Friday, July 19, 2013

Wharton Says Memphis Is No Detroit

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 4:59 PM

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said Friday it is not a time to "pile on" Detroit in the wake of its bankruptcy, but took pains to make a case that Memphis is a much healthier city.

Wharton called reporters to City Hall for a comparison-making session that he admitted was not unlike the athletic director who calls a press conference to announce support for the football coach — which is often the kiss of death. He said his first reaction was that the comparison "is so inept that I am not going to dignify it by responding," but respond he did.

"They need to hear that we do recognize our challenges and are going to meet them head on," he said. "They need to hear that from me."

He produced a chart showing that the Memphis city pension plan is nearly 75 percent funded, with more than $2 billion in the bank. Memphis, he said, has roughly half as many city employees for close to the same population, and a budget approximately one fifth as large. Memphis has a more diverse economy. The "key difference" he said is "there is no denial in this city" that there are financial challenges even during the heat of council debate over the budget. As for the state comptroller's letter, "we had started down that path even before that without any warning or threats that said we have to change some things in the pension situation."

Wharton opened the session with some comments about Trayvon Martin.

"I have six sons and four grandsons and have been in courtrooms a good part of my life, so for me it wasn't just can you comment on something on a tv screen," he said.

He said he is "glad folks are going to rally" for a "noble cause, that is to ask for some redress."

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