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Its On Us Memphis, No One Is Coming

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You know its on us right.  By us, I mean the citizens of the greater Memphis region.  In Iraq, our platoon motto was “Expect no mercy from your enemies, and no help from your friends.”  Now obviously we knew we could rely on our fellow Marines, but this was more a platoon level worldview.  There were times where our platoon was positioned in some random building in a slum of Al Kut with no other units in sight. So this gave us a certain level of readiness to maintain.  The above picture is from a sign your local Memphis Marines from Kilo company made to bring a little touch of home to the local Iraqis back in 2003.  So, I would like to offer this slogan to the city of Memphis and the county as a whole really if you would like to adopt it.  No one is coming to save the day.

Recently, the City of Memphis broke commitments it made to its Police and Fire personnel.  They did.  You can’t really argue that they didn’t break their commitment.  You can opine about why it was necessary and how bad unions are and all of that.  However, it doesn’t change the fact that what was once promised is no longer so.  Its a funny thing, because this public pension, public unions, and municipal employee benefit debate has been raging across the nation.  And to be honest, I was a fan of this new order of fiscal restraint.  In the end, I didn’t like the idea of a city clerical worker getting free healthcare for the rest of their life after putting in only 20 years.  It just seemed a little absurd or excessive. This wasn’t the case in Memphis per say, but nationwide you would see such extravagant benefits on the public dime for what seemed like routine work.

But then they came for the police and firefighters of Memphis and things start to get weird. Aren’t these people supposed to be the heroes?  Don’t we let our kids dress up like them on public service day at school?  Sure, maybe you let your kid dress up like the people at the county clerk’s office as you have just been awestruck by the way they take 130 bucks from you once a year to drive your own car.  However, that is another story.  I’m talking about the police and firemen that have TV Shows made about them.  Are these not the people who do everyday the things that we would rather not.  So why are we taking money away from them and their families.  Strikes me as odd.

But one would say that we must make tough fiscal choices given our debt situation as a city.  I agree.  Look, the bills have to get paid, and bottom line, the City of Memphis cannot pay all of its bills.  There are two ways to balance a budget.  Cut spending or increase revenue.  That’s pretty much it. I am no financial expert, see my article 3 Step to Financial Mediocrity, but I am pretty sure that’s how you do it.  You find a way to cut cost, or you find a way to increase revenue.  I get that, I really do.  I just can’t figure out why we went after the heroes.

People who worked a full career under one premise had as they sit in their retirement it yanked out from under them.  If nothing else, that is pretty despicable.  Would anyone allow a financial adviser to retroactively change the fees they charged for planning your retirement to the point you had to unretire?  Of course not.  So why do we expect the people who wrestle naked crack heads, kick in doors to arrest armed felons, or charge into burning buildings for a living to happily accept a change in their terms after they have retired.  Look, I’ve never wrestled a naked crackhead, but if I ever do, I want what you promised me you would give me to do it.

But alas, here we are.  The city has changed the terms on its most needed employees mid stream and expected them to just keep dodging bullets with a smile.  I mean, since Memphis is consistently recognized as one of the safest Cities in the country, we don’t need all these police officers right?  I think that is part of what bothers me most about it.  So many have simply expected these officers to just take one for the team.  Just because you have not recently or ever been victimized by crime or had your house catch on fire doesn’t mean you have some authority to claim what is needed or not. Many of us reside and view the world from the protective bubble that these very officers create and we some how come to the conclusion these heroes are overpaid.  A city with a major crime problem ought not disenfranchise those responsible for its safety.

But what about the budget? It does seem that this city through gross incompetence is going hundreds of million dollars in the hole over the years.  If you look at the projected deficits over the next several years, you see this debt only getting worse.  But here is the thing, they only project it out 5 years or so. Nothing miraculous is going to happen in year 6 or 7.  This problem, is only getting worse.  So guess what Memphis, no one is coming to save the day.  Sooner or later, the citizens are going to have to pay up.  Its a fact. And when we do have to pay up, maybe a few years from now, we will find ourselves less safe for the decisions made in the past couple of months.

Why would anyone sign up to work for an employer proven to change the terms of said employment after the fact.  You wouldn’t do that and neither would I.  We know officers are leaving this city and this premise of employment that city has created is certain not to attract the best and brightest.  I personally think an incompetent cop might be worse than no cop. Look, I am not saying that police and fire employees might not have to give a little.  Given the size of the budget that they represent, they are intrinsically tied to the fate of the city.  As the city goes, so goes their future.  That’s why I am saying, its on us, all of us.  No one is coming to save the day.

