Jul 28 2015

Profiles in Cowardice

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections, Memphis, shenanigans

Backing off his support of the CLERB isn’t the first time the Mayor lost his backbone at the last second

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton

Monday, the Memphis City Council met with key stakeholders to finalize a draft ordinance that would give additional oversight of the Memphis Police Department.

The Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board, an entity that has existed in name only for years, would be given additional powers to investigate complaints brought forward against the Police department. One of those powers would be the ability to compel testimony, and the handing over of documents from the Police department.

Until last night, it seemed everyone was on board…the majority of the City Council had pushed through two readings, and the Mayor had signaled he supported the draft that included the above changes. Even the super secret 14th member of the City Council, Alan Wade, had been placated it seemed.

But for reasons not immediately apparent, the Mayor withdrew his support of the ordinance at the 11th hour, and wasn’t even man enough to deliver the news himself.

Considering recent events, many observers wondered why the Mayor would do this? But if you’ve been paying attention, this has been this administration’s Modus Operandi from the very beginning.

Shifting Sands

Wharton is no stranger to randomly, and seemingly without warning, changing his positions.

In 2010, the Mayor withdrew his support for a non-discrimination ordinance that he previously supported. The ordinance was eventually withdrawn.

He did it again in 2012, citing mysteriously vague objections, and trotting out Attorneys Alan Wade and Herman Morris to do his dirty work.

He’s done the same thing to the folks seeking to keep a section of Overton Park from being a defacto parking lot for the zoo. The mayor, at first seemed to support the idea, then both backed off at the last second, and changed his ‘opinion’

In fact, if you look for any issue you’ve seen the Mayor speak on over the past 6 years of his tenure, you will find articles and appearances in which he regularly supports both sides of the issue, sometimes at the same time, and in the process, preserves his political capital for the masses who generally aren’t paying attention to such things.

It is both sad testimony that the local media has largely allowed him to do this, and that he thinks we’re too dumb to notice.


The City has had a Civilian Review Board ordinance on the books since 1994. The ordinance, in its current form, has no teeth. As a result, the board went dormant until a series of actions, both locally and nationally, brought the idea back into the spotlight.

Now, in light of a the local shooting of an unarmed black teen… another in a string of nationally spotlighted shootings of unarmed black men, it would seem like the perfect time to institute some independent oversight of the police…not to go on a witch hunt, but to both provide the public with assurance that the investigations into possible malfeasance by officers are above board, and to root out those few officers who don’t like playing by the rules.

People who don’t like civilian oversight of anything have called supporters of the CLERB “anti-cop”, but that is a gross mischaracterization. If anything, the CLERB would help restore faith in the police by bringing the findings of investigations out into the open where regular folks can see what’s going on.

Many other cities have Review Boards…some with more powers than others. Knoxville has a review board that has many of the powers sought by advocates for the Memphis ordinance. In fact, restoring the relationship between the public and police is job #1 listed in the Knoxville ordinance.

It doesn’t seem like a crazy request or an unreachable. But to the Mayor, in an election year, it scared him so bad, he couldn’t even come down and deliver the news of his flip floppery himself.

Civilian Oversight is the Essence of Our Republic

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” –Thomas Jefferson

Every two to four years we have elections for various and sundry offices in this country. In Memphis, those elections seem to be every 90 days or so, but they still happen.

Its natural for people in power to try to put the best face forward, to obfuscate somewhat, to use misdirection to confuse people.

But there’s nothing confusing about what Mayor Wharton’s administration did yesterday: It purposefully withdrew support for political purposes. Mayor Wharton figures the politics of not supporting this ordinance, and possibly upsetting some police officers, is more important than the public having a voice in the workings of an agency of their government that, under the long veil of secrecy, has continued to lose the faith of the citizenry.


You can be a strong supporter of the Mayor and still support the CLERB ordinance.

You can be a strong supporter of local law enforcement and support the CLERB. In fact, regular cops who serve the public well on a regular basis have nothing more to worry about from the CLERB than they do from the current Internal Affairs process.

You can’t, however, proclaim to be a strong supporter of transparency and at the same time, oppose giving powers to a board that would seek to bring more transparency to an unnecessarily veiled process.

