2020 State of County Transcript

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2020 State of the County, We Can Do More


I’m pleased to represent Shelby County government and be here with all of you. Shelby County is a large, diverse county, with nearly a million citizens and 7 great cities: Arlington, Bartlett, Millington, Lakeland, Germantown, Memphis, and where we are today, the great Town of Collierville.

We are here in the 150th year of Collierville, TN, one of the oldest municipalities in our region. This is also one of the most successful municipalities in our region, one of the most successful municipalities in our state. And this is one of the fastest growing communities in Shelby County.

This is a place that when they say they are going to build a high school, you’d better take notice.

Thank you to our hosts, Roger Jones, Principal of Collierville High School, Gary Lilly, Superintendent of Collierville Schools, Mayor Stan Joyner and the Aldermen for the Town of Collierville.

I am pleased that many of the commissioners are present. Since the last state of the County, we have worked arm in arm to accomplish great things in Shelby County.

 Because of historic votes by this County Commission, we have shifted millions and millions of dollars to Pre-K education. We also expanded the number of individuals in Shelby County who are paid a living wage of $15 per hour. We ensured all future county employees would always make a minimum of $15 per hour by making the standard the law of the land for Shelby County government. We expanded access to voting by brining early voting back to downtown Memphis.

Because of another historic vote by this commission, just a few days ago, we set up the first dedicated funding stream for public transit in county history. This was the first part of two-part plan that we introduced after the last State of the County This part of the plan means that more than $1 million dollars will flow from Shelby County to public transit. It should also be noted that this part of the plan does not include any tax or fee increase whatsoever.

Thus, for the first time ever, Shelby County will be making a yearly, seven-figure investment in public transit. This new dedicated funding of at least $1 million per year could help MATA replace some of its aging fleet, innovate and add new technology, like new fare boxes, and lead to the construction of countless new bus shelters that are sorely needed throughout our community. Thank you, Commissioners for this, another historic vote. Let’s please give them another round of applause.

And still we can do more.

We can do more to support transit. After all, lack of transportation is one of the top reasons folks in our community cannot get a job and keep a job. We have to expand job access and give more of our residents a chance to participate in the economy, work, and take care of their families. I’m glad that Commissioner Mick Wright and Commissioner Tami Sawyer are leading the way to engage the community and help us expand our commitment and investment in public transit.

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Since the last state of the County, we’ve also had a lot of fun.

We danced with seniors at our luncheon with members of the Shelby County retiree association. Thank you, Dr. Hall for showing us how to electronic slide. We held a Holiday Tree lighting in the heart of South Memphis and Commissioner Milton and I read the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to all the kids. We celebrated the 200th anniversary of Shelby County’s founding by bringing together all the mayors from our 7 great municipalities for a terrific one-of-kind community festival in Shelby Farms. And we competed in the Ugly Christmas Sweater contest. Congratulations Commissioner Whaley for being the worst dressed man in the building that day.

But, we can do more. We can even have a little fun doing it.

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I have a few points to make. I promise I will try to be brief. No matter how long it takes.

“Make Shelby County One of the Best Places to Work”

First, Shelby County must keep leading the way in supporting working families. Although I am glad that both part-time and full-time County employees all make a living wage of $15 per hour, we can do more.

Soon, we’ll be proposing to the County Commission a proposal for paid parental leave for our employees who are blessed with a new addition to the family. Paid parental leave ensures a chance at physical recovery for moms after child-birth without having to worry about the financial burden of taking time off or using up their precious vacation days. And paid parental leave is a chance for both parents to bond with the new member of the family. Research demonstrates that nurturing a relationship with both parents positively impacts children. Paid parental leave will also help us attract and retain top talent to Shelby County government. There’s a reason why Forbes Magazine named Shelby County government one of the best organizations in Tennessee. Shelby County is the best place in America, because Shelby County has the best people in America. Let’s keep it that way.

“Reduce Crime and Expand Opportunity for Ex-Offenders”

Second, we must continue to reduce our recidivism rate. We all know that too often ex-offenders who are released from prison commit a second crime and go right back to prison. We have to reduce recidivism, because if we don’t, we’ll pay for the inaction. That second crime is more likely to be violent and more serious than the first offense.

What’s more, our county jail and prison are just too full. We have over 4,000 men and women behind bars in Shelby County and our incarcerated population is growing.  As it stands now, the criminal justice system is our second highest category of local spending, behind only spending on education. We have had nearly 3,000 men and women in total at our county jail facilities alone. The average daily cost is $100.  If you can’t do the math, let me help. That works out to more than $100 million a year for county taxpayers just to hold people, men and women, many of whom are pretty much just waiting for a trail. The jail population is at levels that could threaten our financial well-being.

