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2015 Voters Guide

how to be an informed voter

Back in River City’s 2015 Vote Smart Guide to Memphis Elections

It takes informed, engaged, and thoughtful voters to make a great city. We all want a better Memphis, but it can be tough to learn everything you need to know to make a smart decision in each race. Back in River City publishes  Vote Smart voter guides like this to help build a more informed and confidant electorate.


Early voting begins September 18 and ends October 3, 2015. You may vote at any of the 16 early voting locations, weekdays from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays 10:00 a.m – 4:00 p.m. Check this map for the location most convenient to you. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, Thursday, October 8. Here is a list of precincts. Don’t know your precinct? No  worries. Just enter your home address into  this handy-dandy online tool provided by the Shelby County Election Commission, and it will provide your precinct along with your assigned City Council District and Super District.

The  Election Commission website ( also has links to precinct maps online, in PDF format (requires free Adobe Reader), and through Google Earth (requires free Google Earth application). (Google Earth map did not work for us).

Voter registration for the October 8  elections ended September 8, 2015.

You will be casting your vote for Mayor of Memphis, for representation on the Memphis City Council from both your single-member district and Super District, and for City Court Clerk. Here is a sample ballot.

The Memphis City Council has 13 members. Each voter can cast votes for four Council candidates: one from the single member district you reside in (Districts 1-7), and three to represent your Super District (Districts 8 or 9). A map of the districts is online at 

In the single member district (#1-7) City Council races, if any candidate fails to receive at least 50% of the vote, a runoff election between the top two vote recipients will be held on Thursday Nov. 5, 2015. Early voting for that runoff, if held, will run from Friday, October 30 through Saturday, November 14.


Mayor of Memphis

Being a big-city mayor is no easy task, wherever the job may be.

Memphis – bless us! – consistently earns a top five or top ten spot on national indexes of undesirable places to live  (you know the list: violent crime, poverty, gang activity, blight, unemployment, general misery, et al.). A strong candidate for Mayor of River City better have a pretty impressive set of leadership qualities and credentials. (Not to mention a strong gut.)

Memphis adopted a “strong mayor” form of government in 1967. It’s not the Crump-level bossism of old, but the Mayor of Memphis does wield significant power. The Mayor is Memphis’ chief executive, responsible for how well our city and its laws function. He or she  administers the divisions of city government and appoints their managing directors and boards. The Mayor largely determines the city’s priorities and is expected to have a clear strategic vision and plan that addresses our thorniest problems. The Mayor creates and advocates for Memphis’ annual budget before the City Council.  The buck in Memphis stops on the Mayor’s desk.

wharton desk flyer image

Wharton and his assistant Lois Riseling go over his schedule. Source: Memphis Flyer 9/05/2013

The Candidates

The ballot lists ten candidates for Mayor of Memphis. Although M. LaTroy Williams appears on the ballot, he suspended his campaign for Mayor in August.  The remaining nine are as diverse (and colorful) as the people you find on Beale Street on a Saturday night.

Anderson Fullilove, Jr.

Anderson Fullilove, Jr. Image source: Facebook

According to a Commercial Appeal investigation of the candidates (thanks, CA!), Anderson Fullilove, Jr. is a four-time felon and former cocaine dealer who currently owns a licensed trucking company called Destination Transport. He attributes his youthful criminal record to growing up in poverty (which could certainly inform a unique approach to crime in Memphis, if he is elected).  His Facebook page says he is a 1984 Central High School graduate. Mr. Fullilove does not have a campaign website. A brief bio appears in the CA’s Election Guide.

Leo Awgowhat

Memphis mayoral candidate Leo Awgowhat. Image source: Memphis Police Dept. mugshot

Leo Awgowhat. Image source: Memphis Police Dept. mugshot

Mr. Awgowhat (formerly known as Jason Wells), claims multiple personalities and is currently in jail on a marijuana charge. Judge James Lammey has recommended a mental health evaluation for Mr. Awgowhat, who is also accused of spray painting his name on the contentious statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in the park-formerly-known-as-Forrest. Mr. Argowhat’s CA Election Guide bio states his Occupation/career/work history as “Insanity” and his Family/personal activities as “Smoking pot.” We could find no campaign website. Mr. Awgowhat’s positions on reducing crime (“We must end the prohibition on pot.”) and other major issues can be found in the CA’s Election Guide.

Forest-statue awgowhat

Campaign strategy?

Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges

prince mongo

Robert Hodges as Prince Mongo

Perennial mayoral candidate Robert Hodges is better known to Memphis voters and fellow hell-raisers as Prince Mongo, the self-proclaimed 333-year old ambassador from the planet Zambodia.  Mr. Hodges, brother of  former Germantown mayor Warner “Rusty” Hodges, III, is a successful restaurant and nightclub owner who has had frequent brushes with the law, including multiple incarcerations. According to  wikibin (“The Recycle Bin of Wikipedia”), as Mr. Hodges was preparing to open his now-defunct club Prince Mongo’s Planet, talk about town was that he attempted to recruit a topless dancer to offer “more than lap dances.” “He told her this would serve to thumb his nose at city authorities,” the website reports. A later club housed in Ashlar Hall was cited for serving alcohol to minors, and was shut down as a public nuisance.

Mr. Hodges’ journey from Kimbrough Towers men’s clothier to sartorially distinctive Prince Mongo has been made possible, at least in part, by monthly proceeds from a permanent disability policy he purchased while in his twenties. Shortly after the purchase, Prince Mongo emerged as Mr. Hodges’ public persona. Either the Prince or Mr. Hodges filed a claim against the policy for permanent disability as result of mental disease, and began receiving lifetime monthly payments of $2000. In addition to owning a long-time string of restaurants and club properties in Memphis, Mr. Hodges reportedly owns a $2 million home in Ft. Lauderdale,  another home in Virginia Beach, and enjoys skiing trips to Vail. He says that he “spends a lot of time in Memphis” and resides in East Memphis. In 1978, he made his first run  for Mayor of Memphis at age 30, clad in his “spirit gear” (barefoot in a long wig and aviator goggles with a rubber chicken attached to his coat).In 1980, Mr. Hodges’ insurer filed suit against him for fraud.  Prince Mongo prevailed in Judge Harry Wellford’s court. The payments continued. Three years later, Prince Mongo appeared in another courtroom in green body paint and a fur loincloth. The Tennessee Supreme Court – bless ’em! – overruled a previous conviction for contempt of court on the grounds that Mr. Hodges was practicing his religion.

While campaigning for mayor in 2008, Mr. Hodges was “outed” by the press for handing out campaign literature sans Prince Mongo regalia. Mr. Hodges received nearly 3,000 votes in the 1991 mayoral election, when Willie Herenton won over incumbent Dick Hackett by 142 votes.

Prince Mongo campaigning incognito in Memphis, 2008

Prince Mongo campaigning incognito in Memphis, 2008

In an unscheduled July 2015 interview with Commercial Appeal reporter Thomas Bailey, Jr., Mr. Hodges looked and sounded much like many MOCA’s (Memphians of a Certain Age), angry at the “total liars and thieves’ in city government. In a video of the interview, Mr. Hodges said he will campaign in costume, adhering to advice once conferred by his attorney, ” ‘Mongo, if you would dress up you would win the election.’ ” This time, Mr. Hodges said, not being a “hypocrite or a liar,”  he will continue to run “as himself” ( i.e., as Prince Mongo) promising, if elected, he would fire “all the political thieves that are in office,” then “build a staff that would be of normal people . . . who understand money and surviving.”

David Phillip Walker, Jr.

david walker

David Walker. Image Source: Facebook

David Walker is a Whitehaven High School graduate who also attended Shelby State Community College, Tennessee Tech and Jackson State University. He is a master barber who describes himself as
“everyday people” on his campaign’s Facebook page:

I am a proud father, son & entrepreneur who has decided to be the change I want to see in Memphis,TN. “I Am…Everyday People.” Vote for me this election.

Mr. Walker also states on his campaign Facebook page:

I will bring a non-partisan administration that will not be dictated by the current powers to be I will not be manipulated into favors by people’s selfish motives. The traditional powers of Memphis has run their course and its time for us stand up and be heard instead of sitting back and complaining. I will be that voice and aggressive developer to change the course of Memphis we have allowed cities that we once had the edge on to out develope us. I will represent our city with class and action that will demand respect and bring us to the forefront of one of the top cities in America. IT’S TIME!!!

 Mr. Walker has been campaigning but does not have a campaign website. He has not participated in any of the mayoral debates or forums, but did respond to questions on key election issue submitted by the Commercial Appeal for its Election Guide.

Sharon A. Webb

sharon webb

Dr. Sharon A. Webb. Image source: candidate.

Dr. Webb is a former US Postal Service employee, educator and Memphis City Schools board member (2006-2010). She is senior pastor and founder of Life Changing Word Ministry. She previously ran unsuccessful races for Mayor of Memphis  (2009), Memphis City Council (2011) as well as a second MCS term of office. Chicago-born Dr. Webb graduated from Carver High School and Crichton College in Memphis and earned multiple advanced degrees at Memphis Bible College (MBC), including a doctorate in Christian Education and Theology. She has also served MBC as an adjunct professor, and for five years headed Christ the Rock Christian Academy (1997-2003). (The school is not affiliated with Christ the Rock Church in Germantown.) Dr. Webb became politically active in 2006, winning a spot on the MCS board as well as the Memphis Charter Commission.

Dr. Webb has defended herself against criticism for her performance in debates and low-level participation in school board meetings. Bill Dries of the Memphis Daily News wrote about her exit from the school board in 2010, commenting:

Webb never claimed to know all or even most of the fine print or ins and outs of school board policy and public policy. Her questions and comments always reflected that on the school board and the charter commission. She wanted an explanation that would help her in making a decision. Her demeanor was sunny and completely without malice. Her religious beliefs were deeply held. She never attempted to impose them.

Dr. Webb was selected to participate in the first televised mayoral candidate debate on August 11, 2015. The debate was sponsored jointly by WMC Action News 5, the  National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis Association of Black Journalists, and the League of Women Voters. Yacoubian Research determined Dr. Webb to be among the top five mayoral candidates. In her opening statement, Dr. Webb noted that it was 50 years since the voting rights act, remarking:

“It’s time for a woman to take over. It’s no longer right for women to be second class citizens.”

