I attended a nearly record breaking 5 hour Memphis City Council meeting on February 19th, where they voted to approve the deannexation of certain sections of the South Cordova area. Currently, those sections of South Cordova are within the city limits and are part of the city of Memphis. This change will affect nearly 2,000 homes and move them back into the unincorporated Shelby County area. The homeowners will still be paying city taxes for more than two years, helping the city recoup the money it spent on infrastructure in those areas.
“This is the phase three of a comprehensive deannexation project” said the City of Memphis’ Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen, while presenting a slideshow that showed an overview of the history of annexation and the main issues regarding the size of Memphis. He stressed that this deannexation would be done slowly with the aim of having a seamless transition of services when the final switch happens in 2021. In this post I will show that deannexation is the right decision for both the City of Memphis and this section of South Cordova and will prove beneficial to both communities.
Most city leaders agree with me and believe that this will improve many facets of life for Memphians, mainly because the change will enable the city to put its money and effort into less area than it is currently having to deal with. Memphis has struggled in the past with the annexation of the surrounding suburbs when the population of the city was not growing at a commiserate rate. This vote reels back some of those annexations and helps the city stay focused on growing internally instead of expanding outwards.
Support from Local Constituents
The city hosted a public meeting in the Bert Ferguson Community Center to discuss the deannexation process and outcomes with home-owners and land-owners in early 2019, and most of the citizens are happy deannexing.
Since the annexation of South Cordova in 2012, there has been a growing movement from those home-owners and land-owners for the city to deannex that section of the city. In a Facebook group entitled “Cordova’s Voice” a member posted a lengthy thank you note to all the members of the community, at one point saying “We won!” The woman goes on to describe how they need to continue the fight for other sections of Cordova that were annexed in 2012. She also says that while they are not pleased that the residents of South Cordova will still be paying Memphis taxes for the next few years, they understand it is a compromise and that they will be better off in the long run.
The Shelby County Commission Chair has said that they are happy with the decision and welcome all former city residents to unincorporated Shelby County. The City of Memphis believes this will aid in their Memphis 3.0 plans and improve the lives of the citizens both in the city limits and those who live in the areas that are being deannexed. The home-owners and land-owners in South Cordova are happy to be leaving the city limits.
No Major Drawbacks to the Plan
The few people who are concerned with this plan are mainly thinking about the fiscal problems that could be caused by this change. However, this plan has laid out in clear detail exactly how it plans to have South Cordova pay off the debt it owes to the city over the course of the next 2.4 years. This area that will be deannexed has also been chosen for deannexation because of its low density, the challenges of delivering municipal services to the area, and the requests made by the citizens living in the area.
Deannexation Reinforces Local Democracy
Overall, this is a well thought out plan that benefits everyone involved. As long as the transition goes smoothly, which it has no reason not to, this will be a best scenario example for other cities looking to deannex portions of their communities. By constantly looking to improve the city and listening to their constituents when they talk, the City of Memphis leadership has managed to find a mutually beneficial plan that works well. Now that the city limits have shrunk, it will be easier for city planners to concentrate on what the city needs and will not need to stretch their resources so thin.
This also shows the importance of local citizens speaking up and out about issues they have in their community. The Joint Task Force in charge of deciding which areas could be annexed had input from citizens as one of its top priorities. If the citizens had never made their opinions known there is a chance that South Cordova would have been overlooked as a possible deannexation possibility.
As we have seen throughout this course, it is easy for people in positions of power to stop thinking about what is best for their constituents and instead try and consolidate more power. It is refreshing to see politicians do the exact opposite and actually vote to give up control over a portion of their community. This situation is similar to the piece written by Victoria Potts in which the Memphis City Council pushed back against the Tennessee Historical Commission over the Confederate statue in a Memphis park. However, in this case, the City Council was able to work with its citizens to do something that was mutually beneficial and did it without creating a divide between the elected officials and the constituents.
While this is the last deannexation the City of Memphis has planned for the foreseeable future, this deannexing helps to continue the measured approach to right sizing our city. As the city moves along with its 3.0 plan, there may be some more deannexations, but the goal is to eventually grow the city enough that annexing some of the local suburbs would actually benefit both communities. For right now though, smaller is definitely better.
Photo by Brandon Bartoszek