Behind the Headlines – April 14, 2017

Behind the Headlines – April 14, 2017


– [Female announcer]
Production funding for Behind The Headlines is made possible in part by
the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like
you, thank you. – Can communities across
the region collaborate on workforce,
transportation and more? Tonight, on Behind
The Headlines. (Dramatic music) I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Mark Luttrell, Shelby County mayor, thanks
for being here again. – Thank you. – [Eric] Chip Johnson,
mayor of Hernando, thanks for being here. – Glad to be here. – [Eric] Mike Palazzolo,
mayor of Germantown, thanks for being here. – My pleasure. – Along with Bill
Dries, senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. You’re all here today in part, the Mid-South Mayors’ Council
has a big event coming up next week, RegionSmart, in partnership with the
Urban Land Institute. The goal of this, you
had your first annual RegionSmart summit of
Mid-South Mayors’ Conference, however you wanna
frame it, last year. I’ll go to you, Mayor Luttrell. What is the goal for this group? Communities that we,
at least in the media, and certainly among people,
seem to always be competing and at each others’ throats and trying to get
each others’ jobs. I mean, that’s the
kind of narrative that is often played out. This is bringing
everybody together. What’s the goal? – Well, regional planning,
very simply stated. As a region, we’ve
got to plan as one. We talked about metropolitan
statistical areas. MSAs, basically, you
include multiple counties over multiple states of
multiple jurisdictions. So much of what
we do in Memphis, or what happens
down in Hernando, has an impact on everyone
else in the mid-south area. So what we’re trying to do is what many, many regions
across America are doing. That is, trying to sit down, kind of dissect the
issues we’re facing, coming to a common
understanding. As much as anything else
is networking, as well, how good it is that
we sit down with Chip, with Mike, and with other mayors and leaders of the communities, just to get to know each
other on a first-name basis so that we can work through
any issues that might come up that require some
intense discussion. – Mayor Johnson,
similar kind of question or framing for you. I mean, at this table,
over the six, seven years we’ve been doing the
show, I can’t tell you how many guests have said,
“We’re losing all our jobs “to Mississippi, everyone’s
moving to Mississippi.” The schools, I mean,
all this kind of, not villainization
of Mississippi, but “they’re winning
and we are losing.” People have said that for
years in some fashion. For you, if you’re winning, why do you wanna collaborate
with these folks? Or is that framing,
the way that people do frame that argument,
is just that off? – I think it’s a little off. I think that no one can win if your neighbors
aren’t winning as well. And it’s true. Many people are moving to
DeSoto County and to Hernando, but in the morning, a large
percentage of them get up and drive to Memphis
for their jobs. So we cannot wish
ill will on Memphis or Shelby County or Germantown. And likewise, they can’t
wish ill will on us because some of the people
choose to live there. I think us getting
to know each other is making that work out better because of course, the
people that live in my town, the ones that do have
to leave in the morning and go to Memphis, I
want them to be safe, I want them to bring
back good paychecks. And we get a lot of our
entertainment up there, as well. And it’s starting
to flow both ways. People are starting to
come across the state line to the south for
entertainment and for jobs. I think if we work this right, it’s gonna even out, where
we all win in the situation. – For you, Mayor Palazzolo, Germantown grew as
people left the city, I mean, that’s kind of the
story of Germantown in part. Your take on this whole notion
of regional collaboration, where are the points
at which you think Germantown and the
whole area can thrive? You’re still gonna compete
for certain things, I assume. But where is there
an intersection where your interests aligns? – Oh, certainly. In a global economy,
you have to be more regionally collaborative
or you won’t survive. I can give you a great example. We started a Wellness
Coalition in Germantown. We sent a small delegation
down to Hernando to Mayor Chip because of some of the
initiatives that he had started, so that we could glean some
of those best practices for our community. It’s more about, how
do we keep the dialogue and find out what we
have more in common so that we can work
to grow together. It’s so important in
today’s economic framework. We have to do these things. That way, we break
down some barriers. You know, under the
leadership of Mayor Luttrell and others, this RegionSmart
Initiative and all the work that the Mid-South Council
of Mayors have done, it’s really been very
productive for our region. – Bill. – In the collaboration,
Mike, has this actually had the effect of a mayor
of a particular area, leaders of a particular area, better defining what
it is that they do and better defining their goals? – Certainly, ’cause, you know, all of our communities
are different. In Germantown, we’re very much
still a bedroom community. But we’ve embraced modern
urbanist practices. We’ve landed a large
national company that’s moving into
our community. So, how do we make
sure that we provide all those great services
for regional headquarters? How do we learn about what
other communities are doing? It makes so much sense
to work together. When I started in public
service 13-plus years ago, we didn’t collaborate very well. Matter of fact, we