Her debate positions and responses focused on improving basic education, including universal Pre-K;  improving job skills and opportunities for all Memphians, including ex-felons;  increasing the number of women in top level positions in Memphis city government; and providing an alternative to crime for at-risk youth through mentoring programs. Her positions on crime, economic opportunity, finances, youth, and city growth can be found in the CA’s Election Guide.

Harold Collins

harold collins

Harold Collins. Image Source: Facebook

Harold Collins 

Native Memphian Harold Collins, 52,  grew up in Westwood, the son of a cab driver and a stay-at-home mother who took care of Harold and his 10 siblings. He graduated from Catholic High School, aspiring to become a Secret Service agent. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Memphis and Immediately went to work for the Shelby County Criminal Clerk’s office. In 1991 he joined the Memphis office of Correctional Counseling, Inc. a private probation services company. He eventually bought the firm and renamed it Advanced Corrections, Inc.  In 2003 he went to work for the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office, where he is responsible for violent juvenile crime and truancy. He also oversees the DA’s mentoring program for truants in eleven area schools.

Mr. Collins has held leadership positions in his local church, Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, and nationally in the Disciples of Christ. He has also served in the national leadership of his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. His wife Kimberly Collins is a staff psychologist at the University of Memphis, where the couple’s two daughters attend graduate school.

Mr. Collins won election to the Memphis City Council in 2007 and 2011 representing District 3. He served one year as Council Chair. District 3 includes Whitehaven, the airport area, Oakhaven,  large portions of Hickory Hill, Fox Meadows and parts of Parkway Village. He is a “proven Council activist,” according to Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer.

Councilman Collins has run an active campaign to replace Mayor A C Wharton, touting his City Council accomplishments on behalf of District 3. Those include a long-awaited $43 million streetscape improvement project along Elvis Presley Boulevard. Elvis Presley Enterprises’ 2015 announcement of a new $90 million resort hotel is driving new interest in commercial development in the Graceland-area tourist district. Mr. Collins was also responsible for persuading Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) to provide bus service to Nonconnah Center, a 3500-employee complex on Airways.

His platform is based on an overall goal of “helping move families toward self-sufficiency and out of poverty.” He pitches three specific areas of priority for a Harold Collins administration:

  1. Improve city infrastructure, specifically roads and sewers. Raise the number of police officers to 2400 within five years, the level recommended in 2008 by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission’s Operation Safe Community. (Mr. Collins sits on the board of the Commission.) Wikipedia reports Memphis had a total of 2,142 officers as of December 2014.) Mr. Collins claims that 280 funded police officer positions are currently  empty.
  2. Achieve “economic parity” for women and African Americans and ensure they “get their fair share” by adopting regulations calling for 38% of city contracts be awarded to female-  and African American-owned businesses. (The current percentage is said to be 20%.)
  3. Ensure a ready workforce and attract jobs in science, engineering, banking,  finance and “highly skilled companies” to Memphis transform our industrial base. Mr. Collins says the “30-year old definition of Memphis as a Distribution Center . . . has contributed to our poverty by attracting low-paying jobs.” “New ideas and industries” will help to attract and retain “the young and gifted,” making the city “a model of excellence.”

For details on Harold Collins’ positions on crime, city finances and growth, youth/education and economic opportunity, see the candidate’s campaign website.

Mr. Collins has been endorsed by the Memphis Fire Department, the Pioneer Black Fire Fighters union, and the Tennessee Equality Project. The latter is described on its website as “a public policy organization that seeks to advance and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in Tennessee.” As a Council member, Mr. Collins voted against reducing benefits to fire and police, and is a strong advocate for Memphis city employees.

In August, Edmund Ford, Sr. wrote a letter to Mr. Collins accusing him of using his candidacy to divert votes away from A C Wharton and thus ensure a win by Jim Strickland. Polls show Councilman Strickland and Mayor Wharton running neck and neck leading the ten-candidate pack. (Remember, there is no runoff in the mayor’s race.) Mr. Collins issued a forceful denial and called the letter “race-baiting” by the Wharton campaign to smear his name and “distract the voters from the real issues . . .”

Mr. Collins promises a mayoral administration that is proactive, accessible and  transparent, that will  make good decisions and choices in hiring, and one in which “everyone will be held accountable.” He is critical of the Wharton administration, charging it lacks transparency and resorts to “smoke and mirrors” instead of straight talk with bargaining units and the Council. He wants to restore benefit cuts to fire and police, and believes that contract contingencies could be renegotiated if he is elected, alleging that bargaining units “can’t trust the (current) administration.”

Mr. Collins believes that the City Council should be responsible for approving PILOTs and holding the businesses receiving them accountable. “The City and County mayors are not holding them accountable,” he told an August debate audience. At a Cooper-Young forum, Mr. Collins sniffed at the Bass Pro Shop project showcased as one of the Mayor’s proudest accomplishments:

“We gave them $183 million and they gave us 653 jobs and the average wage is $8 an hour,” Collins said referring to tax incentives and city work on The Pyramid renovation. “Our children will not come home to that.”

Harold Collins was one of ten City Council members who voted in 2008 to defund Memphis City Schools. A Tennessee Chancery Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the action illegal. Under state law, city governments have a responsibility to fund schools at a certain level called “maintenance of effort.”

Early September poll results showed Harold Collins tied for third place with Mike Williams at 12% each. CA political beat reporter Kyle Veazey opined in a post-poll analysis that Mr. Collins could still win if African American voter turnout is high and he captures 50% of that vote. Mr. Veazey does not believe that Mr. Collins is favored by a significant number of white voters.

Mike Williams

mike williams

Mike Williams. Image source: campaign website.

Mike Williams is a 55-year old native Memphian,  graduate of Manassas High School, and president of the Memphis Police Association since 2010. After high school he joined the US Army, serving for 21 years before  retiring as an Intelligence Warrant Officer. Upon his return to Memphis, he reportedly owned a carpet cleaning company for a short period before joining the Memphis Police Department. He has worked in both the Raines and Airways precincts and was assigned to Orange Mound for “approximately 10 years,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr. Williams’s LinkedIn bio says he founded Key II Entertainment in 2001, a company that books bands and includes a recording studio and publishing company. With friend Karen Camper (who now represents District 89 in the Tennessee General Assembly),  Mr. Williams  founded the non-profit The Humble Hearts Foundation,  Inc. Both the foundation and initially Key II, according to his campaign website, focused on redirecting the lives of inner city youth through music. There is no website for the foundation. Non-profit directory Guidestar includes no financial information about the registered charity beyond a 2003 IRS 990 form reporting revenues of $9,950 and zero expenses.

Mike Williams became a precinct representative with the Memphis Police Association in 2000 and participated in multiple contract negotiations, eventually becoming lead negotiator. He is currently on leave from his MPA position while campaigning for Mayor.

Mr. Williams is married (Andrea) and father to five children.  The couple attend New Beginning All Life Ministry Church where he is an Associate Pastor and has taught Sunday School.

Mike Williams campaigns as an advocate for the people of Memphis who feel they have no voice in city government, pointing to citizen-led issues such as ending MLG&W’s smart meters, preserving the Mid-South Coliseum, and establishing neighborhood-based activities for at-risk youth. Mr. Williams also advocates on behalf of Memphis police officers and other city employees whose benefits have been as a result of funding shortfalls. He has worked hard to garner support from local Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty members.

His seven-point platform includes:

  1. Restore public safety by reinstating city employee and retiree benefits to 2013 levels, and offering  wage/benefit packages competitive with other cities to attract and retain better workers.
  2. Reduce youth violence by providing more youth services and activities based in community centers, establishing mentoring and life skills programming and enforcing curfew laws.
  3. Create stronger communities in cooperation with Shelby County Schools, treating community centers and neighborhood schools as  hubs. Consider a referendum to take back the charter for Memphis City Schools.
  4. Give preference to Memphis based businesses and service providers on city contracts.
  5. Freeze all PILOT’s and other forms of tax increment financing and debt financing for city projects until the city’s debt service levels are on par with peer cities.
  6. Improve city infrastructure including street repair and bus/trolley transportation. Consider a rail system connecting Memphis to Collierville.
  7. invest in growing all Memphis businesses, especially those offering highly skilled and technical jobs with  attractive wages and benefits. Make Memphis “the renewable energy capital of the South.”

In debates and candidate forums, Mr. Williams’ chief talking point is about redirecting the city’s financial priorities from economic development and PILOT’s to improving “core services,” including public safety, curtailing blight, improving public education, and ensuring jobs that provide a living wage. He supports PILOT’s, but argues that corporations receiving tax incentives are not being held accountable to their obligations. Some have even left the city, he notes, leaving taxpayers responsible for payment of bonds purchased to meet the companies’ requirements for infrastructure.

Mike Williams is strongly in favor of restoring city employee benefit cuts, and scoffs at the notion that the city budget cannot support both enhancement of city services and re-instituting previous pay and benefit packages to fire and police. According to his tally, budget reductions (eliminating school funding, pay and benefit cuts, lowering  police and fire staffing, shutting down the motor vehicle inspection station) and raising taxes should amount to  $100 million in additional tax dollars that should be used to address “the needs of the people.”

“There is money in the budget, but too much is being spent on economic development and capital improvement. Citizens should be our main, first priority.”

He also does not believe that unfunded liability of promised retiree benefits is a problem, citing $2 billion in the pension fund. He told the August 11 debate audience that a forensic audit was needed to find “where the money is.” The CA reported on July 31, 2015:

[ On Wednesday, August 5, 2015] A large group of Memphis citizens will visit the offices of Gov. Bill Haslam and the treasurer and ethics officers in Nashville to present a petition with more than 4,000 signatures . . .”

Mr. Williams, representing the Memphis Police Association, was seeking “an independent forensic audit and ethics review” of Memphis city finances. Apparently the reported visit with Gov. Haslam did not occur.  Mr. Williams reported on September 11, 2015 on his Facebook page that he was in Nashville and had met with his friend Rep. Karen Camper (D-87). He  described the visit as the “first step” in the process, which would be followed by delivering the petition of “almost 5,000 signatures” to some “external agencies, local and federal.”

