By Clay Bailey,
February 2, 2012

State legislation that would eliminate Memphis’ stake in its Fisherville area annexation reserve was driven by “very independent” residents who are set against joining the city, East Shelby County community leaders said Wednesday.

A second bill giving residents targeted for annexation a right to vote on the move fulfilled a promise by twin brothers Joshua and Joseph Fox, who had crafted a petition on similar issues three years ago.

“This is for every municipality,” Joshua Fox said to dispel word that the idea was aimed at stunting Memphis’ growth. “… You have to ask the citizens if they want to be annexed.”

The bills, filed last week in Nashville, sparked a firestorm of finger-pointing between state representatives and Memphis leaders, along with cries of racism and questions on the legality of the proposed bills.

On Wednesday, the measures were removed from the list of bills routinely approved on second reading on the Senate floor and placed on hold on the clerk’s desk.

And while Memphis, Shelby County and state officials jockeyed for a diplomatic resolution Wednesday afternoon, Fisherville residents were creating signs for a “Town of Fisherville Incorporation” petition drive.

“It’s inactive,” John Bogan, Fisherville Civic Club president said. “We’re just preparing for it.”

“All we can do is wait on the bills,” said Revis Gobbel, a civic club board member.

Bogan is a key figure in pushing the bill to eliminate Memphis’ claim to the Gray’s Creek area.

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, along with Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville.

Norris’ office confirmed that the Fox brothers delivered petitions signed by thousands of East Shelby County residents to Nashville last month.

“These people are very independent,” said Bogan, who has owned land in Fisherville since 1992. “They want to be left alone.”

However, the Memphis City Council jump-started the process to include them, reacting quickly to trump the state legislation with committee approval of a city annexation ordinance.

Meanwhile, Norris told Memphis officials he hoped they would hold off on action as he sought the attorney general’s opinion on whether the bills he proposed were legal. The move left the two sides staring each other down, waiting to draw whatever legislative power they can on the count of three.

Bogan said he spoke for residents who loathe the idea of living in Memphis.

“Memphis is totally mismanaged,” said Bogan, an appraiser in the county Assessor’s Office who plans to run for assessor this year. “… Nobody wants to get entangled into Memphis’ mismanagement.

“That’s what we are really talking about. An organization that is totally mismanaged. Crime out the gazoo, can’t educate their people, can’t manage their money. So, who the heck would want to be a part of that?”

The area in dispute is roughly from Houston Levee to the Fayette County line, and from the Memphis boundary along the south side of the U.S. 64 corridor to Collierville’s annexation reserve. City officials now estimate the area includes about 22,229 people and 15.5 square miles.

Bogan said Memphis can’t follow through on its threat to annex the area because it is so sparsely populated it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to extend sewer service alone.

The Fisherville club president was not surprised by Memphis’ reaction to fast-track annexation of the area in hopes of beating the legislature to the punch.

“Memphis is trying to push back, and I would advise Memphis not to push back because there are some serious, serious, serious things that are about to come down. … If they start throwing darts at me, guess what? I throw darts back. I don’t flinch on this stuff.”

Bogan declined to specify what efforts he would use against the city’s efforts.

The Norris-Lollar bill — pushed by the Fox brothers — would allow voters in an area planned for annexation to vote by referendum on whether they want to be absorbed.

The brothers wanted to introduce the bills last year, but said they were asked to hold off because of the Norris-Todd legislation on schools.

“What we are trying to do is make it fair all the way across the board,” said Joseph Fox, who lives in Germantown. Joshua Fox lives in Arlington

Even as all sides were waiting on the attorney general’s opinion before taking a next step in the debate, some local officials claimed racism was a motive for the initiatives. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton on Monday condemned the bills, saying he believed the fact that Memphis is a majority black city played a large role in their introduction by the trio of East Shelby County Republicans.

“When you put two and two together and connect the dots, it’s anti-black,” said Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell supported Norris’ call for a truce until the legal opinion is handed down, while also saying he wants to be “sensitive to the citizens of Fisherville.”

The mayor said he found the charges of racism troubling.

“My response to that is: ‘Goodness, I hope it’s not racial,'” Luttrell said. “Secondly, it’s a term that seems to be thrown around a lot and sometimes it’s applicable and sometimes it’s not. I would just hope that that would be a term that we would use very, very sparingly until we know definitively that it is a race issue.”

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