Facing the Music 

It's the end of a year and, by tradition, a time for summing up and looking forward. That's the case more than usually, as 2007 begins with the government of Memphis in literal disarray and with municipal elections scheduled for later in the year.

We've got trouble here in River City. Of our 13-member City Council, two members have been freshly indicted for accepting bribes, and another, though so far charged with nothing improper, has threatened to resign because of criticism of his new-car deal with the same shady operator charged with paying off the other two. The council chairperson has already resigned -- though only to take a high-paying job with the city administration.

As it happens, various members of the administration are moving on to other jobs, and, while that's (seemingly) good for them, it accentuates the profile of a local government in pell-mell passage from something to, well, something else. All this activity has prompted some to speculate that Mayor Willie Herenton, who likes to begin each New Year by launching bombshells, may have another even more spectacular and surprising one in store for 2007.

Meanwhile, Shelby County government has already undergone a sea change, with an almost brand-new commission (8 new members out of 13) charged with tackling the problems -- budgetary and reorganizational -- that proved so intractable for the old commission. Although an impressive degree of comity has so far prevailed in the commissioners' dealings with each other, that could change -- and fast. Already, they've had their first partisan set-to and now are embroiled in controversy over the issue of a newly configured Juvenile Court. Although various rationales have been advanced for either keeping the court the way it is or adding a second sitting judge, the opposing sides seem uncomfortably arrayed along racial and party lines.

A spectre sure to confront the commission, and already haunting the council, involves a long-overdue analysis of the interactions between developers and the public officials who sit in judgment over their proposals. It's not surprising that a zoning issue figured as the catalyst in the FBI/DEA sting that has resulted in the City Council indictments. Zoning proposals are the main order of business for both the council and the commission. The boards and appointed agencies that vet zoning and other issues are in need of review, too. Crippled by controversy or not (some of it racial), the City Council did the right thing by withholding an immediate reappointment of the Alcohol Commission's head -- if for no other reason than that he had just run for office using contributions from the club owners whose businesses he is charged with regulating.

And, speaking of running for office, public confidence in our election process -- both in the officials who administer it and in the new voting machinery by which it is conducted -- is running dangerously low. Tighter safeguards and more responsive administration are not merely desirable, they are imperative.

Lastly, the New Year will get off to the tune of new Tennessee Waltz trials and perhaps with new indictments. It's a sad song, but it's our song. The first order of business now is facing the music.

Happy New Year.

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