That’s why our ability to provide public safety depends on our ability to invest in rehabilitation and re-entry, and stop these crimes from happening in the first place. Over the last year, we have spent considerable time expanding our re-entry capabilities.

But, we can do more.

We know that ex-offenders need real job skills. That’s why we work behind the wall of our prison to provide soft and hard skill training, and we continue that work when inmates get released. In fact, we plan to soon cut the ribbon on a new classroom for vocational instruction on the campus of our Office of Re-entry.

In addition, we know that ex-offenders just need a chance and that if you have a record, too often employers don’t let you even get your foot in the door. That’s why in the coming year, we’ll bring to the County Commission a plan to “ban the box” from County employment applications where it’s not necessary. This, by the way, is how you reduce recidivism, and support the goals of public safety. You give everyone in our community, particularly our ex-offenders, a chance to earn an honest living and take care of their family.

Lastly, we know that many of our residents end up cycling through the system because of missed court dates and other violations that lead to repeated unnecessary interaction with law enforcement and our criminal justice system.

Well, just like everything else, there’s an app for that. I don’t know about you, but sometimes the best way to get a hold of me is by text. That’s why we have begun rolling out a new program that allows us to text court date reminders to defendants. We call our program Simple Summons. We have already sent out 3000 text reminders and seen dramatic decreases in the number of defendants that fail to appear for court and become fugitives. 94% of those who receive our text reminders show up for court.

“Celebrate and Honor the Service of our Veterans”

This week, we celebrated President’s Day. However, there would be no Presidents’ Day without the work of our brave men and women in uniform, our veterans. To our veterans, I want to say that I am thankful for your military service, your courage, your sacrifice. You are the men and women who are willing to charge the storm.  I’d ask that our veterans please stand so that we can salute your service with a round of applause.

That brings me to a third point. We need to honor our veterans in Shelby County. We need to serve them the same the same way they serve us. A few weeks ago, I talked to Robert Seay, a leader in one of our local unions, Teamsters Local 667. He told me that Shelby County has too few veterans services officers and too few veterans services. Mr. Robert Seay, served as a Marine and tank commander during the Korean War era. And, as we know, every year there are a fewer and fewer Korean War veterans and, unfortunately, even fewer WWII veterans. When a veteran of WWII or the Korean War tells you something, I believe you’d better listen and you’d better do as you’re told.

In honor of the service of men and women, like Mr. Seay, we opened a second veterans service office in Millington to help veterans and their families obtain the services they have earned. Because of the service of men and women, like Mr. Seay, we will immediately bring a plan to double the number of veterans served Shelby County. And we’ll also be taking a comprehensive look at expanding our veteran services even more.

Shelby County has one the largest veterans’ population in the state.

That’s something we should be proud of.

These veterans, like my father who served during the Vietnam era, like Mr. Seay, are very special men and women. They are the folks who are willing to risk everything in service of something you can’t touch, buy, or put a price on: American values, freedom, and protection of others. Robert Seay, if you’re here, please stand so we can give you a round of applause.

“Build a new High School for Students in Frayser”

Fourth, we have a serious problem with respect to our schools and it’s time to do something about it. We know the problem is not with our teachers. Just the opposite. Our teachers and school leaders, like Ms. Templeton and Ms. Johnson, every day pour into our students. Our teachers are the architects of our future.

No, the problem is that our schools are crumbling. Some of our best public high schools in the urban core—Whitehaven and Whitestation, come to mind—are in need of vital repairs. According to the last study, the deferred maintenance on those two schools alone is $10 million. Snowden in Midtown, another school where parents have been advocating for years, is over 100 years old. In fact, the vast majority of schools in Shelby County are at least 40 years old.

It’s not just here in Shelby County. It’s around the country. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given school buildings around the country a grade of D+.

Consider Frayser, a large community in our County, a community that boasts 45,000 residents, according to the Census Bureau, almost exactly the same number of residents in the Town of Collierville, which according to the Census Bureau has around 50,000 residents. There are real differences though. Collierville has one of the highest median income in our community, at more than $113,000 per year, and Frayser has one of the lowest, at $27,000 per year.

Over the years, the Frayser community has seen enough attention or investment. Among the two high schools in Frayser, MLK High and Trezevant High, students are not set up for success. Low enrollment means that these two buildings are half empty and high deferred maintenance means that these two buildings are in urgent need of repairs.  In fact, the deferred maintenance on those two buildings alone is nearly $20 million. I have personal experience with the issue. Last year, my office started a Vo-tech program for kids at MLK High. It’s sorely needed. Our young people need more opportunity for job skill training and I believe in vo-tech. Unfortunately, though, at MLK High there isn’t a vo-tech classroom.  As a result, we had to run our vo-tech welding program in the school’s library.

