It has been 100 days since the formal ascension to the mayor's office of former city Councilman Jim Strickland on New Year's Day, and, though it wasn't his formal "First 100 Days" address, which will occur soon, along with the mayor's first budget message, members of the Rotary Club of Memphis got a preview on Tuesday.
Strickland eschewed grandiosity in outlining what he called the "big picture," just as he had during last year's mayoral race, when he campaigned on a triad of what could be called housekeeping issues — crime, blight, and accountability in government. On Tuesday, Strickland stated his goal as that of having the city be "brilliant at the basics."
Crime control was, once again, at the top of that list, along with such other basics as attending to potholes, making sure the city's 911 system was functional and responsive, and conforming to state law that now requires that Memphis, along with all other Tennessee local jurisdictions, must maintain its pension obligations in a condition of complete funding.
Those matters had to be dealt with "so that the great things in Memphis can grow and grow," Strickland said.
One of the matters he considered in some detail was the specter of population loss, a circumstance the mayor saw as being the proximate cause of most urban decline in the nation and which had been an undeniable aspect of recent Memphis history. Strickland cited statistics showing that Memphis' population, which stood at 650,000 30 years ago, had been maintained at that level only by means of continuous annexations.
Strickland noted that some 110,000 Memphis citizens (including, he said, his own parents) had left the city in the period from 1980 to 2010, and they had been replaced by as many newly annexed residents in adjacent areas, not all of them — as introduction of a de-annexation bill in the current session of the General Assembly made clear — happy at the change in their status.
Hence the passage of legislation two years ago that blocks further urban annexations without a reciprocal vote of acceptance in areas about to be annexed, and hence also the more recent de-annexation bill, which easily passed the Tennessee House and was stalled in a commmittee of the state Senate only via the strenuous efforts of a coalition partly engineered by Strickland.
That coalition — including representatives of Memphis and other city governments statewide, the Greater Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce, and influential bill opponents in the legislature and state government at large — succeeded in relegating the de-annexation measure to the limbo of "summer study."
But the challenge of maintaining the city's population and improving its economic base remains, Strickland said, who cited various programs, including a massive effort to increase the city's police force and to hire a world-class police director, along with upgrades to the city's transportation system, encouragement of universal pre-K, and an effort to regain Memphis' lost reputation as one of the nation's cleanest cities. ("Be Clean by 2019" is the slogan for that endeavor.)
There was a lot more to what the mayor said, but that idea of being "brilliant at the basics" is the key to all of it. We hope he succeeds. It will not be easy.