In fact, it is one of the very ideas the Mayor solicited from former County Commissioner, Mike Carpenter when he asked him to review the city’s transparency process.

Its high time the Mayor stood by that 2009 Executive Order and let the sunshine in on local government.

One way to do that, is to support all the changes the new CLERB ordinance proposes.

Doing anything else, means the Mayor has just added to his growing list of flip-flopery on the important issues of the day.

Jan 18 2015

District 5 free-for-all

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections, Memphis Politics

The entry of District 5 Councilman Jim Strickland into the race for Mayor of Memphis has set up a free-for-all in the race for his district.

Right now there are four people who have either declared, or are openly considering a run. I’ll be honest with you, I only know two of them, and a third, I only know anything about because of a Facebook post.

Hardly much of anything to go on.

Still, its a long way to October, and candidates have plenty of time to define themselves…or be defined by each other.

I’ll tell you what I know, and look at the way the district’s been voting. And if any of you candidates want to chime in with links or more information, do it in the comments.

The Candidates

Candidates listed in alphabetical order

Worth Morgan

Worth Morgan

Worth Morgan

I found out about Morgan’s potential candidacy through this Commercial Appeal article announcing another candidates run.

Morgan doesn’t have much of an online profile. His Facebook profile is locked down. As of this writing, there is no Facebook page, twitter handle, or website for his campaign.

What can be found is that he is the child of Musette and Allen Morgan, the latter of Morgan Keegan fame.

I also found this old MUS newsletter talking about Worth’s childhood liver problems, and the family’s commitment to funding research.

By virtue of his family, Worth could be a strong fundraiser (I know that’s a stereotype, but I don’t have much else to go on) or could possibly ‘self-fund’. As for positions, I have no idea. It seems odd to me that a potential candidate would put themselves out there without anything to begin defining them. But, if you subscribe to the money vs. message worldview (which I’m not sure I do because that worldview assumes mutual exclusivity) whatever message Worth comes up with, he’ll most likely have the money to get it out to the masses.

Does he have the public profile to compete in what will likely be one of the most competitive races this fall? That remains to be seen.

Charles ‘Chooch’ PickardFacebook

Charles 'Chooch' Pickard

Charles ‘Chooch’ Pickard

Pickard (aka Chooch) organized an exploratory committee for the District 5 seat in late 2014. An architect by trade, Pickard has been involved in several public and non-profit organizations over the past 6+ years.

In 2009 he was named Executive Director of the Memphis Regional Design Center, an organization that seeks to bring economic stability through land use, planning and design.

That may not sound like a big deal in Memphis, a city where folks consistently list crime and poverty as primary issues, but the wealth of vacant and blighted properties in Memphis only exacerbates those problems, and makes for convenient havens for crime. Those vacant properties also represent a decreased property tax base, which means less revenue, which then translates to fewer services and higher taxes. At the very least, land use is an issue that must be tackled in tandem with these other issues that grab more headlines.

Currently, Pickard serves on the MATA board and is the Executive Architect at City South Ventures, which is seeking to redevelop the U.S. Marine Hospital, which is just south of Crump and the South Bluffs area.

Pickard announced on his Facebook Page that he would have a meeting to make a decision about a potential run. So far, no word on whether he’s in for sure or not.

Dan Springerwebsite | Facebook Page | Twitter

Dan Springer

Dan Springer

Dan Springer announced his candidacy mere moments after Strickland announced his run for Mayor. The two articles were competing with each other on the CA website. But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, Springer interned with the law firm of Kustoff & Strickland several years ago, so he likely had an inside track.

Currently Springer serves as the Director of Communications for Evolve Bank & Trust. Previously he served as an Executive Assistant to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and a Legislative Aide to U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

According to people who know Springer, his GOP bona fides notwithstanding, he’s moderate and open minded. Its hard to say how Springer’s GOP background will play in District 5…which has been a swing area in the past two County elections (Luttrell carried the area, but Democrats were voted in on the County Commission). By virtue of his relationship with Mayor Luttrell, there’s little doubt he will have a strong fundraising operation.

