Charter confusing some voters as election day approaches - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Charter confusing some voters as election day approaches

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - In the final weekend before election day, many Mid-Southerners said they are overwhelmed by the 95-page charter to establish a consolidated government.

Over the last year, the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Government Charter Commission was worked to assemble the charter.  Tuesday, voters get to voice their opinion on the document.

Memphis and Shelby County taxpayers are worried how the charter would affect their pocket books.  Charter Commission Chair Julie Ellis said the charter would create one annual metro bill.  Taxes could not go up for three years.

"It's a ceiling protecting the taxpayers, so you force the efficiencies over the first three years," said Ellis.

Some county residents said they feared what happens after three years.  The Charter Commission requires a supermajority vote to raise taxes over 5 percent.  That is a three-fourths vote by the full metro government and a two-thirds vote by an urban council made up of Memphis leaders.

The urban district would pay an extra service fee, since the other towns keep their own services.  Annexations would remain in place.

Some county residents took issue with the sheriff relinquishing all law enforcement to the metro police director.  The sheriff covers courts, corrections and warrants.  The 911 systems would also merge.

"It's all about speaking with one voice and making sure everybody trains together and that criminals don't take advantage of all the handoffs we have today," said Ellis.

The charter ensure five cities in the county retain their municipal power.  Some Memphis residents worried cities in the county have voting power over Memphis, but Memphis has no voting power over them.

Some African American leaders had a problem with consolidation because Memphis is one of the few cities with an African American majority.  They said consolidation would dilute power.

The metro charter forbids the merger of city and county schools, and it leaves school funding up to the courts.

Ellis said the charter also puts a laser focus on job creation.

"We have lost the equivalent of a FedEx in the last 10 years:  48,000 jobs," said Ellis.  "We have got to be smarter about brining in new investors."

Watchdog programs would also ensure women and minorities get their due.

Ethics would also play a big role in the new charter.  It would create an inspector general who would find cost savings, investigate misuse of funds and require supervisors have professional credentials.

While the new government would create a new retirement system for new employees, the current memorandum of understand would remain for current employees.

When it comes to leadership, the metro mayor would have veto power and the council would be made up of 13 members overseeing three districts.  The three districts would be:  General, meaning county, Urban, meaning Memphis, and Special, meaning rural.

"So you have four people that actually speak for you in this new government," said Ellis.

The new charter would also combine city and General Sessions courts with one presiding judge.

Officials would serve a limit of two, four-year terms.  The first election would be the first Thursday in August, 2014.  They would begin office the following month.

Support services and legal services would be centralized, eliminating public agencies from suing one another.

The metro charter also called for a Multimodal Commission.  Memphis is one of the few cities in the country to offer transportation by land, air and water.  The commission would focus on integrating transportation.

Only voters could make changes to the charter, which would undergo a review every 10 years.

For a full summary of the metro charter, click here.

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