I wasn't around then but over the years I have interviewed and gotten to know several people who were. What they seem to agree upon is that the negative perception became a cause for action for something positive. Memphis resolved to do better. It took many years and the results were decidedly mixed, but the general feeling, I was told, was that the rap had some truth to it and so what do we do now, short term and long term?
One answer may be found in two of our biggest companies and corporate citizens: AutoZone and FedEx and their relentless emphasis on customer service. Maybe that should be the not-so-new government motto.
Corny and unoriginal, but easy to remember.
Potentially broad application to every division of government including cops, sanitation, vehicle inspection, car tags, parks, etc.
Much easier to find consensus.
More meaningful than a conversation.
The "broken windows" approach to crime fighting applied to blighted corners, missing basketball goal nets, torn soccer goals, flowers, clipped grass, uniforms, litter, old tires, thank yous, etc.
Lemonade from lemons. Getting the employees you have to give discretionary effort is easier and politically more realistic than making 10 percent cuts across the board.
Jobs program without adding jobs. It's silly to expect our mayors to be job creators. If anything they must be jobs cutters sooner or later. Meanwhile, get the most out of what you have.
It worked for former mayors Henry Loeb and Dick Hackett. They climbed the ladder by taking a hard, services-oriented job and doing it well.
Lots of small victories. See the riverfront parks and Sam Cooper Boulevard from where it ends to Overton Park. Exemplary landscaping and plantings.
AutoZone and FedEx aren't bad role models.