Suburban debate questions: Do you candidates agree we are awesome, unappreciated and treated unfairly?

Wednesday's county mayoral forum at Germantown Country Club, conducted by the suburban-based Shelby County Chambers of Commerce Alliance, featured 10 questions that were submitted to candidates Joe Ford and Mark Luttrell ahead of time. Most of the questions also included preambles that provide insight into the worldview that prevails in Memphis's suburbs. There are many facts and figures in the document marshaled to justify that point of view, and whether you agree or disagree, it's vital to understanding the priorities of those with influence and power in Memphis's suburbs.

Bartlett Chamber of Commerce president John Threadgill graciously passed along the document, which you can read by either clicking the jump (at bottom) or get the PDF here:
Breakfast with Mayoral Candidates June 2010.pdf . Keeping in mind that the Alliance wanted to really focus the candidates on issues unique to suburban businesspersons, it was interesting that none of the questions asked either candidate to discuss their plans for improving things in Memphis -- the city where vast numbers of suburban residents work, play, shop, etc.

The most striking omission -- no questions about The Regional Medical Center at Memphis (but three dealing with consolidation). As Threadgill acknowledged after the forum, leaders in hospitals and medical industries that more and more contribute to the quality of life in the suburbs are very, very concerned about the survival of The Med. The Republican gubernatorial candidates fighting for votes in the Shelby suburbs have expressed those same concerns -- if The Med does not survive, it will have an enormous impact on hospitals in the suburbs specifically and the delivery of quality medical services in general for suburban residents. That's not just because of The Med's trauma center; if the poor and uninsured patients no longer have The Med, they will inevitably soak up resources at private and nonprofit facilities.

Threadgill and Germantown Chamber CEO and President Pat Scroggs said much care was put into crafting the questions, and Threadgill explained the omission of The Med by saying, "That question has been asked so many times." As I pointed out to him, consolidation has been asked many, many times too -- and the chambers devoted three of 10 questions to that issue despite an acknowledgment in the document that "the candidates are basically on the sidelines" when it comes to the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission's work. On The Med, however, whoever is elected mayor on Aug. 5 will have a huge impact on the future of the public hospital that so many say is so vital.

So read over the document: Breakfast with Mayoral Candidates June 2010.pdf. To be fair, the questions did work well to guide a very substantive conversation between Ford and Luttrell that revealed some important differences on important topics, especially when it came to economic development. More on that in an article we plan to publish on Sunday.

Full text of document available after the jump.

ISSUE #1 - Suburban Shelby County as an Asset

Shelby County is unique among Tennessee's metro counties. It is by far the
largest county (47% larger than the second biggest county). It contains four of
Tennessee's Top 15 cities -the State's largest city as well as three cities over 40,000. No
other Tennessee county comes close in possessing such multiple large communities
within their jurisdiction.

Suburban Shelby County has a population of 250,000 residents which would
make it the third largest city in Tennessee or the fifth largest county. The population of
suburban Shelby County grew by 20% from 2000 - 2008 and is totally responsible for
the county's positive population gain during this period while Memphis' population
actually declined by 3%. The suburban contribution to Shelby County's property tax
revenues continues to increase -exceeding its per capita share -which runs contrary to
the opinion of many inside Memphis. Likewise sales taxes collected in Suburban Shelby
County are equal or slightly larger than its share of the population. Total build-out
potential for non-Memphis Shelby County has the potential of exceeding 500,000.

The future of suburban Shelby County looks bright. However, there are some who
believe that the growth of the suburbs is detrimental to the core city of Memphis. They
would argue that Memphis must remain strong at the expense of the suburbs if necessary.
Few people are aware that the City of Memphis is already larger than many major
metropolitan core cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Miami, St. Louis,
Minneapolis, and Seattle. Yet these cities are economically vibrant and the fact that their
suburban communities have been responsible for their regional growth seems to be
overlooked by many in Memphis.


What are your views regarding the role that the suburban community plays
in the future of Shelby County and how will you engage its citizens and elected
officials into programs that unite all of Shelby County?

