Let council, school board take New Path

Special to Commercial Appeal - Viewpoints

The two positions soon to be filled on Memphis's City Council and school board could mark a crossroads for local political leadership. In choosing interim successors to council member Janet Hooks and Memphis City Schools board member Michael Hooks Jr., Memphians have the opportunity to take a path toward the future, or remain stuck in the past.

Those of us who stepped forward 18 months ago to form the nonpartisan political action group New Path have long heard elected officials here express their desire for more young citizens to become involved in the political process. Now is the time for the City Council and the school board to make that happen by passing the baton to representatives of a new generation of public servants when they appoint candidates to serve the remainder of Janet Hooks's and Michael Hooks's terms.

It is a moment such as this that New Path has been working toward with its efforts to empower young citizens to hold their servant leaders accountable. We believe that the leadership of our local governments needs an infusion of new thoughts and perspectives.

Memphis has numerous young leaders who are bright, competent and honest. They have big ideas and creative solutions for making Memphis a better place. They want to serve this city with their time and talents.

New Path, which seeks to involve and educate Memphians in the 18-40 age group, wants to ensure they have equal access in Memphis's political environment to opportunities for public service.

New Path's first major effort was last year's successful campaign to elect attorney Tomeka Hart to the Memphis City Schools board.

Since then we have turned our attention toward informing and mobilizing citizens to become active participants in other local elections. Through a series of panel discussions, we are helping potential leaders learn to navigate the political landscape. We also are actively working to identify strong candidates for key races and will provide support and resources for viable individuals running for Memphis and Shelby County positions.

New Path marshaled active support from more than 100 individuals during Hart's campaign and we expect to draw from a larger pool of volunteers in upcoming elections. Our participants come from all elements of the community -- from the grass-roots level to businesspeople to those in the academic ranks -- and we recognize the vital role each element plays in strengthening Memphis's political environment.

In recent months Memphians have witnessed long-serving public officials accused of wrongdoing. But events such as the Tennessee Waltz federal indictments should not discourage or disillusion us from working to bring citizens closer to the political process. Rather, they validate New Path's efforts to bring new voices to public service, voter participation and efforts to hold our elected leaders accountable.

As Memphians, we must ask: What is hindering the election of new leaders? Could it be the system itself? The current environment requires successful candidates to have long-standing political relationships and large bank accounts. The perception is that without the right network and proper funding, no candidate -- no matter how visionary -- has a chance of being elected.

That is the reason that the vacancies created by Janet Hooks's and Michael Hooks's resignations afford such an enormous opportunity for Memphis's future. Appointing successors to serve until the next elections provides the perfect chance to infuse the City Council and the school board with young, energetic leadership and give a voice to the citizens who will inherit the future of our community.

New Path strongly urges the members of the City Council and the school board to actively seek and appoint emerging leaders to fill both of these vacancies.

Last week four contenders were nominated to fill Janet Hooks's position, and the City Council may choose her successor on Tuesday. We encourage the council to make information about those four nominees available, and not to close the door to the possibility of considering other candidates as well. We hope they will seek community involvement before choosing the new interim council member, and not expedite the process at the expense of finding the right individual.

Now is the time for new ideas. Now is the time for new leaders. Now is the time for a new path.

For more information about New Path, visit newpathmemphis.org.