Council Serves Up Mashed Potatoes

Do we have serious people on our City Council or do we have partygoers playing the hot potato game?

Reading the articles by City Council members about the budget procedures in today’s newspaper, it’s the latter.

Shea Flinn and Myron Lowery got plum front-of-the-Viewpoint-section spots with Flinn above the fold. Maybe it’s because he tosses the potato and the spud lands like a dud. Flinn says what is happening in Memphis can be explained by one theory of evolution: adapt or die. We’re not adapting, we’re dying. He wheezes on about “sustainability” and the fight between taxes and cuts. His conclusion: it’s killing us. OK, but venting is not a solution.

Lowery argues that a property tax increase from $3.11 to $3.36 is, in reality, no increase at all. Whaaat? He tries to argue that property values dropped, so we should feel better that 2008’s $3.11 is 2013’s $3.36. If that’s how he does math, no wonder we’re on the skids. Tell that to everyone shelling out extra this year. Not everyone’s property assessment went down either. Mine went up $24,000 even though no home improvements were made on the property and the neighborhood did not suddenly become Beverly Hills.

Lee Collins tosses the potato and it lands on oversight. He chides Mayor Wharton, saying he should “increase oversight of the sprawling city government with its divisions, departments and agencies.” Secondly, he says “the council should provide real oversight of the mayor during the budget hearing process.” So I toss you the potato and you toss it back to me! There doesn’t seem to be an end to the game. He concludes that “the process becomes an opportunity to make bold statements, make no cuts and ultimately delay for as long as possible the resolution of anything having to do with the budget. Many council members, rightly, don’t even show for budget hearings.” So no one oversees the overseers? Should all the players then be tossed? Let’s do it.

Wanda Halbert agrees that Mayor Wharton is to blame. “The executive branch of government is responsible for handling the day to day decisions and functions of the office and… ultimately responsible for its bottom line.” When the game isn’t played correctly, then, she figures, the Council has to come up with budget plans! Not fair. Neither is it fair to her that Mississippians and Arkansans work here and take money out without putting any in. Politics is also to blame. Everybody plays to their constituents and that’s not good. Ask her if she should not do that at election time.

Harold Collins takes the Candide approach to the blame. “If we stop and view the glass as half full instead, we become optimistic, progressive and creative.” Yes, in that best of all possible worlds we could just ignore the other half of the glass where high taxes, poverty, few jobs and poor education swill. The bad old state comptroller doesn’t like this take, but Collins feels good because our budget provided “reinvestment in our citizens by enhancing our libraries… and in community centers… and with ‘soldiers’ in our fight against blight.” No word on our $1.2 billion underfunded pension and health care liability.

Kemp Conrad, to his credit, brings this little problem up; a problem “twice as large as our annual operating budget.” He dices up the hot potato, proposing trimming and changing the benefits structure of city workers with tier plans for retirees health care. Conrad’s not optimistic about it since Wharton doesn’t want to lead. So the potato, once again, falls in the mayor’s lap.

Jim Strickland’s viewpoints were expressed in a July 9 article; Strickland sees the need to keep taxes low and thereby keep Memphians in the community. The newspaper doesn’t explain why neither Joe Brown nor Janis Fullilove have any comments. We don’t know if they weren’t asked or declined. Maybe their recent stance against smart meters, endorsed by the CA, made them ineligible. We don’t hear from Bill Morrison, Bill Boyd, Edmund Ford or Reid Hedgepeth either.

The game is up for this year’s budget. Did we really get anywhere? The citizens probably did. Once again, we’re fried.

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