ISSUE #2 - Economic Development

Economic growth is essential for a community's sustainability and prosperity.
Wealth creation is a function of the private sector and a thriving community is one which
has a dynamic business climate. Elected officials who fail to see the direct correlation
between a community's successful private sector and competent government is a recipe
for disaster. Business friendly environments have a competitive edge over those that
place greater hardships on free enterprise. Government's role in economic development is
to encourage business by creating a just and level playing field and to lessen the burden
of doing business.

Shelby County is fortunate to have many great assets both public (airport, river
port, utilities, roads, recreational venues, parks, etc.) and private (FedEx, railroads,
trucking firms, corporate headquarters, healthcare, commercial developers, agribusiness,
manufacturing, tourism, etc.). To utilize and leverage the community's public and private
assets is a major responsibility of the County Mayor. Shelby County has a great
opportunity to heighten its economic potential, but only if its leaders have the vision and
the ability to articulate its strengths.


What is your vision for the economic future of Shelby County?


Does your vision include the creation of an Office of Economic Development
that reports directly to the Mayor and is separate from Planning & Development?

ISSUE #3 - Economic Development & the Suburban Chambers

In 2005 a new economic development initiative for Shelby County was unveiled
by Memphis Tomorrow - "Memphis Fast Forward". It was touted as the most
comprehensive economic development strategy ever undertaken by the community which
included the input of over 3000 local entities. Surprisingly, none of the six suburban
chambers of commerce were included in the plan. When the suburban chambers
approached elected officials and business leaders about the absence of the community
chambers, we were basically told "sorry but the train has left the station".

The omission of the suburban chambers from Memphis Fast Forward was the
primary impetus for the creation of the Alliance. It has become obvious to Alliance
members over the past few years that there is little or no interest on the part of elected
officials and business leaders within Memphis to reach out and include the suburban
community, especially in the sharing of funds. The fact that suburban Shelby County is
the most dynamic part of the county in terms of population growth and economic
development activity, it seems logical that the County's funding for economic
development should include the participation of the suburban chambers. Yet to date,
under Memphis Fast Forward, not one penny has been earmarked for the suburban

The leadership of Shelby County government must recognize the importance of
including the suburban community in developing a truly comprehensive economic
development strategy. Likewise, the suburban chambers must recognize that they are
critical agents for the future prosperity of Shelby County and must become more proactive
in their economic development efforts.


What role do you see the suburban chambers of commerce taking in the
county's overall economic development strategy and will you include the suburban
chambers in the County's annual funding toward economic development?

ISSUE #4 - Shelby County Schools

Shelby County Schools, the State's fourth largest system, is among the best
performing school systems in Tennessee far exceeding other major metropolitan systems.
It has achieved this success with funding per pupil that is 95% of the State average of
$8345. Memphis City Schools on the other hand spends $10,366 per pupil or 124% of the
Tennessee average, yet has one of the lowest performance rankings in Tennessee.

From an economic development perspective, Shelby County is extremely
fortunate to have two separate school systems - it provides residents and newcomers a
choice of public schools. A luxury which residents and newcomers of Davidson, Knox
and Hamilton counties do not share.

There has been much discussion about the merging of school systems and/or
funding. There is no concrete evidence to prove that merging school systems will result
in better performance or create a more efficient system. On the contrary, many studies
suggest that smaller school systems are much more efficient and result in better student
performance. Advocates of Single Source Funding argue that suburban taxpayers are not
shouldering their share of the burden. Politicians have totally confused the issue by
distorting the truth. Suburban taxpayers are paying the same county tax has Memphis
taxpayers. The disparity in education expenditures is due to the simple fact that decades
ago the citizens of Memphis "elected" to augment education inside the city, thus paying
more in taxes for each student. Today, however, Memphis citizens resent the higher taxes
and no longer wish to enhance the system. Unfortunately for Memphis, the State will not
allow the city to withdraw its funding. A precedent has been established, it is told, and
Memphis must abide by its earlier decision. Shelby County Schools, on the other hand, is
burdened with the ADA dilemma which seems to defy rational thinking.

Memphis and Shelby County are by no means alone in the challenges facing
education, both in funding and performance. Nashville City Schools, for example, are
experiencing a crisis in their system which some argue is worse than Memphis. Socioeconomic
factors, obviously, play a role in student performance but the argument that
more money is the solution is becoming difficult to justify based on the evidence.


