Mary Baker, a longtime staff member with the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, announced last week she was retiring.
The highly respected Baker joined land use in 1985 and has been the deputy director since 1997.
"I'm so glad I did it as long as I did," she says. "I'm ready to rest for a little bit."
She notes that she'd like to do some other things, but didn't elaborate.
Baker leaves on something of a high note with the unified development code passing both the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission last week, as well as approval last week of the new Midtown Overlay District by the Land Use Control Board. The Midtown plan now has to go before the City Council.
"It's time to go," Baker says.
Memphis mayor A C Wharton presented his administration's preliminary report on the city's beleaguered general services division this afternoon, saying the problems seemed almost by design.
"It's hard to believe any government operation could just slip into this sort of disrepair," he said.
The city's general service division has been the subject of investigation for a range of problems, including allegations of fraud that involved a tire repair contractor. Recently, it also came to light that 90 police vehicles — a purchase of almost $2 million — delivered in the spring had carpet floors instead of the necessary rubber mats.
"There has not been sufficient attention devoted to fleet operations and the control of fleet assets has been totally ineffective," the report says. "Performance measures are meaningless at best and nonexistent at worst."
The report recommends that the city revamp purchasing specifications so that all vendors have a local presence, allow divisions to outsource vehicle repair work to reduce a current backlog, and begin restructuring management and administrative functions. The mayor said general services employees will also receive additional training.
"Many of the employees do not know what they're supposed to be doing," he said.
The mayor noted that the city of Memphis lacks a comprehensive performance evaluation system, and has for some time.
"For the most part, there are no performance appraisals in the city of Memphis," Wharton said. "That's why it's hard to fire people around here."
However, four senior employees have already left the division; an investigation is pending for one more.
The administration also plans to implement a whistle-blower system for employees across city government to anonymously report abuses such as those that have occurred in general services.
"We're looking everywhere," Wharton said. "People know I won't retaliate against them if they see something wrong. ... That's what I want to engender. That's why I want to ramp up this whistle-blower system."
The NYT has an interesting story today on the extreme cutbacks being taken by state and local governments across the nation.
Focusing on school furloughs in Hawaii, transit cuts in Clayton County, Georgia, and darkened street lights in Colorado Springs, the story looks at what the economic downturn has meant for city services. And the news is not good.
"Faced with the steepest and longest decline in tax collections on record, state, county and city governments have resorted to major life-changing cuts in core services like education, transportation and public safety that, not too long ago, would have been unthinkable. And services in many areas could get worse before they get better.
The length of the downturn means that many places have used up all their budget gimmicks, cut services, raised taxes, spent their stimulus money — and remained in the hole. Even with Congress set to approve extra stimulus aid, some analysts say states are still facing huge shortfalls."
Oh, there is also a slideshow.
[Btw, the next commenter on this blog will be the 1,000th.]
If you're not sure where your precinct's voting location is, go here.
Shelby County has a large footprint ... and now it knows how big its carbon footprint is, too.
Data presented at a meeting between Shelby County mayor Joe Ford and local activists Wednesday showed that Shelby County government emitted a total of 102,174 tons of CO2 during the 2008 - 2009 fiscal year.
In total, almost 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions came from government buildings and facilities. Twenty-one percent was from employee commutes.
"The mayor wants to do some sort of energy efficiency program," says John Freeman with the mayor's office.
The program, which would begin in mid-August, will draw directly from employee suggestions solicited by survey earlier this year.
Freeman says they could include encouraging employees to bike to work or ride public transportation, to carpool with other employees, or to take advantage of a four-day work week.
Other topics at the meeting included the county's recycling program, ground water and environmental infrastructure, and the possibility of becoming one of 15 deployment communities nationally for a new electric vehicle program.
The first — the mayor's virtual town hall meeting — is tonight at 6 p.m.
Billed as "four locations, one conversation," the meeting will be held at the Ben Hooks central library, the Orange Mound community center, the Bert Ferguson Community Center, and the Whitehaven library concurrently.
