Congratulations on your victory, Mr. Strickland. As mayor of Memphis, it will be your job to run a city that has many problems. Unfortunately, there is a finite supply of money available to accomplish that goal. If you are to be successful, many of the unnecessary costs of running our city must be cut in order to free up the money needed to do the necessary work. Mayor Willie Herenton built a huge and unwieldy bureaucracy in order to provide jobs for his cronies. Your predecessor, A C Wharton, did nothing to change that. Simply failing to fill existing jobs is not policy; it is a lack of policy. Announcing a policy and doing nothing to implement it doesn't accomplish anything.
I lived a good portion of my life under the commission form of government here in Memphis. There is little good that can be said for it. However, instead of the more than 100 departments that Mayor Herenton managed to come up with, the Memphis city commission had only six. The mayor under the city commission (who wasn't a mayor in anything except name) ran the administrative department. One commissioner was in charge of both the fire department and the police department. Another commissioner ran the department of public works, and still another ran the department of public service. There was another whose job I don't recall, but the point is that we had six departments instead of more than 100. Furthermore, one man ran two of those six departments.
Today, we have departments that are not even within the purview of city government. The job created for Herenton's disgraced female bodyguard is a case in point. The office responsible for finding employment for convicted felons should be a minor one in the state employment office. It should not be a city department with a huge salary.
We have other departments that we can get along without and still others that we can't afford to fund. There are many, many departments that need to be consolidated into major departments and relegated to a minor status within those departments.
Each department that you do away with, either by eliminating it completely or by consolidating it into a larger department, will save money — money that is presently used to pay an exorbitant salary to department heads and assistant department heads.
Money can also be saved by eliminating the costs of office space and other incidentals in situations where departments are eliminated or reduced in size. Eliminating automobiles for the department heads and insurance and the salaries for the lower-ranking employees of those departments that are eliminated will add to that cost-savings total.
Finally, the salaries currently paid to high-ranking city employees are not necessary to get top-notch people to fill those offices. Good managers galore have lost their jobs in private industry and will furnish all the qualified help needed to run the city government. They will take a city job at a more modest salary as an alternative to no job at all or one that is beneath their skill levels. Hire some of those people.
While Mayor Herenton was creating all of those unnecessary departments, he was also giving huge salaries to people to do jobs they couldn't do well. He and his cronies were like a bunch of hogs feeding at the public trough. Four years ago, Mayor Wharton made a big announcement about taking a hard look at city government departments and staffing, but it simply didn't happen.
I hope that four years from now, I won't be saying the same thing about your administration. Cutting down the size of city government and reorganizing it into fewer departments will make it more efficient and easier to control.You have a chance to make some tremendous changes for the better in our city government. Please, seize the initiative, and do it now.
Good luck in the fight to trim the costs of city government. All of your supporters will be looking to you for action. Please, don't let us down.
William T. Mitchell is a life-long Memphian who has been observing local politics for more than 50 years.