VOL. 127 | NO. 132 | Monday, July 9, 2012
Wharton: ‘Everything is Coming Together’
By Bill Dries
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. had to make a decision Monday, July 2: Get up before dawn and catch a flight to Atlanta or stick with a scheduled and extensive bus tour for newspaper editors and others of the three core city neighborhoods he has targeted in a small-business innovation effort.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was busy last week with a trip to Atlanta to meet with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson as Wharton's Innovation Team launched an effort on Broad Avenue. (Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)
Wharton took the flight to meet with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson and caught up to the bus tour as it ended at Victory Bicycle Studio in the Broad Avenue Arts District.
It is probably the least complex decision Wharton makes in a day’s time. But he is aware that the larger complexities are becoming harder to ask for patience on.
The bicycle studio press conference was to launch his Innovation Team effort funded by The Bloomberg Philanthropies, which Wharton touts as “real innovation not on the outskirts of our city, but the core of our city.”
That kind of economic growth is not the kind of skyline altering, land-clearing economic development that garners a lot of attention. But it can be every bit as complex.
“Everything is coming together,” Wharton said near the end of the press conference. “Sometimes it may look like we’ve got a lot of things going and they are all jumbled up. But everything is coming together.”
Victory demonstrates how difficult that can be. The business originally opened in Cooper-Young and moved to Broad Avenue after trying to return to its shop space in Cooper-Young following a fire that damaged the shop.
Getting shops open and keeping the bays they occupy open is a challenge even in areas that aren’t trying to come back from blight and other forms of indifference.
Meanwhile, Wharton is facing frustration from City Council members on several fronts.
After questioning the city’s auto inspection standards for the last six months, council members last week voted to approve financial hardship waivers for virtually any citizen who failed the emissions standards test and checks a box on a form saying the repairs to fix the problem would be a financial hardship. The administration backed the measure.
But then the council threatened to substitute its own emissions test standards if it doesn’t get more specific answers from the administration later this month.
Specifically fueling both actions is frustration by council members about inspection standards the city is now using that can result in someone passing the emissions test by either method but then failing because the “check engine” light in their car is on for some other reason.
“I’ve asked four times does federal law require this,” council member Jim Strickland said at one point.
“Someone needs to finally tell us what this is,” agreed council member Wanda Halbert. “We need to hear the full story. Are we required to do it or did we choose it?”
“Why are we testing for emissions if they can look in the car, see the light and fail you?” added council member Reid Hedgepeth.
City Chief Administrative Officer George Little warned the council it was putting at risk federal funding with the either/or measure designed to last for a two-week period.
“Maybe it will speed up their answer to our request,” replied council chairman Bill Morrison.
Meanwhile, council member Kemp Conrad changed his push for a five-year plan for city finances and a six-year consolidated budget from a ballot question to a direct non- referendum move to the new multiple years approach to budgeting.
He did it after the Wharton administration agreed to the transition.
Wharton has said the administration has been making the move. But the budget season this spring came and went with no five-year plan.
Conrad went for the city charter amendment.
The administration and council have more of an incentive to budget beyond the next fiscal year because of the 2013 reappraisal of property for tax purposes.
All expect the revaluing of property to produce less tax revenue. They expected the same effect in the 2009 reappraisal.
But the appraisal caused concern from a different perspective. Because property values were based on pre-recession 2007 values, there was no loss of tax revenue. Political leaders are facing an electorate of property owners whose properties are valued higher than they could ever sell for in many cases.
Two other city charter changes offering revenue streams from sources other than property value are still on track for the Nov. 6 ballot. They are a 1-cent a gallon local gas tax and a half-percent local option sales tax hike.