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VOL. 130 | NO. 207 | Friday, October 23, 2015

Strickland: Expect Smaller Memphis City Hall Administration

By Bill Dries

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Several city division directors under outgoing Memphis Mayor A C Wharton have told Mayor-elect Jim Strickland they do not intend to seek reappointment in the new administration.

Strickland declined to name specific directors during a Thursday, Oct. 22, taping of the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”

Memphis Mayor-elect Jim Strickland on the “WKNO–TV” program Behind The Headlines said some city division directors have told him they don’t want to continue as directors in the new administration.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“I’ve talked to most of the directors individually,” he said. “Some of the directors have told me they do not want to continue. So there will be some natural change. It’s too early to say how massive. I think there will be substantial change. How you quantify that, I don’t know.”

Strickland added that he has not yet talked with Memphis Police Department director Toney Armstrong.

Strickland said it was “too early to say” whether Armstrong will stay on as MPD director when the new mayor officially takes over Jan. 1.

“The size of city hall administration will be smaller. How much I can’t quantify yet,” he added.

The program – hosted by The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes – airs Friday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m.

Strickland announced Wednesday that he has named 26 people to eight committees that are the organization of his transition committee. Brian J. Stephens, CEO of Caissa Public Strategy, also will serve in the role of “chief strategist” for the transition team.

Strickland said before Thursday’s taping of the program that Stephens will function as a facilitator of the discussions among the different committees and their members.

The transition group also will talk with those division directors who are seeking reappointment under Strickland’s administration, as well as other job applicants, and make recommendations to Strickland.

The group also will map a plan for what Strickland sees as a modest start toward his goal of changing the city’s direction.

“Some of our challenges are so big that there’s not going to be big differences in a short amount of time. I’d like us to be cleaner. I’d like for us to grow. I think we need to grow in population and grow in jobs,” he said. “If we are growing in population and growing in jobs, that means city government is doing a good job of reducing crime, cleaning up the blight, paving streets, making Memphis more attractive to live in. So, the big goal is to grow.”

But that growth doesn’t mean adding territory. It means growing the population within the city’s current borders.

Strickland expects the Tennessee legislature to pass some kind of state law that allows citizens in parts of cities across the state to vote on whether to de-annex their own communities from larger cities that have annexed them.

“I believe some kind of law will pass that gives limited areas in Shelby County the right to vote to de-annex, probably the most recently annexed areas,” he said, adding that his knowledge of the proposals is “second-hand.”

“Memphis size-wise is too big,” Strickland said. “Memphis needs to shrink. Do I have the answer on how that happens? No. I’m not calling for any action right now. But I think we need to think about that.”

Also on Strickland’s list of meetings before he takes office are sessions with each of the city’s big-three municipal unions: the Memphis Police Association, the Memphis Fire Fighters Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Those discussions will include recent city employee and retiree benefits cuts and their impact on employee morale, particularly in the police department whose complement is barely more than 2,000 officers.

“I’m going to talk about this issue,” he said. “I think one of the problems with the morale is there is a belief that there is money there that’s being used for other purposes that could have been used to retain the lifetime health insurance. I want to open the books so everyone is on the same page.”

Strickland favors the idea of a different benefits plan for police and firefighters based on a younger retirement age for them.

He also said there are several clouds that remain on the city’s financial horizon that could complicate its move to fully fund annual payments toward pension and health insurance liabilities.

“There’s talk nationally that the interest rate or the investment rate that we are using at 7.5 percent … is too high, meaning we are taking credit long term for a higher investment rate than is actually going to happen,” he said, citing an additional $8 million in expense to the city if the investment rate drops to 7.25 percent.

The Tennessee legislature is considering abolishing the Hall income tax on investment income. That would cost the city $15 million.

Strickland described both developments as having a “huge impact when we’re already tight on money.”

PROPERTY SALES 79 321 2,586
MORTGAGES 90 426 3,033
BUILDING PERMITS 153 796 6,864
BANKRUPTCIES 37 213 2,000