Mary Wilder

Mary Wilder

Mary Wilder

Wilder has been a fixture in the Evergreen Vollentine neighborhood for as long as I’ve been in Memphis (which means even longer than that). Wilder is a strong advocate for neighborhoods, and has been active in several civic and political organizations for quite some time.

In 2007 Wilder was named to the Tennessee State House District 89 in an interim position after State Senator Beverly Marerro won the Senate District 30 seat. In 2007 she ran for Memphis City Council District 9 position 3, losing to Reid Hedgepeth in a tight 3-way race.

Wilder is retired but was most recently the Facilities Director at MIFA.

Wilder’s strong ties to the community and neighborhood advocacy make her an early favorite, especially with the Midtown corridor of District 5. The Midtown area has very high voter participation compared to other areas in District 5 and Wilder is a well known and respected quantity in those areas.

Mary’s track record as a community advocate will also likely play well in the struggling neighborhoods within District 5. Many of those neighborhoods have been thirsting for a strong voice on the Council and feel a bit like an afterthought in both Council and County Commission discussions.


Of course, its still early, and perhaps too early to make any decisions about anything, but Springer came out of the gate strong, and that means the other candidates have a little catching up to do.

It will be interesting to see what the candidates report on their early financial disclosures next month.

The deadline for petitions isn’t until July, but the race, like it or not, is well underway.

District 5 has some of the highest turnout, and has more concentrated wealth than perhaps any other single member district that will be in play this cycle. That means candidates will have to raise a lot of money, and have robust organizations to get their message out.

District 5 is also a 50%+1 district, meaning, with at least four people (so far) vying for the seat, there’s the very real possibility of a run-off election a month after the October election. This makes organization and fundraising even more critical in the months before the July petition deadline.

Its going to be very interesting. As I find out more about the individual candidates, I’ll update this post.

Ed. Note – If you’re a candidate for District 5 and have more information you’d like me to include in this post, shoot me a note via my Contact Page.

Dec 08 2013

AC at bat

Posted by Steve Ross in Memphis Politics
The Wharton Administration lost the ball in the sun.

The Wharton Administration lost the ball in the sun.

The whole AutoZone Park affair has shades of the baseball poem, Casey at bat. An idea, a solution for a downtown gem, that should by all rights, be a home run for a city that is trying desperately to keep the momentum going on its effort to revitalize the area.

But a series of missteps and miscalculations sent two pitches past the Wharton Administration. These missed opportunities could sink the whole deal, and deliver a serious blow to an administration that has had difficulty articulating a coherent long-term vision for the city.

Monday is the third pitch, and the question is, will “Casey” be able to deliver, or will the air be the only thing shattered by the force of Casey’s blow…like the penultimate stanza of the classic baseball poem.

The History

We’ve known since 2009 that the Redbirds were in dire financial straits. The team has never made money, and defaulted on its bond payments that year, which is what brought Global Spectrum into the picture in the first place.

In 2010 the private equity firm Fundamental Advisors bought the outstanding bonds for less than .40 cents on the dollar. That discount, reflected the uncertainty surrounding the financial management of the Redbirds and the previous year’s default.

The point is…the problems at 3rd and Union have been known for some time, so it should come as no surprise that we are where we are. Which is what makes the rest of the story so puzzling.

In April, we heard the first details of the deal that is currently before the Council.

At the beginning of November we found out the city was close to closing a deal pending Council approval.

Then just two weeks later, a well publicized invitation only rally, that excluded members of the City Council was held…a move that left some on the Council publicly puzzled…and likely privately annoyed.

The snub could have been managed, but questions raised by incoming Council Chairman Jim Strickland…which were still unanswered by Nov. 27th…just six days before the Council would be asked to decide…were never really answered.

And so, with an 0-2 count, the Council delayed the vote until Monday, Dec. 9th. Whether or not this becomes the hone run the administration…and all the fans of Mudville…are hoping for is largely up to them.

But if it fails, the failure will rest not on the Council, but the Administration, for poor communication, and even worse politics.