Mr. Williams said in the August 11 debate that a stronger ethics policy is needed for city officials and council members because they are not being held accountable. He pointed to the 2013 ethics complaint filed against City Council attorney Allan Wade by the Memphis Police Association. At the time, Mr. Wade was paid $92,000 as a public employee. His law firm also represents the administrative branch of the city in a multitude of legal matters, earning the firm $2.3 million in legal fees between 2012 and April 2013, according to Fox 13 News. The complaint “fell on deaf ears,” Mr. Williams told the August 11, 2015 debate audience at the National Civil Rights Museum.  He further alleged that “unethical practices” abound, with “councilmen making millions of dollars in private companies.”

“I believe there are a lot of lies around here.”

During Mike Williams’ five year tenure as the head of the Memphis Police Association (MPA), the union has become increasingly strident in its conflict with the city. Billboards purchased in 2013 warning motorists that Memphis was unsafe made national news. MPA filed a lawsuit  against the city in 2014 and has promised further litigation if police benefit cuts are not restored. The union also held a job fair where officers were recruited by other cities. As CEO for MPA, Mike Williams is accountable for all these actions, and has said publicly he harbors no regrets.

mpa billboard larger

Mr. Williams has been considered among the top four viable candidates in the race. He was excluded, however,  from WREG-TV’s live September 15 debate because he did not meet two of the four criteria the station set for selection, namely: 1) general campaign contributions totaling at least $50,000 as of August 1, 2015, and 2) a campaign headquarters separate from his personal residence. Despite these shortcomings, the August 31-September 2 CA poll of 500 likely voters showed Mr. Williams tied with Mr. Collins at 12% behind candidates A C Wharton (30%) and Jim Strickland (25%). The CA’s Kyle Veazey did not give Mr. Williams much hope for eking out a win in his August 7, 2015 analytical forecast.

Jim Strickland

jim strickland campaign photo

Jim Strickland. Image source: Campaign website.

Jim Strickland, a 50 year old attorney from Louisville, Kentucky, became a Memphian at age 12. He graduated from Christian Brothers High School where he was elected to the  Hall of Fame, and the University of Memphis, where he was student body president. He earned his law degree at U of M with honors. Interested in politics from an early age, he became an active campaign worker for Democratic candidates, and chaired the Shelby County Democrat Party in the 1990s. His law practice centers on family law and civil matters.

Councilman Strickland’s first race to represent District 5 on the Memphis City Council in 2003 was unsuccessful, but he won  in both 2007 and 2011. He served as Vice Chair of the Council in 2013 and as Chair in 2014.  Mr. Strickland has consistently and relentlessly played the role of “budget hawk” on the council. The current administration’s debt refinancing plan in 2010 “ballooned our payment $27 million to $47 million,”  Mr. Strickland said in the August 19, 2015 debate at at the University of Memphis. “Do not believe the slick maneuvers and corny stories,” he added.

His campaign attacks Mayor Wharton for failure to resolve Memphis’ major problems, including high unemployment, poverty, the city’s financial crisis, residential housing blight, increasing violent crime, and steady deterioration of our tax base as more and more middle class Memphians relocate outside the city limits. In an undated communication to “Fellow Memphians” published on,  he lists the good, bad, and ugly actions that have occurred during Mayor Wharton’s two terms of office. He believes the Mayor of Memphis should set clear and measurable goals and be accountable for meeting them. Mr. Strickland lists the following among his own accomplishments as Councilman:

● Led the defeat of two property tax increase proposals and was the only vote against the 2011 one-time assessment.

● Supported the property tax freeze for low-income seniors.

● Was the only vote against the $57 million cut to Memphis City Schools in 2008 and the simultaneous increase in spending for city government of $42 million.

● Led the fight to reduce the city’s budget in 2009 and 2010 to pay MCS its court- ordered funding. [He bravely recommended rolling back raises awarded city employees in 2008-2009 to raise most of the funds needed.]

● Sponsored and passed a Resolution seeking court-ordered mediation in November 2010 to settle all funding disputes between the city and MCS.

● Led the elimination of the city’s pension plan that allowed employees to retire after only 12 years of service.

● Managed the compromise in 2010 as Chair of the City’s Healthcare Committee between the administration, council, and employees to raise the health insurance premiums over a two-year period.

Councilman Strickland was one of only three voting against the defunding of Memphis City Schools in 2008. That decision, which ended up in the Tennessee Supreme Court, led to a $41 million settlement in favor of the system now known as Shelby County Schools. The debt  has contributed to the City’s financial woes.

The Councilman has been attacked by other candidates for voting to cut benefits to fire and police workers. Mr. Strickland responds that city financial data presented to the Council by the administration forced Council members to choose between employee benefit reductions or a 30% increase in the property tax rate. Mr. Strickland charges Mayor Wharton with lack of transparency in the city’s finances. He pledges “open books” in a Strickland administration with greater clarity and access to citizens who want to know how and where city revenues are spent.

Jim Strickland campaigning in Orange Mound. Image source: Facebook

Jim Strickland campaigning in Orange Mound. Image source: Facebook

Registered voters named crime (54%) as the city’s number one issue in the CA poll cited above. Mr. Strickland accuses Mayor Wharton of being “soft on crime, “and pledges that crime and safety will be his top priority as Mayor.   The Strickland campaign’s plan to improve crime was released on September 9, 2015 (as was Mayor Wharton’s) with objectives and strategies outlined in the following areas:

  • Technology, Analytics and Resources (100% commitment to Blue CRUSH and reinstate civilian Police Service Technicians, enhanced recruitment and retention efforts)
  • Civilian Review and Neighborhood Outreach (improve citizen review board, expand outreach programs, better smart phone connectivity to MPD)
  • Violent Crime and Accountability (gang prevention, stiffer state laws, curfew enforcement, domestic violence resource awareness, funding for rape kit testing backlog)
  • Juvenile Crime (target habitual offenders, support faith-based programs, truancy and gang prevention, job training)
  • Recidivism (drug, alcohol and mental health recovery programs, record expungement, connect released inmates with community resources)

“MPD currently employs approximately 2,000 officers with police spending reaching $249 million in 2014, accounting for 40 percent of the city’s budget. Adjusted for inflation, spending on MPD has increased 98% since 1989 while the city’s violent crime rate remains quadruple the national average. Effective solutions to crime must be identified that make the best use of available funds rather than continuing to simply spend the problem away.”

–  Jim Strickland’s Crime and Public Safety Plan for a Better Memphis

The CA poll showed Mayor Wharton and Jim Strickland in a very close race in early September – 30% for Mayor Wharton and 25% for Councilman Strickland, with 15% still undecided. Conventional political wisdom holds that any white mayoral candidate in black-majority Memphis faces an uphill struggle; however, polling data show heavy support for Mr. Strickland among white voters (61%), who appreciate his emphasis on financial stewardship, accountability, and safety. His favorability rating (36%) was statistically even with Mayor Wharton’s (38%). Fewer respondents viewed Councilman Strickland unfavorably (13%) than they did the Mayor (33%). In a nine-candidate race where an estimated 70% say they will vote for a candidate other than the incumbent – and remember, there is no run-off – Jim Strickland has a serious chance to become the next Mayor of Memphis.

A C Wharton

a c wharton

Mayor A C Wharton

Mayor A C Wharton was a breath of fresh air to many voters when he was elected to his first term in 2009. He had been well-liked and successful in his role as Shelby County Mayor (the first African American to ever hold that office) since 2002,  Running against 21 other candidates in the special election replacing increasingly unpopular and divisive Mayor Willie Herenton, A C Wharton swept into office with 61 percent of the vote. With only 25 percent of the electorate turning out, Mayor Wharton won 65,000 votes, swamping second place finisher  and mayor pro tem  Myron Lowery, who received fewer than 20,000 votes.

Mayor Wharton, 71,  is a Lebanon, Tennessee native. He graduated from Tennessee State University and earned his law degree with honors from the University of Mississippi School of Law. At Ole Miss, he was the first African American to serve on the Judicial Council, and one of the first blacks to serve on Moot Court. Mayor Wharton became the first African American law professor at the university, where he taught for 25 years. He moved to Memphis in 1973 to become executive director of the non-profit Memphis Legal Services.During his tenure the organization won national attention for innovation, including the country’s first legal services office for seniors. He was appointed Shelby County’s Chief Public Defender (a part-time position) in 1980. The same year, he and his wife Ruby, also an attorney, founded the Wharton Law Firm in Memphis.Together the couple have three sons and reared three additional boys.

Mayor Wharton ran unsuccessfully for Shelby County District Attorney in 1982. He chaired Willie Herenton’s mayoral campaign in 1999. Running against Dr. George Flinn for Shelby County Mayor in 2002, he received 62 percent of the vote; and 77 percent in his 2006 race for re-election.

Mayor Wharton has been a popular mayor and a good ambassador for the City of Memphis. He is articulate, upbeat, and deftly fills his role as the City’s top cheerleader. He has worked tirelessly to bring in millions in grants and federal funds to shore up and expand initiatives to make many Memphians’ lives better.  He has worked well with business leaders. (With the City Council – well, not so much.)

Now A C Wharton is running his last race for Mayor. Memphis now limits mayors to two four-year terms. Mayor Wharton’s  2009-2011 term was a result of a special election to fill Mayor Herenton’s vacated seat, and does not count toward the term limit. The Mayor is running a hard race based on his experience and track record. His campaign had raised nearly $400,000 by July 1, 2015. Among his mayoral accomplishments he lists:

  • The Memphis Greenline. now 190 miles (Jan 2015) on its way to 300.
  • Creating 311, a non-emergency complaint center at City Hall.
  • Winning a $432.5 million settlement in a lawsuit against  Wells Fargo alleging predatory mortgage lending practices targeting minorities. The Mayor says that $4.5 million went to helping low-income residents purchase new homes.
  • Blueprint for Prosperity, a much touted and long-awaited ambitious plan to reduce poverty in Memphis by ten percent over ten years. Mayor Wharton first announced the plan at his State of the City address in January 2012 and promised its release within 100 days. Three and one-half years later, it was released in the final weeks of his re-election campaign. Policy experts who have read the plan have been polite but unimpressed. The plan hopes to create over 5,000 jobs and provide yet more money giveaways from the federal government and private foundations.
  • Economic development including reinvention of the Pyramid as a wildly popular tourist destination, Bass Pro Shop; partnership with the St. Louis Cardinals to ensure economic stability for AutoZone Park; bringing in jobs via Mitsubishi, Electrolux, Ikea and others.
  • Establishing a cabinet-level Division of Minority Business Services, and increasing city spending of over 200% with female- and minority-owned businesses.
  • Added $40 million in funding to Memphis Police Department and secured support for adding body cameras, license plate readers and other smart technology. Secured nearly $6 million in grants used in gang prevention.

