Luttrell Takes the Middle View in Assaying "the State of the County"

Mayor sees education as key to other issues, expresses concern about Med funding, Head Start, and local job skills.



County Mayor Luttrell addressing Kiwanians at the University Club
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  • County Mayor Luttrell addressing Kiwanians at the University Club

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s “state of the county” address to the Memphis Kiwanis Club on Wednesday, variations on which the mayor will likely be repeating elsewhere, focused on basic subjects — education, health care, economic development — and was a clear attempt to hit the middle between concern and optimism.

The mayor, who made his remarks to the Kiwanians at the University Club , noted that education would continue to be the county’s “number one responsibility” and foresaw an intermittently difficult transition period lasting “for a number of years.”

But Luttrell made a point of expressing his support for one aspect of the forthcoming complication — the multiplicity of educational venues, ranging from conventional public schools to private schools, to charter schools and the state’s Achievement School District.

One problem Luttrell pinpointed was that of Head Start, Contending that “most Head Start programs moved into the private sector many years ago,” the mayor noted that Shelby County, which has operated the program for the last several years but reaching “only about a third of the children in Shelby County,” is currently involved in trying to shift the local operation of Head Start elsewhere.

“We’re fortunate to have interest from the public school system {Shelby County Schools] as well as [private non-profit] Porter Leath,” Luttrell said. The federal government will ultimately decide on one or both of these applicants to administer the program.

Luttrell linked education to other issues like public safety and job creation. Economic development, he said, “depends on our ability to grow a 21st Century workforce,” and local industries have been hindered by “our inability to find people to step into the jobs that they have.” He hailed the willingness of Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson to “partner” with business in trying to upgrade basic skills.

Health care was another mixed picture, according to Luttrell, who characterized the county as a “rich community” in terms of its available facilities — “Baptist, Methodist, and St. Francis hospitals, Ut Health Sciences, the Med, and on and on” But the nether side of all that lay in high rates of infant mortality, teenage pregnancy,. childhood obesity, and other such issues.

The county mayor expressed particular concern over the financial predicament of The Med. “We see the potential for losing funding,” he said, adding that he’d been in “close contact” with Governor Bill Haslam, expressing the hope that the governor’s proposed “Tennessee Plan,” a private-sector alternative to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, could be worked out with the federal government. so as to make the county and the state eligible for
expansion funds.

“We can build confidence in our ability to grow progressive government,” Luttrell said, characterizing himself as “an ambassador for this community.” He enumerated such “quality of life” amenities as professional theater, ballet, and the county’s developing “greenprint:” plan.

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