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VOL. 132 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Workers Joining 8-Week County Summer Jobs Blight Effort Learn Rules of the Road

By Bill Dries

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There was a point on Monday, June 5, when county public works officials trying to prepare a group of 100 young adults for an eight-week summer jobs program thought they might have done their job too well.

One hundred young adults, ages 18-24, are part of a summer jobs program that involves eight weeks of picking up litter with Shelby County Public Works Department supervisors in nine parts of Shelby County. The program targets blight. (Submitted)

“I do not want to frighten you,” county public works supervisor Gary Smith told the group at Benjamin Hooks Central Library as slides of copperhead and cottonmouth snakes they might run across as they pick up litter were shown. “I want you to know what they look like.”

The group of 100 18- to 24-year-olds were selected out of a group of 1,000 applicants for the paid summer work as the inaugural group of the “County Mayor’s Fight Blight Team.”

The program targeting nine areas of the city and county where the teens and adults live is a partnership with the nonprofit Clean Memphis. Shelby County Schools will provide workday lunches for the teams.

“Every piece of litter you pick up makes a difference,” said Christine Jacobs of Clean Memphis. “What you are doing really matters.”

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said Shelby County government picks up 30 tons of trash a month.

“And it hardly makes a difference,” he added. “We’re barely making a dent.”

Luttrell was also blunt about the eight-week schedule that he termed “aggressive.”

“You will work hard. You will stink. You will sweat. You will complain,” he said. “You will also sleep well at night. You will make a little money and with that little money there are a lot of things you can do.”

The county effort is one of several local government anti-blight efforts that range from picking up litter to better code enforcement and strategic rehabilitation of homes where blight is a problem.

“What we’re doing is inclusive, is precisely what’s good for our community,” Luttrell said. “You have a community here in Memphis and Shelby County that is worth saving. It’s your home. … You are going to learn how to take care of it.”

Young adults participating in Shelby County government’s summer job program will spend eight weeks picking up trash and litter with county public works supervisors. County Mayor Mark Luttrell said it will be hard work in the heat but will show youths how to take care of the county. (Submitted)

The Monday session included some financial literacy counseling from Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir.

“It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep,” Lenoir offered.

Workers will be paid $9 an hour, supervisors will earn $12 an hour.

The public works supervisors told the group it’s not as simple as picking up a piece of paper here and there. It can be hazardous work along busy roads. The supervisors got extensive training on how to work with the summer hires. That included medical training and how to protect workers who aren’t on the county payroll and don’t have the experience county employees have.

One of the first rules was to wear a safety vest at all times and zip it up completely, Smith said, so workers are as visible as possible. Crews working on both sides of a road shouldn’t get ahead of each other and not cross the road to talk with friends in another crew.

Smith spent some time on the cottonmouth and copperhead snake photos and noted the signs of poisonous snakes, primarily in the shape of their eyes and heads.

“I don’t expect you to get down and look at the eyes of the snake,” he said.

Smith went quickly past the rattlesnake photo, saying he’s never seen one in the course of his work for the county.

He spent a lot more time on fire ants.

“This is a nasty little critter,” he said. “Watch where you are standing. They come out in attack mode.”

County Public Works director Tom Needham emphasized the rules of the road.

“There are some things we don’t want you to touch,” he said. “If you see a gun, don’t touch it. Let your supervisor know where it’s at. If you see a cell phone don’t touch it. … One of our supervisors picked up a cell phone one day, made a call on it. And the next thing he knew he was surrounded by a SWAT team. It was a cell phone that police had been monitoring.”

There is some expectation some of the summer workers may call it a day before the eight weeks is up.

“There will be some of you, unfortunately, that will probably drop out. That’s unfortunate,” Luttrell said. “I’m here to say that’s your loss if you drop out. If you drop out we’ve got some other people in reserve who will step up. But don’t drop out.”

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