In addition to his Blueprint for Prosperity, Mayor Wharton has announced several new programs in the last weeks leading up to a tight election, including an initiative against blight and restoration of Police Service Technicians (PST’s) to free up the equivalent of 30 police officer positions (a tactic included in both Mayor Wharton’s and Jim Strickland’s crime reduction plans),

WREG subjected the Mayor’s first tv re-election ad to a Truth Test and found credibility problems with his claims of accomplishments. Most notably, the 10,000 new jobs the Mayor claims to have brought into the city during his administration includes jobs created over the entire metropolitan area, including adjacent Tennessee counties and DeSoto County, Mississippi. Based on actual Memphis-specific employment data from the Tennessee Department of Labor, only 140 more adults were employed in June, 2015 over November, 2009 when Mayor Wharton took office.

The Mayor’s claim to have reduced major violent crime in Memphis  by over 16% is also false. WREG noted that the 16% figure was based on the period 2006-2015. Major violent crime in Memphis  actually increased by six percent between June 2011 and June 2015.

City finances, nearly everyone agrees, is one of Memphis’ top issues.

“One of the biggest threats to the future of this City involves our City’s finances. Faced with a shrinking property tax base, $550 million unfunded liability in our pension fund and $1.3 billion in OPEB, and a change in state law requiring that we address our unfunded liabilities , we had to make some tough choices.”

~ Mayor A C Wharton

Mayor hopeful Jim Strickland has taken Mayor Wharton to task on his handling of the city’s ongoing financial crisis, blaming much of it on the Mayor’s now-controversial debt refinancing plan in 2010. The plan, which the Mayor presented to the Council as “plain vanilla,” has since been called a “scoop and toss” tactic by Tennessee State Comptroller Justin Wilson. The plan created a balloon payment in 2020 that would increase the City’s annual debt payment by $25 million. The Council was pressured by the Wharton administration to approve an additional debt restructuring initiative in 2015 to stave off a financial meltdown in 2020.  The balloon payment(s) on debt due that year, coincide with a full $74 million annual contribution to the city employees’ pension plan ordered by the State. A Court-ordered settlement of $41 million to Shelby County Schools puts additional stress on city coffers at a time when property values are falling and a shrinking city population is shrinking our tax base.

According to the Wharton campaign, the Mayor has resolved the immediate crisis by reshaping employee benefits. He maintains these “prudent financial changes” were made while “maintaining service levels, without raising taxes, decreasing spending, avoiding mass layoffs, and providing affordable healthcare options for employees.”

The Mayor’s crime plan touts a “comprehensive approach [that] is the standard that has continually been affirmed nationally as a universal best practice by the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention programs, and others.” Its components, most of which have been in place for some time, include:

  • Enforcement and Suppression
  • Violence Intervention
  • Prevention and Education
  • Neighborhood and Community Mobilization
  • Policy, Procedural and Legislative Reform
  • Re-Entry Support

New measures implemented or announced just this year include a HUD grant-supported grant to train public housing residents with work readiness skills; body cameras for police officers plus GPS and dashboard cameras in squad cars.

Mayor Wharton’s term of office has attracted criticism for lack of transparency, especially in the financial data presented to the City Council. In a budget proposal meeting earlier this year, Back in River City’s chief policy wonk, aka “That-bow-tie-man-at-meetings” Eddie Settles, asked City Finance Director Brian Collins if the budget adhered to the City’s annual financial plan. The question was answered by silence and “deer in the headlights” looks by Council members.

What financial plan???

2 deer headlights look

That would be the 2015-2019 Strategic Fiscal and Management Plan released in January 2014, paid for by taxpayers and written by consultants PFM. How soon we forget . . .

Mayor Wharton’s popularity appears to be  waning fast. His support in the Memphis business community remains high, based on campaign contributions. Kyle Veazey reports that his favorability index dropped from 60% in April 2015 to 43% in July 2015. He fared even worse among blacks, with 57% favorable in April and 38% in July.

The Mayor’s early September poll numbers further showed his vulnerability.

  • 52% said the city is on the wrong track
  • 45% overall disapproved of Mayor Wharton’s performance as Mayor
  • 33% overall said they had an unfavorable opinion of him
  • 55% said they will vote for another candidate (15% were still undecided)

Polls are just opinions of a selected group of people on a certain date, of course, and are not always predictive. In these final weeks of campaigning, with ads abounding, yard signs being staked, robocalls annoying us almost daily, and  social media all a’Twitter  with promises and political puffery, opinions can change. Votes promised may be cast for opponents or not at all. Around Memphis, the scuttlebutt is that many people whose yard signs support the Mayor for re-election will vote differently behind closed curtains.

voting booth with curtain

Back in River City’s Recommendation for Mayor

informed voter is good voter

We’ve talked about the issues – city finances, crime, the great population exodus, poverty, unemployment, our shrinking tax base, economic development – and what the candidates say (or don’t say) about them. But how do you decide on who will be the best leader during the next four years, when these issues become even more challenging?

We at Back in River City have made our selection based on three essential questions:

  1. Who will be the best at creating a climate of cooperation and unity in a city plagued by painfully sharp economic and racial divisions?
  2. Who will be the best steward and manager of scant resources while tackling expensive problems?
  1. Who will be best at setting high standards for ethics and performance and will commit to transparency and accountability throughout city government?

Memphis has long suffered from racial and economic divisions within our city. These divisions are manifested in myriad  ways. City government is the source of economic largesse in the form of jobs, grants, development funds, and influence on the national scene. Memphians of different colors and ethnicities often have distinctively different ideas about how to handle our resources and solve our problems. Distrust sometimes erupts about the equity with which those issues are resolved.

Racial guilt as “the City that killed Dr. King” weighs heavily on white Memphians. The flip side of white guilt is black anger and feelings of racial entitlement. All of these toxic traits taint the making of public policy in Memphis. Sometimes it appears that the primary determinant of our policy decisions is cui bono –  that is, who receives the benefit.

Those benefits are often parsed along distinctly racial lines, as in the  case  of minority business set asides. Female and black/Hispanic voters may view set asides as essential to fair play in a black-majority city where only 2% of city contracts are awarded to women and minorities. White, middle class voters may see set asides as  racial peace offerings given to businesses that cannot compete on merit. Both sides are partially right and both sides are partially wrong  on this complex issue. Finding a just solution for the City as a whole requires leaders who can sit down together with fair mindedness, mutual respect and a willingness to listen to radically different points of view.

Who can best lead such discussions? Who can build trust and forge strong relationships that will move our beloved but beleaguered city ahead and bind us together?

Our next Mayor must be able to manage our resources and restore Memphis to a more stable financial base.  A city’s credit in the public debt marketplace is a critical resource. The city’s strategic financial plan is never mentioned in budget discussions. Does this expensive document just sit on a shelf? Every major financial decision moving forward must consider the impact on our other obligations and variables, such as fully funding retirement benefits, and beefing up our police force, and filling potholes during the next fierce winter.

Finally, how will our next Mayor and all Memphians know if we are making real progress toward turning our city around? What programs and actions need to be measured, and how will goals be set? What kind of measurement tools are appropriate, and who should be allowed to see the results? Who will be truly committed to citizen input and transparency?

After thoughtfully considering all candidates,  their experience, accomplishments, stated priorities and approaches, Back in River City recommends Jim Strickland as the next Mayor of Memphis. He has the right priorities, and is committed to financial stewardship and accountability. Given the opportunity to lead us, we believe he can unify us in a fight we all share to make a better Memphis.

vote smart

Memphis City Council 
mphs city council seal
Who we elect to the Memphis City Council matters, especially now. Our city government is a complicated instrument. Our problems are complex. Our finances are a mess. People are leaving Memphis in droves for places that are cleaner, safer, have lower taxes and less drama between the races. Our future is downright scary- as in, D-word (Detroit) scary. There might have been a time when it was enough for a Council member to be intelligent, responsible, and have a heart for the City and its citizens. That ain’t now, Babe.We need strong, competent leaders who bring a specific set of skills to the table.
What They Do
The job of a Memphis City Council member is very different from that of the Mayor. Council members are not responsible for management of city affairs. The Council exercises its legislative function primarily by controlling the city’s purse strings. Council members review and ratify the budget submitted by the mayor. They set the property tax rate paid by all property  owners as well as  business owners. (Business owners pay taxes on personal property used in business.) Council folk approve many contracts and grants and advise and consent on the Mayor’s appointments of City department heads and members of boards and commissions. The Council is also responsible for land use restrictions (zoning and variances), a task very important to developers and neighborhoods.
The Districts
city council district map
The Memphis City Council comprises seven single-member districts. Representatives elected from Districts 1-7 are  foremost responsible for representing the interests of the citizens who live in their districts. The City is also divided into two “Super Districts.” Each Super District elects three additional representatives to serve on the Council. Super District Councilmen and Councilwomen look first to the interests of their constituents on “their” side of the City. Beginning with the elections in 2011, Memphis City Council members are term-limited to two four-year terms. Term limits do not affect any Council members this this election cycle, but will in 2019.
Several  incumbents elected not to  run for re-election. They are:
  • William Boyd (District 2)
  • Harold Collins (District 3 – running for Mayor)
  • Wanda Halbert (District 4)
  • Jim Strickland (District 5 – running for Mayor)
  • Myron Lowery (Super District 8/Position 3)

Alan Crone, appointed in May to fill the Super District 9/ Position 2 seat vacated by Shea Flinn, is not running for election.

With six of the 13 positions guaranteed to be filled with new candidates, the 2016-2019 Memphis City Council will be a new brew of decision-makers. It is incumbent on us as voters to choose the mix wisely.