An ongoing saga

It seems like we’ve heard this story before. The administration comes before the City Council at the last minute with details on a well publicized deal that seems to blindside the body.

Some of this is overblown (Crosstown, for instance, has been about $15m for a long time…though the details of the financing may not have been as well known), but stretching back since the beginning of the Wharton Administration, this has been the norm.

You might have thought something would change after the most recent budget battle in June. That was more mess than anyone should want to put themselves in. But much like that deal, in this deal the administration came across as looking inept at gaining consensus on a deal that should by all rights be a home run.

Now, at the end of the second year of Mayor Wharton’s first full term, his agenda seems to have fallen into a randomized piecemeal approach, with no articulated long-term plan…much less a destination.

The turbulence the last two years have brought on has also shaken confidence in the Mayor. The biggest structural challenges for the city…poverty, unemployment, and crime are further hampered by a declining revenue base as huge swaths of the city remain underdeveloped due to decades of physical expansion without much population growth. None of these issues are getting the focus they deserve from City Hall.

And to a certain degree, you saw that in the recent referendum on a sales tax hike to fund pre-k education. The small disorganized opposition didn’t oppose Pre-K, but the lack of movement on the issues impacting the population beyond 3-4 year olds. Certainly, creating more opportunities for them would help those same 3-4 year olds…and might even increase support for generating the revenue necessary to fund Pre-K.

From the outside looking in, it seems more like the battles are picking the Mayor rather than the other way around.

Back to the deal

On a couple of levels, it feels like the Administration is getting played on the premium they’re being asked to pay for the ballpark.

Fundamental Advisors paid .38 on the dollar for the bonds in 2010. The City is expected to pay about the same amount for them before the auction next year.

Has anyone asked what the bonds would go for if they actually went to auction? Would Fundamental Advisors be able to turn a profit on them?

It doesn’t seem likely. If the bond holder thought they would, they wouldn’t be willing to sell for the same price they bought. But letting the bonds go to auction would put a major attraction downtown at risk. A risk I don’t think the city is willing to take. Nor should they.

So while this may all seem like a bad idea that saps away money that might be put to better use, in the end, I don’t think its a bad deal. Its just a deal that has been presented badly…and I tend to agree with the Commercial Appeal editorial that says the City Council should be irritated about it.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I won’t make any predictions. But I will say, that if this administration wants to get more done in the city, they need to get some messaging together other than waiting until the last second to stir a panic and then get a deal done. That’s no way to run a city, plan for the future, or keep your gig in Oct. of 2015.

Nov 22 2013

Nobody Won

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis

But not everyone has lost either

But not everyone has lost either

Last night’s election results in the sales tax vote were surprising in the definitive margin of defeat…more than the defeat of the measure itself.

It was an issue I struggled with, much like more than one of my friends.

As a long time advocate of Pre-K, and someone who actually spent over a year researching the impact it can have on the development of young children, I understand all too well the high rate of return in the long run. I knew that return wouldn’t be measured in years, but in decades. That’s really how everything should be measured…but will never be as we quest to ever shorten the time we see a return on our investment.

As a society we’ve morphed from a relatively patient people, to the policy equivalent of day traders, buying and selling for pennies of return, to Adderall junkies demanding we be fed pills to fuel our “more better faster cheaper regardless of just how crappy the product ultimately is” lifestyle.

But that’s another point entirely.

The failure of the measure doesn’t have to be the failure of the cause. The slogan didn’t say: “Our Only chance to advance”.

It was a chance. One we as a city chose not to take. Arguing the wisdom of that vote is walking backwards. But in looking backwards, perhaps there are some lessons to be learned for the next time. There can be a next time if we want it.


The Poor Pay More

The Poor Pay More

Tennessee ranks as the 6th most regressive tax structure in the US according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

This is not entirely the City Council’s fault. The state government plays a much bigger role in the way we collect revenue than the City ever could. But because the poor pay a disproportionately larger percentage of their income in taxes than wealthier Tennesseans, there’s ample reason to be leery of a sales tax to pay for something that will largely benefit the poor.

This was my secondary objection to the measure, though I did vote yes on it.