did a lot of this. We collided a lot. I think it’s a new day,
there’s new leadership in this region, and
we embrace things. Maybe we’ll talk about
the Lamar Avenue corridor, that’s so important to
thriving commerce in our area. But really, that doesn’t
affect Germantown. Why would we be
supportive of it? Well, because it affects
the entire region, and that’s important for us. That’s an example of how we can
work together in the future. – Mayor Luttrell,
as a county mayor, being an arbiter
of sorts, it seems, has always been part of the
job description for that. When you look at
this collaboration, I would imagine that you’ve
got several other arbiters in the room and you
don’t necessarily have to be the only
arbiter on this. – When I look at the
role of a county mayor versus the role
of the city mayor, there’s a significant
difference. The success of a
county mayor depends upon that person’s ability
to work with the city mayors, because the counties
have a role to play in each of our cities. And then actually
crossing county lines and getting into other
counties and other states is not an uncommon
occurrence for county mayors. I think it’s vital that, when you look at the role
of the county government, and then you look at what
we’re attempting to do with RegionSmart,
it’s a perfect fit, because what we’re
doing is, we’re engaging multiple states, multiple
counties, multiple cities and jurisdictions around common
problems that we all face. There’s not a single issue
that these two mayors deal with on a daily basis that
we all don’t deal with on a daily basis. Any time that we can collaborate
or pool our resources is a force multiplier when it
comes to seeking solutions. So it’s an objective
that we probably should have had
years and years ago. But now that we realize the
value that comes from it, it’s been amazing. We were talking about this prior to the
beginning of the show. It’s amazing to see the
hunger in these communities for this type of collaboration. That’s where I think the
role of county mayors can really play a
significant role in working with the city mayors to come up with some consensus
around some very key issues. – In the case of
Hernando, this is a chance to look on both sides
of the state line and kind of compare notes, because there are some
different relationships that are involved here when you talk about
north Mississippi versus west Tennessee. How does that play out? Are there times when
there’s kind of envy that one side of the state line
might have a better system? Is it that kind of
shop talk, I guess, is? – I think that’s
always going on. We see the state of Tennessee
and the state of Mississippi talking about incentive programs and comparing themselves
to each other, and “How can we incentivize
more than the other one?” We’re always doing a
little bit of that. But I think because
of our relationships, we’re not doing as much of that, trying to steal a business away from one state to another state or one city to another city. We’re realizing that, if
a new business locates in Germantown, there are
gonna be job openings for the people that
live in my town. They’re gonna work
there, and vice versa. Of if something big
locates in Shelby County, people from Tunica may
go fill those jobs. I think that it’s
vitally important that we look at
that bigger picture. And as we advertise ourselves, Hernando has quite
a bit to advertise, and so does Germantown,
so does Shelby County. But if we could put all
those assets together in one bigger advertisement, we’ll be able to recruit better. – Contradicting
what I said before, we did a show with a bunch of
commercial real estate folks, I think in the fall. They talked about
bringing big projects and distribution centers
and so on and so forth. They really view it as a region. There are certain
incentives in Mississippi that are just, “If we
don’t use those incentives, that project isn’t gonna
land in the Mid-South.” It’s not a matter of
Mississippi versus Memphis, just that incentive
structure works, the PILOT structure in
Shelby County and Memphis and Tennessee doesn’t work. But one question or
one of the themes that is gonna be at
RegionSmart is transportation. We’ve talked a lot about that. I mean, clearly,
the city of Memphis, Shelby County, huge area. Wanna say the area of Memphis
is one of the biggest cities in the country, area-wise,
but not a lot of density. What is the answer
to transportation? I’ll use the example that Harold
Collins used to talk about, the former city councilman,
ran for Memphis mayor. He would talk passionately
about people in his district who wanted jobs, who had jobs, but rode buses two
hours to get the jobs in a distribution center
far across town or whatever. What can be done? I mean, right now, can
I take, I don’t know. Can I take a bus from Hernando to downtown Memphis
to Germantown? Is this even possible? – There really isn’t
that option right now. And a lot of it just has
to do purely with numbers. Public transportation
requires density. And our county is very
spread out right now. DeSoto County has
got 175,000 people, but it’s in a huge area. So when you try to
crunch the numbers on public transportation, it’s almost cost-prohibitive
at this moment. But we keep looking at
it, we keep studying it. Hernando actually just got a
senior transportation grant, the only city in the
United States that got it. But it’s just to take
our senior citizens to places they need to go,
like the farmer’s market or exercise classes. We just haven’t
cracked the nut yet on how to get everybody
that needs transportation where they need to be from
one county to the next. – Eric.