How to Choose the Best Candidate

voter check

The October 8, 2015 ballot shows 60 candidates running for the 13 positions. Each voter will have to select someone to represent his or her interests and priorities in four races – your single member district (1-7) and three positions in your Super District (8-9). Back in River City made its selections on the following factors:

  1. Does the candidate have the background and life/professional experience to do the job?
  2. Has he or she been shown to exhibit good judgment?
  3. Is the candidate independent of interests that might compromise his or her decisions on the Council?

The new Council will be asked to approve a budget of $600-700 million annually. Members will be asked to approve capital projects amounting to tens of millions of dollars representing debt that taxpayers must pay off in the future. The Council will  approve changes in land use policies that will profoundly affect Memphis’  future.  It is likely they will have to decide on whether to shrink the footprint (and tax base) of the city through de-annexation.

While our Mayor proposes the city budget,  the Council  approves it and sets a property tax rate to fund it. The Council is responsible for holding the administration – an entity that employs thousands of people – accountable for running efficiently, ethically, and in the best interests of all Memphians.  The skills that City Council members need aren’t easily learned by on-the-job training, but that’s generally what voters have allowed in the past. Most Council members have not brought the skills needed for the job with them. Some of the necessary skills are basic, like having a working knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order. Others require specific education and training, like analyzing 325-page budgets with paragraphs like this:

“Stochastic simulations of the short- and long-term models generate empirical estimates of the probability distributions for the revenue sources. These distributions are reported both for the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year. These simulation results are used to report the high/low ranges for the revenue sources and the detailed risk analyses. The high/low range end points are defined to cover the middle 50 percent of the estimated distributions for the forecasted variables. They are, in fact, the first and third quartiles that surround the median forecast. These intervals are reported for detailed lists of revenue sources, for subcategories of the general fund, and for total revenue.”

How many Memphis operating budgets do you think have been approved by people who had a less-than-adequate understanding of what they were voting on? Or who didn’t know what questions to ask?

Some candidates may have just the right credentials and experience, but they might be lacking in the area of judgment. Perhaps “having wisdom” is a better way to talk about this job requirement. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines wisdom this way: “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships.” In our example, does your favored candidate show discernment and and judgment in their interactions with others?

As an example, our current Council members have spent hours debating the renaming of public parks and moving a statue and remains from a (renamed) public park – actions that may or may not be  legal and within the scope of their collective power to act. Regardless of the answer each may have reached, how did your representatives handle the debate? We all remember incidences of embarrassing behavior and lack of judgment by Memphis City Council members. Can we afford to keep electing people who lack both understanding of their office and the dignity it should hold?

Our final question,  is the candidate able to vote independently of personal or professional interests? Some candidates have family members also employed by city government. Might the family member’s interests influence the Council member’s vote? If a candidate’s livelihood is directly effected by decisions (such as land use or tax abatements to large corporations) made by the council, can he or she be independent in casting their votes?

Back in River City acknowledges being “hard core” on this issue. In our opinion, employees of Memphis City Government, Shelby County Government, and Shelby County Schools face the potential of compromised independence when they serve on boards of these entities. Yes, such a policy restricts the potential pool of candidates. Some candidates in such circumstances are people of deep integrity, and can indeed vote independently of personal interests. Even so, will Memphis voters believe their votes have not been compromised?

Uncertainties about the  integrity of City Council members can damage us as a city and impede the work of the Council. We have witnessed and suffered from corruption in government when voters choose to ignore potential conflicts of interest. That said, Back in River City’s 2015 Vote Smart recommendations do include candidates whose vocations raise questions of independence. We made those choices based on the candidates available for each seat on the Council.

Back in River City recommends you consider the questions posed above in your own decision-making.

The Candidates


We are thankful for the broad coverage the  Commercial Appeal has given to the October 8 elections. Our Memphis daily has published an election guide profiling the candidates, including brief biographies and answers to issue-based questions. CA reporters also investigated candidate backgrounds and released information on  past arrests, bankruptcies, and other run-ins with the law. This data-gathering has been extremely helpful to Back in River City as we prepared this Vote Smart guide, especially as many candidates do not have campaign websites.  We are providing our basic take on each of the 60 candidates through the filter of the three criteria discussed in the previous section. For additional details, we refer you to the CA’s guide, with links provided below for each candidate. Thanks, CA!



Memphis City Council District One has two candidates: Bill Morrison, the incumbent, and Wayne Roberts, the challenger. District One includes parts of Frayser along with  Raleigh and Cordova.

Bill Morrison, age 44, was elected to the District One seat in 2007. He will be term limited after this election if he wins. He served as Council Chairman in 2012. He has been a public school teacher, a Federal Programs advisor, and a Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) coach. He is currently employed by Shelby County Schools, a vocation that raises independence of judgment questions for Back in River City. Jack Sammons, Memphis’ current Chief Administrative Officer, hosted a fundraiser to benefit Mr. Morrison (as well as newcomer candidates Worth Morgan and Philip Spinoza) in March. Mr. Morrison’s signature project has been efforts to have the city buy and refurbish the  dilapidated Raleigh Springs Mall as a city facility. According to a CA article, Bill Morrison and fellow Councilman Edmund Ford, Jr., “spearheaded the council’s decision [in 2008] to end the city of Memphis’ subsidy to MCS (Memphis City Schools).”  Click here for his profile in the CA’s Voter Guide and here for his Twitter stream.

Wayne Roberts is 76. He has been an entrepreneur most of his life. He also is a veteran, ending his career in the Navy with the rank of Lt. Commander, having begun as a Seaman Recruit. His CA profile appears here and his Facebook page here.

The Chamber of Commerce did not endorse either candidate in this race. Mr. Morrison has been endorsed by the Tennessee Equality Project and the Commercial Appeal. Mr. Roberts has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO Labor Council.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends Wayne Roberts. He has extensive business experience. He was promoted in the U.S. Navy from recruit to Lt. Commander, a very significant command responsibility. That service indicates the Navy believes he has wisdom. His biography discloses no current relationships (assuming he is not now involved in real estate development) that would imperil his independence.



Four candidates are running for District Two:  Frank Colvett, Jr., Detric Golden, Rachel Knox, and Jim Tomasik.

Frank Colvett, Jr. is 46. Mr. Colvett is the co-owner of his family landscape and irrigation contracting firm. His business experience is directly relevant to work on the council. The issues he lists as important to him include effective policing, efficiency in government, improving our workforce through education, and continuing the Economic Growth Development Growth Engine (EDGE) work in recruiting new business to the city. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Detric Golden, age 38, is the Area Director for faith-based Memphis Athletic Ministries. The popular former University of Memphis basketball star has long expressed his desire to lead Memphis and has been informally running for Mayor for several years. He decided  to run for City Council when he and his wife moved to District Two. Memphis Athletic Ministries  (MAM) is a major not-for-profit ministry to disadvantaged youth.  MAM’s 2013 Form 990 states it does not receive any government grants. Its IRS Form 990 doesn’t list any contractual revenues that can clearly be tied to the city. Mr. Golden is deeply committed to the City and to a better future for our youth. Back in River City does not have specific information on the depth of his budgeting experience, and his candidate profile doesn’t demonstrate  thoughtfulness about the range of  major issues a Council member must address. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Rachel Knox, age 26, is the Orpheum’s Education Coordinator in charge of teacher professional development. It is not clear that Ms. Knox has any significant budget experience. Her candidate profile does however indicate that she has thought deeply about the budget issue. The Orpheum is a major not-for-profit entertainment space for live theater productions, concerts, and special arts events. It also provides arts education for students and teachers, an area that will expand with the planned building of the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts and Education.  The Orpheum’s 2013 IRS Form 990 states it does not receive any government grants. the Form 990 doesn’t list any contractual revenues that can clearly be tied to the city. Click here for Ms. Knox’s CA profile and here for her campaign website.

Jim Tomasik, age 52, is engaged in the steel fabrication and erection business. He is an estimator, a project manager, and a senior structural detailer. Clearly, he has business experience involving high level budgets. His candidate profiles do not reveal much detail. He has been deeply involved in Cordova community life for a number of years. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends Jim Tomasik. Mr. Tomasik is the only candidate who has suggested that part of the solution to Memphis’ budget woes is to shrink the size of the city. We believe that’s an important discussion for Memphis to engage in.



District Three has seven candidates: Rhonda Banks, Tanya L. Cooper, Sherman (Perkins) Kilimanjaro, Kevin Mott Sr., Patrice Jordan Robinson, Coleman Thompson, and Keith O. Williams.

Rhonda Banks, age 60, is a postal service employee. She states she has been a trainer, manager, customer service representative, and a salesperson with USPS. Her candidate profiles do not indicate she has thought deeply about the budget issue. Click here for her CA profile.

Tanya Cooper, age 58, has taught in Shelby County High Schools for  the last 17 years. Her candidate profiles do not indicate she has thought deeply about the budget issue. Her employment with SCS raises questions about independence of judgment as a Council member. Click here for her CA profile. She has no campaign website.

Sherman (Perkins) Kilimanjaro, age 67, owns Great American Cruises, Inc. He has been deeply involved in financial management in government and in education. His candidate profiles indicate he is very concerned about good financial management in the city. His CA profile is here.

Kevin Mott, Sr.,  age 47, currently works for IMC Companies (an international supply chain service provider). He is a 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force. His candidate profile does not indicate he has thought deeply about budget issues, but do indicate that he has thought deeply about crime prevention and business growth. Click here for his CA profile.
Patrice Jordan Robinson, age 60,  is a past president of the Memphis City School Board, which she served for 13 years. She has also been employed by MLG&W and by Memphis City Schools. Her candidate profiles indicate that she considers Memphis budgetary woes very important. Click here for her CA profile and here for her campaign website.

Coleman Thompson, age 58, is the founder of two different not for profit (presumably) addiction recovery centers. He has been a board member of various community civic associations. His candidate profiles do not indicate he has thought deeply about budget issues. Click here for his CA profile and here for his Facebook page.

Keith O. Williams, age 63, is a retired teacher with Shelby County Schools and the immediate past-president of the local teachers union. His candidate profiles do not indicate that he has thought deeply about budget issues. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Recommendation: Back in River City recommends  Kevin Mott, Sr. His long term career as a non-commissioned officer with the U.S. Air Force, his current position with IMC Companies, and his candidate profiles convinces us that he will require the mayor to be accountable for his decisions, especially insofar as they affect the fiscal integrity of Memphis.



