“What does an architect do?” asked Charles “Chooch” Pickard at last night’s Midtown Republican Club meeting.
He then answered his own question. “He’s a creative problem solver. That’s where the skills are. That will serve me as City Council member from District 5,” the architect and candidate said. He then began to detail the road that took him from boyhood in Braceville, Illinois, to Memphis, Tennessee.
Pickard explained that Braceville is just outside Chicago. “I had very few resources. There were 14 in my 8th grade class. That gives me a different perspective on education from people who grew up here.” He went on to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaigne. He gravitated toward architecture and spent some time in France. Studying and visiting Versailles “I fell in love with building preservation.” His pursuit lead to a visit to Memphis in 1994.
“A lot of downtown had been vacated after the death of Martin Luther King,” Pickard said, “but I knew I wanted to live in Memphis. In the spring of 1997 I moved here permanently and now live just a few blocks from Cafe Eclectic.”
After an internship with the Center City Commission, he worked at JMGR, the oldest architectural firm in the South. In the spring of 2004 he helped with the renovation of Court Square and several buildings downtown. “In 2009 after the economic downturn, I went to the Memphis Regional Designer Center and led it for four years. I’ve been involved with the Broad Street revival – with no help from the city – and am now working on the French Fort area. We’re working on a $150 million redevelopment of one of our most historic spots.
“My passion for Memphis has been growing and I have realized that the way to make an impact is through government. I want to shape the way we go forward. The media plays on how bad it is here, but I’m the biggest Memphis cheerleader.”
Pickard calls himself a “passionate young businessman who sees we have no plan. There is little emphasis on how things affect us fiscally and physically.” By example, Pickard talks about property taxes. He’s against raising them. “Instead, we need to raise the value of your property.
“We need to reduce our sprawl, not expand it,” he said. “It’s bankrupting us.” Pickard cites the high costs of police, fire and other services when the city incorporates other areas, plus the pensions and benefits. “We’d be better off being a smaller city,” he believes.
Pickard decries the loss of our young people, who go to other cities. He says we need better transit as one of the ways to keep them. Another problem he sees is blight and that “attracts crime. I’d like better oversight on projects, like Beale Street Landing, too.
“As for the Fairgrounds project, there’s not enough transparency or public input. The Coliseum is a great building with great bones. It’s in good shape. We don’t need to tear down a building with so much music and sports history. It’s worth saving. But it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Pickard said.
Then there’s the TDZ (Tourism Development Zone). “They have paid sports consultants who tell them the same thing about usage that they are telling four other cities.” Pickard doesn’t see that we will command a viable audience or, if we did, it would pull away from other area facilities.
Now on the MATA board, Pickard is concerned that the entity does not keep good accounts and records or cares enough about customer service.
He doesn’t like the cuts police and other city workers have been forced to take either. “When you cut benefits to city employees you cut quality. It kills morale, too.” Pickard mentioned that he had attended yesterday’s City Council meeting where they agreed on the hiring of Jack Sammons. “His one year will give him more benefits than firefighters who work for the city for 25 years,” he said. “There are 6,000 city employees serving 600,000 Memphians. We need them and we need long term strategic planning.”
Asked about his stance on smart meters, Pickard said “my biggest issue with them is not the health concerns. It’s that there is no oversight on them.” He believes MLGW will use them to raise rates, “which I don’t understand because MLGW belongs to the people.”
Pickard will face a lot of competition for the election in October. Dan Springer, Mary Wilder and Worth Morgan have decided to run for Jim Strickland’s spot as well. Pickard hopes to get through the primary and into a two man race for November.
As for the “Chooch.” “It was a nickname I got when I was 14 and it just stuck. It’s short for “Choo Choo Charlie”. It references an old Good n Plenty cartoon character from its commercials from the 50’s.”
He has a facebook page on his candidacy. It is “Pick Chooch for Memphis City Council Distric (sic) 5.”