– Yeah, yeah. – Just to chime in on
that particular point. About five years ago,
we initiated our Regional Greenprint, which all of us have been a
part of the Regional Greenprint. But it addresses everything
from transportation to neighborhoods to
commercial interaction to residential integration
of neighborhoods, any number of areas across
county and state lines, because we realized that with
the way things are moving, the fast advance of our society, we’re not really on the point when it comes to
the right solution to some very critical issues. So I think the
Regional Greenprint gave us an opportunity to really sit down and
start thinking collectively about things such
as transportation. – I think it was the first
time you were on the show, Mayor Johnson, and I think
it was about Greenprint. I was asking why would
you all participate? Hernando’s thriving, why in
this big map of green trails? And I quoted you, probably
incorrectly, many times later that you said, “Well,
I like to ride my bike, “and we have great trails. “but I can only ride
my bike back and forth a couple miles so many times,” that, “I wanna connect
Hernando to these other places and then bring people
back to Hernando.” And that was the
idea of Greenprint as you just described it, right? – That is the idea. We’ve got, usually it starts
with recreational cycling. The more you get people
used to having more trails and more recreational cycling, some of those
people are morphing into actually taking
their bicycles to work. – [Eric] Right. – We just don’t have that
opportunity right now. There’s no good way
to get from Hernando to Memphis on a bicycle
if you’re working there. – In Germantown, we think about
it as a suburban car area. We’ll start with transportation, I mean public transportation. Is there demand,
is there available? I really don’t know what
the public transportation situation is now in Germantown, and where do you see it going? – Sure. Well, you know, I think
we’ve had the conversation over a couple of decades
about light rail, whether you can establish
something along the rail system that parallels Poplar Avenue. But again, I don’t know
if we have the density, we have the infrastructure,
we have the wherewithal. That’s a significant
economic investment in this whole region. In the suburbs,
you’re looking at not as many people
work in Germantown. They usually go out, similar
to Mayor Chip’s situation. They work in Memphis, they work in other
parts of the region. So we are, I guess, we are
married to our cars in a sense. But I will give you this, to
expound on the Greenprint. I think that was, Mayor, that
was one of the best catalysts for this region to get us
collaboratively meeting, several hundred meetings,
probably couple thousand people, all the leaders in this region. And this probably led us
to where we are today. And that grant, I think the
county acquired that grant, and that’s rails, trails,
other connectivity points. But that’s just, I
think where we are, transportation, we’re
kind of in an area, that would be a
significant investment for the entire region. – Yeah, and before
we go back to Bill, Greenprint was signed
off on by, I think it was almost 30 different
mayors and city councils and town councils
across the region, which, I mean, I don’t
know that the diverse group of communities has
ever agreed on anything the way they agreed on that. I should also, just
a little bit more about Mid-South Mayors’ Council,
how many mayors involved? About 20-something,
is that correct? There were 20 at last
year’s RegionSmart. You had 200, 300
people attending, back to your issue of demand. But just, these are the
three we have here today, but it extends into Arkansas,
other folks in Mississippi, mayor of Memphis
and so on, just to. (men speak over each other) Tunica, yeah,
Back to Bill. – To the point
about the Greenprint and about public
transportation, Mayor Luttrell, it seems as if sometimes
we talk about a bus ride from point A to point B. Have we changed the
definition of what that means so that, for instance, public
transportation’s more modular, where you might catch
a bus for one point, you might have your bicycle
with you and ride another point, and have we changed our
definition of development from, okay, it’s
either commercial, it’s either homes, it’s
either a shopping center, office space or industrial? Are we broader than that
now as a result of this? – Yeah, I don’t think
we are, Bill, really. The issue that we’re
encountering here that we must overcome
first and foremost is the culture. We’re not a mass transit
thinking community. I was talking to one of
our fellow mayors recently. He says when he and his
wife go to New York, they just automatically
think mass transit. Says when they’re back
here in Shelby County, they never think
of mass transit, because we just have never
established a culture here to get down to the fine
points and specifics that you’ve just
talked about there. It starts with, and
this is no easy task and it’s certainly
no quick task, but somehow or another,
we’ve got to build a culture of acceptance of