Citizens are going to have to become more involved in the political process.  We are a little over a month or two out from one of the most dishonorable decisions our representative city government has made and the public has basically moved on.  Citizens of Memphis, lets face it, you are also probably going to have to pay more taxes.  Shame on the city leadership for not having the courage to admit as much.  But our city council did finally give up their catered lunches.  Poor things, they are chipping in too I guess.  No one likes taxes, but God forbid our pulled pork sandwich costs 50 cents more to ensure this city can maintain its integrity.

 Lastly, to the suburbs, you are well within your rights and good logic to have your own governance, schools, and safety. However, know this, you cannot build a wall high enough to protect you from an imploding Memphis.  Your fate as well is intrinsically tied to Memphis.  I imagine Detroit’s problems didn’t respect its city’s boundaries and neither will Memphis. The suburbs have much to offer towards the overall sustainability of the region.  The entire county and surrounding regions are going to have to contribute to the hub that has made so many of these communities successful.  All of us, everyone of us.  So its on us people.  Expect no mercy from your enemies and no help from your friends.  No one is coming to save the day.

 

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Jeff Edwards

11 Comments

  1. Not only do firefighters respond to fires but every medical emergency.. Police and fire are there @ every bad thing that happens in the city.. Car accident, shooting, stabbing, domestic disturbance, child abuse, sexual assault, deaths natural or otherwise.. So yes it will make a huge difference

    • Definitely, FireFighters are definitely multi-tasked throughout the city. Both they and police have chosen to step into places most Memphians couldn’t. Thankful for them all.

  2. Great article. This is what I’ve been saying. The writing is on the wall.
    I do have one thing to add.
    The city employees have been taking one after the other for the team for 20 years. Having our security ripped away after giving everything asked of us TO SECURE OUR FUTURES is the last straw.
    The city has been chipping away at the police and fire depts for a very long time, and they are near achieving their goals.
    PRAY you don’t need police or fire protection in the coming days, because you’re going to be screwed.

    • Understand the frustration anonymous. Its my hope that the end is not here. I defiantely think people need to wake up and start owning the solution instead of asking the police and fire to shoulder such a heavy burden. I’m thankful for all of you.

  3. Thank you, Jeff. Well spoken. It has been presented many times how many millions of dollars the city has gained in the last couple of years (Bass Pro deal, loss of the schools, etc) and somehow this city keeps getting further and further in debt. Hmmmmmmm. But hey, like you said, we really appreciate the council giving up the catered lunches. Maybe next year Myron will decide the citizens really can get by without them getting new portraits taken every year. But maybe not, since he said and obviously believes that the citizens really enjoy the portraits of the council members.

    • Thanks Barbara for the words. I personally have never seen a single city council portrait, but I am sure they are swell. I agree that the citizens in such trying times should pay close attention to where every dollar is spent.

  4. I get the point, but it ignores to facts 1) firemen and police routinely game their retirement packages in the final years by working unnecessary overtime and taking detail work away from younger officers who could use the cash. Second, we just don’t need that many firefighters anymore. Modern building codes and less smoking mean drammitically fewer fires, yet firefighters don’t want to be EMTs and they fight tooth and nail against reducing the number of firehouses even when they’re unnecessary. And unions are always boosting pay 3%-5% a year even retroactively during recession years when other people are tightening their belts. So ,sorry. No one is “promised” anything. There’s an opportunity just like every other profession.

    • Thanks for the comment. I think if there any policies around the use of overtime, or time taken around retirement, that’s a worthy conversation to have. I did mention that the fire and police will likely need to give something. The can always trim the force through natural attrition by not replacing those that leave. However, i would hold on to the idea that they were promised these benefits. Those that are already retired had their opportunity and they chose to serve under the premise laid out before them. If they had known the premise would not be upheld, then they could have easily made other career choices. But its too late for them now. But the ones who will be making other career choices are the best of what would be the new class of cops and firefighters. they will make their choices to do other things and we will not be left with the best and brightest. Just my thoughts, but thanks for commenting and bringing up those points. The conversation is always helpful.

  5. Overtime doesn’t go toward your pension. Average if your last 3 years of work on the pension. Straight time only.

  6. Panic, Please get your facts straight. Do a little research on how much of a pay increase city police and fire personnel have received since Herenton left office…and then make sure to note how much the insurance premiums have risen as well. I actually make less now than I did fifteen years ago even though my costs are exponentially higher. The only reason that most of us have stayed is because of the benefits promised to us by the city. You work and pay into social security, I don’t. I will have nothing when I retire but broken promises and an insurance plan I cant afford.

  7. FYI……Fire and Police PAY into their healthcare plans, it isn’t free, as many would like to believe. When they retire, they PAY into their healthcare plans, which are not free either. Many citizens believe that the healthcare and other benefits are perks of the job, and tend to justify the despicable actions of the City with the “now you know what the rest of us feel like” argument. The Firefighters and Police Officers held up their end of the bargain, worked 25 years or more, and the City of Memphis should hold up their end too. It is the honorable and right thing to do.

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