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Governing Memphis

The latest cover of Governing features Mayor AC Wharton of Shelby County, TN--one of the more regionally-minded leaders in the South.

Wharton has long been a passionate voice for greater collaboration in his hometown of Memphis and its surrounding metro area, which spans three states (TN, AR, and MS). The Governing article provides a clear and concise sketch of one of the mayor’s signature causes in favor of regionalism: multi-state funding to support the Memphis Regional Medical Center (“The Med”). What The Med’s situation reveals is that the way we deliver healthcare for the poor is as broken as the way we deliver roads and infrastructure.

As the region’s only Level 1 trauma center, The Med routinely receives indigent patients from Arkansas and Mississippi in addition to its home state of Tennessee, but the two other states provide the hospital little to no funding to support the care delivered to their respective citizens. With the hospital now in danger of curtailing services and staff, the mayor’s main message from the article is clear: “This simply cries out for a regional solution.”

The piece also examines the issue of merging the city government of Memphis with Shelby County—an idea around for decades but finally gaining some momentum with Wharton at the helm. The goal of consolidation may advance even further if Wharton wins his campaign for the newly vacant post of city mayor in Memphis.

Already while serving as the county mayor, Wharton has focused a great deal on the prospects of Memphis, understanding full well that the fate of the core city is intertwined with the surrounding suburban county. He is one of the lead proponents of a new, joint, city-county initiative, “Memphis: A City of Choice” that creates a comprehensive framework for transforming the core city into an economically competitive, inclusive, and sustainable place to live. One of the chief purposes on this new plan would be to coordinate city and county stimulus spending, as well as other resources, to focus on “game-changers” in 12 economic development priority areas that range from human capital to government efficiency.

Memphis’ plans are ambitious (e.g., reducing criminal recidivism by 30 percent and ramping up labor pool participation by 50 percent), and we’ll be interested in indentifying what it would take on the federal, state, and local levels for successful implementation. Certainly necessary will be regional leaders promoting collaboration across governments, sectors, institutions, and issues.