Paving the Way 

We're going to make everybody mad with this one: The overnight accomplishment of de facto school consolidation — for, unless something truly unexpected happens, that's what we're looking at now — is going to free us, every last one of us, from the shackles that have bound us. We may even be able, a generation earlier than we thought after November 2nd, to take another look at political consolidation of the city and county.

It's already possible to look back with wonderment at that half-hearted, adulterated, and internally conflicted version of consolidation we were asked to decide upon only months ago — the one that timidly refrained from (shhhhhhh!) merging the city and county schools. That was supposed to be a deal-breaker, remember, the untouchable third rail. In reality, what the omission of school consolidation did was further convince key members of the city's already suspicious African-American population that their concerns were secondary to those of the separatist suburbs. And all for naught, inasmuch as suburban voters failed to take the bait, voting at better than 4-to-1 against a proposed Metro Charter that was so solicitous as to allow the non-Memphis municipalities to hold on to their sovereignty.

What was screwy about that well-intentioned charter was the way it shied away from unscrambling the overlapping and confusing tax codes that were to continue with the maintenance of two distinct and discrete governmental entities (an "urban services district," i.e., Memphis vis-à-vis a "general services district," i.e., the county). That was the governmental counterpart of the funding complications that have characterized our two cohabitating school systems and confounded the quest in recent years for what was hopefully designated "single-source funding."

What we're saying is that school consolidation puts us on the road to leap-frogging all that difficulty, and we should consider following it up by putting together the two halves of our divided and duplicated governmental structure by the same means — charter surrender. Does our City Council have on it bold self-sacrificial types like Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart and the three other MCS board members who were willing, on December 20th, to put the greater good ahead of their own status-quo careers?

For those who would shy away from the challenges that would necessarily ensue, we would suggest that these would be as nothing compared to the snarls and wrangles of struggling to remain separate. Just as school consolidation is almost certain to result in a stabilized neighborhood-school system along existing lines, eschewing the expensive and radical experimentation of past decades, so would overnight city/county consolidation rest upon what is already in place.

We have a model for what the resultant governmental structure would be like in the functioning Shelby County government of today. Imagine, if you will, the luxury of choosing between a Mark Luttrell and an A C Wharton to head such a combined government!

So maybe we're not going to make everybody mad after all. Maybe by floating this concept we're doing nothing more than advancing a vision of future comfort and security and conjoined simplicity. We hope so. Happy New Year!

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