Behind the Headlines – October 25, 2019

– Production funding for
“Behind the Headlines” is made possible in part by
the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and
by viewers like you, thank you. – City Council on
restoring the benefits, the residency requirement, and much more tonight on
“Behind the Headlines.” [upbeat music] I’m Eric Barnes with
The Daily Memphian, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by two members of the Memphis City Council. Gerre Currie, thank
you for being here. – Thank you for having me. – Martavious Jones,
thanks for returning. – Thank you, thank
you for having me. – Along with Bill Dries, reporter with “The
Daily Memphian.” Let’s talk about,
let’s start with, and I should note that at
the top here we’re also, Ford Canale was gonna
be here, Councilman, who at the last minute
couldn’t be here, but we’re very happy
that you all are here. And I’ll start
with you Martavius, you’re in council
how many years now? – This is completing
my fourth year. – Completing your fourth year. And this question
of the benefits. You came on in what? Right after the benefits
had been cut I believe. – Right, so I was sworn
in ’16, January of ’16 – In ’16, so where do you stand
on the sales tax referendum? It has many, many layers to it. It’s not quite as simple
as this is what was voted and this is what’s gonna happen. Sometimes referendums are, but this one looks like it’s
gonna be a little murkier, a little muddier. Where do you stand? Should the benefits for
fire and police be restored as they were back
to the 2014 level? – If we can afford it. – And how do you
figure that out? – Well one of the things
that we have to look at, we have to look at
what it’s gonna cost us particularly from a
pension standpoint. If we were just talking strictly
401K type of retirements where there’s no future
liability for that, but we are essentially, we would be taxing out
our future generations and we’d have a tax
rate beyond belief. So we have to look at the
numbers and really see if we can afford it. – A tax rate, when you say tax rate, you would project then
that property tax rates would have to go up to cover
going back to the 2014. – We would have to
because the sales tax that are generated when we, it’s particularly because we
are talking about pensions. Pensions are long
term liabilities. People are living to be, somebody retires at 55, they could very
well live to be 80. So you’re talking about
a retirement period almost just as long
as someone worked. So we really have to
look at it financially before we can just go
back and say restore it. Yes a sales tax
increase that was passed by the voters of Memphis. I don’t think that goes
to fill the entire void or the entire
financial structure that we’ve been looking at. – Bunch more questions on that, get you and Councilwoman
Currie, your take. Should the sales tax
referendum be for lack of a better word, honored, letter of the law, letter
of the word I should say that the benefits should not
go back to their 2014 level? – If we do it as it was
placed on the referendum, no, I can’t say that I
would be in support of that simply by virtue of the fact
you have other city employees that should also
be beneficiaries of
some of those funds. They were impacted in 2014 also. And as much as I admire what
the Fire and Police have done, where do you leave those
individuals in this donut hole of their benefits and what
they can get out of it? – Let’s bring Bill in. – So as Eric mentioned, there is a whole lot
of ground to cover beyond the referendum on this. When does the council stat
putting their arms around this to figure out what
you’re working with here? Are there decisions
to be made this year or is this all next year? – I would speculate to
say that this is going to be a next year issue with
me rolling off of the council and two other council
positions that have not been decided, I don’t believe that
currently we would be able to make decisions on
that which would impact the incoming council. – Martavius? – One thing that I’m
not sure of is when this actually takes effect? Is it January one? Is it Monday after the election
results were certified? I don’t know. – That the, that the, just to
interrupt you for a second, that the increase
should kick in? – Correct, yes. I don’t know when
that takes place, but we’ve already approved
the budget that is in effect through June 30th. So I would say any
type of calculations, or any type of planned
spending for that should not take place until
we go into budget for the next fiscal year. – And of course the County
Commission is still debating whether or not they
would take half of it and what is it half of, and who votes in that
referendum if they put it on the ballet as well? – Yeah, yeah that’s
another interesting part. And going back to my
school board days, I was always an advocate
that the county should do so, because I think we still
have a more pressing need in my opinion of, and we can give into
other issues with this, especially when I say this, from an educational standpoint. Because when the county does it, 50% goes to education. So if the county were to do it, it would usurp what
the city has done. – And we’d spoke, we had, I’m saying Councilman, former Councilman Ford
now Commissioner Ford on who’s been a big
advocate that the county should step forward, take 50% of that and I think
if I remember correctly, it should go to education
is what he said. If they’re going to–
– Statutorily, it’s done. – Yeah and Van was
was on as well. Talking about that. In terms, back to the
affordability of it. It is, or let me
