Restoring Faith

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton
No one said it would be quick, easy, cheap, or without some bad press, but that doesn’t mean all the news is bad.

What am I talking about? The growing number of investigations concerning divisions of the City of Memphis government.

Over the two years since Mayor AC Wharton assumed the Mayor’s office we’ve seen investigations of General Services, the Memphis Animal Shelter, and more recently Community Enhancement and MPD.

The long hard truth is there will probably be even more investigations in the coming months.

It would be easy to simply dismiss these developments as confirmation of a lot of long-held assumptions about City government, but there is something very positive in all the negative attention. While concerning, these investigations are a good thing for the city. They represent an opportunity to root out problems and bring a level of accountability to City government that many people have been longing for for decades.

But its also more than that. This is a reset opportunity. This is a chance for the administration to put policy in place that helps build trust with some of Memphis’ greatest detractors. Its a chance for the City to lead the way and surpass County transparency, which is not nearly as strong as some would have you think.

This also represents an opportunity for the City Council to assert itself by expanding its proper role as a check on the current and future administrations. I’ve believed for some time that the City Council should demand a greater level of detail from City divisions to better understand both the challenges faced by those divisions and areas of unnecessary duplication and/or waste. While the City Council cannot mandate changes in the administration, it can use its role in the budgetary process to push the administration in directions it sees necessary, and use this information to assist public understanding.

Both the City Council and the Administration can use this opportunity start re-writing the city’s story. For as long as I can remember, the narrative about Memphis has been one of crime, poverty, and corruption. No city can grow and thrive under these conditions. While City Government may not have the resources available on its own to deal with all three, crafting a narrative of self-evaluation and corruption busting is one of the first steps in rehabilitating an image, both inside and outside of Memphis, about our community.

Its easy to focus on the negative: reports of corruption, crime, blight, poverty, and coverups. But for each division that is cleaned up, each bad guy that is caught, each neighborhood that gets a problem property dealt with, and every other problem that is dealt with head on, what we often forget is that the resolution of these issues ultimately represent net positives.

To restore faith, we not only have to continue tackling these problems head on, but start telling the story of successes. The simple truth is that for every story you hear about anything bad happening in the city, county, state, or nation, there are 20 good stories you NEVER hear about. Its hard to remember that in the barrage of “bad news”, but its important to try. Its even more important for the powers that be to tell those stories, when they can, to help restore faith.

You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.Samuel Butler

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