Publicity regarding 81 persons deemed needful of a police escort while in City Hall has gone national, to the embarrassment of the city of Memphis and to its mayor, Jim Strickland, in particular.
The bottom line, affirmed Strickland to members of the Rotary Club on Tuesday, was that the list is now "under review."
As the mayor explained it in the course of what he dubbed "State of the City Number Two," the list was an awkward and, in some ways, unintentional amalgamation, resulting from Strickland's unease regarding recent protesters who trespassed on his home property and a pre-existing security list compiled by the Memphis Police Department prior to his ascending to office. Strickland seemed to be acknowledging that it was a misstep, and the high likelihood is that, in its current form, it is not long for the world.
As for the rest of things, Strickland was remarkably upbeat on Tuesday, finding silver linings where there were clouds and some bona fide sunshine to boast of.
There was the "Work Local" program, which the city is pursuing in tandem with Hospitality Hub, an organization that works with the homeless. The program arranges for homeless people and panhandlers to be paid $9 an hour to work clearing blight, one of the triad of issues which Strickland vowed to do something about in his 2015 campaign. And he put the plans forth as a sample of his "Brilliant with the Basics" motto.
The mayor also spent a fair amount of time talking about another part of that triad — public safety. He noted that the city's recruitment campaign had attracted some 2,000 applicants to join the Memphis Police Department, and that it appeared certain that the city would be increasing the number of police officers for the first time in six years.
The city has been able to attract some $7 billion in new businesses and development, Strickland said, and to dissuade other businesses, like ServiceMaster, from leaving. He also cited plans to augment an existing TDZ (tourist development zone) so as to spur new development on the riverfront, much of which would complement a current expansion of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which is in the process of creating 1,800 new jobs.
There was much else on the plus side claimed by the mayor, including substantial reductions in the city's basic debt. And there was the matter of how the city plans to avert a Draconian deannexation plan aimed at it by unsympathetic elements in the General Assembly by fashioning its own "right-sizing" plan, introduced publicly just weeks ago and about to undergo scrutiny this next week in a series of town meetings throughout the city. The plan contemplates the detachment from Memphis, over a four-year period, of "seven or eight neighborhoods on the edges," Strickland explained. The city would sacrifice some 10 percent of its land mass but only 1.5 percent of its population. In the short term, he acknowledged, the city would incur a loss of property and sales tax revenues of some $7 million, but the city stood to gain from having a more appropriate geographic area to service.
As in the case of the other issues he discussed, Strickland enters into the second year of his tenure with a seeming determination to confront the issues and not look for a rug to sweep them under. That's the list that voters will judge him on.