Weekly Update

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Earlier this week, I sent an email to members of our city council urging them to vote “no” on a potential charter amendment seeking a public vote that would bring partisan elections to city government. Thankfully, that vote has been delayed until the June 22nd council meeting.


Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, but regardless of party affiliation, I’ve always tried to do what’s best for Memphis. I choose progress over partisanship and party politics. We have enough opportunity for division in our day-to-day lives. Why should we create one more unnecessary obstacle?


Below is the email I sent to council this past Tuesday afternoon:


Dear City Council Members:


First and foremost, thank you for the partnerships that we have created over the last several years. Because of that partnership, we have worked together on these transformative accomplishments: Universal Needs-Based Pre-K, Memphis 3.0, Transit Vision, Accelerate Memphis, CIP and federally funded investments in all areas of the city, good raises for city employees, retention bonuses for public safety employees, a significant increase in after-school activities for children, improved city services, leading in the COVID response, and no tax increases for the last six years.


Completing any one of those tasks alone was no small feat and further proves the old adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” We have accomplished these goals by working together, compromising, and without the partisanship divides that we see in the federal, state, and county governments.  For instance, please see news reports from yesterday’s county commission meeting where at least two commissioners talk about the threats they received based on partisan politics.  (here and here)


I urge you to vote “no” on the charter amendment seeking a public vote on bringing partisan elections to city government for several reasons.


First, compare our accomplishments as a nonpartisan government to any partisan government.  Obviously adjusting for our much smaller budget, we have done more in our jurisdiction than any of those divided entities have done within their territories.  And we have built more faith with our constituents.


Second, under Tennessee law, if city government were to adopt partisan elections, a small unelected unknown group from each political party can disqualify anyone from the ballot before any public vote.  In Tennessee, each party has routinely done this and is allowed to do so without any written policies or guidelines; it is completely discretionary.

This turns elections from “we the people” into “we the privileged few”.


Third, once the privileged couple dozen people screen those who are allowed run, few of the public will vote.  “Primary elections are never large turnout elections,” said the Shelby County election administrator last month.


For example, only 11% of voters participated in last month’s county primary. And for most partisan elections nationwide and in Shelby County, the election is decided in the primary.


Fourth, nonpartisan elections allow city government to better maneuver with federal and state officials for funding and other support which is so critical for local governance.  Again, our group success in requests for funding and legislation to the federal and state governments far exceed our partisan friends at the county.


Our nonpartisan elections have served this city well for more than a hundred years, and we have seen it firsthand for the last several. Now is not the time to needlessly divide our community.


Again, I would ask that you please vote “no” on this legislation.


Thanks, Jim


Workforce training: Whenever I meet with a new company who’s looking to potentially locate a business here, they all ask the same question, “how’s your workforce?”. This week, I had the opportunity to spend some time with two groups helping up to grow our talent pool--UpSmith and Mid-South IEC.


This past Monday, UpSmith, Inc. and the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of West Tennessee in partnership with the City of Memphis announced the launch of a paid apprenticeship program to create high-purpose, high-paying, high-dignity career opportunities for aspiring electricians in the Memphis market. Special thanks to our director of general services, Antonio Adams, for helping to find space for UpSmith at one of our city-owned properties.




Specifically, this paid 8-week accelerated program launched this week with 17 students enrolled. Full-time employment is secured on day one of the paid program. Upon completion, all graduates will earn $20/hour (or more) and $40,000+/annually, creating approximately $720,000 in new wages within the city of Memphis.


The next program will begin on August 1st. If you or someone you know is interested, you can go here to learn more and submit an application.


Last night, I had the opportunity to speak to the most recent Mid-South IEC graduating class of 21 journeyman electricians. For 29 years, Mid-South IEC has been offering this training.




In order to graduate, participants completed 576 hours of classroom instruction and another 8,000 hours working for a contractor. To learn more about this program, go here.


Budget wrap-up: This past Tuesday, City Council passed our seventh budget with no tax increase.


Below are some highlights from next year’s budget:

  • Six percent increase for firefighters (three percent last year and three percent this year)
  • Ten percent pay increase for police officers (five percent this year and five percent next year)
  • Three percent pay increase for general employees
  • One percent Cost of Living increase for our retirees and a one-time one percent bonus
  • Added a dedicated unit of 17 staff members and equipment to our environmental enforcement department to address illegal dumping
  • For the very first time ever, establishes a dedicated transit fund to implement Transit Vision
  • More money for paving
  • A new Lester Community Center
  • A renovated Audubon Park Golf Course
  • A new Mt. Moriah Police Precinct

As I mentioned earlier in my email, none of this is possible without teamwork.


Thank you to City Council for your partnership in helping us to craft a budget that stays within our means but delivers new and exciting funds to move our city forward.


Another huge thank you to Doug McGowen (chief operating officer), Shirley Ford (chief financial officer) and all of our divisions for shepherding this process and for the work you do day-in and day-out for our city. It’s an honor to work with each and everyone of you.


Enjoy your weekend.




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