This month marks two years as Mayor of Shelby County, the largest in Tennessee and, in my opinion, the greatest county in America.
Together, we have accomplished a lot.
We have focused on supporting working families. As one of the largest and highest profile employers in our state, it’s important that Shelby County Government leads by example. That’s why, over the last two years, we pushed to expand the number of women and men who make a livable wage of $15 per hour, instituted paid parental leave, implemented the County’s work flexibility strategy, and opened up two child care centers to support our employees with young children.
When it comes to economic opportunity, we have focused on jobs, jobs, jobs. We opened a new American Job Center to serve as a community resource where Shelby County residents can get access to job training, job listings, and set up interviews with employers or meet with our counselors. We have expanded access to vocational training and apprenticeship programming, piloted an after-school program to learn about the trades at MLK High and set up a small-engine repair apprenticeship program at the Shelby County Office of Re-entry. We “banned the box” on employment applications in order to create more opportunities for ex-offenders to get a job.
We have invested in our neighborhoods. That’s why we created Shelby County’s first sanitation service to help improve the quality of life in neighborhoods in need. We transferred 150 blighted properties to Klondike/Smokey City, in a historic deal where everyone involved in maintenance and development is guaranteed a living wage of at least $15 per hour.
We are actively and aggressively planning for the future. We have created dedicated funding for Pre-K and early childhood education so that Pre-K is available to every child in Shelby County regardless of their family’s ability to pay. When kids are caught on the wrong side of the law, we have made it clear that we have to put them on the path to rehabilitation. That’s why we expanded alternatives to detention and we were one of the first communities in the country to eliminate the exorbitant costs of phone calls for youth in detention.
In fact, we have launched numerous criminal justice reforms, because we have a moral obligation to make our system fairer. We worked to reduce the jail population and launched bail reforms that focus on public safety risk, not ability-to-pay. We have too many individuals languishing in jail and awaiting their day in court, because they are too poor to pay a few hundred dollars in bail.
Make no mistake, we are in unprecedented times. COVID still threatens. Parts of our economy have not recovered, and kids have borne more than their fair share of these challenging times. We have already mobilized a massive expansion of our public health department. But, we have to keep at it. Our poverty level is likely growing and the achievement gap for kids is likely widening.
As we move into the next two years, I pledge to try to not get bogged down with the trivial, the political ups and downs that too often contaminate the work of elected officials. As we move into the next two years, I pledge to focus on problems and issues that matter to everyday residents. I pledge to bring a heart of service to our work everyday.
I am looking forward to the next two years. I am grateful to all of you. I am grateful to have a role in serving our beloved community.
All the best,
Mayor Lee Harris
P.S. Click below to view our #SmileForTwoMiles video that recaps some of our work together over the last two years.
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