Consolidation getting new push from some Memphis, Shelby leaders

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(David Royer, WREG)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As Memphis and Shelby County leaders look to move the metro area forward and compete with Nashville’s growth, some local leaders think that consolidating city and county governments may hold the answer.

Chase Carlisle and JB Smiley, Jr. will present a resolution to Memphis City Council on Tuesday to form a charter commission to explore the idea. The county commission will consider a similar resolution.

If approved, the county would appoint 10 members to the commission, and the city would appoint five members, to a charter commission, Carlisle said.

“When you look at the data and look at our peer cities, it’s very clear that Memphis is growing, but very slowly,” Carlisle said.

The economy of Metropolitan Memphis, including outlying counties, grew 9% from 2000 to 2018. Metro Nashville, including the city and Davidson County, grew 75% during the same period, he said.

Carlisle said not all of that growth could be attributed to Nashville’s consolidated government — it’s the state capital and home to several universities — but he believes it has enough of an impact that it should be considered here.

County Commissioner Reginald Milton said a consolidated government wouldn’t solve all the region’s problems, but was worth examining.

“All of us are committed to our city and county. We want growth, and you can’t have growth unless you sit down and start deciding what we have to do to make changes,” Milton said. “Let’s be honest, Nashville is eating our lunch. They’re doing better than us. And at the end of the day, if we don’t have jobs, were going to have crime. If we don’t have jobs, we’re going to have challenges in our schools. If we don’t have the jobs. we’re not going to be able to see the prosperity that everyone sees.”

Jack Sammons, a former city councilman and Memphis City CAO who is co-chairing a committee on consolidation, said a more efficient local government could help the area attract more jobs and investment.

“Companies that are interested in investing, building a plant, creating a headquarters or something like that, they want to deal with one voice. They don’t want to deal with two governments,” Sammons said.

He hopes the initiative will “light the fuse” for a discussion between the city and county for a new form of government.

Nashville and Davidson County combined city and county into a consolidated metro government in 1962.

Memphis and Shelby County have explored the idea several times, but the issue has never been successfully supported. The last vote on the issue was a public referendum in 2010. It narrowly passed in the city but failed by a large margin in the county.

The issue continues to divide. Among county commissioners, The Daily Memphian reports that Tami Sawyer and Amber Mills, who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, both are skeptical of consolidation.

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