public transportation. Part of that comes with density. We don’t have density here that really can foster that
type of serious discussion. There are many preliminary
steps that must be taken in the culture of
public transportation before we’re really
gonna be able to make any significant changes
in the direction that we go. – And that kind of
density, if it happens, also represents a
form of culture shock to someone who’s used
to living in a city that’s been this spread out. More density is an
adjustment for living styles that I think sometimes we
don’t immediately think about when we talk about, when we
throw the word density around. And we throw it around
a lot these days. – We do, we do throw
it around a lot. We’re hearing a lot about it in some of the discussions
here in Tennessee about annexation
and deannexation, and density and lack of it. It’s an issue that, I think, as we see the cost
of government, density comes into
that discussion because it does have
a significant impact on the cost of
rendering services. – You all have
density right now. I mean, some changes
in land use and zoning that went through that is not the typical
Germantown suburban plan. Talk a little bit about that. To increase density
in part, right? – Well, we only have
so much land left. We’re a landlocked
community, fully annexed, so of our 20 or so square miles, three of that is commercial. So we’re trying to get the
most impact we can there. We’ve embraced, we’ve had
parking decks in our city since the mid-70, and we
have more of those coming, those parking structures
coming on line, to get people to anchor a car and then create a
walkability in our downtown, with streetscape enhancements
and that type of thing. We’ve had conversations with
one of largest employers, Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown, has roughly 2,000
people on their campus at any given time. They only have so much parking. So we’ve asked MATA, could
they come up with a plan to get employees to Methodist so that you can save
some parking spaces, create more ease of mobility as far as being on their
campus, getting to their campus. So we’re trying to embrace
and work those challenges out in Germantown, as well. – [Eric] Back to Bill. – In the age of mixed use, what does mixed use look
like in north Mississippi? – You know, we’ve got a traditional
neighborhood development that came on the books
called Hernando West in 2007. Then of course the
economy tanked, so it’s just been sitting there. But we think it’s
about to come back. They just sold the first
nine lots over there. I think that mixed use is
gonna be shown in there. We’re gonna have housing
right next to businesses, which is really interesting. The average person,
the way I grew up was, you want business over here
and you want houses over here. But then, I moved
into old downtown and people, if I put
my house on the market, people would line up to buy it, and I can see a business
out my front door and out my back door and
there’s apartments next door. But nobody wants
to recreate that. They all want it if it’s there, but they don’t
wanna recreate it. So it’s back to
changing mindsets. We gotta make people understand that living next to
something, it makes it easier, keeps you out of your car. I can walk to the bank,
I can walk to work. We need to make
people understand that that’s not a bad thing and it makes the
property values higher. It all goes back to education. – What are the barriers
to that in Henando, in north Mississippi? Because you’re right, from my
observations that I’ve seen, that’s where you kind of
notice the difference the most, on both sides of the state line. – Probably our barriers
are zoning codes. That’s, once we get
past this election, get a new board seated in July
and get past the budget time, we’re gonna be looking at
updating our comprehensive plan, which will affect zoning. Even in our historic
downtown area, the zoning that works on the
other side of the interstate doesn’t work there. So we’re gonna have
to find a new way and have some deep, serious
conversations with people about zoning and how
we’re gonna move forward, and keeping our tax rates low. The elementary answer to me is, if you’ve got a mile
of road and I can put 40 people on that
mile instead of 10 people, well, it’s a lot cheaper
to upkeep that road. We need to work on that. – Back to the
Harold Collins framing… I think it was a Brookings
Institute study years ago, five years ago, that some of the least
economically mobile areas in the country, and one,
it was the highest-ranked least economically mobile, the people who started in
poverty stayed in poverty, was south Atlanta,
which was shocking, because we think of Atlanta as the shining
example of growth. But in south Atlanta,
there’s no transportation and the jobs aren’t down there. I might have the
region slightly wrong. But that was, it was
a great study about, you get these pockets of poverty where people get stuck
away from the jobs without good transportation, and they don’t have good