The second — MPACT's "How to Speak in Front of City Council — is tomorrow from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the organization's offices on South Main. The event is free for members and $10 for non-members, and will feature TN Stand for Children Memphis director Kenya Bradshaw.
The Metro Charter Commission, enacted by a joint City Council/County Commission vote to create a new charter for a combined government, presented 14 recommendations to those two bodies yesterday at the U of M.
The recommendations included separate school systems; adopting the annexation reserve areas of the suburban cities; mayors and legislators limited to two four-year terms; non-partisan elections; an appointed chief of police to head up public safety and an elected sheriff to be over the jails; an annual five-year strategic plan from the mayor's office; a countywide network of parks; an office of general counsel that would streamline and stem legal controversy; a three-year property-tax freeze under the new government; three taxing districts (urban, general, and special); and, among others, one IT system for all of the various branches of government, including judicial and the constitutional offices such as the sheriff.
Still pending is how the legislative districts would be drawn under the new government.
"This is not personal; this is structural," said charter commission chair Julie Ellis. "Our two-government structure impedes collaboration and cooperation. ... We have found there is a tremendous opportunity to operate more efficiently."
As evidence, Ellis also cited Shelby County's loss of population and income ($1.9 billion, to be exact) over the past decade. About 2,500 local households moved to Nashville alone.
Last night, I checked out the town hall meeting on consolidation put on by MemphisConnect.com, Rebuild Government, and Livable Memphis.
The charter commission is currently drafting what would be the new consolidated government — the one that both city and county voters will decide on at the polls November 2nd — at their weekly Thursday meetings.
But I'm just going to be honest with you. I have a hard time getting to *all* of the metro charter commission meetings (Thursday is a big day for meetings, for whatever reason) so I'm not as up to speed as I would like to be about what they've decided.
Some highlights from last night's meeting: There would be a three-year freeze on property taxes under the new government, an appointed police chief would be in charge of law enforcement while the elected sheriff would be over the jail and security in the courts, and MLGW would become a separate authority much like the airport authority (I have my concerns about this). That actual number of seats on the metro council have not yet been decided, but members will be limited to two terms.
There will be three public hearings done by the metro charter commission shortly before they are to submit the final draft of the charter: July 8th at the Ben Hooks Central Library, July 15th at Southwind High School, and July 22nd at the Ed Rice Community Center. I believe they are all at 5:30 p.m.
The Leadership Academy's MemphisConnect.com is trying to do just that tomorrow night: Connect.
In partnership with Rebuild Government and Livable Memphis, MemphisConnect is hosting a town hall meeting 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at the U of M's FedEx Institute of Technology. The meeting and panel discussion, moderated by Darrell Cobbins, will focus on the metro charter commission and consolidation process.
But perhaps the most exciting part is that you don't have to go to be there.
They'll be live-streaming the event at the town hall section of the site and taking questions for the panel — consisting of Rebuild Government's Brian Stephens, Livable Memphis' Emily Trenholm, and retired office of planning and development staffer Gene Bryan — online.
Just go to the site and then log in to your Facebook and Twitter accounts and your updates will post directly to the live feed. Fun!
"From the Memphis Connect point of view, it's part of our mission to promote civic awareness and involvement," says Elizabeth Lemmonds. "We feel like this is an important dialog. If a number of people who might not know what's going on [with the consolidation effort] can log in for a while and learn more about it, it's effort and time well-spent."
(I should note: If you like to kick it old-school, you *can* still attend the event in person. )
Well, I was going to blog about this Bass Pro report called "Fishing For Taxpayer Cash" today, but it appears John Branston beat me to it.
So now I'm just going to link to John's post instead.
But just a small note: The report has a nice chart about the more than $567 million in taxpayer subsidies given to Bass Pro for its various projects. That equals out to about $29 million in taxpayer subsidies per project. We've promised about $42 million in federal stimulus bonds to fund the Pyramid project.
When Leadership Memphis began its first season of FastTrack, a two-month program aimed at emerging leaders in 2008 — the same year the organization turned 30 — I wrote about it.
