Behind the Headlines – May 10, 2019

Behind the Headlines – May 10, 2019


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is
made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, president
and executive editor of The Daily Memphian. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight by
Mayor Jim Strickland. Thanks for bing here again. – Thanks for having me. – Well I’m with Bill Dries, reporter with
The Daily Memphian. I have as many questions as
I’ve ever had for you actually. As I was prepping for this and
we’ve had you on many times and thank you again for coming. I want to start with
a question I asked some of the city council. We did a show on the budget,
the city budget recently. You put your budget forward. Your finance
director, CFO was here and a couple people
from the council and I asked them a question
what’s not in the budget and is not gonna
make it in the budget that you wish were in there, that when you face the
financial realities and so on, what’s some of the
highest priority things that were left on the table? – It would be just a lot
more of what we’ve got. I would love to give
every police officer and firefighter a 10% raise. I would love to have
5,000, 10,000 summer jobs for young people. I’d love to be able to replace
the playground equipment at so many different parks
and community centers. I’d love to be able
to put more into our Affordable
Housing Trust Fund and our Community Catalyst Fund. So I think we’ve hit
all the priority areas. I don’t think we’ve left
out any priority areas, I would just put more
money into those areas. – And what stands
in the way of that? What makes that not possible? – Our budget is just static. I’ve talked a lot on this
show and other places about our loss of
population over the decades and because we’re not
growing in population, our tax base is not growing and our budget roughly
increases by $10 million a year. We have a little more
this year because we’ve saved on some expenses. That may come up today but
it’s just not a big growth. I mean that’s 1%-2% a year. That’s not big growth as opposed
to somewhere like Nashville which is growing by 100
people a day or a week, whatever it is, and their
increase in their revenue is dramatic. That’s why I say population
loss is our number one challenge because that is so key to have
more money to fight poverty and improve literacy and
all those challenges. – One of those things
that your administration has touted in terms of
reshaping Memphis and growing, I think the phrase you all used
often is growing up not out and all that is wrapped
around Memphis 3.0, the strategic plan, transportation,
growth areas and so on, and it seems to have hit
some problems at council. Are you worried that Memphis
3.0 is not gonna pass? – No, I’m not
worried about that. I think the votes are there. Personally, I wish they
would go ahead and do it but that’s their business,
they have internal, but we have a majority of the
council who does support it and the majority of the
population that does. – And the hang up in
part is in new Chicago, there’s some activists
there who are frustrated, felt like they weren’t
part of the process. There are a lot of questions. – Well that’s what they say. – That’s what they say
so that’s where I’m going and there are a lot
of question marks and Bill has written
about it and other people have written about it,
about some of the people raising these questions
and questions about things, legal issues that they’ve had. Do you feel like that process, you reached out to all the
communities in Memphis? – There’s never been
an effort like this. 15,000 Memphians took part. Two months ago, I was in
Frayser or North Memphis talking to a group and the
lady who’s kind of leading this effort, she was there
and our point of disagreement was she wanted the city to give her the property at Firestone. Just give it to her to
redevelop and I said no, I respectfully disagree. What we’re trying
to do is gather up all the old Firestone
property to then entice a manufacturer to come in there and provide hundreds
of good-paying jobs. The vast majority of the
crowd agreed with my version and disagreed with
hers so I’ll stand on that argument all the time. You can never get unanimous
consent on anything. I could say Sunday’s
gonna be Mothers’ Day. Not everyone is gonna
agree with that. – We’ll go to Bill. – Let’s stick with
Firestone for a bit here because the last time I looked, the property that the plant
was on for many decades is owned by an amateur
golf association where there was a driving
range for a brief time and there are delinquent taxes. Is the city still looking
at what might happen at a tax sale on that property? – Absolutely, they had
not paid their taxes, they need to pay their taxes, and because they haven’t
