Thursday, September 26, 2002

The Change Game

Is the lottery's number up in Tennessee?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 26, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Got a little spare change for a down-on-its-luck state government?

That's what it's come to in Georgia -- the state rattling its tin cup in the face of every citizen via the Georgia lottery's newest offering, the Change Game, played with 25 to 99 cents.

Will Tennessee be next? Voters will decide on November 5th. A plurality of votes cast in the governor's race will be necessary to repeal the state constitutional ban on lotteries. That means more people could vote for repeal than vote against it, but the measure could still lose if there's an apathy factor and a lot of people vote for governor but skip the lottery-referendum question.

"The Tennessee Constitution is the hardest constitution to amend in the country," said Michael Nelson, a professor of political science at Rhodes and co-author of a recent book on the politics of gambling. "First, it's hard to get an amendment on the ballot. Then it has to be approved by a super majority. But [lottery proponent] Senator Steve Cohen did something shrewd and persuaded the legislature to put the lottery question right next to the governor on the ballot."

Placement on the ballot is one issue. Placement on the public agenda is a bigger one at a time when the country is at war, gambling is well-established in neighboring states, the stock market is in shambles, and the state budget has to be cobbled together in a last-minute slugfest every year.

Polls show the lottery amendment getting support that falls anywhere from 56 percent to 74 percent of eligible voters.

"If the lottery is anywhere below 60 percent, then it's in trouble," said Nelson. "In state after state, support for the lottery goes down the closer you get to the election. If it's above 65 percent, then it's in very good shape."

The somewhat complicated nature of the question -- a constitutional change as opposed to a "do you want a lottery, yes or no" -- could also be a factor.

"You would think the more complicated it looks, the more likely some voters are to say no," said Nelson.

If voters do approve the referendum, Nelson said it would be "extraordinary" but not impossible for the legislature to not follow suit and refuse to approve a lottery next year.

Alabama voters rejected a lottery by a 54-46 margin in 1999, but Nelson noted that the economy was strong and the state treasury was "pretty flush."

"Alabama shows you can beat a lottery," he said. "It doesn't show whether you can beat a lottery in economic hard times."

In fact, the issue has resurfaced in Alabama, which, like Tennessee, shares a border with Georgia. The 10-year-old Georgia lottery and HOPE Scholarships are the envy of lottery proponents. The lottery put $726 million into Georgia's education account last year and $5 billion since it began. Some 600,000 Georgia residents have received full-tuition scholarships to in-state public universities or as much as $3,000 a year for private colleges.

The so-called education lottery is a huge boon to the college-educated middle class. Tuition at public colleges is already heavily subsidized with or without a lottery. At the University of Georgia, a hot college in most surveys, out-of-state tuition is almost $15,000 a year. The financial-aid office says only 70 out-of-staters got full scholarships this fall. Georgia, like every other state, is looking out for its own. Tennessee's Bicentennial Scholars program and Mississippi's Eminent Scholars program award full-tuition scholarships to in-state students with top academic records and test scores, partly to compete with lottery-funded scholarships in Kentucky and Georgia.

With states accustomed to fighting for college students as creatively as they fight for new industry and with lotteries established in 38 states, Tennessee is late to the party. The gambling issue has lost some of its pizzazz. A big yawn could hurt both sides. Projected revenues might not materialize. On the other hand, scare tactics no longer work so well. Memphis has somehow survived and perhaps even prospered for 10 years with Tunica.

One thing that's for sure is that the lottery itself has evolved into a different animal than many people who don't regularly patronize it realize.

"When people get bored with the initial round of lottery games, the pressure on the lottery commission to come up with new and presumably more exciting things to keep that money coming into the state treasury is enormous," said Nelson.

In Georgia, that includes online games, CASH 3, CASH 4, Fantasy 5, Lotto South, Mega Millions, the Change Game, and Quick Cash Keno. The latter offering, according to the Georgia lottery Web site, is for folks who like to "linger and spend a few hours."

There is also a sizable bureaucracy. In Georgia, there are eight district lottery offices of the state commission. Although the lottery put $726 million into the education account, that was only about 30 percent of the $2.45 billion in sales.

United Peacekeepers

Peace Walk 2002 hopes to light a flame for enlightenment.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 26, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Something's happening in Memphis. Something's happening in our world.