What is your philosophy regarding two separate school systems, single
source funding and the solution to the ADA dilemma?

ISSUE #5 - Consolidation

Come November citizens of Memphis and suburban Shelby County will decide
separately if they prefer a consolidated metropolitan form of government to the current
system. This will be the third attempt to form a metropolitan government in 40 years.

The issue has become very emotional. Supporters and skeptics of consolidation
seem to have based their decision more on personal assumptions than on reviewing the
facts. Most citizens seem totally confused about the issue and will probably defer to their
favorite elected officials to advise them on choosing for or against.

One of the strongest advocates of consolidation is Memphis Tomorrow. This
group of business leaders believes consolidation will eliminate duplications thus creating
a more efficient government. However, evidence that consolidation will lower taxes or
create a more democratic system is lacking. Surprisingly, very little in the way of
empirical studies have been performed to determine if consolidation, in general, is
markedly beneficial for the taxpayer. Results are mixed. The fact that only 30 counties in
the US out of 3000 are consolidated makes one wonder. If consolidation were to occur it
could open a Pandora's Box regarding dual school systems, municipal reserve areas, law
enforcement, voting districts, democratic representation, etc.

The candidate who is elected County Mayor will be impacted by the vote
regardless of its outcome. Though the candidates are basically on the sidelines regarding
the vote, his thoughts and comments will definitely have an influence on voters.


Do you feel that there are significant duplications in city and county
governments which warrant consolidation and would result in a savings to


Instead of consolidating governments, would it not make more sense to
consolidate specific departments or functions such as what happened with the Office
of Planning & Development?


What impact do you believe consolidation, if passed, might have on the
future on Shelby County Schools, the flight of suburban residents to bordering
counties, and the impediment of future residential and economic growth in Shelby

ISSUE #7 - Infrastructure

Good infrastructure is the foundation of a viable community and is a direct
investment in future prosperity. As suburban Shelby County grows in population and
economic activity it will be crucial for the County to oversee the fair distribution of funds
needed to enhance Shelby County's economic growth.

There is concern by many that suburban Shelby County does not receive the same
attention for infrastructure improvements as Memphis and that this could impede
suburban growth.


What measures will you take as Mayor to ensure that the allocation of
funding for infrastructure will be fair and equitable for both Memphis and
suburban Shelby County?

ISSUE #8 - County District Reapportionment

The State Constitution requires that counties reapportion their districts once every
ten years based on the latest federal Census. It further states that the legislative body can
not exceed 25 members, and no more than three representatives shall be elected from a
district. The growth pattern in Shelby County over the last ten years has favored suburban
Shelby County and should be reflected in the next reapportionment.

There is concern that forces within Memphis will attempt to gerrymander the
county so that the suburban vote is diluted.


What measures will you take as Mayor to ensure that suburban voters have
fair representation in the next County Commission redistricting?



A very good summary. The suburban communities have been essentially left out of the Charter Commission's membership and work - only one community is represented (Millington). The overwhelming majority of the remaining membership is either from Memphis or has a direct business interest there. The suburban communities are also left out of all activities concerning regional development by both the city and county governments. Its fair to conclude that consolidation and regional growth is all about the city, not the rest of the county. Why vote for more of the same thing?

Thanks for your insight.

Ron Williams

Hi, Ron. Thanks for reading and responding. Of course, that mayoral forum was about the county mayor's race, not so much about the Charter Commission makeup, etc. (though I thought Linda Kerley was from Collierville, Chris Patterson from Germantown, Rufus Washington from unincorporated, etc.) Neither Ford nor Luttrell, if elected, will have any influence on what happens with the charter, which is why I found it interesting those sorts of questions were asked vs. questions about The Med or about the city of Memphis improvement -- issues the next mayor very much will have control over.

This was quite informative and reasonble the whole country is to be considered in ccase of handling the issues and you very precisely pin pointed the scenaro and the jist of the notion.

People deserve good life and loans or just consolidation loan will make it better. Because people's freedom relies on money state.

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Do you candidates agree we are awesome, unappreciated
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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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