30 Jan 2014
- Written by Carlissa Shaw, Esq./Special to The New Tri-State Defender
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Any list drawing upon "P" words to address conditions in Memphis would easily be dismissed as invalid if poverty were not given a prominent place.
Mayor A C Wharton Jr. drew upon what he called the "5 P's" Wednesday morning as he addressed the State of the City to a crowded auditorium at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Amid "Potholes," "Pensions," "Public Safety" and "Planning," Wharton put "Poverty," which was paramount to Shelby County Democratic Party Chair Bryan Carson.
"I listened very closely to Mayor Wharton's State of the City address. Although I was very pleased with his 5 P's plan for Memphis, what caught my attention more was the city's Blue Print for Prosperity initiative to reduce our 27 percent poverty level by 10 percent by 2024," said Carson.
"There is much poverty and a high percentage of working poor in Memphis that desperately needs addressing. When the poverty issue is addressed, all of Memphis will be benefited."
Wharton's address was relatively brief. He tackled poverty head-on, acknowledging that "Memphis is near the top of this unfortunate list."
"With a 27 percent poverty rate ... I am looking forward to launching ... one of the most innovative programs to reduce poverty of any city in the United States, the Memphis Blueprint for Prosperity," he said.
The goal is to reduce poverty 1 percent per year for the next 10 years.
"Instead of providing additional checks to low income people, we want to reduce the cost of living in the city of Memphis," he said.
With the theme of the 5 P's, Wharton discussed both the current progression and future of Memphis.
"We cannot, however, be so tomorrow minded that we are no good to the immediacy of today," Wharton declared to a room full of politicians, city workers, community leaders, concerned citizens, law students, and media.
In the job growth and development sector, Wharton highlighted the Workforce Investment Network, which boasts 735 citizens with criminal backgrounds receiving job skills and coaching.
He also praised the Industrial Readiness Training Program (IRT) at Southwest Tennessee Community College. The program prepares participants for employment by developing marketable job skills and credentials. The IRT job placement rate is 98 percent for the first two classes.
The first "P" that Wharton addressed was the metaphoric and literal Potholes in the city of Memphis. Making no excuse about the amount of work that needs to be done, he focused on quality of life issues that can be overcome in the short term. He detailed projects that have been completed in the city, including: the Watkins Bridge and Airways Bridge replacements projects, installation of an average of 1000 curb ramps for wheelchair bound citizens, and the MEMFix and MEMShop projects that support local entrepreneurs.
Among other plans for the city is a "complete and comprehensive plan for the redevelopment and re-use of the Southland Mall area. We will soon break ground on the Raleigh Mall project, which will involve relocating central services to that site." Both projects are much-needed restorations of shopping centers in two of Memphis' most vulnerable communities.
Wharton also mentioned the development that is taking place in the downtown-Midtown area, including: the reestablishment of the Pyramid, Main Street Project, the new management of Beale Street, the $1.5 billion capital projects in the Memphis Medical Center, and the Crosstown project, which is a public-private partnership that he says as transforming Memphis' "single most example of urban blight into a new vertical urban village of health wellness and education."
Potholes also had a practical meaning for the mayor.
"All Public works personnel will now be charged with identifying and reporting potholes and code violations," he said. Public Works is set to increase the number of lane miles repaved this fiscal year by 45 percent.
"The pension crisis in the city was caused by a perfect storm, which contributed to a loss of $500 million in the pension fund," said Wharton, vowing that he would not place the pension problem onto the taxpayers knowing that most taxpayers themselves do not have a pension.
Turning to the "P" of Public Safety, Wharton drew applause when he emphatically announced that, "crime is down," proclaiming that there a "20,000 fewer victims when comparing these numbers to 2006."
Youth gun violence is down by 13 percent from 2012, said Wharton, attributing the declines to the focused police work of Director Toney Armstrong's community outreach programs, and intervention services such as 901 B.L.O.C. Squad and the MED's Violence Intervention Program.
The mayor added that there must be some comprehensive efforts to assure crime prevention in the city. "We cannot arrest and jail our way out of the crime issue that we have," he said.
Wharton's last "P" was a reference to the "Plan."
As for a plan, well, that is still in the development phase, with the mayor assuring that there will be a written plan in the next couple of weeks.
True to his plan to be brief, what moved to wrap up by making a call to bring an end to what he called the "tale of two cities."
Said Wharton: "We are ONE Memphis and we will work together against the odds to ensure that opportunity is real in the lives of every citizen."