paid their taxes, we need to get
that property back. – So is there a date by which
that’s supposed to happen because there’s a
redemption period and everything like that. – Yeah, it got
delayed in a tax sale that I think was set
earlier this year. I’m hoping that
the next tax sale, it actually goes forward
because you’re exactly right. Under state law, you have a
year to redeem the property by paying the
taxes and penalties and getting the property
back but my guess is they haven’t paid the
property taxes in years and they’re not gonna have
money to redeem the property so we just need to get
that process moving. – And we’ve talked
about this in the past, there’s a scenario where
the city might own it. There’s also a scenario
where you might in effect broker someone else buying it. – If we can get it
through tax sale, at least then we have
some voice in how quickly we can get that property
redeveloped and back marketed. We’re not looking to own it and do any
development ourselves. We just want some
private development and we’ve been working on
a Brownfield agreement, obviously Firestone was a great
employer for all those years but they left behind residue
of their manufacturing process which caused probably
some environmental issues. It takes a Brownfield
agreement with the state to get that property available
for a new development and we’ve been
working on that, too. – Going back to the pay
raises for a second. There is some sentiment
on the council to at least bring the
3% raise you proposed for public safety and
the 1% raise you proposed for everyone else, to kind
of get those closer together. What would be your
reaction to that sentiment to maybe bring up the 1%? – Budgeting is about choices and it’s easy to find places
where you want to spend money. I mean I listed it when
we first started here. I’d love to spend more money
but you have to make choices and the hard part of budgeting is where you’re not gonna
fund or if you want to raise from 1% to three,
what are you gonna cut in the budget that we proposed? The budget is very lean. It’s focused on
core, basic services and better serving our public so when the council
cuts something, it’s gonna have
real consequences. – You went into the fund
balance, the reserve, I think was it $19 million? – For the solid waste? – Yeah. – I thought it was 15 million. – So is there some anticipation that you want the budget to make some kind of payment back
to replenish the fund? – Not in this budget. We just didn’t have
room to do that. I think that’s something
we’ve gotta keep on our radar as we move forward but we didn’t
have the money to do that. I really wanted to prioritize
obviously public safety. I’ve talked about that a lot. Many of our ranks in
the police department and fire department
to a lesser degree are below market value. We work really hard at
hiring new police officers and firefighters and
we have to give them as much of a raise as we
possibly could afford. I thought it was 3% and
on our operating budget, that was our number one focus. – What is the total
number of police right now because you ran on
replenishing the ranks, getting back to something
like 2,400 or 2,500? – Yeah, remember
nine, 10 years ago, we had over 2,400 officers. Shortly after I got
elected, we dropped down to close to 1,900. We’re now over 2,000. We’re gonna hopefully
hit 2,100 this year. Our goal is to be at
2,300 by the end of 2020. It’s hard work. Every city out there
is recruiting officers and so we have that competition. The low unemployment rate, while we’re really
happy about that, actually hurts in that regard because there’s so many
other opportunities but we’ve had
tremendous success. – I assume it’s not just
bodies, it’s also strategies. It’s how those
bodies are employed so back the day, people
remember Blue Crush and there are now
this explosion of what are they called
sky cops or the cameras that people see around,
sometimes they’re freestanding, sometimes they’re on
light posts and so on. Community policing, which is
something people talk about, in conjunction with the hiring, what are the changes
or not changes in terms of strategies in
policing and fighting crime? – Let me start on the budget and then we’ll go
to the other things. Hopefully next year, when
we start getting over 2,100 officers our overtime
budget can start going down. Our overtime budget is
roughly $25 million when back when we
had 2,400 officers, it was $12-$13 million. We’re having to use
so much overtime just to make day compliments. So hopefully that
can go down as well as hire more police officers. We’ve also mentioned,
we have 100 PSTs which we did not
have three years ago. – Describe what
those are for me. – It’s sort of a
junior police officer where they’re there
wearing the khaki and they handle accidents. – They’re in the