District Four has eight candidates: Kirstin L. Cheers, Donnell Cobbins, John Cornes, Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, Adrian Jones, Louis Matthew Morganfield III, Jamita E. Swearengen, and George Walker.

Kirstin L. Cheers, age 24, has been a staffer for members of the U.S. Congress and for members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. She has also worked as  a community organizer and  is currently a curator for Humans of Memphis. Her candidate profiles do not indicate that she has thought deeply about budget issues. Her CA profile is here and her campaign website is here. 

Donnell Cobbins, age 44, is the pastor of St. Luke M.B. Church. He was formerly a real estate professional. His vitae states he has had profit and loss responsibility for a $1.3 million budget for Sitel Corporation. His candidate profiles do not indicate that he has thought deeply about budget issues. He is currently employed by the County Trustee, David Lenoir, and is therefore subject to a potential conflict of interest. Click here for his CA profile and additional article here. His campaign website is here.

John Cornes, age 44, works for “the third-largest employer and largest health care network provider in the Memphis area.” He has 15 years of finance and accounting experience and worked as a real estate agent for ten years. He serves on the board of Freedom Prep Academy charter school. We would prefer to see more attention to the city’s financial issues on his candidate profiles.   Click here for his CA profile. His campaign website is here.

Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, age 61, is retired from a position with Bank of America. She has no campaign website and did not participate in the CA’s questions to candidates. Her Facebook page is here.

Adrian Jones, age 47, is a videographer and community activist. His candidate profiles do not indicate that he has thought deeply about budget issues. His CA profile is here.

Louis Matthew Morganfield, III, age 51, is an 8-year U.S. Army veteran. He spent 11 years with the Memphis Police Department and worked 15 years for a warehouse. He ran previously for the District Four seat in 2011. Mr. Morganfield’s  candidate profiles do not indicate that he has thought deeply about budget issues. His CA profile is here.

Jamita E. Swearengen, age 51, is a behavioral specialist with Shelby County Schools (a job that, for Back in River City, raises independence of judgment issues). Ms. Swearengen was reported to owe back taxes on multiple properties in July 2015.Her candidate profiles do not indicate that she has thought deeply about budget issues. Her CA profile is here.

George Walker, age 40, has worked for city government for 18 years. His employment raises independence of judgment issues should he be elected to the Council. Mr. Walker’s candidate profile does not indicate that he has thought deeply about budget issues. His CA profile is here.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City prefers John Cornes in District Four.



Seven candidates are running in District Five: Jimmie Franklin, John Marek, Worth Morgan, Charles “Chooch” Pickard, Dan Springer, Mary Wilder, and Jennifer James Williams.

Jimmie Franklin, age 55, has been a Shelby County Schools ISS (in school suspension) teacher  for the last seven years. His employment with SCS raises independence of judgment issues. Mr. Walker’s candidate profile does not indicate that he has thought deeply about budget issues. Click here for the CA profile.

John Marek, age 32, has just begun his criminal defense attorney career. He has been involved in Democrat campaign roles since 2013, He was a Memphis city attorney for approximately eight months. His candidate profiles indicate he wishes to work to lower property taxes. Click here for his CA profile.

Worth Morgan, age 28, has worked as a property and casualty insurance broker since 2014, Prior to that he was involved in various capacities as a political and civic staffer. His candidate profiles indicate he wishes to work to lower property taxes. His CA profile is here and his campaign website here.

Charles “Chooch” Pickard, age 42, is a preservation architect and urban designer. He serves as a member of the Memphis Area Transit Authority Board (MATA). His candidate profiles indicate he wishes to work to lower property taxes. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Dan Springer, age 31, is director of marketing and communications for Evolve Bank & Trust of Memphis. Prior to that, he served as an executive assistant to County Mayor Mark Luttrell. His candidate profiles indicate he wishes to work to lower property taxes. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Mary Wilder, age 65, is a community activist and former  manager with the Metropolitan Inter Faith Association (MIFA). Her candidate profile indicates she has thought deeply about budget issues. Click here for her CA profile and here for her campaign website.

Jennifer James Williams, age 43, is a booking agent and artist manager in the entertainment industry. Her candidate profile does not indicate that she has thought deeply about budget issues. Her CA profile is here.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City  recognizes several good candidates in District Five. We have met with and like both Dan Springer.  Our nod goes to  Mary Wilder as the better choice based on her life experience.  She has proven ability to draw the community together and the commitment necessary to help hold the mayor accountable for results.



District Six has three candidates: Perry L. Bond, Edmund H. Ford Jr. (incumbent), and Delvin Lane.

Perry L. Bond, age 54, is retired from Federal Express and currently works for Brinks in cash logistics. Mr. Bond’s candidate profile does not indicate he has thought deeply about budget issues, but his statement does indicate a keen sense of how important it is for the entire community to establish a consensus about where the city should move. His CA profile is here.

Edmund H. Ford, Jr., a member of Memphis’ Ford political dynasty and District Six incumbent,  is a 36 year old high school mathematics teacher for Shelby County Schools. His SCS employment raises an issue of independence for Back in River City. He  was elected to the Memphis City Council in 2011 and recently served as Council Chairman. Mr. Ford’s candidate profiles do not show a deep concern about budgetary issues. His performance in office, however, indicates skills in evaluation and in  seeking accountability for the Mayor’s performance against set goals. Mr. Ford and fellow Councilman  Bill Morrison were strong advocates for the defunding of Memphis City Schools in 2008. His CA profile is here and his Facebook page here.

Delvin Lane, age 37, is a former gang member and drug dealer who changed his life when he became a Christian. He heads up the 901 BLOC Squad, part of the Memphis Gun Down Program. He could bring a uniquely valuable viewpoint to Council deliberations about Memphis crime problems. Mr. Lane did not respond to the CA’s request to participate in their voter guide.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City makes no recommendation in District Six.



District Seven has nine candidates: Anthony Anderson, Berlin F. Boyd (incumbent), Eric Dunn, Anthony Ambee Johnson, Alfonzo Durrell Lee, Michael Steven Moore, Coby V. Smith, Thurston Smith, and David W. Vinciarelli.

Anthony Anderson, age 51, is a pastor, educator, and entrepreneur. In his role as CEO of The Memphis Business Academy, a charter school, he certainly has experience managing a business’s budget.The Memphis Business Academy is a major primary and secondary educational institution in Frayser.  Pastor Anderson has been deeply involved in Frayser-area civic matters since moving there in 1995. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Berlin F. Boyd, age 38, was appointed to fill the District Seven seat when Senator Lee Harris was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 2014. He previously served 11 months in the same seat as the appointed replacement for Barbara Swearengen Ware  who was indicted on an official misconduct charge. In July, 2014, Mr. Boyd established a government relations firm, Boyd and Associates. He has also been a commercial real estate agent with Slovis and Associates since 2008.  His candidate profile reflects that he has thought deeply about the effects of urban blight. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.  Back in River City believes that his vocational position puts his independence at risk.

Eric Dunn is approximately  24. He is the nephew of current Councilman Joe Brown and ran for the Shelby County Commission in 2010. His profile on indicates he is a certified mortuary technician and is employed by R. S. Lewis Funeral Home as community spokesperson. His work experience has been primarily in community organizing and as an aide to various local office holders, including former Senator Ophelia Ford and Shelby County Commissioners Melvin Burgess and Justin Ford. Mr. Dunn did not provide information to the Commercial Appeal for their voter guide. An April 2015 CA article identified Mr. Dunn as a “small business owner and community activist.”
Anthony Ambee  Johnson and Alfonso Durrell Lee have no information available to the general public that we could locate. Neither are profiled in the CA voter guide.

Michael Steven Moore, age 52, owns Moorementum, a marketing, media, and management agency. He is the son of former District Seven Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware, who was  indicted in October 2010 on felony charges of official misconduct. She was suspended from office and resigned in June 2011. The counts were eventually dismissed when Ms. Ware entered into a diversion agreement with the court. Mr. Moore ran unsuccessfully for her vacated District Seven seat in 2011. In a questionnaire prepared for  The Coalition for a Better Memphis, Mr. Moore said he had been campaign manager for the former Councilwoman, but did not reveal the familial tie.  His candidate profile does not indicate any experience in managing a sizable budget nor does it indicate that he has thought deeply about major issues confronting the city. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Coby Smith did not participate in the CA voter guide. His campaign website states,   “Dr. Coby Vernon Smith, noted Memphis activist and educator, is the first Black student to attend Southwestern University at Memphis, which is today Rhodes College. In 1967 he helped found the Black Organizing Project and the Invaders, and today he continues to fight for worker’s rights, racial justice and economic prosperity for Memphis’ historically underserved neighborhoods.” He is endorsed by the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council. Back in River City could not find specific information on Mr. Smith’s background and credentials for office.

Thurston Smith, age 53, is an Employment Services Program Manager with the Veterans Administration. His candidate profile and background do not indicate deep experience in managing budgets, but show he has thought deeply about issues facing Memphis. He launched his campaign in November 2014 with a promise to donate 50% of his salary to charity if elected. His campaign website  does provide information helpful to evaluation of this candidate. His CA profile is here. 

David A. Vinciarelli, age 36, is an Asset Control Supervisor according to a brief biography on WMC Action News 5’s website, but his employer is not disclosed. Mr. Vinciarelli has run unsuccessfully for seven previous elected offices since 2007, including a prior 2011 bid for the District Seven seat, a run for Mayor in the special election of 2009, the Tennessee State Senate (2014), State House (2008), Shelby County Trustee (2008), and Shelby County Commissioner. Back in River City could find no information about his professional background or credentials for office. He did not respond to the Commercial Appeal’s request for information for its voter guide. Click here to see his Facebook page.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends Pastor Anthony Anderson for the District Seven seat, based on his extensive involvement in the community, his experience in budget responsibilities implied from his position with The Memphis Business Academy, and his independence from apparent conflicts of interest.


Description: Super District 8 includes all of Southwest Memphis, including Westwood, Walker Homes, Coro Lake, and others; all of Whitehaven, Oakhaven and the airport area, and part of Hickory Hill; South Memphis, including Alcy-Ball, Longview and Mallory Heights, French Fort, Riverview Kansas. It also is comprised of Orange Mound, Cherokee, Glenview, Castalia, and Bethel Grove. Downtown and Harbor Town, Frayser, and North Memphis are part of Super District 8, including New Chicago, Scutterfield, Smokey City, and part of Vollentine-Evergreen. (Source,



Position One has three candidates: incumbent Joe Brown, George Thompson, and Victoria E. Young.

