Two Myths About Memphis’ Population and the Legality of Outside Attorneys. 

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Increasing Memphis' population through growth rather than annexation is a major goal of incoming mayor Jim Strickland. However, it is unrealistic to think that the city's population will increase during Strickland's term or terms in office.

If it does, it will be something that has occurred in only a few decades since 1900. And it would come in the face of strong demographic trends over the last 50 years, and soon after a decade, 2000-2010, in which Memphis experienced probably the largest losses of residents to outward movement in its history. 

Elected officials generally are positive in their public statements, but a more important question is: Do they at least seem to have any real understanding of the situations around them?

The 2010 Census figures showed that for the first time in history, Memphis' population declined in a decade in which the city carried out a major annexation. Between 2000 and 2010, the city took in territory with 40,000 residents. Also, vital statistics records show that Memphis had at least 30,000 to 40,000 more resident births than resident deaths. That's a net loss of 70,000 to 80,000 or more residents to out-migration over the 10 years.

The census counts for Memphis show: 2000 Census-650,100; 2010 Census-646,889.

Just looking at these numbers might leave the mistaken impression that Memphis had only a small loss. Elected officials barely took notice of the census results.  

Comments from both city and county officials did not indicate that they grasped the meaning of the census results and the extent of the population shifts.

So far this decade, census estimates show more people are moving away from the entire nine-county metro area than are moving in. Areas with strong and growing economies attract more people than they lose. Areas with weak or slow-growing economies lose more people than they gain.

Memphis has a long history of growing on its edges and then increasing its population through annexations. Population grew substantially in the Frayser and Whitehaven areas in the 1950s and 1960s. Frayser was annexed in the late 1950s and Whitehaven at the end of 1969. 

In an interview several years ago, I asked a veteran city planning educator if he expected population to increase in Memphis. He said he thought it would in "islands" but indicated he didn't see growth overall. Some of the "islands" were downtown, Midtown, Cooper-Young, the Poplar corridor, and maybe one or two other areas.

With their new school systems, Shelby County's suburban municipalities appear to be poised for continuing growth. And the Hispanic population has been and may continue to be a factor in Memphis' population numbers. 

On an unrelated issue, the Shelby County Commission has moved to name its own attorney. It seems clear that the drafters of both the city and county government charters did not intend for the City Council and commission to have their own regular attorneys.

The City Charter says the mayor is in charge of all appointments and the hiring and firing of all city personnel, and that the contracting authority rests solely with the mayor. County Attorney Ross Dyer cites the County Charter as disallowing the hiring of permanent counsel outside his jurisdiction.

Back in 1988, however, then Councilman Michael Hooks wanted lawyer Allan Wade to advise the council, and Dick Hackett, mayor at the time, merely acquiesced in the arrangement. After voters rejected proposed charter amendments allowing council members to hire council employees and ratify city contracts, Hackett, who had opposed the measures, notified Wade he no longer would be paid for advising the council.  

After Willie Herenton became mayor in 1991, he did not reappoint the assistant city attorney who had continued advising the council, but he allowed Wade to work for the council. To resolve a clash over the anomaly that occurred in 1997, the council worked out an ad hoc agreement with the mayor that placed the council staff hirings and attorney appointment on a more formal, but still provisional, basis. The practice, which was at the discretion of the mayor, remained unchanged under A C Wharton.

Even as the County Commission, engaged in a power struggle with County Mayor Mark Luttrell, strives to install its own version of an Allan Wade, a parallel and so far unstated question is: Will Strickland allow the council to continue with an independent counsel, or will he move to make changes?

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