MEMPHIS, TN – Memphis City Council members acted Tuesday to accept a privately-funded, $6.1 million grant to accelerate police retention and recruitment, and allow returning officers to buy their way back into the city’s legacy pension system.
Meanwhile, Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams continued to press Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission to reveal the donors who contributed the money for the grant, saying donors could receive preferential treatment if citizens don’t know the origin of the money.
“All money is not good money,” Williams said after the council committee discussions.
Although Police Director Michael Rallings said he didn’t know the identities of the donors, Strickland said he knows some. Asked if the public should also know as a safeguard against partiality, Strickland said people can tell if the city is playing favorites without knowing the identities of the donors.
Committees separately approved the two proposals fromStrickland’s administration, part of a larger push to boost the ranks of police from 1,970 officers to 2,300 by 2020 that includes referral bonuses and pay increases. At its peak, Memphis Police employed 2,452 officers in November 2011.
The ordinance allowing all people re-employed by the city between July 1 and the end of the year to buy back into the legacy pension system received approval on the first of three readings, setting it on a course for final consideration in mid-April. The ordinance is expected to apply to only a handful of people, but will save the city time and money otherwise spent training new recruits.
Strickland, on hand for both discussions, touted the grant as an “unprecedented” investment in law enforcement by businesses in a community, even though police union leadership recently called the program a “slap in the face” considering the reductions in health insurance benefits in previous years.
“I think we all promised we would make the city of Memphis — our pay and benefits — better than they had at the time, and I think we’ve delivered,” the mayor said.
Strickland pointed to two raises approved since he took office in January 2016, the return of a modified insurance subsidy and more promotions than in previous years as evidence he’s working to recruit and retain officers. But to completely restore employee benefits, as employee labor organizations have advocated, would cost an additional $40-$50 million per year, likely resulting in a 40- to 50-cent increase in property taxes per $100 of assessed value, Strickland said.
The MPA recently said it would be open to a tax increase to restore benefits.
Crime Commission President Bill Gibbons declined to release the names of donors, saying they didn’t want preferential treatment.
“When you think about it, there are some obvious reasons,” Gibbons said of why donors wanted to remain hidden.
In other news, the council voted in its regular meeting to recommend the confirmation of Manuelito “Manny” Belen as city engineer. Belen has headed up the Engineering Division as interim city engineer since Strickland took office in January 2016.
The council also voted to give more than $1.5 million to Shelby County Schools, part of a settlement between the city and SCS after the city stopped funding the now-disbanded Memphis City Schools.