Joe Brown, age unknown, has served on the Memphis City Council since 1998 and served one term as Chairman in 2004. Mr. Brown is the founder, president, and CEO of chemical supply and janitorial service company Empire Incorporated. He has been active in neighborhood, civic and community affairs. Numerous honors accruing to Mr. Brown include president of the North Memphis Business Association. Councilman Brown, along with Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, were the subjects of a 2013 segment of WREG-TV’s Informed Sources public policy show. Panelists criticized the two for continually making outrageous, uncivil, and disruptive remarks during Council meetings. Mr. Brown did not respond to the CA’s request to participate in their voter guide and does not have a re-election campaign website.

George Thompson, age 70, is a retired security officer and Army master sergeant. His candidate profile does not indicate he has significant experience in making complex budget decisions. Click here for his CA profile.

Victoria E. Young, age 23, is a teacher with Shelby County Schools and the founder and executive director of the not-for-profit organization, Visionaries, Inc.  Her position with SCS raises potential independence of judgment issues. Ms. Young’s candidate profile does not indicate significant experience with budgeting, but her statement does indicate great interest in standards of accountability in government. Her CA profile is here and her Facebook page here.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends Victoria Young for the Super District Eight, Position One seat. Although she is too young to have had much experience, and her SCS employment has the potential to affect her judgment on certain issues, we believe that Ms. Young has the potential to serve the city well as a representative of a new generation.




Position Two has three candidates: J. Eason, incumbent Janis Fullilove, and Isaac Wright.

J. Eason is age 58. The brief bio completed for the CA guide is sparse on information and does not indicate Mr./Ms. Eason’s gender. The bio says that J.Eason is a high school and technical school graduate and part-time worker. There is no further public information about this candidate that Back in River City could find.

Janis Fullilove, age 65, has served on the Memphis City Council for eight years. She teaches at Southwest Community College and is a well known talk show host on WDIA. She previously taught communications at the University of Memphis for 14 years. Her candidate profile does not disclose evidence of experience in handling complex budget issues, other than her service on the Council for the past eight years.  Councilwoman Fullilove’s vote in favor of eliminating almost $60 million in funding from Memphis City Schools in 2008 helped to create our current City budget crisis.

She has frequently made headlines for emotional outbursts and escapades and has a “history of alcohol abuse and personal problems,” according to WREG-TV.  She also has a history of police arrests and making colorful headlines, including one that called her a disgrace to the city. In 2008 she was censured by the Council for actions including multiple drunk driving convictions. In 2010 she performed a provocative public pole dance for visiting members of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.  In 2012 the Councilwoman was arrested with her husband; both were charged with  misdemeanor assault against one another. The week prior to the arrest she told fellow Council members that she would chain herself to a dumpster to show solidarity with sanitation workers. In 2013 she was accused of being frequently drunk at a Council meetings. In 2014 she had an on-air meltdown and accused her husband of wanting to kill her. She was featured along with Councilman Joe Brown on a WREG-TV Informed Sources segment for her “shenanigans” in office. Her CA profile is  here and her campaign website is here. 

Isaac Wright, age 42, is a zone manager for Shelby County Schools (nine years employed by SCS) responsible for overseeing facilities maintenance staff at over 65 schools, administration buildings, and six sports complexes. His position with SCS gives Back in River City  pause as to potential independence of judgment issues. Mr. Wright’s job description provides evidence of accountability to budget responsibilities and his candidate profile indicates commitment to fiscal responsibility. His CA profile is here and campaign Facebook page here.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends Isaac Wright for the Super District Eight, Position Two Council seat. We believe his experience and commitments on the issues make him the best candidate.




Position Three has three candidates: Jacqueline Camper, Martavius D. Jones, and Mickell Lowery.

Jaqueline Camper, age 64, is an art educator with the Tunica County School District. Her candidate profile doesn’t disclose evidence of experience in dealing with complex budget issues. Her profile does disclose careful thought about the importance of bridging the racial gap in Memphis to effect better government. Her CA profile is here.

Martavius D. Jones, age 47, is a financial advisor at his firm, Jones Wealth Management. He is a former member of the Memphis City School Board (2006-2013) and served a term as its President in 2010. Mr. Jones  led the MCS in surrendering its charter in 2010. He has experience in the financial products industry and had budget oversight responsibilities while on the school board. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website. and .

Mickell Lowery, age 38, is a District Sales Manager with FedEx. He  has bachelor’s (LeMoyne-Owen) and master’s degrees (University of Arkansas) in business. Mr. Lowery’s position with FedEx raises questions for us at Back in River City, as FedEx-related issues (e.g., land use and tax abatement) have previously been considered by the City Council and may appear again in the future. His candidate profile provides evidence of his experience in dealing with significant budget issues as a member of the LeMoyne-Owen College Board of Trustees.  He is the son of Myron Lowery, the outgoing Super District Eight/Position Three Council representative.  His  CA profile is here and campaign website here.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends either Jacqueline Camper or Mickell Lowery for the Position Three Council seat. Mr. Lowery’s position with FedEx places him under the appearance of a lack of independence. FedEx is one of the largest single recipients of City capital improvement funds over the years and has received significant PILOT assistance. Some voters have accused Councilman Lowery of attempting to pass the seat to his son. Mickell Lowery is clearly committed, however, to improving the circumstances and futures of Memphis’ youth. Ms. Camper’s commitment to bridge the racial gap in the city recommends her. Back in River City cannot recommend Martavius Jones; while he brings certain skills and experience to the table, we believe that Mr. Jones showed questionable judgment in leading  the surrender of the Memphis City Schools charter.




Position One has three candidates: Charley Burch, incumbent Kemp Conrad,  Robin A. Spielberger.

Charley Burch, age 47, is a realtor with Keller Williams as well as a music event and records producer,  music writer and publisher. He is also a federal officer with TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at the Memphis International Airport. His candidate profile does not indicate he has significant budget oversight experience.  He does advocate bridging social and political gaps in the city, but does not mention racial gaps that need to be bridged. Mr. Burch has been endorsed by several labor organizations. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Kemp Conrad, age 41, is the principal officer for the Memphis office of Cushman Wakefield/ Commercial Advisors, one of the largest commercial real estate brokers active in Memphis. He has been a member of the Council since 2007. Councilman Conrad is a former Shelby County Republican chairman. As a Council member, Mr. Conrad has been a budget hawk, insisting that city government be efficient. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Robin A. Spielberger, age 35, is a political public relations and digital media consultant. Her candidate profile does not reveal significant experience in managing complex budgets. She has clearly spent time thinking about important Memphis issues including proper management of city financial resources, deannexation of areas like Cordova, and paying significant attention to the Memphis Area Transit Authority. Click here for her CA profile and here for her campaign website .

Our Recommendation: This is a tough call for us at Back in River City. Robin Spielberger is a bright, new talent in our city. She has spent time thinking about issues and talking to the citizens, and her active engagement has injected vitality into the race. Kemp Conrad has been a great asset to the city, particularly due to his focus on responsible budget oversight. Councilman Conrad has the appearance of an independence problem because of his firm’s representation of many commercial real estate developers/sellers/buyers who seek PILOTs. In the end, Back in River City recommends Kemp Conrad but hopes to see more of Ms. Spielberger in future races.




Position Two has five candidates: Stephanie Gatewood, Lynn Moss, Paul Shaffer, Philip C. Spinosa, Jr., and Kenneth Twigg Whalum Jr.

Stephanie Gatewood, age 44, is a Family and Community Engagement Specialist with Shelby County Schools.  She previously served on the  Board of Memphis City Schools for two terms. It is unclear from her online profiles if she was an MCS Board member while an employee of the school system. If that was the case,  service as a board member while being employed by the same organization would constitute a conflict of interest in our opinion, and would indicate a lack of sensitivity to ethical conflicts. Ms. Gatewood’s candidate profile reflects that she has spent significant time thinking about city issues. She gained experience from her oversight responsibility of a large governmental budget while on the MCS Board. Click here for her CA profile and here for her campaign website.

Lynn Moss, age 54, has been in medical office management for 18 years. She has been a small business owner and has 13 years of  data processing and payroll management experience with Brown & Root, one of the nation’s largest construction companies. Ms. Moss puts a great deal of emphasis in her platform on responsible fiscal management for Memphis and for “right-sizing” Memphis’s footprint to make providing public services more efficient. She has been endorsed by State Representative Steve McManus (R-96). Click here for her CA profile and here for her campaign website. [Disclosure: Eve and Eddie Settles of Back in River City know Ms. Moss well and  contributed to her campaign.]

Paul Shaffer, age 62, is the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 474, a position he has held for the last 13 years. Prior to that, he was a union construction electrician. His candidate profile does not disclose evidence that he has experience in managing a significantly large or complex budget.  His campaign website indicates that he understands the need for building unity among all the disparate stakeholders in Memphis. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Philip C. Spinosa, age 37, is a sales management executive with FedEx Services.His employment at FedEx raises the same independence of judgment question raised with Mickell Lowery. His candidate profile and campaign website do not disclose evidence that he has been responsible for budget oversight on a complex or large budget. His website indicates that he has thought about the major issues and believes job training is a significant issue the Council needs to address. Like  His CA profile is here and campaign website is here.

Kenneth Twigg Whalum, Jr., age 58, is the well-known senior pastor at The New Olivet Baptist Church. He describes himself as a pastor/educator/community activist in his CA voter guide profile. His father was also a prominent pastor and political voice in Memphis who served on the Memphis City Council. A mayoral candidate in 2009, the outspoken and social media-savvy ( 56.9K tweets and counting!) Dr. Whalum, Jr.  formerly served on the Memphis City Schools Board and the transitional MCS-SCS Board.  He ran unsuccessfully for the new SCS school in 2012 and filed suit against challenger Kevin Woods, who won by only 106 votes.

