Capitol Offense 

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Hey, where are you from? If you live in 10 suburban areas annexed by the city of Memphis since 1998, you could soon be voting to change your answer from, "Memphis" to "an unincorporated neighborhood kinda near Memphis."


Nose, meet face. As in, here we go again with another debilitating, divisive, and lose-lose battle between the city of Memphis and some of its surrounding suburbs. All this, of course, thanks to some of our fine elected representatives in Nashville, who are pushing legislation that seems expressly designed to make things more difficult for most of Tennessee's major cities — Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and a couple of other mid-sized burgs. (Nashville, conveniently enough, gets a pass, having consolidated in 1962, thus avoiding divisive city/county struggles.)

The legislation is reckless and vindictive and will put the cities upon which all these annexed areas depend for economic survival at risk by devastating their tax base. The legislation also ignores history — namely, the deal that was brokered following the 1998 brouhaha over "tiny towns," which involved legislation that would have allowed surrounding suburban neighborhoods to incorporate into, well, tiny towns.

Then-Mayor Herenton fought that bill to the state Supreme Court and won. (Given the current GOP-packed makeup of the Supreme Court, one suspects they would rule differently today.) The current proposed law would nullify legislation passed after that 1998 decision that required Tennessee counties to establish boundaries for local growth by the entities within their borders. An agreement that defined annexation boundaries was subsequently reached by all the mayors and various governing bodies in Shelby County at that time. That deal will be annulled by this legislation, and, presumably, chaos will resume. Which may be what the yokels in Nashville had in mind.

If the law passes, elections will be held, as early as November, to allow annexed neighborhoods to vote to secede from Memphis. The battle will be noisy, setting neighbor against neighbor, neighborhood against neighborhood. Yard signs will proliferate. Tempers will rise. Memphis will be disparaged and defended, as the same destructive battle-lines that were drawn over the county/city schools conflict are reanimated.

The elections will be followed by an expensive legal fight, which will go to the state Supreme Court, and probably beyond. Meanwhile, Memphis budget woes will increase, wounding and weakening the city at a time when it is beginning to experience something of a retail and residential renaissance at its core.

In short, this is an unnecessary and unholy mess in the making.

When asked about the legislation, Governor Bill Haslam said, "What I try to tell people in the legislature is, you might not be from a city, you might be from a rural area or a suburban area, but cities matter to you." 

Yes, they do. And weakening the economic driver for an entire region — and the only reason your neighborhood even exists — is the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

If the state Senate, as expected, passes this bill, our only hope — admittedly, a slim one — for avoiding this foolishness lies with a Haslam veto. Haslam, a former mayor of Knoxville, obviously sees the dangers in this bill. Those of us in the affected cities can only hope he summons the courage to do the right thing.

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