white cars that people have seen them in an
intersection maybe? – They’re a force multiplier. Basically they can
relieve police officer from handling traffic
issues, accidents, so that they can do things
that only commissioned officers do but we
need police officers to do more community policing. I am committed to Blue Crush
and to community policing but both need manpower
to be able to do that. You need more officers
so that officers can take time out and spend
and hour during their day getting to know more
of the neighbors. We still do it and we
still do Blue Crush but we’re not
operating at full speed because of the lack of manpower. – Let me switch to another thing you’ve talked about a
lot when you campaign and you’ve talked a lot at
this table and elsewhere which is paving and potholes
and I remember you saying, people who criticize you
for making such a big deal about potholes,
I’ll paraphrase you, was they’ve never been
to a community meeting. They had never met with
a group of residents because that’s one of the
number one things you hear. So where does that stand
because some parts, just driving in this morning, I mean I was driving
in on the highway and that’s I believe
a state responsibility but I would imagine most
people don’t think of that. They just think it’s
their highway in Memphis and they look at you and
want those potholes done. Same with Poplar and some
of the major corridors are in pretty bad shape. Other areas aren’t, to be fair. – No, but we have
too many streets, whether they’re state
route or city streets that are in bad shape. I joke with people,
I say I have doubled, we have literally doubled
the paving budget. At the end of this
school year, June 30th, we will have paved 90% more
roads in my first three years than the three years prior
but people don’t feel it and the reason they
don’t feel it is because we have a huge backlog
for two reasons. Number one, our city
is 340 square miles. We’re one of the largest
10 cities geographically in the nation excluding
consolidating governments ’cause those are
really county-wide. We have 6,800 lane miles. That means you can
go back and forth between Los Angeles
almost four times. So we’re large and have
a lot of lane miles and for at least a decade
before I was mayor, it was underfunded. There was one year,
six, seven years ago, that the paving budget
was $5 million. It’s now 19 and a half. So we have a huge
backlog so I tell people, we have doubled
the paving budget but you’re not gonna feel
it for several more years and I say to people, four
years from now or so, people are gonna start
feeling it and go you know, Strickland
was telling me the truth four years ago when he said
they doubled the paving budget. – Don’t you all
talk about a cycle? So is it a 25-year cycle that
every street would be repaved? – For residential streets,
we’re back to a 25-year cycle which is in the ballpark
of the national standard but for streets that
handle more traffic, we’re on about a 15-year cycle. – 15 okay, Bill. – And are you satisfied
with state government’s upkeep of the roads? These have been state highways
that includes Poplar Avenue and roads that you might not
think are state highways. Are you satisfied
with their upkeep? – No, but I’m not also satisfied
with where we are, either. So I’m not throwing
them under the bus and I’m not willing to throw
ourselves under the bus. We’ve worked really hard to
improve how we pave streets, how often we pave streets,
and how we cut our grass and I’ve told the state, I
wish they would do better at cutting their grass which
they own and their streets. As you know, it’s
all the interstates and most major
streets in Memphis, Elvis Presley Boulevard,
Lamar, Union, Poplar, Germantown Parkway which
they did pave last year. I wish they’d do better. I do know from being
mayor for three years, most every mayor in the state is saying the same thing to them and we’re working with
them to try to ramp up their service level
to the public. – Speaking of the state, since the last time
that we talked here, you got some really
good news from the state about the Tom Lee Park
improvements and we’ll talk more about
mediation in a second but how did this $10 million that Governor Lee put in
the budget come about? – I give most of the
credit to Carole Coletta. – The head of the parks. – Last fall, she said we’re
gonna make a $10 million ask for the park and I
told her we’d support her. I honestly didn’t think
it would happen because in my recent memory, cities
haven’t gotten big grants because of the budget
and I think her desire and all our team effort
coincided with a surplus that the state had and that
was a match made in heaven so we worked it very hard
because one thing I’m proud about with regard to Tom Lee