My primary objection was that it was a sales tax increase to pay for Pre-K and mask a property tax decrease, that would amount to basically nothing for middle income people ($20/year).

I feel confident that if all the money were benchmarked for Pre-K, and certain elements were better crafted, the issue would have passed.

Rhetorical Whimpers

Last night, after the election result was certain, I heard several elected officials who lent a good deal of political capital to the cause say several things. To paraphrase the most oft repeated refrains:

1. People don’t want to pay more taxes.

2. People don’t trust government.

3. Things have to change.

There are some important things to note here:

1. None of them said people don’t want Pre-K.

2. Isn’t it the height of irony that an elected government official would acknowledge publicly that the people, who elected them, don’t trust the government they were elected to play a deciding factor in?

3. Taking these first two into account, it seems clear that things do have to change, though perhaps not in the way said elected officials intended.

Speaks volumes in my book.

Systemic Failures

But there are other issues as well.

The 8 member, unelected board that would administer the funds made folks queasy. Memphis has more than its fair share of unelected boards that handle city money in ways that make even the least observant question the rationale. I’m not sure many people have the stomach for another.

Another thing that added to the discomfort is the charge that the Pre-K system in Memphis already has empty seats…one that, to my knowledge at least, was never verified. Because the City can no more make Pre-K compulsory than levy an income tax, the practical considerations here may have given some voters pause.

Finally, the silver bullet nature of the campaign…

Pre-K isn’t going to solve long-term unemployment, or generational poverty…at least not in any term that I will live to see.

Pre-K isn’t going to train people for the hundreds of jobs at Electrolux that remain unfilled due to a low-skill workforce.

It isn’t going to help get people to those jobs if they are qualified to do them.

It isn’t going to hold slum-lords accountable when they allow their property to deteriorate so they pay lower property taxes, all while charging the same amount of rent to their tenants.

Pre-K doesn’t do anything for the generations that came before this one, that need just as much, if not more help than their kids, so they can take part in making a better future for their community.

It doesn’t work to fill the gaps in skills that people desperately need to get out of the grip of poverty level minimum wage jobs.

It doesn’t give a second chance to the folks who may have made a bad decision or two in their lives, and are now cast aside as economic untouchables with little or no opportunity.

It may help increase educational attainment, and by extension, help decrease crime and poverty, but lets be honest, that’s no less than 20 years out.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to have universal Pre-K here in Memphis, it just means we have to be honest with ourselves.

This ain’t the walk off home run that it was billed to be.

Hail to the winners…who achieved nothing

The winners…if there is such an animal in this situation, have a heavy load to carry, though I am skeptical that they will.

I partially agree with Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland when they said, the onus is on the opponents to bring something forward to help make this happen, though I think they give their opposition too much credit. The scant voices who fought this on a wing and a prayer aren’t why it failed. They didn’t help get it passed, but they don’t deserve credit for squashing it either.

The solution, that has been said by some of the anti’s is use the $57m the city owes the schools to pay for it. That assumes a lot…most importantly, that the schools are ok with the city spending their money without their permission. It is also a very short-term plan for funding Pre-K. $57m would last for about two years, if that.

To the anti-salestaxers I ask, “What’s your plan?” How should the city begin the work of addressing the long-term inequities that have brought us generational poverty, low educational attainment, and an opportunity vacuum for those whose circumstances are beyond their control?

I ask this, with the implied understanding that the City, on its own, cannot address all these issues…the State and Federal government have more than their fair share of the blame in complicating…if not exacerbating these circumstances.

I ask this because simply acting as a foil to political rivals isn’t leadership any more than 40-odd meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare is leadership. Opposition without a workable alternative is nothing more than a cynical political ploy.

I’m actually looking forward to it, because perhaps the ideas will net something this initiative never did, which is community input on the final product. Maybe this alternative will actually look, sound, and feel more like the people it seeks to serve. And maybe, just maybe it will be successful at the polls.

Until then, the ball is in your court.

How Bad Do You Want It?

The real thing I’m interested in is seeing just how quickly the next group picks up the ball and runs with it on this and related issues. Something’s gotta give.

