On Monday night, the League of Women Voters held a public meeting in Cordova to allow the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County and the suburbs to discuss consolidation and other issues.
The meeting was a flop, a non-event, and a trap. The mayors on the panel included Sharon Goldsworthy of Germantown, Linda Kerley of Collierville, Keith McDonald of Bartlett, and A C Wharton of Shelby County. Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, according to his spokeswoman and the League of Women Voters, was originally scheduled to attend but declined late Monday afternoon. Several suburban mayors also were absent.
The audience consisted of about 30 people, at least half of whom were public officials (Memphis Police director Larry Godwin, Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Judge John Fowlkes, county commissioner Sidney Chism, and others) or reporters. Many of them left when it became clear that Herenton wasn't coming and the suburban mayors were going to recite their familiar bromides against consolidation, city schools, property taxes, and crime while calling their own communities tidy citadels where people "live, work, and play."
The implication, of course, is that Memphis is Shelby County's problem child. The outmanned Wharton demurred that the suburbs don't have to run and support school systems, that Herenton's personality is not the issue, that consolidation can exclude schools and preserve suburban sovereignty.
"It is not fair for municipalities to say, 'Oh, we manage so neatly,'" he said to no avail, as the suburban mayors said just that.
In other words, it was a reprise of a scene that Wharton, Herenton, and other elected officials have heard many times. Herenton was smart not to attend what would have been a piling-on party with him at the bottom.
Last month, the consultants hired to recruit and screen candidates for superintendent of Memphis City Schools held a series of public meetings to get "citizen input." The meetings were a charade, attended by four or five people and held during the middle of spring break. Too bad, said the consultants, who are apparently more interested in fulfilling the letter rather than the spirit of their charge.
Some people at the Memphis Board of Education, The Commercial Appeal, and the civic groups they favor are perpetuating the myth that these meetings represent progress and doing things by the book. Never mind that almost nobody cares and nobody moves one inch off their entrenched positions.
The problems of Memphis and Shelby County demand action and hard choices. The issues have been vetted. Public meetings on consolidation and choosing a city schools superintendent have become a recipe for stalemate and the status quo.
The impatience and exasperation of mayors Herenton and Wharton is understandable.