My Fox Memphis
January 4, 2008

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, beginning an unprecedented fifth term, is pushing again for consolidation of city and county government — and this time, says he will seek a change in state law.

“Yes, I’m singing out of this choir book again,” Herenton said following his annual state of the city address.

Herenton, the only mayor in the city’s history to be elected to five terms, has been pushing for consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County government for more than a decade. His new term began Jan. 1.

The dual system of separate schools, administrations and lawmaking commissions for Memphis and Shelby County is unnecessarily cumbersome and costly, Herenton contends.

But residents of unincorporated Shelby County and its six small cities have long fought against forming a metropolitan government. Over 70 percent of the county’s more than 911,000 residents live in Memphis.

Herenton vowed in his address Wednesday to renew consolidation efforts, with a focus this time on changing state law, and perhaps the Tennessee Constitution.

State law, as permitted by the Constitution, requires a double vote for consolidation. One vote must be held for Memphis residents and another for county residents living outside the city, and the proposed consolidation must win approval both times.

Referendums were held on consolidation in 1962 and 1971. Both failed, with voters outside the city rejecting consolidation.

Herenton declined going into details on his plan.

“It is no longer acceptable to me as a citizen that Germantown, Bartlett, Collierville — those suburban communities who for whatever reason think they can be islands entirely unto themselves — should be determining whether or not we consolidate these governments,” Herenton said. “We need to seek legislation that can change that paradigm.”

Mayor Scott Carmichael of Lakeland, another of the county’s small towns, said Herenton’s plan would weaken his constituents’ say on consolidation.

“That destroys any kind of teamwork,” Carmichael said. “Obviously, I am vehemently opposed to that mentality of not having a say in where we are going.”

The smaller towns would not become part of Memphis with a metropolitan government, but under the current system, Shelby County provides many of their public services.

State Sen. Mark Norris, who lives in Collierville, said Herenton’s plan is “just nonsense.”

“I can’t believe that that’s really what he has in mind,” Norris said. “There’s not sufficient time to take up a vote like that this year. And even if we did, it would likely be tainted by the unconstitutionality of it. That would take years for something to be resolved.”

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