Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s three top priorities for the city in 2015 are fighting crime and blight, creating economic opportunity and reducing poverty, and changing the culture of the city government.
Wharton announced those goals during his State of the City address Thursday at Hatiloo Theater.
Wharton said safer communities is his top priority. To fight crime this year, he will emphasize “old-fashioned community policing and new, cutting-edge technology.” To do that, he’ll activate neighborhood leaders (especially in areas with high violent crime rates) to work at the “grassroots level” to reduce crime. Also, he said the city will add in-car video, automatic vehicle video location technology, and body cameras this year.
He had this to say on his overall crime reduction program:
“We have taken action on all fronts,” he said. “We have increased the budget for Memphis Police Department by nearly $40 million, we have intensified our anti-gang programs, we have toughened sentences for violent crimes, we have targeted crimes in apartment complexes, and we are fighting gun crimes by young offenders.”
He also said new police officers are on the way from a new graduating class, moving closer to the “optimal force of 2,500.”
As for blight, the mayor said “our new programs are working” and pointed to the work of City Beautiful, the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic, and the fact that about a dozen new lawsuits are filed each month against owners of blighted properties.
Maybe the most notable new program Wharton outlined on the economic development front was the creation of what could be called the Division of Minority Business Services. Wharton said he has asked Memphis City Council chairman Myron Lowery to work with him to establish the program.
The new division would make minority business development a cabinet-level priority and function,” Wharton said. It would “manage all city agencies and services related to minority businesses and create partnerships with all city agencies like Memphis Light Gas and Water, Memphis Area Transit Authority, Memphis Housing Authority, EDGE and recipients of city grants.” The division would also work with non-profit organizations like the Greater Memphis Chamber and Memphis Tomorrow.
“It is simply unacceptable that only about one percent of total business receipts in Memphis are with minority businesses,” Wharton said. “Our ultimate goal as a result is to put in place a process that is just as entrepreneurial as the entrepreneurs we hope to create and support. That is precisely what this new division will do.”
Wharton also said he’d roll out his Blueprint for Prosperity in the next six months. The idea for the program to fight poverty has been public for more than a year though few of its details have been known. But Wharton said he’s been working with community and state partners to lay the ground work for the program.
“Few priorities are more important in fighting poverty and increasing opportunity than minority business development,” Wharton said. “Without a clear national priority or plan to support minority and women-owned businesses and to expand their business receipts, this responsibility falls to local governments like ours.”
Wharton’s goal of “changing the culture of city government” was not as clearly defined during his speech as the previous two goals. It is not known if he was talking about the apparent and growing rift between his administration the city council. All he said was this:
“As we move ahead, I will continue to focus on results rather than politics and on policies rather than personalities,” Wharton said.
Overall, the city of Memphis is “sound and strong” Wharton said Thursday during his State of the City address, calling 2014 “an incredible year.”
He qualified his optimism with positive national recognition from sources like Forbes, Fortune, Kiplinger, CNN Money, and more. He praised the University of Memphis football team’s win at the Miami Beach Bowl game and the continued success of the Memphis Grizzlies.
“In 2014, our city was recognized around the nation for the right reasons. 2015 will be no different,” he said. “This is the year when all the momentum we have created and the unique partnerships we have forged will converge to make this a transformative year for our great city. For this reason, I can say with certainty that the state of the city is sound and strong.