go this direction. How do you feel? I mean you’re an
elected official. Do you feel bound by
the will of the voters as expressed through
the referendum? I mean is it, and that’s obviously what
you and Tommy Malone, the head of the
firefighters union, right before the vote, in a very heated discussion
with Chairman Kemp Conrad. But is it a matter of you
ignoring the will of the voters if you don’t restore
back to the 2014 levels? Or are you just
gonna ignore that? – No I don’t think we
are just ignoring that, but what we’re also doing
is that you have people who may not have voted, but they would be
affected by any type of future property
tax increases. So even though there are
people who may not have voted, we still have to
represent what’s in their best interest as well. – In your take, you thought you would be
ignoring the will of the voter when when a referendum
passed saying “hey do this.” – Help me out Mr. Dries. We had about 27% of the
population that voted. That’s a small, small
percentage of individuals that made a decision
about whether or not this referendum
should pass. And with that being said, you have to listen
to the population, but it’s such a
small percentage. You have to also take
into consideration those individuals
that did not vote and what their thought process
would be with regard to it. – Let me ask one more
question on this, which is, do you at least say, what we’re talking
about is potentially a pool of around
50 million dollars. It’s not totally clear, because it’s sales tax money and than can go up and down. It can go down quite
a bit in a recession, but let’s say it’s around
50 million dollars. Let’s say the county takes half, so there’s 25 million dollars
going into the coffers of the city of Memphis. Do you feel even if you
determine that okay we can’t go back to the
2014 benefits level for the reasons you
guys have articulated. Do you feel like that
25 million dollars should none the less go to
fire and police benefits or pay or those issues
in some way or no? Does it go in the coffers
and it should be divvied up as the city council
sees fit regardless of what was said
in that referendum? – Well one of the things
that I think about too, it’s something that Councilwoman
Currie talked about, are the employees as well. And so to create an environment
where a certain group of employees tend to benefit versus another
group of employees and we all have to say we
know that fire, police, they do a job that I’m
not brave enough to do, to be honest with you. And we have to recognize that, but we still have to look at it. There are other functions
within city government that are important as well, but you’re creating a
disparite group of individuals when you do that. – No actually you’re not. You don’t, even again
if you determine, we can’t afford
the 2014 benefits, but we’ve got 25
million dollars. That 25 million isn’t limited
to fire and police benefits or pay in some fashion. It can be more broadly spent. – I believe it should
be more broadly spent. Every city employee if they
have been disenfranchised simply by the budget that
we pay us going into 2021 should also receive funding
as a part of those funds that are part of the referendum. And as you said, we
really don’t know how much it is going to generate. The projection is 50 million. And if that’s the case, if the county moves
forward with their request, then we’re looking
at 25 million. 25 million anywhere you wanna
slice, dice, or julienne, it will not be sufficient
for the pension. It just won’t. – And so again it could just
go into the general fund and be dispersed
in any which way. I mean that is, seems to be that what most of
the council people are saying. The city has the right, if I remember right Bill
Tommy Malone acknowledged that the city had the right
to spend it however they want, but their arguments gonna be, will of the voters, will of
the voters, will of the voters. – Practically yeah he used
the term political suicide if the council
didn’t abide by it Is it suicide, political? [laughing] I mean it’s gonna
end your career, are you against us or you
are afraid of the pushback? – We still have
to be accountable to the taxpayers of Memphis. Not just the voters of Memphis. The taxpayers of Memphis and do what’s in
their best interest. – Yeah, okay, Bill. – Let’s talk about
the related subject and that is the residency
requirement proposal that is about to come
your way has been proposed and the council
has discussed it, so far hasn’t taken
any votes on it yet. This would basically
be another referendum on the ballot to say that
police and firefighters hired by the city, would not have to live
within Shelby county, which is the
current requirement. That they could live within
a two hour drive of the city. And again that would go to
city voters in November of 2020 if this ordinance passes
on three readings. You haven’t had the
first reading yet. Each of you seems to have
different thought on this. Councilwoman Currie
is this a good idea? – Yes it is. I support the city’s efforts to actually hire
police and fire. At the end of the day, we have a small labor pool. It requires being creative
and finding other options to address the needs of
2,300 police officers to protect and serve this city. That’s the way I see it. – Councilman Jones I believe you have a different view on this. – Dallas has a large labor pool. Washington DC has
a large labor pool. Chicago, other major cities do. They have a challenge
hiring police officers and some of the, you look at cities
throughout the country, some have residency
requirements, some don’t. But what is universal is
