Herenton sends controversial letter to city employees - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Herenton sends controversial letter to city employees

Action News 5 had hoped to sit down with the Mayor, to talk about the budget, city services and the future of the city. He wasn't available on short notice. But other city leaders are talking tonight about that topic and about a controversial letter the Mayor sent to city workers earlier this month.

Every month, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's office sends out an employee newsletter with a "letter from the Mayor" on the front page. But despite the cloud of bad budget news hovering, the Mayor's November message was still too gloomy for some.

He wrote to city employees, "We must work to lower our expectations and those of Memphis residents while we discover ways to deliver services with less money and fewer people."

"I don't think the Mayor should say let's lower our expectations. I think we need to raise the bar," said City Councilwoman Carol Chumney.

Chumney has been a regular critic of the Mayor.

His new finance team has launched an action plan to fix the budget that includes significant freezes in new spending and in hiring.

Councilman Brent Taylor says the Mayor is right on to indicate things will get more difficult.

"I don't always agree with the Mayor, but on this particular instance, I do," said Taylor. "This is not a problem that we're going to be able to tax our way out of. It's a problem that we're going to have to cut our way out of. And the council and the administration are going to have to make some difficult decisions in the coming months about which items to cut."

Outside of the Mayor's letter, no one at City Hall has mentioned layoffs or service cuts, at least not yet. The letter leaves that door open.

But Chumney doesn't like the Mayor's message.

"If he had managed properly, if he had not given big pay raises to him and his staff, and focused on car allowances and overspent on the capital budget, we wouldn't be where we are right now," she said. "So I don't think it's a question of expectations. I think we should have higher expectations in the Mayor's office."

Already the money managers have plans to find savings.

But there are still many with questions about whether it will be enough, whether they'll have to cut more. And the answers have just not yet been offered.

In October, the new finance team announced the 2005 budget is $25.8 million short and next year's budget will likely require $21 million in cuts, if not more.

Some council members think even greater cuts will be necessary.

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