Improving “our failing educational structure” in Memphis  is Dr. Whalum’s overarching goal for a Council term of office.  He was strongly opposed to the surrender of the MCS charter in 2011. Dr. Whalum offers an “education slate” of candidates for each of the City Council positions. He is independent of mind and has the potential to unite Memphis on some key issues, but can be volatile, a characteristic that often works against his effectiveness. Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends Lynn Moss for the Position Two seat. Her deep budget experience and her commitment to fiscal responsibility and “right-sizing” Memphis set her apart.




Position Three has three candidates: Stephen Christian, Zachary Ferguson, and incumbent Reid Hedgepeth.

Stephen Christian, age 30, is in customer service for the transportation/logistics industry. His candidate profile does not give evidence that he has significant experience in overseeing a large or complex budget. His profiles indicate that he would concentrate on making Memphis a more attractive place to live and to which to relocate. Click for CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Zachary  Ferguson, age 27, is Executive Director of Memphis Area Prevention Coalition (MAPC), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing and dealing with teen substance abuse. He was formerly a United Methodist Missionary to Memphis which included work with the Workers Interfaith Network, a not-for-profit fighting for economic justice, worker rights, and an end to wage theft. His candidate profile does not reflect evidence of experience overseeing a large or complex budget.  His campaign website  makes clear his primary emphasis: “The right to be paid a fair wage for doing a job is a sacred concept.” Click here for his CA profile and here for his campaign website.

Reid Hedgepeth, age 38, is a general contractor and owner of Hedgepeth Construction. He first ran for the Council in 2007 for the seat his friend Jack Sammons held. Mr. Hedgepeth’s business is intimately affected by building code decisions and land use control decisions, which makes his knowledge useful to other Council members but endangers his independence on select issues. Generally speaking, Mr. Hedgepeth  has voted with Councilman  Kemp Conrad on budget issues. He was one of ten Council members who voted to withhold $66.2 million from Memphis City Schools in  2008, six months in to his first term. His candidate profile makes clear he is for lowering property taxes. Click here for his CA profile.

Our Recommendation: Back in River City recommends incumbent  Reid Hedgepeth for Position Three. Despite his 2008 vote to defund the schools, he has shown thoughtful attention to assessing the City’s budget constraints.

your vote is your voice

City Court Clerk

The Job

The Memphis City Court Clerk is responsible for administering the business of the City Court. For a salary of  $129,498,  the Clerk collects fines and fees owed for traffic violations and provides outstanding ticket information to the State  and other departments of government. The Clerk provides the three divisions of the City Court (three judges) with administrative services including maintaining court dockets (system of cases moving through the courts) for court hearings. The Clerk manages the operation of the Traffic Violations Bureau (speeding tickets, parking violations, Red Light Camera tickets). The fiscal year 2015 budget for the City Court Clerk is $2.1 million.  The fiscal year 2015 budget for the City Courts is an additional $641,000.


In 2014, a City Court Clerk employee was arrested for embezzling $24,000 and voiding 188 citations issued to people with a Hispanic surname. See  Back in River City’s friend-in-cahoots and watchdog-blogger Joe Saino’s  2010 post on MemphisShelbyInform. Joe revealed that during the period 1985-2010, when the Memphis City Court Clerk was responsible for seeking collection of $289 million in fines, only $179 million was collected.

The June 30, 2014 City of Memphis Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) reported  revenues for Fines & Forfeitures amounted to approximately $20.5 million. See p. 46 of 6.30.14 CAFR. Memphis’ latest strategic plan (see pg. 25), authored by consultants PFM, cited a significant problem in collecting fines.

Eight candidates aspire to the role of Memphis City Court Clerk: William Chism, Jr., Dewey Clark, Justin Ford, Wanda Halbert, Antonio Harris, Thomas Long II, Kay Spalding Robilio, and Shep Wilbun. All but one were shown to have current or prior legal, ethical or financial issues in their recent article vetting candidates’s backgrounds.

William Chism, Jr., age 49, is the Chief Executive Officer of Chism Process Service. Process servers deliver summonses to people involved in court proceedings.  Mr. Chism, CA reporters found,  filed five bankruptcies during the period 1995-2004, and currently owes $13,318 to First Tennessee Bank from a judgment filed in 2013. Back in River City believes this extensive history of financial woes disqualify him  to hold an office of public trust. Mr. Chism’s CA voter guide profile can be found here.

Dewey Clark did not provide information to the Commercial Appeal for their voter guide, and Back in River City was unable to find publicly available information about Mr. Clark. The CA’s reporters found that Mr. Clark (who ran unsuccessfully in 2008 against Congressman Steve Cohen) admitted to passing $50,000 in cash bribes from a strip club owner to former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell when he worked as Mayor Campbell’s assistant.  Mayor  Campbell was later charged with corruption, convicted of tax evasion, and sent to prison. Mr. Clark’s response to reporters?

“I was an assistant to the mayor and if the mayor tells me to pick up a package, that’s what I had to do. “I don’t have to explain my behavior in Atlanta,” Clark said. “You’re not my bishop, so I don’t have to confess anything to you.”

(You can’t make this stuff up.)  Mr. Clark’s actions and comments , in our opinion, disqualify him  from holding a position of public trust.

Justin Ford, immediate past Chairman of  the Shelby County Commission and Commissioner for District Nine, initially planned to run for Mayor. On the last day possible, he filed instead for City Court Clerk. Mr. Ford was the youngest commissioner ever elected in Shelby County when elected in  2010 to the position previously held by his father, Joe Ford.  Disturbing information was disclosed about Mr. Ford in the CA’s candidate background piece, including judgments against him and his partnership with alleged embezzler Frederick A. McWilliams. Such serious errors in judgment disqualify him, in Back in River City’s opinion, from holding a position of public trust.

Wanda Halbert, age 48, recently retired after 25 years of service at FedEx Services (Information Technology Division). She served seven years on the Memphis City School Board and eight years on the Memphis City Council. She describes herself in her position statement as an advocate for the less-fortunate in our city.  Her campaign website states that she was “responsible for administrative and project management duties” at FedEx. She was responsible for budget oversight of very large governmental units while serving on the MCS Board and on Memphis City Council. She voted in favor of defunding Memphis City Schools in 2008.  In 2009, police director Larry Godwin sent then-Councilwoman Halbert a “scathing letter” for what he called attacks on the Memphis Police Department. Click here for her CA voter guide profile and here for her campaign website.

Antonio Harris, age 37, works for Automatic Data Processing. He worked for the City Court Clerk from 1998-May, 2015. His candidate profile offers concrete suggestions about how he would improve collections of city fines.  The CA disclosed that Mr. Harris was fired from his position for attempting to fix a ticket for a fellow employee. His superior, outgoing Clerk Thomas Long, Sr., said the  incident followed two previous incidents of misconduct for Mr. Harris, and would be independently investigated. This information makes it impossible for Back in River City to consider him as a viable candidate for the City Court Clerk position. Click here for his CA voter guide profile.

Thomas  Long, II, age 38, is a field service professional with Vivant, a “home automation security company.” His candidate profile does not disclose sufficient detail to determine if any of his work experience is relevant to the requirements of the City Court Clerk position. He is the son of Thomas Long, Sr., the outgoing Clerk. Back in River City disapproves of the seemingly common practice among Memphis elected officials to establish family dynasties in specific public offices. Mr. Long, Jr. h as been criticized for campaign ads that may confuse the public as to whether he is the incumbent Clerk or a new candidate. Click here for Mr. Long’s profile in the CA’s voter guide.


Kay Spalding Robilio, age 74, has been a city prosecutor as well as a city and state judge. She retired from the bench a year early in 2013 in an agreement with the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct (BJC). The BJC filed formal ethics charges against Judge Robilio, then agreed to drop the charges provided Judge Robilio resigned from the bench. Judge Robilio offers suggestions on her candidate profile about ways to improve delivery of service by the City Court Clerk. The circumstances surrounding Judge Robilio’s retirement makes it impossible for Back in River City to consider her  a viable candidate for the office of City Court Clerk. Her CA voter guide profile is here and her campaign website is here.

Shep Wilbun, age 62, has been involved in real estate management and development. He has also been a community leader. Mr. Wilbun served on the Memphis City Council (1989-1994), the Shelby County Commission (1994-2000), and was an interim Juvenile Court Clerk (2001-2002). The CA’s candidate expose revealed that during his brief stint as Juvenile Court Clerk, he was indicted for misconduct. The charge was later dropped, according to CA reporters, “when the state and defense issued a joint statement saying, ‘…we all feel that a jury in this matter would most likely find that county policy was violated, but that the facts of the case may not rise to a crime.’ ’’

Multiple infractions were found when employees who worked for Mr. Wilbun during the same term of office were audited by the state. The CA article goes on to say:

A former aide was convicted on corruption charges, and an investigation into a bogus billing scheme gave rise to the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz bribery sting that resulted in the convictions of five state lawmakers and seven others.

Once again, Back in River City is unable to consider Mr. Wilbur a viable candidate for  City Court Clerk candidate. His CA voter guide profile is here and his campaign website is  here.

Our Recommendation: No surprises here. Back in River City makes no recommendation in the City Court Clerk race.


Thankfully, most of our public officials – as far as we know – are honest and aspire to serve their constituents with integrity. But, as President Reagan advised us,


That’s why we depend on our news media – and many of you also depend on us – to take the time to investigate what’s going on in our local, state and federal governments. We encourage you to find sources of news, facts, and analysis that you can trust, then verify that those sources are giving you unbiased, no-spin accounts. Never depend on one source of news. Always keep an open mind. It is eye-opening to read accounts from left-biased and right-biased sources, and search for the real, unadulterated  truth.

If you found this Vote Smart Guide to the 2015 Memphis Elections helpful, please let us know – and tell your friends. Your comments and suggestions for future Vote Smart guides are welcome. In the future we also plan to get back to the business of analyzing local and state public policy on a regular basis. What are the issues that puzzle you? What issues do you feel are not being covered truthfully or adequately in the media sources you turn to most often? Let’s work together to make a better Memphis.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2015 3:56 am

    This is a very comprehensive and thorough investigation of all available information! Thank you Eddie and Eve Settles!!

    • September 19, 2015 7:21 pm

      Thank you, Ann! It is support from thoughtful Memphians like you and Walker that keeps us going. Please note that the rest of the Guide – Council races and City Court Clerk – are now posted.


  1. Voting Smart, continued: Our Recommendations in the Memphis City Council Runoff Elections | Back in River City

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