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Response to Chairman Collins’ Letter

March 23, 2010

This letter was given to City Council Chairman Harold Collins yesterday.

March 22, 2010

Chairman Collins:

This letter is in response to your March 15 correspondence regarding members of the Executive Division staff.  You stated that, “any increase in the budget or position complement must be approved by the Council.”  Rest assured that I would not consider making any appointments or adjustments to my staff that violated the spirit or letter of our city’s charter.

However, you will note that the current complement of staff in the Mayor’s office is at this point exactly what it was on the last day of Mayor Herenton’s administration—eleven people—and total spending on annual salaries in my office is actually $10,000 less than it was at that point.

I stand by each and every one of my appointments.  Fundamentally changing the culture of city government means placing responsibility with good people who value transparency, service, and accountability as much as I do.  That is what I have done since taking the oath of office last year and that is what I will continue to do moving forward.

I also wanted to clarify a few points with regard to Dr. Douglas Scarboro, the city’s new Executive Director in the Office of Talent and Human Capital.  This office was clearly and fully described in my mayoral campaign platform and something I referenced specifically almost every day of the 2009 special election campaign. Upon taking office, I have moved as expeditiously as possible to fulfill this campaign pledge, as it is utterly critical to our city’s economic future.

The idea for this office came from the overwhelming public demand for new and more aggressive economic development and workforce development strategies in our community.  As you know, approximately 23% of Memphians currently live in poverty.  Unemployment for our region tends to trend at least a point ahead of the national average.  If Memphis is to reach its full economic potential, we must answer the call of thousands of our people who are currently unemployed and underemployed.

While I hold Dr. Scarboro in the highest regard, let me be clear that I have been developing this idea for years, long before I ever made his acquaintance.  The Office of Talent and Human Capital was something that I proposed to the prior City Council Chairman, the former Chairwoman of the County Commission, and the Superintendent of Schools; each of them endorsed the concept, particularly in light of its strategic focus on bringing down Memphis’ crippling poverty rate.

Dr. Scarboro’s academic background, professional achievements, and clear passion for this field make him the perfect fit for this new role.  Simply put, I need him to get to work getting more Memphians to work.

To those who would say new positions like his are untimely and unnecessary, I say that no investment is more timely or more necessary. The status quo is untenable and we can no longer afford the cost of doing nothing.

For the past two decades, Memphis has lost an average of three 24-35 year olds and five college-educated individuals every day.  These are our best, brightest, and most employable citizens, but they are abandoning Memphis because they feel that other cities—some even in our own state—offer more opportunities for personal and professional growth.  This is absolutely unacceptable to me. Dr. Scarboro will be developing and implementing new post-secondary education and job creation strategies to stop this hemorrhage of talent and income.

Likewise, he will be responsible for managing a series of programs that address critical workforce development needs among public housing residents and families in low-income communities.  If Memphis hopes to attract new companies and bring new jobs to our city, we must do a better job of preparing a trained, knowledgeable workforce.  I hope you agree that this is an area in which city government can no longer take such a passive role.

Dr. Scarboro will also be responsible for communicating with other organizations who are working in this realm, such as Leadership Memphis (particularly their work with the Talent Dividend project), Memphis Fast Forward’s “People First” initiative, and Launch Memphis’ continuing outreach to knowledge workers and entrepreneurs.  Without an Office of Talent and Human Capital, there is no way for the Council or Mayor to ascertain precisely what these numerous and disparate groups may be accomplishing or failing to accomplish. We have no way of identifying gaps or duplication.  Furthermore, cities that have formalized their commitment and accountability by establishing such offices can compete much more successfully for national funding.

Given the enormity and complexity of his responsibilities, Dr. Scarboro will report directly to me and benefit from the full support of my office.  My administration will play a prominent role in boosting college attainment and employment rates while reducing poverty and slowing the exodus of our most capable young workers.  City government has not done this for some time.

It should be further noted that this is not the first public/private project that I have developed.  The Books From Birth and STEP programs were all developed in this way, and today are serving tens of thousands of our community’s most vulnerable and underserved people.

As our country emerges from recession, Memphis must find ways to be more competitive and strategic if we are to become a city of choice of middle-class families.   Just as we have invested in capital projects and big buildings in the past, the city of Memphis must now invest in people.  Nothing is more important to me personally and nothing is more vital to shaping our economic future.

The Office of Talent and Human Capital is not a panacea, but it is a significant response to an urgent problem that affects us all.  Economic circumstances compel us to take bold and innovative new steps.  I will not apologize for these.

If you have any other questions, please let me know and I’ll be happy to discuss them with you.

Sincerely,

A C Wharton, Jr.
Mayor, City of Memphis

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