The current Shelby County school system was founded in 2013. It has never built a new high school. We need to get started.

Communities like Frayser, are full of families devoted to the neighborhood and devoted to seeing the community thrive. I believe we need to double-down on the good that’s happening in Frayser and communities around our county. I believe we have to start rebuilding and investing in community. I believe we need a starting point, a roadmap, if you will, to create world-class learning environments for as many students as possible.  And I believe Frayser is as good place as any to plant our flag and make a start. #FindmeinFrayser

If we build a new high school in Frayser (or in another community in need), we have a chance to expand educational services to students. That’s what’s happening here. If we build a new high school in Frayser, we have a chance to create space for vo-tech learning and for technology and innovative learning. That’s what’s happening here. If we build a new high school, we have a chance to revitalize neighborhoods. That’s what’s happening here.

The good news is that our great SCS superintendent and school board are working hard, right now on this issue, with their Reimagine 901 effort. In fact, School Board Commissioner Stephanie Love is the person that brought this issue to my attention and has been advocating aggressively for the Frayser community.

Shelby County government should and will join that work. It’s time.

I realize I’m asking a lot. A new high school building in Frayser or elsewhere, could cost upwards of $50 million, according to SCS’s facilities study. I realize that the work of community-building is hard.  I realize that we are at the start of what might be a long conversation or even a losing battle to the status quo. I realize that anytime you summon the courage to try to change something, you also expose yourself to the risk that you might fail.

But, I also know this. I know that we have talked about this issue for years and years. I know that the only way things ever change is when someone dares to try. Leadership is the willingness to take some level of risks to change things, to operate on the frontier, to let our imaginations run wild by what can be accomplished on our watch.

“Protect and Preserve the Memphis Sands Aquifer Once and for All”

Fifth, we will expand our commitment to preserving our environment and promoting sustainability through our program Sustainable Shelby.

For instance, we recognize that the operation of Shelby County’s large fleet of vehicles exacerbates local air quality problems, results in greenhouse gas emissions, and contributions to global climate change. Shelby County Fleet services produced nearly 14 million pounds of CO2 emissions last year. That’s why we will transform the County’s approach to fleet operations. In the coming year, we’ll buy more low and zero emissions vehicles. More importantly, we will bring a forward a Sustainable Green Fleet Policy. We will work with stakeholder groups, like the Sierra Club and the Office of Sustainability, to bring forward a plan the County Commission to make permanent changes to how Shelby County purchases vehicles.

And we continue to work to preserve and protect our access to clean water. Nowhere is the significance of water more important than in Shelby County, where we have some of the best water in the world, right underneath our feet. The Memphis Sands Aquifer is a marvel of divine intervention. A few hundred feet below us sits 57 trillion gallons of pristine water. Our water resources started to take shape over 100 million years ago. Because of Memphis Sands, we are able to draw up to 200 million gallons of water today, tomorrow, and, if we protect it, we will be able to draw millions of gallons of water every day until the end of time.

Already, the Health Department has led an effort to update our groundwater quality control rules to make sure the pristine water beneath our feet is protected. Already, we have created a lead prevention task force. Led by Shelby County resident LaTricea Adams this commission is tasked with helping ensure that our schools have access to lead-free water. Already, we have begun the labor-intensive process of testing water access at all our schools that are at risk.

But, we can do more.

We will work to strengthen the protections for our water and reduce the risks of contamination. Other communities rely on a local water authority and sustainable educational programs to protect access to clean water. In the coming months, we want Shelby County to enter that conversation.

“Reduce Blight and Invest in Neighborhoods”

Sixth, we’ll spend more time investing in people and building up neighborhoods. I believe one of the top priorities in this community has got to be ridding our streets of blight and trash, and investing in our neighborhoods.

Consider Northaven, an area that was once beautiful, but that’s now plagued with litter and trash. It’s an issue that that community has grappled with for at least the last decade. Litter and trash run down a neighborhood.

The good news, though, is you can’t rundown the residents of Northaven. The residents of Northaven are proud and they hold their beloved community deep in their hearts. And, as long as the heart is still beating, Northaven will keep going. Shelby County is going to clean up Northaven and do our part to help clean up other parts of our community. Shelby County government has never had sanitation operation. Until now. Before this year is done, we will stand up the county’s first sanitation operation, and we’ll provide sanitation services to residents of the Northaven community.

