Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. just held his first townhall meeting at Breath of Life Christian Center at about the point where Frayser meets Raleigh.
Wharton picked the area because of four recent homicides in the area, several involving teenagers.
The meeting drew a crowd of around 200 and after two hours, there were still numerous hands in the crowd who wanted to speak, mainly on the topic of crime.
Wharton had his team of division directors on hand to answer some specific questions. Public Works Director Dwan Gilliom fielded several complaints about garbage pick up from residents who say the new system that debuted in July is still not working well.
But Wharton heard a lot about abandoned houses in the area and the role they might play in fostering gang activity and violent crime such as street robberies.
Wharton gave a few clues about a future direction for crime programs that go beyond the round up and board up nature of Blue CRUSH. That will continue, he said. But he also signaled he plans to lobby for a raft of bills in the upcoming session of the state legislature that will speed the process of finding owners of neglected property and holding them more accountable.
Community Enhancement Director Ernest Dobbins told the group that out of town landlords are too often able to “manipulate” the current system that requires the city to take property owners to court.
Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin also said he and Wharton have been working on strategies that will attempt to reach juvenile offenders to “change their thought process”.
According to Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell, the jail he runs has seen a 50 percent increase in juvenile offenders there over last year.
City Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb also said the city is working on a new overall development plan for the Raleigh Springs Mall area. He told those at the town hall that the area has “too much retail” now to give all of the businesses a chance at success.
Wharton and Godwin also said a federal Safeways grant is being talked about for the Frayser area. The grant funded a successful crime fighting effort that targeted apartment complexes in the Hickory Hill area based on crime statistics showing the complexes were the crime hot spots in the area.
Godwin talks about all of this more at the City Council Tuesday.
Look for a full report in Thursday’s edition of The Daily News.