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VOL. 127 | NO. 174 | Thursday, September 6, 2012

Funding Approved for Felon Program

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration is retooling the city’s “Second Chance” program for felons just released from prison to become a joint city-county program with funding from the state.

The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday, Sept. 4, to restore $64,000 in funding it cut last spring during budget season. The council also voted in the spring to hold another $200,000 in funding for the program to put toward a move to contract it out to a private nonprofit organization.

At the time, most on the council argued a private organization could possibly do a better job at a program designed to help those just released from prison adapt to life outside prison and avoid returning.

City Parks and Neighborhoods division director Janet Hooks said Shelby County government has agreed to put up $185,525 and the state has pledged $110,000 a year for two years.

That and the city funding would be “under an umbrella, which is the Office of Re-entry,” Hooks said, describing it as “a seamless program from the time a felon comes out of any of six institutions from the state of Tennessee.”

She also described those who might qualify for the program as “high risk” with a case manager to counsel them and check up on them beyond the basics of getting a job once they are out of prison.

“Second Chance is not only providing employment,” Hooks said. “They are also providing them life skills. They provide them housing. They provide food. They provide bus vouchers. … There’s a lot more to the program other than employment.”

Council members restored the funding. But it was for the current fiscal year only. And during that time, the council required the city to put out a request for proposals – to solicit proposals from groups outside government who might want to try to run such a program.

The request for proposals is not a guarantee the council or the city would approve such a move. That would depend on the quality of proposals it gets back in response.

In other action, the council approved the appointment of Brian Collins as the city’s new director of finance and administration.

Collins comes to City Hall at a salary of $125,000 a year from being interim president and CEO of the Postal Employees Credit Union. Before that he was senior vice president and general manager of bankcard services at First Horizon National Corp.

“He will bring to that office the experience that we need now, which finds public sector accounting coming quite close and almost identical to what we have in the private sector,” Wharton said. “You will see a number of changes.”

Those changes will include monthly reports to the council on the city’s financial condition.

Another change is the appointment of Robert Lipscomb as the city’s chief financial officer in addition to his ongoing duties as director of housing and community development.

Lipscomb will oversee the city’s transition to a five-year budget and strategic financial plan for the city.

Council members also gave final approval to a city ordinance that requires motorists to stop at crosswalks with no traffic signals when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk. It replaces an ordinance that required motorists to slow their speed when approaching such crosswalks.

“This change would enhance, in my view, protection for pedestrians,” said council member Lee Harris, who sponsored the ordinance. “This doesn’t affect crosswalks with traffic signals. … We have several of these, but we don’t have a lot of them.”

The council also delayed until January a vote on the second of three readings on an ordinance to levy a motor vehicle inspection fee. And the council dropped a proposed ordinance on second reading that would have allowed vehicles to be impounded for those drivers guilty of illegal dumping.

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