they are having a hard time finding police officers. That’s just the
nature of the beast. These are first responders. The catastrophic,
hypothetical scenario that I came up with. We have an earthquake here. Somebody living two
hours from Memphis, the de Soto Bridge goes
down, they can’t get here. So I want my first responders
to live close to me in my neighborhood to respond
in case of an emergency. That’s what they’re paid to do. – But should that mean that
in rebuttal for a second, I mean right now it’s
in Shelby County, so Mississippi, parts of
Mississippi are closer to the de Soto bridge than
parts of Shelby County. Parts of Arkansas,
well the bridges, but you know I mean is there
some flexibility in terms of saying two hours is too far? But we are in a strange
geographic place. That people living
right across the border are five minutes from Memphis,
two minutes from Memphis, are you open to that, to a more nuanced opening of
the residency requirements? – And you raise a good
point and that’s the, our geographic location
is a challenge to us. It can be a burden and
that’s one of the reasons why I say this. Outside of Washington DC, I can’t think of any other
place besides Memphis that within 10 miles, you’re in two different
jurisdictions. So we have to look
at Memphis’s case, and DC, Maryland, and Virginia, they all have a
state income tax. Tennessee does not. Arkansas, Mississippi they do. So that presents
financial challenges to us that most major
cities do not face. So I don’t think that
we can be so generous to say yeah South Haven
is closer to White Haven than Cordova is, but based upon our geographical
location and the fact that we don’t have a funding
source to pay these people, besides Memphis property taxes, I don’t think that
it’s financially
viable for us to do so. – So part of your issue,
correct me if I’m wrong, part of your issue is that
look you’ve got to live in the county, pay county
taxes, in part or city taxes, in part to fund the services
that we’re providing to the city of Memphis? – Well no, keep in
mind now my first year, well during this first term, I tried to shrink it to require
that they live in Memphis, because one of the things, I had a conversation with former Councilwoman
Tajuan Stout Mitchell, she said she had a conversation
with maybe a Sheriff or somebody over
in East Tennessee and these are 60, 70,
$80,000 once someone’s been on the force for awhile. Those types of incomes, why do we want those
type of incomes supporting places outside of
Memphis and Shelby County? – Back to Bill. – Your response to it. – Whether they are
60, $70,000 incomes and my estimations supporting
suburbs outside of the city of Memphis for me the bottom
line is we need more talent. We need more police officers,
we need more fire fighters. It’s not that I want to see
those funds leave the city, but at the end of the day, and this is just my probably
non-political approach to it. At the end of the day the
voters voted on a referendum, even though it was only 27%, that indicated that
safety is concerning. If we don’t reach
outside of Shelby county within a two hour radius
to find other individuals, then we are in essence
creating a smaller pool, we’re still gonna have crime, and I understand Washington,
Dallas, New York, DC, wherever it is, and I understand that
everybody has issues with hiring of police officers. It’s not a glamour job. It simply isn’t. And why would anybody
want to do it? It’s difficult. But then serving on the
City Council is difficult. [laughing] But that doesn’t prevent
people from wanting to do it. In light of all of
that, my opinion is, we need to be creative,
have the dialogue, put it before the
citizens of this city, and ultimately let
them make the decision about whether or
not they care where their police officers come
from or their firefighters. – What do you think
about the discussion that we’ve had in the
past about whether or not police
officers in particular should live in the city
that they patrol in? Is there a problem with the
concept of a police officer who lives outside of Memphis, patrolling the city and
then going someplace else to live their lives. – Oh my goodness. By implication you’re
saying that someone who is not ingrained,
inculcated in Memphis, cannot patrol Memphis, cannot
be a good officer for Memphis. I disagree with that theory. It is not in my estimation
a sound or valid point for not wanting to go
outside of two hours or outside of Shelby
County, just not. – Martavius? – I agree with that, but I still go back to
the days where there used to be a police car parked
down the street from me. When police officers were
able to take the cars home. And so if I think a
neighborhood in Memphis feels a little bit
safer if they know that Officer Williams
lives four doors down. And that safety
element should be in Memphis and Shelby County. Not in our surrounding
areas when those officers are employed by Memphis. – Let me say conversely, also when the pension
was cut in 2014, unfortunately there was a
move by the police department to parcel out police
officers to other cities. – The union to be fair. – Right it was the union. – It was the union, yeah. – It was the union that
parceled out officers and encouraged them
to go to other cities. – Okay yes, great
distinction there, the union, not the city,
right, right, right. – The union, they did that, and now the union is in support
of the fact that we should go outside of Shelby
County to hire officers. – Well you think
that [laughing], for what it’s worth. Where it’s coming from, but so the same organization.