Consider Klondike, an area in the urban core. A few weeks ago, we partnered with a local non-profit CDC to transfer 150 vacant lots and blighted properties from Shelby County government to the non-profit. We don’t believe that a project like this has ever been done before. The non-profit has agreed to maintain the properties and help keep blight out of the neighborhood. They have even agreed to pay everyone that touches the properties—everyone who cuts a yard, fixes a fence, or tidies a flower bed—$15 per hour. They have agreed to work toward development of these properties. Most importantly, they have agreed to engage the community. That means that the community is in control of what comes next. That’s public-private partnership.

We are hopeful that this partnership with this neighborhood group will lead to the development of every last one of these 150 properties. But, make no mistake, the development of even a fraction of these 150 properties is the kind of spark that spreads.  And what we learn through this partnership with Klondike and as we help revitalize that neighborhood is something that we can package and take to other neighborhoods. We know already that neighbors want better neighborhoods.

“Expand Healthcare Access for Families”

Finally, too many of our families don’t have access to healthcare. In some neighborhoods in Shelby County, most residents have no relationship with a primary care physician. What’s worse, when they get sick, too many of our residents get their care at the emergency rooms.

Now, I already know the biggest impediment to healthcare access, as any healthcare professional will tell you, is that the state of Tennessee has not expanded Medicaid coverage. We have left billions of our tax dollars in Washington to distribute to other states. As a result of decisions at the state level that we have little control over, providing coverage to the uninsured partly falls to local governments, like Shelby County, and public hospitals, like Regional One. In fact, last year, we invested $29 million in charitable care to Regional One to make sure those in need receive the care they need.

This practice is unsustainable. We have to start, at the local level, looking for ways to expand healthcare access. That’s one of the reasons why last year we opened a healthcare clinic for all Shelby County employees on Poplar Avenue. Now, members of our organization have access to primary care at the right place and at the right price. It’s free. By expanding employee access to healthcare, we are giving Shelby County employees more ways to get healthy, stay healthy and to be there for their families.

In the coming year, we will begin to partner with stakeholders to continue this push to expand access to healthcare for all Shelby County residents, not just Shelby County employees. Our new plan for promoting healthcare access will include a push to see more clinics open in Shelby County. Our new plan will be housed under our healthyShelby umbrella and be led by our Division of Health Services. The good news is we already have committed partners in healthcare and we have a great Director of the Shelby County Health Department, Dr. Alisa Haushalter. In the coming year, we will expand healthcare access and strengthen our healthcare safety net.


As I conclude, let me say to all of you in the audience, particularly the teenagers and students, we are in an Election Year. Early voting is going on right now. I won’t tell you for whom to vote. But, this is an important Presidential election year. Please register to vote by going to govotetn.com and cast your ballot.

Or, as the folks I work with have been trying to convince me to say, Go vote, Mane.

This election year, we’ll be selecting our next Shelby County General Sessions Court clerk. After a nearly 40-year career, Clerk Stanton is retiring. While we will select a new clerk for that important operation, we know that Clerk Stanton’s shoes will never really be filled. Just a few weeks ago, we were pleased to award our first set of lifetime achievement awards to Clerk Stanton and to Judge Larry Potter, our County’s first Environmental Court Judge. Thank you, Clerk Stanton and Judge Potter for your service.

I started by saying we can do more. We can.

We can also have some fun.

For the first time ever, the Ironman is coming to Shelby County. Ironman is the world’s premiere triathlon. We are excited and proud to have this event in Shelby County, at Shelby Farms. It’ll be a lot of fun. At least it’s a certain kind of fun for our residents who love grueling, athletic fun. Shoutout to Clerk Heidi Kuhn. And, it’s almost that time of year for us to host another “Senior Prom”. Yes, this was our formal dance party for our residents over 65 years old. Last year, our first Senior Prom was packed with hundreds of seniors dancing away…into the late afternoon and early evening. Congratulations to Clarence Christian and Verlena Yarbrough who were crowned our prom king and queen for the evening.

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There are great people in this County. There are great things happening in this County. And we can do more. We can also bet we’ll have a little fun along the way. God bless the United States of America. God bless the great state of Tennessee. God bless Shelby County. Thank you.

Please note that data, text, graphics, logos, pictures and other features on this website may be protected by U.S. copyright laws. Under the "fair use" section of the U.S. copyright laws, materials may be used for noncommercial; educational purposes, such as teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, and commentary; and news reporting. Please cite (refer to) the website address (www.shelbycountytn.gov) for any fair use of the content.

Commercial use is prohibited without prior approval from Shelby County Government (SCG). For commercial use, please contact Shelby County Government – Public Records at (901) 222-2100 or e-mail public.records@shelbycountytn.gov. SCG does not warrant that use of the content will not infringe upon any separate rights owned by third-parties who are not affiliated with SCG. Copyrights in some of the content are owned by other individuals and entities.