Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Other "N-Word" and Consolidation

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 9:48 AM

I don't like the N Word. Not that one, and not the other one. The other one is "naysayer."

At the hot and sweaty Metro Charter Commission pep rally Wednesday afternoon on the mall, speaker Beverly Robertson said naysayers will always say it can't be done.

Two things, one general, one personal.

Generally speaking, the naysayers may well be right. It will be an uphill battle to convince residents of Shelby County outside of Memphis that this is good medicine.

Speaking personally, any decent reporter, as a professional, has to be something of a naysayer. "Check it out" is one of the first laws of journalism, and the facts and prior experience sometimes weigh on the side of skepticism. There are too many examples in Memphis to mention. "Yeasayers" are often paid proponents. That is the case of Rebuild Government and some other charter boosters, although not the charter commission members themselves. They served selflessly and well. In their private hearts, I suspect many of them have some doubts.

Anyone who lives in the city of Memphis, owns a home, holds a job, pays taxes, raises a family, and sends their kids to public schools is not a naysayer. End of discussion.

Some first impressions on the pep rally: First, proponents should beware of taking the high moral ground. Sounding righteous will not help their cause. This is a complicated issue, and the 2014 start date made it more complicated. If Memphis is in as bad shape as Mayor A C Wharton and the other lawyers suing Wells Fargo over predatory lending say it is, the bottom will fall out of city finances before 2014 and consolidation won't do any good if thousands of people walk away from their mortgages.

Second, get over this touchiness about using the word "consolidation." It was the first word in Section 1.02 of the first draft of the proposed charter but was struck from the final draft, and commission member Richard Smith went to great pains Wednesday to explain, unsuccessfully by my lights, why this is not consolidation. The word may be toxic, but this is consolidation. Calling it anything else is corporate-speak, like saying a fired executive resigned to spend more time with his family.

Third, the charter by itself eliminates precisely two jobs — one mayor and one clerk.

Fourth, city and county government, independently, can do all the things regarding ethics and efficiency that a consolidated government could do. We have the tax structures, the government debt, and the government employment numbers we have now because somebody put them there. The trick will be to explain how consolidating will make it better.

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