Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton Participates in Town Hall Meeting at University of Memphis

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton Participates in Town Hall Meeting at University of Memphis
By:  Michael G. Lander

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton speaks to
approximately 150 at town hall meeting at the
University of Memphis.

Crime, gangs, gun violence, poverty, public safety, and taxes are all topics that large metropolitan cities in the U.S. often have to grapple with and these are just a few of the topics that Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton is quite familiar with himself.  He has dealt with all of these issues, and more, since he took office on Oct. 26, 2009. 

His previous familiarity and experience with a lot of this likely came to him as the Shelby County Chief Public Defender in the 1980's and as Shelby County's Mayor several years later.  The latter of these is an office that he held from 2002 until he assumed his current position as Memphis City Mayor.

On Tuesday, April 23, Wharton spoke to a group of about 150 who came for a question and answer town hall meeting inside the River Room at the University of Memphis' University Center.  In the 50 minute long meeting, he fielded just a little more than half a dozen questions from audience members that consisted, at least in part of students from the International Studies Program and the Political Science Department. 

Among the topics that Wharton addressed included a $30 million shortfall in the city's current budget.  This, he said, resulted from less revenue that the city took in after a recent property reappraisal. 

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton is invited by the
International Studies Program and the Political Science
Department at the University of Memphis.  Wharton
had received a Political Science degree at
Tennessee State University in 1962.

"Cities are having a difficult time these days," Wharton said.  "We get most of our funds from property taxes... and we need to make up the drop in property values," he added.

The city is heavily reliant on the property taxes, Wharton said, because it doesn't have other forms of revenue to tap into.  This tax is necessary to fund the level of services that city residents are accustomed to having.

"Sixty-five percent of our budget goes to public safety and nobody wants to cut back on that.... and it is one area that we have increased," Wharton said. 

Wharton also said that he disagreed with new billboards being placed around the city by the Memphis Police Association warning people that the City of Memphis does not support public safety. 

"We invest in public safety at the expense of other things," Wharton said.

Among some of what Wharton has in his vision for the city is a safe and clean community with the implementation of a vacant property registry.  This registry, he said, will help in identifying the owners of abandoned property.  Ultimately, this will expedite the process of the city being able to do something to address and remedy it.

Memphis Mayor Wharton answers about seven
questions in the 50 minutes of his town hall meeting.

Other issues that Wharton discussed included efforts to bring jobs to Memphis, to have more efficiency in local government, to support healthcare, and to work on reducing poverty, crime, and gun violence. 

This city was also helped, Wharton said, in its gun violence reduction efforts with a $4.8 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Wharton said that he is especially concerned with the problem with handguns in the city, the easy access that people have to them , and that the pistol is often the default mode for people in resolving disputes.  He wants to do more to alleviate this problem, to take a family approach in remedying this, and to get guns out of the hands of the youth. 

Efforts like this, he believes, will help in preventing children from graduating from the juvenile court system to the adult prison system.

Mayor Wharton poses for photographs with
University of Memphis students following the
town hall meeting.

Anyone interested in contacting Wharton can reach him at his office, located at 125 N. Main St., Room  700, Memphis, by calling him at (901) 636-6000, or by writing to him via email at mayor@memphistn.gov.  He is also on twitter (https://twitter.com/MayorACWharton) and on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mayoracwharton).

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