Billboards installed by the Memphis Police Association in the past week are starting a debate over public safety and could be hurting the city's image.
Mike Williams, President of the MPA, says the billboards are targeting city leaders but Mayor A C Wharton says the billboards - which say "DANGER: Enter at your own risk; This city does not support public safety" - are driving tourists away.
During a news conference Friday Mayor Wharton didn't hold back. He says these signs around town could cost some people their jobs and he says they're out of line. Williams says they're protecting the union's jobs and benefits.
"I think it's self-centered, I think it's selfish," Mr. Wharton said. "I think it has no place in our city."
Mayor Wharton responded to the billboards after they were mentioned by Los Angeles Times sports writer T.J. Simers, who is in town for the Grizzlies-Clippers NBA playoff series. Simers wrote a scathing column about his time in the Bluff City.
The Mayor says the billboards are hurting the city. He says they're driving away visitors and costing people who work in the tourism and hospitality industry.
"Isn't that selfish? Isn't that selfish?," he questioned. "How do you excuse that? How do you rationalize that I got mine? I'm protected, but you other poor retched souls out there may God be with you."
Mr. Wharton says while other cities laid off workers during the recession, Memphis instituted a pay cut to protect jobs. Even so, the president of the police association says this is about how the mayor and other city leaders treat police officers and city workers.
"I love this city, we love this city, this is a great city," Williams said. "Our billboards are not aimed at the citizens. They're not aimed at saying this is really a bad, bad place. It's more geared towards the city's leadership and how they're treating the employees and how they're treating the citizens."
Police officers want their pay reinstated. All city workers had a 4.6 percent pay cut. They're also worried about increased insurance costs and cuts to holiday pay, vacation and sick time.
"This can be stopped at anytime," said Williams, who added it's up to the mayor. "The mayor has the power to stop it, so if in fact he wants to stop it then he needs to do right by the city employees and definitely the police officers in this city."
Williams said the danger billboards are just the start of the police union's public campaign. More billboards, radio and television advertisements will also be released.
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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