"It is targeted to a younger and more up-and-coming leadership group," Leadership Memphis president David Williams said of FastTrack. "The executive program is targeted at proven leaders, those people already in senior leadership positions."
"For the last four years, with our executive program, we've been talking about the importance of recruiting and retaining talent in Memphis," Williams says. "We said let's see what we can do, and voila."
Earlier this year — full disclosure — I went through the program myself.
Now, I don't see how Leadership Memphis could find a better group of talented, wonderful, socially conscious, community-oriented, and fun individuals than they had in the FastTrack program this past spring, but they seem bound and determined to do so.
From now until June 30th, Leadership Memphis is taking nominations for the FastTrack 2010 Fall program, which begins in August and ends in November.
During the program, participants will learn about leadership skills and about Memphis. There are even field trips! (Just like in grade school, but without the boxed lunch or the bus driver.)
For more information about the program, visit www.leadershipmemphis.org or call Leadership Memphis at 901.278.0016. To nominate someone (including yourself), send name and contact information to: email@example.com.
I just sort of mentioned/glossed over this in a straight news blog post, but the word of the day was definitely privatization.
"It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. It can be a win-win proposition."
This is an idea proposed [this morning even] by former Indianapolis mayor/Harvard professor/New York deputy mayor Stephen Goldsmith at a Rebuild Government forum. During his tenure as mayor, Goldsmith cut costs in the city by $400 million, some by making public service work competitive.
When bidding out projects, they would allow the public sector if they could find a way to do it as cheaply or efficiently, and more often than not, the public sector won.
"Public employees are not inferior to private employees; the public system was inferior to the private one," he said. "The incentives were different."
The City Council's operating budget committee approved Mayor Wharton's proposed budget cuts, excluding $1.4 million for parks and public services.
"I don't believe we've gotten any emails about anything in the city attorney's office. No one in city has emailed us about personnel vacancies in general services," said council member Myron Lowery. "We have, however, heard a lot from citizens on golf courses, community centers, day camps, and police services."
A city council committee had earlier recommended closing the city's three nine-hole golf courses in Overton and Riverside parks and in Whitehaven. Wharton's initial proposal also saved the courses, at least for the first three months of the fiscal year.
"If we cannot make [Riverside and Overton] operate at a break-even level, I'm going to come back to this body and say we've got to close them," Wharton said, "unless this body says we're going to subsidize them."
Whitehaven wasn't included for closure under the mayor's proposal.
Nonprofits might be making more money than you think.
"The nonprofit sector is an important economic sector. It's 11 percent of the workforce," says Sonal Shah, White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation director. "Nonprofits generate $600 billion a year."
"The President and First Lady believe that the solutions to the problems we face are in communities around the country," Shah said. "Our job is to find those."
The office allocates growth funds to successful programs around the country and looks for public/private partnerships, such as the text4baby program with Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Text4baby aims to stem high infant mortality rates among low-income mothers by sending those women a text about what they should do each week of their pregnancy.
"Many times public/private partnerships mean government has paid for services or that government wants something for free," she said. "Each of us has to give something."
(Sorry that posting has been light/nonexistent. I was out of the office last week, visiting family, and despite my best intentions, didn't hit up the blog.)
In discussions with Shelby Countians, Rebuild Government has found that the issues they seem to care most about in consolidation discussions are crime, education, and ethics.
Education is off the table in the merger discussions, both because it's a hot-button issue and b/c, legally, neither the County Commission nor the City Council have the power to force the Memphis City Schools to consolidate.
But the metro charter commission recently approved ethical guidelines for the new government. In response, Rebuild Government has set up a survey to get feedback from citizens. You can take that survey by going here.
The first part of that same ethics survey, completed last week, "showed a mandate" for strong ethics policies with anti-nepotism approved by 91 percent, anti-cronyism approved by 81 percent, and anti-fraternization approved by 50 percent.
To read more about the metro government push in Shelby County, read the Flyer's earlier cover story: A Decent Proposal?