We’ve got too much of a whole lot of things that keep us down and a whole lot more of the “it can’t be done” attitude that I fear this result will only fuel.

We can do more, we just have to start. Its that simple. We can start anywhere…housing, workforce training, education…seriously, we’ve got more than enough people that need help in these and more areas that finding a place to start isn’t the issue…starting is.

It all comes down to how bad we want it, and the next few weeks will go a long way to answering that question.

How bad do you want it? I hope the answer to that question isn’t “Not bad enough”.

Jun 20 2013

Face hates nose…AKA the continuing saga of the #membudget

Posted by Steve Ross in Memphis, Memphis Politics, Policy, Shelby County

Noses are funny. Often the most noticed facial feature…next to the eyes, noses are also one of the most complained about things people have on their face.

My nose, is what I affectionately call a “3 finger nose”…meaning, from my face to the tip is three fingers long. You can see it below.

My actual nose

My actual nose

Noses, such as this are common in my family. We’ve had an ongoing discussion about the “Ross nose” for as long as I can remember.

When I was a kid I hated it. I wanted a smaller nose.

It was an object of teasing and torture through my adolescence. I’ve never been so vain as to consider plastic surgery on it, but I certainly “wished it smaller” more than once.

My nose is a feature that provides a great deal of utility from the obvious, smelling, to holding up my glasses. This, of course comes with some costs. Allergies or head colds aren’t a small affair for me. There’s a lot of real estate there. A lot of ground to cover. More than one tree has died in the service of blowing my nose. I’m sure many more will as well.

Eventually, I came to grips with my feelings about my nose, even beating people to the punch with jokes. It is a dominant feature, no doubt, but its one that I have come to embrace over the years.

Focusing on the wrong feature

So what do noses have to do with the Memphis budget? Simply put, by focusing on tax rate, and cutting, cutting, cutting, we’re proposing a solution that not only doesn’t address the bigger problems, but also creates an environment where there’s no oxygen in the room to even discuss them.

Sometimes the answers are really right out in front of you.

Sometimes the answers are really right out in front of you.

This is almost like the behavior of a newly single middle aged person trying to find the one thing that will make them attractive once again to the opposite sex.

Its easy to focus in on one thing, and proclaim that by fixing this one thing…everything will somehow be ok. The unfortunate reality is that by focusing in on that one thing, we ignore the real problems…the fact that we can’t see our toes, that we need to eat healthier and exercise, or that we need more therapy than we can afford.

We focus on this one feature, like a nose, because its simple.

We convince ourselves that by correcting this one simple single problem we have shot the silver bullet that will make the others go away. But this never works out. The problems remain, and we are still in the same situation we were before.

Our only choice is to either focus on addressing the real issues, which is hard, or find another distraction that will be our next failed “silver bullet”. Thus far, this Council and the Administration has focused on the distractions.

Its not personal, its about vision

Earlier this month, Polar Donkey wrote a defense of some of the things I’ve brought up in previous posts (this one in particular) that framed the debate as Strickland vs. Vibinc.

via Polar Donkey

The post showed things that are well beyond my technical ability in support of my core argument, that real problems (crime, education, lack of opportunity), not tax rate, are what leads to flight and population stagnation.

I do appreciate the support, but this isn’t just about any one person.

I consider Jim Strickland a personal friend. He supported me in my campaign, and I’ve supported him in his past campaigns. We disagree on this issue.

I started down this road because, aside from my belief that “tax rate” is a poor metric by which to judge efficiency, I am also curious as to what the end game is. What is the long-term vision? How will doing this address the long-standing problems that impact Memphis…from crime and education to economic opportunity and flight…especially for those who are suffering most (low income families) and leaving the fastest (middle income families)?

Thus far, that hasn’t been described in any tangible way. So, absent something to convince me otherwise (which would be a tough sell to begin with), I’m left with little understanding as to the long game.

Policy and Political Cycles

When I ran for County Commission last year, I talked about solutions that outlive political cycles. “Solution” is a word I don’t really like to use, because it implies permanence or that there is a “silver bullet”. Policy is neither permanent nor a “silver bullet”.

