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Mayor Strickland's Weekly Update: Feb. 22, 2019
Weekly Update: How we're confronting our challenges
Posted on 02/22/2019

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Friends,

Yes, Memphis has momentum.

But never, ever let that fool you into thinking we’ve hung “Mission Accomplished” banners on our challenges. Far from it.

So today, I’m reiterating the actions we’ve taken these past three years on a handful of those challenges.


Public safety

When we took office, years of neglect to police recruiting brought our staffing to critically low levels, we weren’t doing all we could for young people, and the reduction of violent crime simply wasn’t a priority. Combine this with our decades-old crime challenge, and the crime rate rose from its low point of 2011.

Our actions: We went on an unprecedented police recruiting blitz, and, starting with the 2017 class that was the first product of this, we’ve hired more officers in the past 18 months than the entire six years prior. We’ve reduced attrition, thanks in no small part to the nationally unprecedented $6.1 million grant we sought and received for retention bonuses. We’ve increased what we’re doing for our youth (see an entire section on that below). We’ve pushed the state for tougher laws to end the revolving door at 201 Poplar for violent criminals. And, we’ve invested in people — from enabling more jobs to raising private money to expunge non-violent criminal records.

Early indicators: Since we’ve rebounded on police staffing and implemented more for our youth (see below), among many other items, our violent crime rate has stabilized. In 2018, violent crime was down 4 percent from the year prior — and gun crimes alone were down 16 percent. Thus far in 2019, we’re seeing some encouraging indicators of continued declines in serious crimes.

Infrastructure

By 2015, street paving was so underfunded that the City was projected to pave a street just once every 75 years.

Our actions: We’ve increased the street paving budget every single year — to $19 million this current fiscal year. By contrast, the City was spending just $6.5 million annually on paving as late as 2013.

Early indicators: We’ve got a long way to go; you feel the effects of this early-2010s funding backlog every time you hit a pothole. (That’s why we’re doing so much to address potholes — click here to learn more.) However, we’re projected to pave 90 percent more streets in our first three years in office than the three years prior to that. And, we’re back on the national standard of a 25-year repaving cycle.

Economic growth

When we took office, job growth in Memphis was lagging behind peer cities.

Our actions: We’ve worked to run an efficient, responsible government, streamlining our processes to operate government at the speed of business — and ensure City Hall isn’t an impediment to growth. We’ve worked directly with companies looking to expand. We led the reorganization of the community’s business recruiting and retention efforts. We’ve doubled spending with minority and women-owned businesses. And, our Memphis 3.0 plan will help guide growth in neighborhoods, a major economic development front.

Early indicators: More than 18,000 additional Memphians are working today than in January 2016. Unemployment in December, the most recent month for which we have data, is 4 percent — almost a 30-year low. Some $15 billion in recent, current, or future development is happening in Greater Memphis.

Poverty

The day I was sworn in, I called out a Memphis “rife with inequality.” Nearly half of our children were living in poverty. And as recently as 2014, 29.8 percent of all Memphians lived below the poverty line.

Our actions: We’ve worked to enable more good jobs in Memphis. As noted above, we’ve doubled MWBE spending, and launched a program (Buy901) where you can help. We’ve led the fight for more funding for MATA, which greatly increases job access for Memphians. Plus, we led the way on a long-term plan to provide needs-based, universal pre-Kindergarten in Shelby County.

Early indicators: In addition to the job growth mentioned above, the most recent Census estimates pegged our poverty rate at 24.6 percent — a reduction of 5.2 percentage points, or 17 percent, in four years. That’s still shameful, and many factors contributed to it, but we should not ignore forward progress.

Opportunities for youth

In 2015, as I ran for mayor, a report came out that said Memphis had the highest percentage of “opportunity youth” — those ages 16-24 who aren’t in school or aren’t working — in the nation.

Our actions: We’ve opened libraries and community centers longer hours. We’ve made summer and spring break camps free. We’ve increased programming at libraries. We’ve increased summer youth jobs by 75 percent, and greatly increased the variety of programming we offer from our Office of Youth Services. We reintroduced staffed summer play at our parks after its absence in Memphis for decades.

Early indicators: We’ve nearly tripled the number of young people involved in library programming, and some 1,750 youth will be employed this summer — up from 1,000 when we took office.



There’s a common theme here: We’ve done quite a bit, we’re seeing progress, and we have much more work ahead.

Anyone who says we’re painting only rosy pictures is purposely misleading you. Same for anyone who says we’re not acting on the real challenges of Memphis.

My job is to celebrate our successes and be clear-eyed about our challenges. After reading this, I hope you know more about what we’re doing.


Yours,
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Each Friday, Mayor Jim Strickland sends his Weekly Update email. It's a recap of events from the week, a celebration of Memphis' successes, and a frank look at our challenges. To receive the Weekly Update in your inbox, sign up here.

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