could finally have only one winner.
It was argued at the time that some of these candidates were putting the cart before the horse and that their talents and fresh approaches were more sorely needed at the local level. What seemed true then is even more compelling now. The City Council, like the County Commission before it, is in for significant change. We'd like to see an enlarged field of prospects — similar in size and variety and enthusiasm, say, to the one that answered the call last year for election to the Charter Commission.