Mayor Jim Strickland had delivered his 2018 State of the City address a few hours earlier when his deputy director of communications reached out to media outlets to highlight some “…items that may not necessarily rise to the top of today’s news cycle but may make for good stories in the coming days, weeks and months.”
It was – to a degree – a measure of the state of the city and a sign of the times.
Social media puts real-time feedback in the hands of everyday citizens. And as Strickland told the Kiwanis Club audience and live-stream viewers that “the state of our city is strong – and getting stronger every day,” some who don’t see it that way were voicing their disagreement on the mayor’s online feed.
Competing for the day’s news cycle headline was the sobering fact that a woman had been found dead on a bench outside City Hall on the freezing night before. Addressing the matter, Strickland said it was a “tragedy when any citizen dies outside, alone, in the cold.”
Saying the death bothered him as “it should everyone who calls Memphis home,” Strickland vowed to meet with mental health care advocates and advocates for the homeless” in the next few weeks in pursuit of a way forward.
He said more but none of it – and particularly the perceived tone – was enough to dissuade some observers, who thought it was a loss opportunity to voice a more compassionate response and clearly commit city dollars to a solution.
As The New Tri-State Defender’s print deadline approached, the identity of the woman who was found dead had not yet been released pending next-of-kin notification and positive identification.
In statement from the Memphis Police Department’s public information office, Lt. Karen Rudolph said, “We can confirm that the victim was not homeless, and she was originally from out of state, but has been a resident of Memphis for several years.”
That’s was the day’s backdrop for Strickland’s State of the City message, which was delivered at the University Club. A cold front that has had Memphis wrapped in snow, ice and dangerously cold temperatures for several days had forced the speech to Wednesday after it initially was planned for Clayborn Temple the day before.
“So here we are: Halfway through my first term as your mayor. We’ve had some great days and some long nights. We’ve had some frustrations, and we’ve celebrated some successes,” said Strickland.
“But through it all, we’ve tuned out the noise and we’ve focused on a central mission: To improve the services we offer our citizens. To make life better for every Memphian, every single day.
“We don’t get involved in the partisan politics of the day, or the shouting matches that far too often define politics these days. … Our team shuts up, rolls up its sleeves and takes action.”
Cue up the particular items highlighted by Kyle Veazey, Strickland’s deputy director of communications:
POLICE RANKS ARE UP: We’ll graduate 80 more MPD officers tomorrow, bringing our total back above 2,000 for the first time in a while. There’s a long arc to this: In November 2011, we had 2,452. In the few years that followed, the City dramatically slowed recruiting and attrition rose due in part to benefit cuts, which led to the situation Mayor Strickland encountered when he took office. It’s taken a lot of work, and there’s a lot more ahead, but we’re working toward a goal of 2,300 by 2020.
Paving is double: Our current-year paving budget is “double” what the City did just four years ago.
911 call answer times are lower: We answered 911 calls in an average of 59.7 seconds when the mayor took office; now it’s about 7 seconds.
Billions in development: The $11 billion figure for development in Greater Memphis is impressive, but the fact that the majority of it is in the city limits is perhaps more impressive.
Multi-family tax incentive: This tweak to a tax incentive that the mayor spearheaded may be a key catalyst for greater density inside the core, which can only mean good things. It has enabled a few things that are already in the pipeline, like a new development at Madison/McLean.
De-annexation: … (W)e’re the first administration to propose right-sizing our city, and perhaps even the first in the nation to volunteer de-annexation.
Parks program: The mayor announced today a new program that will start this summer that will staff some of our city parks, provided organized activities and lend out equipment.
All of that notwithstanding – and accounting for the administration’s role in getting the Confederate statues removed as the MLK50 commemoration looms, folks such as Russ Thompson took to social media to declare, “Not impressed.”
Thompson asked, “What is your plan to combat homelessness and poverty? Haven’t heard nearly enough about this and if we’re serious about moving our city forward and dealing with economic inequality and crime, this should be priority number one.”
Strickland’s staff was monitoring the social media feedback and offered this rejoinder:
“Hi Russ, a few items worth noting from the mayor’s first two years:
“The mayor initiated the Work Local partnership with Hospitality HUB that’s providing homeless Memphians paid work. It’s now expanded to five days a week.
“We directed some $2.4 million to homeless services in FY17.
“Because of Mayor Strickland’s initiatives, contracting with minority businesses has grown 69 percent.
“Mayor Strickland has increased MATA funding and initiated a new process to envision a bus network that for our future.
“The mayor has longed advocated for pre-K and is working with the City Council to develop a sustainable funding source for *universal* pre-K.”
You can watch the address below:
NOTE: This Facebook Live stream experienced some interruptions. To view Mayor Strickland remarks from the beginning, start with the first video. To watch the stream in real time, scroll toward the bottom of this post.