Memphis and Shelby County have an unelected board of 11 people who have enough power to grant millions of dollars in tax abatements to corporations.
Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer told The Tennessee Star that city and county officials aren’t getting results under the current way of doing things.
“There have been a chorus of people jumping up and down saying we have to do better because business is getting sucked out of our county down to Mississippi,” said Shafer, whose term as commissioner ends later this month.
Shafer said she wants to restructure this board, known as the Memphis Economic Development Growth Engine.
Under the current system, the EDGE CEO is accountable only to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell Jr.
Both mayors appoint the EDGE board of directors, although county commissioners and city council members vote to confirm them.
Otherwise, county commissioners and city council members have no sway over their respective mayors, Shafer said.
Shafer recently made a motion to have the EDGE CEO report to his or her board of directors — instead of the two mayors.
“The CEO has a board of directors, but they are sort of symbolic. They can’t hire or fire him or anything. Every other CEO I know is accountable to its board of directors, and that board has the power to hire or fire,” Shafer said.
“They are sort of like a Greek chorus, and it’s not working. We have had more than seven years of it not working. We’re losing every deal we go up for.”
Under Shafer’s proposed new system, county commissioners and city council members would have to vote to approve this plan. They might also have to override a possible veto from their two mayors, Shafer said.
Shafer said she expects pushback on her proposal, which is scheduled to get heard next Wednesday.
“Some of it is due to fear of change,” she said.
“Very few of our mayors have ever been businessmen. They are mostly lawyers. That is a whole different deal,” Shafer said.
“If it had worked then I would be happy to leave it the way that it was, but it’s not working and I’m tired of losing.”
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