The city's 25 Square blight mitigation program, which was launched in 2011 by the city's Division of Community Enhancement to target weed overgrowth and other blight one neighborhood at a time, was being mismanaged under former Deputy Director for Neighborhood Improvement Onzie Horne, according to an internal audit of the program.
The audit revealed Horne was directing blight remediation work to a company that subcontracted work to Horne's son, and three contractors appeared to have received favorable treatment. It also revealed that some property owners were not notified before workers trimmed their grass, and most were not billed. Through the program, property owners who were neglecting overgrown weeds were supposed to have received a warning first, allowing the owner a chance to cut the grass. If the owner failed to do so, the city would send crews to cut the grass, and the property owner was supposed to be billed for the city work.
Horne resigned from city government in January after the audit began. The report has been turned over to the Memphis Police Department for a full investigation.
“It is regrettable that Mr. Horne, in his zeal to rid the city of blight, failed to maintain proper controls and that he failed to disclose the extent of his son’s involvement with a contractor,” said CAO George Little. “I commend Director [of Public Works] Dwan Gilliom for paying attention to the red flags and ordering the investigation that has put a stop to the mismanagement and abuse.”
Today, the city announced that Patrice Thomas, a comptroller in the city's Finance Division, has been named Deputy Director over the program.
The Flyer interviewed Onzie Horne about 25 Square in May 2012. Click here for the full interview.