Park and the redos, we’re not using any money
that would go to core services like paving and police and fire. This is all I guess special
money or for lack of a better word that wouldn’t go
to those core services and using that state surplus
is one of those examples and it was a team effort. Our state legislators
deserve a huge credit from Shelby County, the
Mississippi River Partnership with Carol, and the city of
Memphis all worked together. – So there was this moment
when the legislature, some of the legislators decided maybe they would take
some of that money for some improvements to
GPAC and Germantown, the performing
arts center there. Was that just some
legislative messing with you, just kind of saying
hello, we’re over here? – I don’t think so. There are more worthy
causes out there than there’s enough money
and the Germantown project, from what all I hear,
is a worthy project. I didn’t get upset that
somebody wanted to fund that ’cause it’s a worthy project so I didn’t get that
as a negative thing. I just had to think a good
competition for dollars. It worked out. I appreciate Senator
Kelsey’s leadership ’cause none of that would
have worked out without that and he’s been good partner
to work for for the city and he represents
Germantown, too. He’s just doing his job. – There is this
mediation going on between Memphis River
Parks Partnership and the Memphis in May Festival and there’s also a gag
order on what the parties can’t talk about on that. Do you think we’re
gonna have some kind of meeting of the minds
and agreement soon? – I don’t know how
soon and I do know that they’ve made progress
but if they don’t agree to it, then I’ll just make the
decision and we’ll move one, kind of like the
greens word issue. It is possible to have a
great park 12 months a year and have a better park,
not only a status quo for Memphis in May but a
better park for Memphis in May. I joked yesterday that Jimmy
Carter was able to bring Egypt and Israel together,
we landed a man on the moon, St. Jude’s curing
cancer every single day. Surely, we can make Tom Lee Park better 12 months of the year. – Do the two sides
still disagree on whether the new plan
will mean more or less space for the festival? – I don’t know. – You mentioned the
Greensward and with disclosure that I am a former
president, or what was I chairman of the board or
president of the board of the Overton Park Conservancy,
what is the status on construction
and the agreement? – The work is either started
or will start shortly and they’re starting
at the Prentiss Place lot. – Over on McClain. – Correct, so that’s the
first place for the work and it’s either started
or about to start. I actually met with the new
president of the zoo yesterday and I’m really optimistic about
his leadership over there. I think he’s gonna be fantastic. – Is it to be
finished this summer or is it a multi-year? – It’s multi-year. – Because of their demand, peak demand during the summer. – We can’t shut down
visitation of the zoo so it’s gonna take
longer than just normal. – There was a news
some weeks ago and full credit to the
Memphis Business Journal that there were discrepancies
in the city’s numbers, your office’s numbers,
on minority contracting and I think that came up again. What happened with those
numbers and what are the numbers in terms of participation
and contracting with minority owned firms? – First, there was one
mistake and that mistake was us saying that last year’s
MWBE number was 24%. It’s actually 20%
so I’m very proud that the year before I
was mayor, it was 12%. We’ve moved it to 20%. That’s a significant improvement and we’re committed
to do even more but it just wasn’t
24% like we thought. We pride ourselves
on improving service and being very transparent and
measuring things in numbers. It does have a downside because
sometimes mistakes happen but name me any other
government at any level who measures things like we do and is as transparent as we are. There’s none. You couldn’t name one. – As a manager, I mean part
of what you do as mayor is you’re a manager. You manage this
big organization. How do you respond to that? Do you bang your
head on the table? Do you yell and scream? – To what? – When there’s an
error like that because it’s also
a political number that you tout and you can
be proud of and so on. Did someone get fired? Did someone get demoted? How do you respond to that? I don’t know that
you’ll tell me honestly. – Human beings make mistakes. I’ve even been known
to make a mistake. I know it’s hard to
believe but I think I’ve made a mistake
here or there and it was a
mathematical mistake. – We at the Daily Memphian
have never made a mistake and you never texted that we
have made a mistake, never. – So human beings make mistakes and we’re so clear
