Preaching to the Choir 

Private and public cooperation is needed in a number of areas in Shelby County.

click to enlarge mansion_twilight-thumb5.jpg

As they do annually at year's end, the members of the Shelby County legislative delegation held their annual meeting with city and county officials and with representatives of other local interests, Tuesday.

This year's venue was the Pink Palace on Central Avenue — a gorgeous reminder of Memphis history that, appropriately (or ironically) enough, began its existence as the private mansion of Memphis entrepreneur Clarence Saunders, of Piggly Wiggly fame, and was remanded to public use as a museum more or less by default.

These days it is the public sphere that is hurting the most and in need of rescue from elsewhere, often by outsourcing functions to the private sphere and also by looking to larger governmental or quasi-governmental entities.

A continuing problem in these parts, and one that was made clear to the assembled legislators by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, is that of Region One Medical Center, formerly known as The Med and perennially in need of proper funding by whatever name. Asked about the continued inability (or reluctance) of state government to access the several billions of federal funds made available to Region One and other Tennessee hospitals via the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the mayors made it clear that they too are frustrated by the standoff between Governor Bill Haslam (who at least in theory is seeking for a way to participate in the Medicaid expansion funds provided under ACA) and the General Assembly, whose Republican majority seems determined, for obviously partisan reasons, to seal Tennessee off from such aid.

A promising initiative mentioned by the mayors was the newly created Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Work Force, which, among other things, will focus on closing the gap between the Memphis area's logistical advantages and the educational shortcomings of its work-force. The same issue and the same remedy were touched on at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Memphis at the University Club a few miles away in Midtown.

Addressing the Rotarians was Christopher Massengill, federal co-chairman of the Greater Delta Regional Authority, who mentioned the Greater Memphis Alliance as a means of upgrading the educational levels of the Memphis-area population. Memphis, he said, is the "logistical capital of the world," and all it requires to rise to the fore in commerce is to resolve local inadequacies in the health and educational levels of the local population.

Easier said than done? Maybe, but it can be done, with a little more attention to local needs at the state level and a little less pointless partisanship.

This is preaching to the choir, perhaps, but as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, of all people, said in Memphis on a visit here earlier this year, preaching to the choir may be the only way to get it to sing.

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