A Sense Of Shelby County

March 28th, 2019

If thousands upon thousands of people could be helped and all the lives they touch improved, and millions upon millions of dollars can be saved or reallocated in the process, common sense would dictate that approach.

One would hope.

As published in The Daily Memphian

Lee Harris


I was back on the peas and chicken circuit the other day, one of those weekly gatherings of service organizations involving name badges, announcements, introductions, the pledge of allegiance, a prayer, and a speaker. Whether I’m a guest or the speaker at these things, I’m always happy to be invited, I always see folks I haven’t seen in a while, and I always hope the speaker has something to offer.

All of those things were the same this time, but different.

The speaker was a politician, but he didn’t make any promises. He didn’t make any claims of great accomplishment in the past or to come. He didn’t make a single allusion to anything bright or shining, or sweeping or visionary. He didn’t make a single excuse.

He just made sense. Common sense. 

He was Lee Harris, our new Shelby County Mayor, and he spent his few minutes in front of the Kiwanis Club of Memphis making sense of his job as he sees it: look at an issue within the purview of county government, look at how many people it touches, look at cost both societal and fiscal, and look at where he can be most effective.

For instance, he gave us a quick look at detention and incarceration.

On any given day, Shelby County is holding about 3,000 innocent people in jail … innocent by virtue of awaiting trial … at a cost of $100 a day each … in jail by virtue of not being able to make bail. That cost to you and me is well over $100 million a year.

As to juveniles, with no more room to detain them and no room to teach them while detained, the cost of building new facilities is nothing compared to the cost to their future and ours of continuing what we’re doing. The cost of locking too many up is too much to pay in every way.

As to both adults and juveniles, initial detention and long-term incarceration for a first time non-violent crime virtually assures us of a violent crime the second time.

One in ten of us – 100,000 to 150,000 – has a suspended driver’s license because of inability to pay even minimal court costs, so they can’t drive or legally live their lives in a number of ways.

So Mayor Harris will be paying particular attention to criminal justice reform because it makes sense. Common sense.

He will also be paying attention to MATA – even though the subject isn’t popular, even though no one in that room rode the bus that day – because 20,000 people were touched by MATA today, seven million will be touched this year, and there’s a need to touch seven million more.

He will pay attention to public education – even though public attention is focused on vouchers for private education today, even though few in that room that day have children in public education ­– because 100,000 children in this county went to public schools today.

Mayor Harris wasn’t addressing the audience in the room. His comments weren’t directed to you or me. He was addressing the problems common to Shelby County, to all of us, and a common sense approach to governing:

Direct time, attention, and resources to the things that can make the most difference to the most people every day.

I’m a Memphian, and our new Shelby County Mayor makes sense.

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