Name: Thurston Smith
Candidate for: City Council District 7
Date of Birth: 08-07-1962
Occupation: Civil Service Retiree, Adjunct Professor, and Business Consultant
- High School: Linden Boulevard Learning Center, 1980
- College: Capella University School of Business & Technology, Bachelors of Science in Business, with specialization in Management and Leadership
- Masters/Ph.D (if applicable): Capella University School of Public Services Leadership, Masters of Public Administration (2017)
Family: Married to Cheryl Smith, Thurston has one son, Jermaine S. Smith who is serving in the U.S. Air Force and one daughter, Na’eema I. Nwanjoku, who is serving in the U.S. Navy.
Community Involvement: – Federal Advisory Committee appointment by U.S. Treasury Secretary to National TAP Panel
– Shelby County Mayoral & County Commission appointment to 3 terms Shelby County Juvenile Justice
– Member, Shelby County Commission Community Health Advisory Committee and Shelby County Opioid Task
– Three terms of service on the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee
– Appointment by Commissioner of TN Corrections & Chairman of Parole to Tennessee Community Resource
Board for the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC)
– Governor’s commission and appointment to Mental Health Board
– Governor’s commission and appointment to Foster Care Review Board
Official Campaign Website:
What background/experience distinguishes you from the other candidates who want voters to elect them?
With over 25 years of experience in juvenile/criminal justice, mental health, social justice, and veterans policy, Thurston is uniquely positioned for the role of Memphis City Councilman. A U.S. Veterans Affairs retiree, Thurston has served in the roles of Congressional Liaison, Outpatient Manager, and Employment Services Supervisor. He’s a licensed counselor, certified mentor, and professor at Southwest Tennessee Community College Department of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services, and is also a Shelby County Schools volunteer.
Thurston has served five years on the Shelby County Juvenile Justice Consortium, currently serves on the Tennessee Community Resource Board for the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Shelby County Commission Community Health Advisory Committee, and is a U.S. Treasury Department federal advisory committee member. Thurston also served as special advisor to the Shelby County Commission in its appearance before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
What are the top three issues facing the City of Memphis?
Among other challenges, the top three issues facing district 7 include blight, an unprepared workforce, and the disproportionate delivery of city services within underserved communities.
What do you propose to address the three issues you rank as top priorities?
To both reduce and prevent the adverse impact of blight and gentrification, I would propose a tax relief ordinance that freezes property taxes for homeowners that are indigent, on fixed incomes, and living in areas undergoing gentrification. This tax incentive will allow homeowners that are indigent, elderly, and on fixed incomes to enjoy the financial benefits of increased property values (“equity”), without being suddenly overwhelmed by higher property taxes. Establishing strong partnerships between municipal government, our local housing authority and community development corporations, and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development is critical.
In addition to strong legislative advocacy for minimum wage increases ($15.00 per hour), I plan to create strong workforce development initiatives throughout the district. With an emphasis on jobs development, jobs-training, career planning, job-readiness, and vocational and academic skills-building, through official ordinance and special resolutions, I intend to establish partnerships between our municipal government and local post-secondary colleges and universities for district residents. Thinking beyond the realm of general labor, we must develop programs that bolster jobs-development that prepares our citizens for long-term careers. I will forge memorandums of agreement between the City of Memphis, governor’s office, Shelby County Schools, and local colleges to create “school-to-work” initiatives.
To ensure efficiency in services and equity within underserved parts of the district I’d main a strong and viable presence in the district. Doing so is absolutely critical to ensuring that both the underserved and impoverished sections of the community are prioritized. Upon election to office, I intend to conduct a district-wide environmental assessment and survey and immediately present my findings before the city mayor, city council, and responsible city departments.
Do you favor the call for a half-cent sales tax increase to restore healthcare and retirement benefits for police officers and firefighters cut in 2014?
Do you think the local PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program needs to be reformed? If so, why and how?
Entities such as the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) and Memphis Chamber of Commerce have considerable influence in economic policy matters Memphis, with little to no accountability to the citizens impacted. The payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) programs have yielded few dividends when compared to the city’s overall investment in these programs. For example, corporations and developers are given large tax incentives, with the expectation of considerable job creation in targeted areas. While some areas of the city have experienced economic growth, other areas have not, particularly those that need the economic boost the most.
As city residents have not realized the benefits of PILOTS, we need a paradigm shift. For starters, city government should not defer its economic policy decisions and fiscal goal setting to a board, but rather rely solely on these boards for policy advice. Secondly, as the EDGE and many other municipal boards are generally top-heavy with business executives, I’d recommend the appointment of everyday citizens to these boards. This includes appointing minority and small business owners, as well as women-owned businesses for service on these boards. While the expertise of bankers and business developers are valued, their decisions don’t always reflect the interests of the common citizen. Lastly, ensuring culturally diverse membership on EDGE and other municipal boards will spawn creativity and true reform.
Do you see a risk of displacement and gentrification connected to the development boom in Memphis? If so, how would you address that risk from the position you seek?
See previous position on tax incentives, blight, and gentrification.
African-American-owned businesses have made up only 1 percent of all Memphis business receipts for several decades. If elected, do you see playing a role in changing that statistic? If so, what do you think that role would entail?
To address this disparity, I will implement and propose the following:
1. Bolster district-wide small and minority-owned business development training initiatives, as well as establish memorandums of agreement (MOA’s) between city government, post-secondary colleges, local workforce development programs, and universities to enhance entrepreneurship, particularly in the African American community.
2. Where consistent with existing federal, state, and local labor law, propose ordinances that seek to recruit and solicit minority-owned businesses, while developing partnerships with the small and minority business administrations.
3. Among other special caucuses, I would propose the establishment of a legislative black caucus on the municipal level, as well as advocate for service and greater visibility of African Americans on municipal boards and commissions.