New deputy director leads renewed effort to clean up blight in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Patrice Thomas is the new face of Neighborhood Improvement in Memphis, overseeing getting rid of city blight.

“In order for us to make a true impact on the community, it will take community involvement,” she said.

Thomas, who was previously the City Comptroller, has already implemented one change to cutting grass at abandoned homes.

Now city contractors use mobile devices to get their list of jobs, take pictures and show in real-time how much time they spent on the work.

“They time stamp it and take the before pictures and the after pictures so they know exactly what we are doing,” one contractor said.

“We assign the work based on a rotational basis. We will assign each vendor 10 to 20 assignments and only once they complete those assignments will they be given additional work,” Thomas said.

The change comes after Onzie Horne, who previously held Thomas’ position, was fired and is now under investigation for steering work to certain contractors, like his son, who estimated their own work hours and racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Our new process only pays them for the lots they were assigned,” Thomas said.

She added they must also reveal any family connections between city employees and contractors.

Patrice Thomas says the 25 Square Block Program that focuses on 25 blocks of blight at a time is still being used, only now they are working according to City Council districts, starting with the worst blighted areas, like District 7 and Frayser.

“We will actually take a proactive approach to addressing the most blighted areas in the city foremost and in the most concentrated manner,” Thomas said.

Other changes being implemented include an educational campaign on the top code violations and a mobile tool bank where lawn equipment is available to neighborhoods to do clean-ups. A

lso, when you call 311 about blight. you will be able to find out when your call will be addressed and get online updates.

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