Policy, is supposed to be a living, breathing thing that evolves as the situation evolves. This is hard for politicians to accept. We all want things to be simple. We want answers to be certain…”If A then B” type statements. That may make for a good TV sound byte, but it doesn’t make for good policy.

Its harder to believe when your city leaders don’t seem to.

What we get, more often, is gut reactions and hill to die on declarations, especially from legislators. This is only compounded when the administration has failed to either articulate, or gain widespread support for their vision.

And that’s where we’re at, and where we’ve been for some time…even before Mayor Wharton took over. We’ve been a city without a policy vision.

The CVB has a vision of Memphis that it is pushing both internally and externally.

A slew of local non-profits have articulated their vision for either attracting or building up local talent. (more than I want to try to mention)

Hell, even the Grizzlies have articulated a sense of self-identity with their “Believe Memphis” and #Grit #Grind mentality.

Why we can’t adopt any of these ideas, these identities, and turn them into an attitude for a long-term policy vision for the community is beyond me. But here we stand, fragmented. Looking toward our future with little to no idea of what we’re working for when we get there, or how to do it.

So rather than do the hard work, we go for the nose job, or the facelift. We buy some snake-oil salve from a late night tv infomercial, or rehash tried and failed “tax cuts = job creation/growth” strategies we borrowed from an administration that saw the single largest devastation of middle class wealth since the Great Depression.

We get caught up in cosmetics, rather than getting on the treadmill and putting down the Pork Rinds, or maybe reading something other than a trashy pulp novel for personal development.

In short, we focus on the fast food solution for our challenges, and leave feeling just as unsatisfied as we were when we started, and a little bit fatter.


I’m not saying I have all the answers. But come on:

If flight out of the city is something you’re concerned about, laying off and eliminating jobs is one helluva way to say don’t move from Memphis. You just nearly guaranteed 400 people will move. They’ll have to.

If Public Safety is something you think we should focus on, eliminating 280ish public safety positions is one really self-defeating way to do that.

If you think taxes are too high, then how will you explain to the public that these very actions will increase insurance premiums by 11% to 15% (which by the way, is more than the tax hike would be).

I’m just saying, with four members of the City Council supposedly angling to run for Mayor, you’d think there would be something better on the menu than the paper plate of failed ideas and broken dreams we keep getting served.

You’d think that some kind of coherent vision would emerge…something people could get behind. Because what’s going to happen now is people are going to love the tax break and be pissed when their house burns to the ground, or Ma-Maw dies of that stroke because response times increased, or you wake up to find some dude rifling through your car at 3am because the police presence just ain’t there any more.

That tax cut isn’t going to mean anything when that happens. And people will use those experiences to drive their decisions and belongings out of town…just like they have been for more than 20 years (with a lot of help from the County Commission, I might add, which has, in turn, negatively impacted their ability to raise revenue).

For 20 years, as a city (and a County) we’ve bought one facelift and tummy tuck after another, expecting our fortunes to magically change, all while not dealing with the real problems facing the city (and County), and chasing after folks that just don’t and ain’t gonna love us no more.

Its dumb.

For 20 years we’ve given lip service to the real issues that are driving down revenues, and stymying population growth, all while cramming Ho-Ho’s and pork rinds in our face and ignoring the real hard work that has to be done to correct the problem.

That’s not just dumb, that’s a slow suicide.

File under – Things that don’t work

Its got to stop. But to stop, we have to have leaders who don’t look at the whole enterprise as a lost cause, and I’m not convinced that’s what we have right now.

And while the facelift we’re currently contemplating (aka the rate cut) may make us look pretty on Facebook and Twitter, there’s still all those real issues lingering beneath the cropped edges on that profile picture that have been, and will continue to drive people out, or keep them away.

In the end, this facelift will be just as successful as all the past ones…un…and we’ll still have all the same problems, but worse.

And a year from now we’ll be sitting here wondering why it didn’t work, and still have no long-term plan, and wonder if that stomach electrocution thing really will give us six-pack abs or if they just hired models that already had them and put it on them.

What’s worse, we’ll probably buy that dumb piece of crap looking for another silver bullet.

We shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when it doesn’t work.