Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell stopped by the Midtown Republican Club meeting last night to “let you know what your government is about and what we’re doing.”
Mayor Luttrell asked us first what issues were foremost on our minds. He graciously answered all questions, reminding us how different it is to talk to an official rather than relying on newspaper or television reporting.
The state of the County schools was the first issue he tackled. “We know we will have a merged school system, but don’t know what it will look like.” He vetoed the commission’s tax hike that wanted to cover some costs “because there are too many unanswered questions about it. We don’t know how big or small the funding gap will be. I don’t want to go out and try to sell a tax when we don’t know how much and how it’s going to be applied. Before we ask more people for money, we have to know that.
“We are going through a sea change in education. There are a multitude of approaches: charter, achievement schools, municipal, home, private and virtual schools. We want to use whatever it takes to rise over all.”
Asked how he plans to grow the business environment in the county, Luttrell indicated he is hampered by the lack of skilled labor, a problem that goes back to education.
“We need to teach basic skills,” the Mayor said. “We can’t provide qualified workers for jobs when workers don’t have the skills. I’m talking about being able to read a ruler; having some keyboard skills; knowing basic algebra. These are high school, not even college skills.” He went on to describe medical device firms in Bartlett that are doing well and could hire 25-30 more workers, but can’t because the applicants aren’t skilled enough.
“Also, we need to address social skills. Southwest Community College and Tennessee Tech are working with some employees in this area. I’m talking how you dress; whether you come to work in saggy pants with your cap on backwards; telephone etiquette and workplace behavior.”
Luttrell also discussed the Juvenile Court situation. “They’ve been doing some things wrong and we need to address the deficiencies. The Department of Justice is looking over our shoulders and people are filing lawsuits. We need to find out what’s wrong and work into compliance.”
Financially Shelby County is in good shape – for now. “We’ve paid down some of our $4 billion debt and haven’t raised taxes in the county for awhile. Next year’s property appraisals will be down 2-3% which means about $20-30 million dollars. Next year will be a tight one.”
Asked about how Republican candidates will fare in this largely Democrat part of Tennessee, Luttrell advised focusing on values that appeal to all: “self reliance, hard work, get a job and raise a family. Candidates are our strength. In 2010 we had a good lineup. And, our base turns out better than theirs.
“But we need candidates to get all over the county, go to churches, funerals, ball games because people want to see political candidates engaged in the community.”