On February 19th, the Memphis City Council held council to discuss numerous issues, but three key ones stood out as most concerning and controversial; the development of a new motor freight site located on the Northside of Raines Road, the de-annexation of South Cordova, and Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division (MLGW) proposed rate hike increase. At a glance, these three issues might seem separate but at the root of these matters an underlining connection that ties them together. At the heart of these issues, I want to argue that this city council meeting was a debate over the needs of specific communities over the needs of the city of Memphis as a whole.
One of the first issues the Memphis City Council addressed this day was whether to approve the development plan for a new SAIA Motor Freight hub that would be located on the Northside of Raines Road, west of the intersection with Thculahoma Road, extending north to the south line of Christine Road, according to the Planning and Zoning Committee. Now SAIA is a trucking and third-party logistics company with services all around the United States with a terminal already in Memphis, TN along Millbranch Road. This was not the first time SAIA had plans to construct a new terminal in this area of Oakhaven, the Land Use Control Board rejected the proposal late last year. Since then, SAIA has been working with the city to address the issues that were brought up at that time, accumulating to this city council meeting. The Memphis City Council made sure that the citizens in the affected area were able to voice their opinions on the matter adequately. Their inclusion in the hearing gave a much-needed insight on the issues that would crop up from this proposal. Residents in the surrounding Oakhaven area as well as the nonprofit organization Habitat with Humanity raised several problems with the company moving in their neck of the woods. Some of the concerns the residents and the nonprofit had with the plan was property values falling, pollution, noise levels, the possibility of it attracting crime, and it just being generally unsafe with all the 18-wheelers moving about. Residents were treated legitimately, and I honestly felt that their voices reached certain city council members such as Joe Brown. The residents already must contend with the UPS and FedEx hubs that are also planted on and around Oakhaven, which run close to 24/7. With a SAIA terminal added to the mix, it would make the Oakhaven area hard to live in for the residents that are there.
In the opposite corner stood SAIA and the benefits it would bring to the city of Memphis. Having their plan rejected once already, SAIA entered with an updated plan that would address the issues that were aimed at them the last time. For the noise complaints they showed that they met the standards for the area. On the matter of the 18-wheelers, they would forbid their trucks from going through certain areas which included the residential areas. But what was most enticing for a majority of the city councilmen was the prospect of SAIA bringing hundreds of jobs for Memphians and the tax revenue it would bring. For the majority of the city council members, the jobs this plan would bring and the tax revenue that could be collected was simply far more beneficial and important than the pleas of the residents surrounding the area of the future SAIA terminal site. So, with this section of the public hearing, it was widely in favor of SAIA over the citizens, with a majority yes vote going for the approval of the plan. Bringing more jobs to the communities of Memphis can be nothing but a good thing for the growth of the city. I clearly understood the thought process behind the outcome of the vote, the council members weighted both options and chose that economic growth of the city as a whole was more important than just one specific community.
Next important issue on the agenda was the de-annexation of South Cordova which the residents appeared in droves, many donning red clothing in solidity for their cause. The residents of South Cordova were well represented for this part of the hearing. South Cordova was last to be annexed in 2012 by the city of Memphis to make up for a lack in population. Like the previous ordinance, this too was one that was brought up in earlier city council meetings. The homeowners and residents of South Cordova cited many reasons as to why they wanted to be de-annexed from the city of Memphis, some reasoning including shrinking property values and that it was unfair to them to have to paid two taxes. There was also an issue regarding infrastructural services being neglected by the city of Memphis. The inclusion of the citizens of South Cordova to the meeting made sure that their opinions were heard and known.
After hearing the residents of South Cordova and weighting the decision, the Memphis City Council approved the de-annexation of South Cordova much to the pleasure of the homeowners. The decision for the de-annexation did not come as easy as that, however. There was clearly an air of tension between the city council and the South Cordova residents, the conflict felt like an “us versus them” debate. For the Councilmen, this all came down to what they thought would be best for the city of Memphis. Councilman Frank Colvett said regarding this, “It makes me sad when Memphis has not lived up to what it could be. Colleagues, this is about Memphis. This is about where we are going.” Other members of the city council stood with this notion, that the de-annexation was for the growth of Memphis and that Memphis needed to shrink and focus more on a smaller population. Once again, the rationale for the decision came down to what the members of the Memphis City Council thought were best for the city as a whole. The city of Memphis has a lot of ground to cover and with South Cordova out of the mix, it allows the city to focus more on other areas to a much more significant degree. I also see that it satisfies the Cordova residents which is a plus for them.
The final issue up for debate was MLGW’s proposed rate hike. This rate hike from MLGW was another issue brought up during several prior city council meetings, being rejected in a meeting prior. MLGW proposed that this rate hike would go towards gradually improving city infrastructure over a five-year plan. While improving city infrastructure was agreed to be important, just how much of a rate increase was needed was highly debated among MLGW officials and Memphis City Council. Once again, the idea of what would be best for the city of Memphis as a whole. The proposed rate hike was voted down on account of MLGW not fully explaining all the ins and outs of their proposal in a way that citizens and the members of the city council could understand. MLGW holds a monopoly over the city in terms of energy and power, I can only see this as a good keeping them in check from dramatically increasing their prices and the people of Memphis suffering that cost.
While this Memphis City Council meeting was very heated, the underlining purpose strived to seek the best solution for the city as a whole. For the Oakhaven residents, it may seem like the city has turned their backs on them, but the creation of new jobs can only help the city in the long run despite the problems they bring up. It’s the same for the de-annexation of South Cordova, the city took on too much and it did more harm than good. By separating itself from the South Cordova area and all the others that were previous annexed, the city can focus more on the areas remaining and improve upon itself to the point where Memphis does not look as if it were a hindrance. Even the rejection of the MLGW rate hike served a greater purpose for the city, by having MLGW rethink their proposal and increase by a necessary amount, the citizens will not have to pay the company more than required. All groups affected were given a legitimate platform to have their preferences weighted and expressed against the council members’ notions for the growth of the city. Well not all the residents affected came out the way they might have hoped, they were given time and the freedom to express them. The Memphis City Council while questionable in certain decisions, appear to wholly look towards the best interest of the city itself instead of showing favoritism towards specific parts of the city. Throughout the whole meeting, I did not feel as if the city council members did not think of the city first.
Photo by Sean David