Thank You Commissioner Chism
On 2/28/08, I attended the Memphis and Shelby County Industrial Development Board's evaluation committee for payment-in-lieu-of-tax freezes. The IDB votes on if businesses are to receive tax relief or not. This day there was an international multi-million dollar corporation seeking a tax freeze for several years. For those of you who do not know much about the PILOT program understand it is a common practice in most cities as a way to court businesses to move to your city and to support businesses that are already there. I have serious problems with the PILOT program, but I understand the need for it. Without the program other cities could woo companies away from the Mid-South. But I can’t help but feel it is nothing more than a payoff, and I truly felt that way while at this meeting.
This mega-corporation was demanding one concession after another. To the credit of the evaluation committee they didn’t just role over. They stood their ground on some of the request, but it was Commissioner Sidney Chism that was the Rock of Gibraltar. He made it clear that only recently the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission had both set down clearer ground rules on how the PILOT program was to be administered and here the committee was already looking to bend those rules.
After a long debate the corporation resorted to typical tactics:
Threat 1 - “Without this concession we feel it will jeopardize our ability to move to Memphis.”
Threat 2 - “If we don’t purchase this building in North Memphis the present owner is still going to leave and you will have a vacant building on your hands.”
Threat 3 - “This means the loss of jobs.”
I wonder how many times a company trying to get tax concessions used this tactic to get what they wanted. The truth is this corporation didn’t just pick this site out of the blue. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want to be here. Very likely even without the tax breaks this company would still move to Memphis.
In the end the committee gave in, all expect Commissioner Chism. He spoke eloquently about the responsibility of the IDB to not set precedent after precedent each time a company comes demanding concessions. He stated his duty to fairly represent his constituents and that he would not be pressured. Even the Chair of the committee had to state her reluctance in giving her support.
Now I respect the concerns of the other members on the committee but there are times when you must take a stand and show some backbone, Commissioner Chism clearly did just that and I applaud him.