Early Voting Times and Locations

Early voting for the Presidential preferential primary and County elections began on Wednesday at the Shelby County Office Building at 157 Poplar. Hours at that location are as follows:

February 15, through Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Weekdays 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Saturday, February 18, 2012, 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Saturday February 25, 2012, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Satellite locations will be open on the following days:

February 21, through February 28, 2012 Weekdays 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Saturday, February 25, 2012, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Listed early voting locations can be found here or at the map below.


View Early Voting – 3/6/12 in a larger map

Thoughts For the New Year

As we embark on the New Year, our community has a great number of opportunities and challenges ahead.

Economy

While the economy appears to be on the way to a slow but steady recovery, unemployment in Shelby Co. still stands at just over 10%. Creating an environment that encourages expansion of existing businesses, attracts investment from companies that currently have no footprint in the County, and fosters the innovation that comes with new businesses is critical to the long-term success of our community. Recent successes in bringing in businesses like Electrolux and Mitsubishi are victories for the local economy, but we have to do more to support the businesses who have long-term investments in our community to help them grow and thrive.

Public Safety, Quality of Life, and Smart Growth

The safety of our neighborhoods is another area local government can directly impact to increase the quality of life for Shelby Countians. Overall, Shelby County has seen a decline in violent crime of nearly 26% since 2006. Property crime has decreased 31% over the same time period. Initiatives by local law enforcement agencies have helped drive this decline. Last year violent crime decreased nearly 4% and property crime was down 8.7%. Building on these successes must be a top priority of all local governments. Forging alliances between local law enforcement agencies and working to inform and empower neighborhoods is an effective way to continue this downward trend in crime. (Source)

Crime is not the only area that impacts the our neighborhoods. Other issues such as abandoned and blighted properties also have a negative impact on the places we live.

Properties Owned by the Shelby County Land Bank

The 2010 census reports over 47,000 vacant housing units in Shelby County (11.9% vacancy). This is .5% higher than the national average, .6% higher than the state average and 1.5% higher than metro areas of equivalent size. In August, MSNBC reported that the Memphis MSA was the 3rd sickest housing market in the US. More than 50% of those units (24,000) are vacant rental properties, 28% (13,000) are vacant for “other reasons” and just under 13% (6100) were reported on the market for sale.

The Shelby County Land Bank owns over 3600 properties in the County, many of which are in a state of disrepair. While the circumstances under which the County came to own these properties are varied, one thing is certainly true: vacant and blighted properties are safe harbors for criminal activity, a negative drag on property values in our neighborhoods, and bring zero revenue into the county in their current state.

With such a high surplus of vacant residential units and stagnant population growth over the past decade (just 3.36%) County government should carefully consider the overall impact of new developments on virgin land that further stretches our infrastructure in favor of working to re-develop land currently on the grid. Focusing on re-development will increase the quality of life for thousands of Shelby Countians, bring jobs to the core of the community, and help reduce crime associated with vacancy and blight.

Fiscal Accountability and Discipline

In the coming weeks the County Administration will introduce their budget for the next fiscal year. Based on the speed of the economic recovery and stagnant population growth over the past 10 years this will be a difficult process that is fraught with hard choices.

Where Your Tax Dollars Go

As the County government prepares for this process, the administration should seek to provide additional data regarding the realities the County faces going forward. Simply putting a budget agenda together absent a fair and accurate reporting of the impact of those initiatives does nothing to better inform Commissioners nor the public at large of the long-term challenges faced by County government. In order to be a truly accountable actor, the County Government should work to compile and release data regarding the performance targets and impact of outcomes for each of its departments. For too long local government has been allowed to move forward without properly justifying its actions. This trend must stop.

This is particularly true of County Debt, which stands at $1.6b (total debt for the state of Tennessee is just $1.7b) and consumes 14% of the County budget annually (second only to Education at 30.9%). A full, fair, and accurate accounting of county debt is necessary to ensure the public understands where past growth initiatives have been focused, what that debt is paying for, and ways to reduce the overall impact of debt to ensure our tax dollars bring the most value to all of us.

Conclusion

While there are many issues that fall outside the direct control of local government, there is plenty that can be done at the local level to strengthen our community and foster an environment of growth and prosperity. In order to accomplish this, we must set aside some of our long-held assumptions and focus on the things that unite us rather than our differences. We are all Shelby Countians. We don’t have to view things as a zero-sum game. The truth is, that zero-sum worldview leaves us all fighting over crumbs while ignoring the cake that’s right in front of us. This fighting over crumbs has been, for far too long, a feature of local government, and it must stop.

Because the New Year is about new beginnings and new ideas, we should take some time to consider where we see our community in the future. Last October at my personal blog I wrote about 10 Things to Make Memphis Stronger. These ideas apply not only to Memphis, but Shelby County as a whole. The broad principles outlined in this post guide my vision for the future of Shelby County.

In order to receive effective, responsive and accountable government, we must first demand it. I hope you will stand up and demand it with me.

Thank you for your time, and Happy New Year.

Steve Ross Pulls Petition for County Commission

MEMPHIS – On Tuesday, November 29, 2011 community advocate Stephen Ross pulled a petition to run for Shelby County Commission, District 1 Position 3.

A long-time resident of District 1, Steve has written extensively about state and local issues on his personal blog for over six years.

With this decision, Steve has chosen to put his advocacy into action, and bring a new kind of leadership to the County Commission focused on transparency, accountability and common-sense solutions.

“Shelby County has a rich history, and a great number of opportunities for positive change underway. However, we also have more than our fair share of problems, many of which have been with us for decades. While political leaders have come and gone, these issues have been allowed to stay with us, sometimes exacerbated by the decisions of the County government.”

“Over the past decade our county population growth has been stagnant, poverty has increased, educational attainment has declined, and neighborhoods all over he county have suffered the ill effects of neglect and blight. Shelby County can only be as strong as our neighborhoods. It is my intention to be a strong voice to the people who live in those neighborhoods, and bring the kind of positive change that will strengthen them and ultimately strengthen our community as a whole.”

The filing deadline for this position is Thursday, December 8th at 12:00pm. The Primary Election will be held on March 6th, 2012, and the General Election will be held August 2nd, 2012.