Debates for Memphis mayor candidates so far have been chiefly about talking points and generic rhetoric when the public needs to hear well-researched, deeply-held positions about issues and how each candidate will integrate that person’s vision into City Hall in ways that transform the culture of city government and the trajectory of Memphis.
The following are the questions the candidates should be asked:
What most distinguishes you from the other candidates?
Memphis lacks for a clear vision. What is your vision for Memphis and how do you plan to integrate it into the programs, priorities, and budgets of city government?
It’s been said that Memphis needs a mayor that’s a disrupter and a source of new thinking and new ideas in City Hall. How do you think you can provide that role?
Memphis generally has not engaged in national conversations about issues. What national organizations do you plan to engage with so that Memphis is part of a network of cutting edge thinking?
What priorities will be reflected and emphasized in your budgets? What is your opinion of the well-publicized Moral Budget?
Will you promise that you will not have a list of people who will not be welcomed in City Hall or who will be blacklisted if they call for a meeting?
What leadership do you plan to give to the problem of frequent electricity outages? Climate change?
What do you plan to do so a final decision is reached on whether Memphis will purchase its electricity from someone other than TVA?
Memphis has a greater percentage of rental homes than any other major city in the U.S. They are often owned by large out-of-town companies and are the sources of blight. Why does Memphis lead the country with this dubious distinction and what plan do you have to address it?
The eviction rate for renters in Memphis is twice the national average, and numerous companies responsible got tax breaks from the Memphis Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board, a city board with members appointed by the mayor. It is the antithesis of transparency, failing to issue reports to the public and slow-walking requests for information. Will you require all city boards and commissions to be transparent and report to the public, including this one?
Unlike Shelby County Government, City of Memphis does not provide a report to the public about the amount and lengths of city taxes waived through tax breaks (PILOTs). What do you plan to do to make city tax breaks more transparent?
The City of Memphis includes $5 million in its budget for affordable housing. The city has about 35,000 fewer affordable housing units than it needs, given its number of low-income residents, so $5 million would only pay for a few dozen houses. What should Memphis do to realistically attack this issue?
The Defense Depot Redevelopment Authority, part of city-county EDGE, received millions of dollars when it commercialized the former Army Depot in South Memphis. The money was used as grants by EDGE to various groups, including Chambers of Commerce outside Memphis, but little, if any, was used to improve the lives of the families who lived in the Depot area and were potentially exposed to contamination. Will you commit to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into what happened to the money and what can be done to support the families who are fighting for their neighborhood?
City of Memphis has a poor history in handling the appointments to its dozens and dozens of boards and commissions. Some members have the appearance of having lifetime appointments. How will you ensure that all city boards have diverse membership and how efforts will be made to rotate members to allow for more citizen participation?
What process will you use to fill appointed positions in your administration? Will your appointments be a continuation of the Strickland Administration? How will you ensure diversity of thought and expertise and not just fill all the positions with political supporters and contributors?
Memphis lacks a think tank to analyze issues and provide impartial research. How do you plan to obtain this kind of information on key policies and issues?
The public often asks, how does this affect me and improve my life? How would your election answer that question? How could it improve their lives?
Will you promise to run an open government that responds to media inquiries in a timely way, doesn’t play favorites with the media, doesn’t blacklist any reporters and insists that the Memphis Police Department do the same?
The mayor often takes credit or gets the blame for the city’s economy. What exactly is the mayor’s role in economic development? Do you plan to be more directly involved in recruiting new businesses and creating new jobs?
Memphis failed to make the transition from an economy overdependent on low-wage, low-skill jobs to knowledge-based, better-paying jobs. How do you think Memphis can make this transition? How can PILOTs be better targeted to accomplish this goal?
Research proves how crucial a well-functioning public transit system is to economic mobility and economic growth. How do you plan to provide Memphians with this kind of transit system?
The matrix used for tax breaks for companies does not factor in low water costs and low electricity costs (both are lower than regular Memphians) and the city’s lower cost of living as part of the incentive structure. Should EDGE factor all competitive advantages into its matrix evaluation?
Every time a PILOT is approved, schools lose tax money. Do you support a PILOT policy that makes schools whole?
Should Memphis be celebrating for getting 25 cents on a dollar when a PILOT is approved? EDGE and Downtown Memphis Commission do not provide the amount of tax breaks in their public reports. Will you require them to do so?
Are you concerned by the negative message that is sent when companies that know us best – FedEx and International Paper – still demand PILOT extensions?
A child born when FedEx got its first PILOT will be 35 years before it pays its fair share of property taxes – unless it asks for another PILOT. Is shifting the tax burden more on homeowners and small businesses fair?
PILOTs have made up 25% of some large-scale apartment projects. Should Memphians have an equity position in these projects since they are providing so much of the funding to make them happen?
What do you see as the biggest threats to drinking water in Memphis/Shelby County? What do you plan to do to ensure Memphis has clean water?
Would you support an authority and stronger local laws to steward and protect our most precious natural resource, Memphis Sand Aquifer?
At MLGW, the more water commercial users pump, the cheaper the water gets. The largest industries pay $1.27 per unit and residents pay $2.37 for the same amount of water. What would you do to level the playing field and distribute costs more equitably?
Currently no private well users in Shelby County pay for the water they pump from the Memphis Sand Aquifer, only a permit fee of $100. If asked to implement a conservation fee based on usage to fund water research and pollution remediation, where do you stand?
Do you believe taking juveniles out after curfew to police stations is smart policy? If not, what should be done?
What is your philosophy about the mayor’s role in fighting crime and what do you propose that would be different than the existing approach by the Strickland Administration?
Are you aware of some of the programs that are bearing results in reducing violent crime in other cities? Are there innovative programs you would like to replicate in Memphis?
Are we destined to always have underfunded city services because of the cost of expanding the police force? Is there an option?
Youth Villages, a Memphis institution, has a national reputation and launched the $60 million Memphis Allies program to address gun crime in Memphis; however, it has gotten a cold shoulder in the current mayor’s office. Would you support and partner to make this program a success? Will you have an open door policy?