transportation in that area. For you, as mayor,
when you look at, say, Memphis 3.0, when
we talk about planning, I know that’s a city
of Memphis project. But it obviously impacts, that’s a big part
of Shelby County. You think that’s
the right direction? Do you think deannexation
is the right direction? Do you think these kind of
re-looking at the footprint and how we rezone and where we concentrate
economic development, are these important
and proper movements? – Well, yes, the quick answer. I’m proud of Mayor Strickland
for his initiative on 3.0 because one of the things that
becomes very apparent to me is that there’s
not any one issue that’s going to change the
dynamic of the community. When you look at cities that
have a reasonably progressive approach to the
course of business, you’ll hear the
term “livability.” Livability is really
the integration of all of those factors
that you look for in a city, everything from
transportation to education to good healthcare to
workforce development, economic development,
all of those collectively being thought of in
the context of one. If we can start thinking in
terms of not any one thing is going to change the
direction of the community, it’s a collaboration of
all of those elements, then that’s where you
really start pulling all the constituencies within
the community together, which is what we
were able to achieve with the Regional Greenprint. We’re seeing it to some
extent in the areas of economic development where
we’re collaborating more on a much larger area. The concept, it basically
comes down to regionalism. The concept comes down
to thinking of ourselves as a singular entity as opposed to multiple
different entities. – How does that go over with
your legislative bodies? I mean, how does that go over
with the board of aldermen when you start talking
about thinking regionally? Are they on board with that, or are you a kind of
voice in the wilderness? – Sure, no, I
think it’s embraced by our legislative branch. I think that they fully realize that we’re a component
of a greater region. When we visit Nashville to meet
with our state legislators, we bring our individual agenda. Then, oftentimes,
we’ll share things that we piggyback
on Shelby County, on city of Memphis,
that we support. So they get it. We’re in a different
dawn, a different age. It’s so important
to work together. And our legislative
body agrees with that. – And yours? I mean, you have a town
council? I apologize… – [Chip] We have a
board of aldermen. – Board of, yeah, I mean, are they on board
with this Greenprint and with working
across the region? Or is that something you’ve
had to talk them into? – No, our board unanimously
passed the Greenprint resolution when it came before us. So I think that showed that
they’re in support of it. They know that we are a bedroom
community at this point. We’ve got a couple of
major manufacturers, but nowhere near enough
to employ all our people. So they do understand the importance
of the regional aspect and the regional
look we have to take. – What about the
Mississippi legislature? Do they welcome
this kind of talk, or do they say, “No, no, no,
no, we’re all on our own”? – In Jackson, they refer
to us as south Memphis in DeSoto County sometimes. (men chuckling)
And not in a nice way. So we have to remind them, we
are still part of Mississippi. It’s a delicate
dance we have to do. We are part of the
Memphis metro region, and we have act reasonably. But we’re also part of
the state of Mississippi. So we have to keep the
irons in both fires there. – You mentioned education,
and I know one focus for RegionSmart,
again, the next week, the ULI and the Mid-South
Mayors’ Council, one focus is workforce. We got about a minute left. What all can you do with
separate school systems, separate colleges,
what all can be done to work together on
workforce development? Who wants to take this one? – I’ll jump in quickly. I think we just better, we
need to better understand what the needs are. And each community can
work toward their strengths to produce something in
part of that greater need. We can’t solve it all ourselves. And I’ll defer to– – I think this is where
really political leadership needs to step up. People like us need
to get out there and start talking about the
value of working together, the value of pooling
our resources. This is where
political leadership really earns its stars, as we get out there and
start being on the point with some of these issues. – And for you, just
couple seconds left here? – I think we’ve gotta do it, and I think I’m
an example of it. You know, I graduated from
South Haven High School and did my first two years
at Northwest Mississippi Community College
and my last two years at the University of Memphis. We can work with education
across the state lines to get everybody trained, you know, whatever area
they wanna be trained. So we can move forward. – All right, well, thank
you all for being here, thanks for joining us. Thank you for being here. Join us again next week. (orchestral music)

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