Friday, February 1, 2002

Future Tense?

Consolidation questions, and other matters.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Hanging questions in the wake of Mayor Willie Herenton's recent presentation about consolidation of city and county government:

The proposal was notable for what was left out. The mayor recycled the idea of unified law enforcement, fire departments, and parks and recreation departments. But if consolidation is vital to the future well-being of greater Memphis, there are two government operations that by definition are all about the future.

So what about public schools and the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development (OPD)?

The pat answer on schools has two parts: maintain city and county boundaries and implement single-source funding.

What do they mean? A single source of funds for each district, like a married couple with two checking accounts? Or a single source of funds for both districts? And what about state and federal funds (which both systems receive)? The phrase single-source funding is widely bandied about and even more widely misunderstood, which is a bad sign.

Separate boundaries? Richard Fields, attorney for plaintiffs in the city and county school desegregation lawsuits, says city kids should be able to attend county schools if they want to. That's a far cry from the measure of school choice city students now have as their parents line up this week for spots in the optional-schools program.

OPD, formed by the county as a joint city-county agency, is supposed to be responsible for orderly growth and development in Shelby County. The department seems to be completely at sea.

Long-time director Dexter Muller resigned last year to work for the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce. Planning for some of the choicest parts of the county, including the riverfront, downtown, and the new arena, has been spun off to other organizations that are better able to tap private support. Big, underused properties like Shelby Farms, the Mid-South Fairgrounds, and the Defense Depot need leadership and funding to get new roads or new development, and that hasn't happened during the Herenton/Rout years.

OPD's staff must serve two masters, the city and county mayors. Last week Herenton announced plans to shift the Middle-Income Housing Assistance Program from OPD to the city's division of Housing and Community Development and director Robert Lipscomb. Lipscomb is the new go-to guy for all things housing.


A task force is going to visit consolidated-government cities Nashville, Jacksonville, Louisville, and Indianapolis. But there are some simple numbers from the respective trustees' offices that may be more telling than anything gleaned from a junket. The residential property tax rate in Nashville is $4.58 per $100 of assessed valuation. In Memphis it is $7.02 (combined city and county taxes), which means Memphians pay $1,220 a year more in property taxes on a $200,000 house.


Another telecom company went bankrupt this week. Global Crossing joined 2001 casualties North Point, Winstar, PSInet, Exodus, and Excite@home. Meanwhile, Memphis Networx and its partner, MLGW, are plowing ahead with their broadband network.

The Sunday New York Times identified the key problem for telecoms: They presuppose a demand for broadband that isn't there, at least not yet. Most people use the Internet for reading and e-mail, not videos, music (Napster or otherwise), or multimedia, and conventional access is adequate.


What Tennessee public company is as inscrutable as Enron? My choice, after reading 40 annual reports and proxy statements for Memphis-connected public companies for a Memphis magazine survey, is Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

From the CCA highlight reel: two major restructurings in three years, acquisitions, reverse stock splits, two classes of stock, name changes, executive turnover, a 500 percent increase in the stock price in a year following a huge loss, and a lawsuit from its own investment bankers. Plus intimate ties to state government. The CEO of CCA, John Ferguson, used to be commissioner of finance for Tennessee.


Methodist Hospital Central is not, repeat, not going anywhere. So says spokesperson Ruth Ann Hale in response to rumors that have cropped up in the wake of Baptist Hospital's departure from downtown.

Queries from the Flyer and other Memphis media outlets stem from a recent partnership of the Methodist psychiatric unit with Charter Lakeside and employee concerns about the fate of the obstetrics and gynecology and neo-natal units.

Hale said Methodist has requested a certificate of need to move psych beds to Pauline Avenue, which is still in the medical center. Several options are "under discussion but not decided upon" for the other units, Hale said.

"Central is alive and well and we plan to be there a long, long time," she said.


Another rumor going around is that the Wal-Mart in DeSoto County at Goodman Road and Interstate 55 is the top-producing store in the chain. A Wal-Mart spokesman would not confirm or deny it.

"That's a very good store," he said. "We love all our stores."

In Shelby County, Wal-Mart is on the move. It will close its Germantown store on Germantown Road this year and move a mile or so north to a new site on the other side of the street in Memphis.

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