about this mistake because the document that the
business journal looked at showed the mistake on its face so there was no
coverup involved. It was just a
mathematical mistake. – But there’s a lot
of mistrust about that in all seriousness, right? Because there is this feeling
and the numbers play out in a city that’s 50%-
60% African American and only 12% of the
contracting was going to African American
or women-owned firms. There is almost an
understandable sense of conspiracy about
that, right? Not conspiracy but why is
this constantly stacked against us? – And it’s not a
lot of mistrust. I think we’ve built a lot
and extraordinary trust. In fact, I think that’s
why you haven’t heard more negative pushback
because people believe in what we’ve done and
Joanne Massey’s leadership, that we have really made
this a community issue. Compare what’s been talked
about the last three years to the 15 years prior to that. We’ve made it an issue,
we’ve shown some success, and we admit our mistake. – Bill, with three minutes left. – Do you think that
the city’s example on minority contracting is
reaching over and influencing private sector spending
with minority companies? – Yes and no. I think it is
starting to be talked about in the private sector. I haven’t seen hard evidence
that we’ve made progress. I’m not saying
it’s not out there, I just haven’t seen it. We’ll actually see
it the next census because a census
actually measures that and that’s what I
think is famous. Maybe it’s not so
famous when Fred Davis who I think is the
grandfather of this issue, he talked about how the
census showed that 1% of all business
transacted in Memphis, not just with city government,
just with everywhere, was with African
Americans 25 years ago and the same thing
just a few years ago. So we’ll see the next census
if we’ve made progress. – And the potential spend in
the private business sector is much larger than
the government. – Just for instance, even
before I took office, it was 12% in city government. It was still only 1%
overall so government alone cannot move the needle
on that so that’s why it’s important and I say, you gotta give FedEx
a lot of credit, CBU, our 800 initiative
which is really going in in-depth and trying to
increase the revenues and the employees from 800
small African American owned businesses so there is
movement in that regard but it’s probably, honestly, it’s probably gonna take a
while to get true, real results. – The city budget is, we
were talking about earlier, 700 million give or take
and the capital budget’s 75 to 80 million
so a big number but small compared
to the overall city. Hospitality, your
administration I think has been supportive of this
move from a small space down at Jefferson and
Second to a bigger, the old auto inspection
station people remember just off Danny Thomas. Is that all gonna come together? It’s a combination of public
money and the donation or a cheap lease on that space
and then philanthropic money? Is it gonna happen, you think? – I think it will. Council I think
approved it yesterday, and I think the county commission
has enough support it will and what it is is a day
facility to help homeless people take a bath and
go to the restroom and sort of relax in
nice safe surroundings and also as an emergency
shelter for women because we need more beds for
women on an emergency basis and on top of that, it
will also act as our cooling and heating center
in extreme weather conditions throughout the year. Thankfully, our private
sectors stepped up and donated a lot of money. – Will this be part of a chain? A lot of cities have
different strategies and it’s a very complicated
issue but panhandling strategies as Memphis is building
all these hotels and expanding a
convention center, a lot of people don’t like
running into homeless people, being asked for money, kind
of hanging out in the parks. Other people say look, they’re here and
they have that right. Where do you stand on that? Do you hope this moves people
out of the core of downtown? – Well I hope it moves
people out of homelessness into a productive life. We will not tolerate
aggressive panhandling and we will go after
that aggressively but what I hope is we’ve
reduced homelessness and this predates me as mayor. Seven, eight years
ago, a plan was put, Mayor Warten was involved,
Alliance for the Homeless. We’ve reduced homelessness
by about 42% roughly in Memphis and
that’s very contrary to what’s happening
around the nation so I give a lot of
credit to the alliance and we’ve got a plan and
we’re executing that plan. – All right, we’re out of time. Thank you for being here. We’ll have you here again. Thank you Bill and thank
you all for joining us. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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