– The same organization. – That encourages
people to leave Memphis. – Now want them with outside of Shelby County to do so. – But let’s come back to
you were talking about it’s a hard job, it’s a
difficult job to hire. It’s a difficult job
all around the country. That kind of comes
back to the referendum, and benefits, and pay, and what does it cost
to attract good people. So isn’t that an argument for, I can imagine a union
rep or any number of people making the argument, whether or not that 50
to 25 million dollars in new sales tax
money goes to exactly restoring the benefits, it should go to fire and police
because of the very nature of the difficulty of
hiring those people. – Well one of the things
that I would go back to, when we look at
our salary studies, and we compare ourselves
to other cities, and doing some of the impasses that we had doing budget time, I look at what the pay is. If I see that we
are out of line with what our competition is, then I support it. But if it’s one of those
things where I don’t think we can afford to be, we still will have
challenges if we’re paying in the one percentile of
what police pay would be. It still wouldn’t have
everybody come here. Just like we say, look Tennessee
has no state income tax, well all the businesses
should come here. They’re not here. So I don’t think this
is a Pandora’s box where we just open it
up and we open it up to people outside of Memphis, they’ll come. – What is the right, can I say we’re about six,
seven minutes left here. What is the right
number of police? The mayor has made, originally he talked getting
back to sort of a 24, 2,500 number that was the peak
number of police officers. It got down to 1,900. I think they’re back to
approaching what 2,100? – Almost 2,100 yeah.
– 2,100, yes. – Almost 2,100. He is targeting 2,300. Do you agree? Is 2,300 the right number? – I don’t know because one
of the things that the Mayor and his administration
espoused during the campaign, crime is down, crime
is down, crime is down. At the current complement, at our current complement now, when we talk about
how many new recruits or how many classes we’ve had, we temper that with how
many people have left, we have only a net
of about 50 officers. So crime is down, and we have a stable or
level number of officers, to me I don’t see, and I had this conversation
after our last committee meeting with Chief Rawlings. You would have to have, ideally you would have to
have one police officer for every individual if
you wanna make things safe And we know that’s not feasible. So I don’t know if
there’s a right number. Let’s tackle that poverty issue and then we tackle
that crime issue. – For you what is the right, do you know what
the right number is? Is it 23? Is it 24? Or is it 22? – I think 2,300 os certainly
a good starting point as opposed to starting
from a rear position which was 1,900. Is 2,300 what we need? I can’t say
definitively that it is, but it at least puts us
in a better space in terms of addressing some of the crime
that we have in this city. And if it means we need
to increase that number, I’m open to that. We would have to be open to
that to move the city forward. – It’s also how
the police are used as well as whatever the
number is in the ranks. What is your thought, because the Council talks
a lot to Michael Rawlings, the police director
about what he’s doing, how much overtime he’s using, all of these details
are on the table whenever he walks into
the committee room. What’s been your impression of how the police
department is managed? – I think Director Rawlings
has done a great job. I believe that simply
increasing the numbers would decrease overtime. You have to look at
that logistically. You have massive overtime, because you don’t have
sufficient officers. So if you can increase
your pool of officers, then in my estimation, that is going to minimize
overtime somewhat. That’s not going to
take care of all of it, but he has a hard job. And as council and
city government, we should challenge
some of his notions, but we should also support
his beliefs in what he needs. This is a police officer that
came up through the ranks. This isn’t someone that we
transported or imported in. So he knows this city, he knows the details of policing and I think he’s
done a great job. – Councilman Jones,
what do you think? Tactically is the police
department on the mark with what they are doing and
how they are fighting crime? – Look I’m not a crime expert. I don’t know honestly. If I had a criminal
justice background, I think I could have apply
it a little bit more. But just as a council member, one of the things I
am concerned about is so much of our budget
is for public safety. And it leaves so little for
all of the other things, all of the other amenities
that any attractive city would wanna have. Investing in children,
neighborhoods, and communities. So I can’t sit here and
say he’s doing a good job, he’s doing a bad job. Now one of the things that I
would encourage anybody to do, let’s take a look at what’s
working in other cities, let’s try to bring some of
those practices back here. – Briefly as we, Mayor Strickland won in
a bit of a landslide, he’ll go into a second term. He’s term limited. What do you wanna see from
the mayor in his next term? – I would wanna see as he
talks about more momentum going into other areas. I would want to see.
– Outside downtown, midtown. – Outside downtown, midtown. I really wanna see
us tackle and one of the things I always said, when we talk about black
owned, minority owned, and other women
owned businesses, let’s be more
strategic about that. Let’s be more deliberate. The fact that the Mayor has
sole contracting authority, nothing has come
back before council. When you talk about
professional services, those things don’t
have to be bid. Let’s be more aggressive
in those areas. – For you Councilwoman Currie, what do you want to
see from the Mayor? – I would agree with
Councilman Jones on that. I would also like to see the
Mayor extend more into areas of the inner city and
development and infrastructure, but it takes time. My take on it is a
little bit differently, because I work for a
financial institution that works primarily
in the inner city. So what I see more of
is the development piece that we have to do
downtown, midtown, but we also need to provide
other opportunities outside. Now with regard to
small business owners, I work in that arena and
there are initiatives that are being done that
will help him move it forward as he goes into 2020 and beyond. – All right we will
leave it there. Thank you both for being here. Thank you Bill. And thank you for joining us. Join us again, next week. [upbeat music] [guitar music]

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