This weekend, an estimated 100,000 people will invade a corner of Shelby Farms to enjoy the Ducks Unlimited Great Outdoors Festival. It's a rare weekend when the park draws anywhere near that number of people, but such events could become more commonplace in the future. Or not.
One thing is fairly certain: Barring an unforeseen turn of events, the 4,450 acres of prime open land in the center of Shelby County currently known as Shelby Farms will be taken over in July by a private conservancy. Led by former First Tennessee National Corporation CEO Ron Terry, the conservancy will use a privately funded $20 million endowment to make improvements over several years. The stated goal of the group is to create a master plan that will preserve a quiet, free park forever off-limits to developers.
Beyond that, details are sketchy, but everyone seems to have an opinion on which direction the park's future should take. And the pro-development forces may still muster some support. They argue, not unconvincingly in some cases, that selling off a couple of chunks of the property and using the money to ease the county's budget woes makes sense. Why, the reasoning goes, should we preserve 4,450 acres for nothing but hikers and cyclists? Shouldn't half that amount of land be enough?
Conservationists counter that developers have already overrun the county and that this is our last, best chance to preserve a significant piece of land from the bulldozers.
At this juncture, it appears conservationists hold the high ground, and that's good from our perspective. Whether they can hold it forever remains to be seen.
In Memphis and Shelby County, as elsewhere in Tennessee, there are good citizens who have talked themselves into a state of alarm concerning the extent to which their lives will be ravaged if a state income tax should emerge from the current legislative session, which has been rapidly degenerating into the fourth straight General Assembly to end up doing nothing about the state's ever-worsening fiscal crisis.
Not that there aren't philosophical reasons for opposing an income tax. There are, but those are not what one mostly hears from the professional alarmists. Many of these are to be found in talk radio, the recent social phenomenon which represents either the regeneration of pure democracy or its demise, depending on one's persuasion.
Those locals who frown upon the new art and blame it for misinforming the public ain't heard nothing yet, however, unless they've managed to tune in to the variety that dominates the airwaves in Nashville. Take one Phil Valentine of Nashville's hallowed old WLAC-AM, a station once renowned for breaking new musical ground, and merely listen to some of his arguments against an income tax, delivered during the last week or so in the course of his daily diatribes.
Last week, he informed his listeners, "Those people who think they're for an income tax, what would they think if they knew that $16 million that would be gained by it would go toward a performing arts center for the University of Memphis that nobody needs? What would they think if they knew some of the money would be used to get every child reading by the third grade, just so they can brag about how good their schools are?"
This week, he accused income-tax proponents of scheming to itemize their state income-tax debits so these could be deducted from their federal income tax. "If they really want to give the government more money, they wouldn't do that!" he thundered. (The sales tax, of course, cannot be so deducted from one's federal tax. As Lt. Governor John Wilder likes to say about this defect, "Uncle Sam taxes taxes.")
Question: What side is Mr. Valentine -- whether he knows it or not -- really on? And if he doesn't know, who does?