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Mayor shares Memphis peek

  • Written by Terry Schlichenmeyer
  • Published in News
Mayor AC Wharton Jr., in a precursor to his State of the City address to the Kiwanis of Memphis later this month, touched lightly on the Memphis City Schools charter referendum at the group’s meeting at the Peabody Hotel on Wednesday. Mayor AC Wharton Jr., in a precursor to his State of the City address to the Kiwanis of Memphis later this month, touched lightly on the Memphis City Schools charter referendum at the group’s meeting at the Peabody Hotel on Wednesday.

A C Wharton
In a wide-ranging speech that began with highlights of positive news and successes from 2010, Mayor AC Wharton Jr. provided a glimpse of the State of the City address he will deliver later this month. (Photos by Earl Stanback)

Pamela Smoot asks a question of Mayor AC Wharton Jr. during the Kiwanis gathering at the Peabody Hotel Wednesday. Smoot shared a table with Oretha Anderson (left), Claudet Branch and Cheyenne Johnson.

Saying he was warned to stay out of the “school dilemma,” Wharton said that staying out of it was not possible because he really cares about children. He said no news media was asking a 7-year-old or a graduating senior about their concerns, and yet there are 105,000 children to be looked after.

“We cannot afford one child to fall into limbo,” the city mayor said, explaining why he and County Mayor Mark Luttrell called a press conference on Tuesday of this week to announce their intention to put together a transition team to lay out an orderly process in case voters approve the MCS referendum.

Of the debate surrounding the December 20th action of the Memphis City School Board to surrender its charter, Wharton said, “There is nothing wrong with debating the plan.”

He asked those present to focus less on personalities and malicious intent and more on keeping the debate at the right level. “The world sees Memphis…everyday. If we goof up, the world knows it, instantaneously, from Boxtown to Beijing.”

Wharton started his wide-ranging speech with highlights of positive news and successes from 2010 – national recognition of Ballet Memphis by the Ford Foundation, the Tony Award for Best Musical for the Broadway musical “Memphis” (based loosely on the life of deejay Dewey Phillips), local Memphis billboards and taxi signs, and national and international news that “buzz” about Memphis and its culture of Blues and Soul music.

“We made an impression on the world that becomes more imbedded around the world,” he said, adding that “Memphis Beat” (a TNT cable drama) has been renewed and the “Hellcats,” (a CW Network series), is set in the city.

“The city has always had and still has a certain cachet,” he told the diverse gathering of 200-250 business and community leaders, which included nearly a dozen members of the Whitehaven Kiwanis Club. He said that Memphis will be a “City of Choice” in which Memphians should expect the best and demand the best and have an attitude that says “I want to be here.”

Dollars and Sense

Wharton spoke on the city’s economic development efforts: 300 saved jobs at Cargill; the move of Pinnacle Airlines from the airport area to downtown; and a joint city-county-state effort that sealed the deal to bring an Electrolux manufacturing plant to Memphis.

Mayor Wharton pledged no tax increase and more cutting of expenses to improve city finances. He said that the city will use $65 million in CIP (capital improvement program) funds while holding expenses to a “bare minimum.” He noted that one-third of CIP funds was set aside for the Electrolux deal, which brings a $190 million investment and 1,200 jobs.

Moreover, he will be introducing a Debt Policy for City Council approval to help pay off city debt.

In other areas of the speech, Wharton noted:

• Crime is trending downward thanks to the Real Time Crime Center and quick police response. More cameras will be installed in residential as well as commercial areas of the city. Blue Crush will continue.

• He has a comprehensive plan to focus on juveniles before they enter the system.

• He is appreciative of volunteers who say they want to help the city of Memphis, noting a car dealership donated $25,000 toward blight.

• Under the new leadership of Desi Franklin, the Workforce Investment Center responsible for using $13 million in federal grant funds did not have to return any of the funding, a big change from previous years.

• General Services will have more embarrassing situations but there is improvement.

• The Animal Shelter has been cleaned up.

• The city is taking a strategic approach to the fragmentation of code violations by putting together a central database for reports from Code Enforcement, Public Works, Park Services and Community Enhancement.

• The city also is developing a program to combat social issues such as teen pregnancy.

Speaking with humor and customary statesmanship, Wharton was cagey in his answer to a question about the pending retirement of Police Chief Godwin only saying “a good and effective solution” was being worked out.

Wharton encouraged citizens to get involved in political debates, call his office with concerns and suggestions, and volunteer for task forces.

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