-- from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Mountaintop" speech, April 3, 1968

Indeed, something will be happening in Memphis from September 27th to October 2nd as Peace Walk 2002 kicks off at the National Civil Rights Museum. Organizers are hoping its impact will be felt around the world.

What started as a collaborative idea between the local Buddhist community and members of Life Foundation International has blossomed into Memphis' first Peace Walk. The walk is actually a five-day event that features the installation of the flame, a silent walk around Overton Park with global peacemakers, a concert, a day filled with various inner-peace workshops, and a speech in honor of Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

"When we say Peace Walk, we don't mean peace in any political way, as in peace versus war. It's really been planned a long time before the current political events in our country," says Linda Ross, a member of the Peace Walk's steering committee. "All of [the events] are giving you different techniques for establishing your own inner peace, because that's how peace will ultimately come in the world."

The weekend will begin at the National Civil Rights Museum with this country's first installation of the World Peace Flame, which was originally lit at a peace conference in Wales in 1998. One flame was lit on each continent by a leading peacemaker and flown to Wales for the conference, where the master flame was lit.

Since then, the flame has been given out in the form of a candle to people around the world, including Pope John Paul II and singer Emmy Lou Harris. The flame's first permanent installation took place April 18th at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. On September 27th, Memphis will become the flame's next home.

"We're planning to light the flame beneath the balcony where Dr. King was assassinated. In essence, the light was extinguished when he was killed so many years ago, so we're lighting his flame again," says Ross.

The flame will later be moved inside the museum's lobby, where it will be displayed on a brass base designed by Tennessee artists Anton Weiss and Lisa Jennings. The museum is putting together a program in which various groups will come in to feed the flame.

The following day, the Peace Walk will be held at Overton Park. Participants in the silent, meditative one-mile walk will be led by Zen master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Life Foundation founder Mansukh Patel, spiritual leader Chalanda Sai Ma, senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Church Dr. Frank Thomas, and Arun Gandhi, author and grandson of the late Mahatma Gandhi.

The walk will be followed by a silent "mindful lunch" at the Overton Park Shell. The local Vietnamese community will be providing 1,000 vegetarian lunches, but participants may bring their own lunches.

After lunch, a peace concert at the shell will feature Sai Ma, various singer-songwriters from around the world, local church youth choirs, and a German didgeridoo player. Several artists will be performing music written exclusively for the event.

Later that night, Nhat Hanh, who is credited with galvanizing the peace movement after persuading Dr. King to publicly oppose the Vietnam War, will address the crowd on the act of dwelling within the moment. Forty-three monks and nuns will perform a toning chant in preparation for his speech.

On Sunday, there will be several workshops on achieving inner peace. Nhat Hanh will offer a daylong mindfulness gathering, and Louise Rowan of the Life Foundation will host a workshop on Dru Yoga, a form of the ancient discipline that's supposed to remove negative emotion.

On October 2nd, Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, Patel and the Life Foundation's European director, Savitri MacCuish, will speak on regaining inner strength and security at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Several other events are planned for the days leading up to the Peace Walk. On September 25th, Love Fest 2002, a concert featuring local musical acts Blind Mississippi Morris and Bella Sun, is scheduled for the Overton Park Shell. The concert, which was organized by Memphian Andy Diggs to benefit Thich Nhat Hanh, will feature nine bands, several DJs, and an open jam. The following day, the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center will host a Drum Circle for Peace and Healing at Prescott Memorial Baptist Church.

"As the Bible says, 'When two or more are gathered ... .' There's going to be a large group of people here with the same intent, and I think that it can't help but help the city," says Ross. "I think that it will reach out to our entire country -- hopefully, the world."

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Cadillac Plan

Will Memphis get its money's worth from a $750,000 riverfront consulting contract?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Memphis has lots of company among waterfront cities that have hired consultants to draw up a grand plan for future development.

Detroit, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Alexandria/Arlington, Virginia, are a few of the other major urban areas in various stages of overhauling the blighted or underused sections of their waterfront property.

But Memphis apparently has one of the grandest plans of all, at least when it comes to price. The $750,000 tab for the services of Cooper Robertson & Partners is at the high end of the range of what other cities are paying their consultants.

Detroit and Baltimore both announced this year that they hired Cooper Robertson & Partners. Detroit's bill is $250,000 for a master plan for a three-mile stretch along the Detroit River, while Baltimore's tab is $200,000 for an updated plan for its Inner Harbor. Cooper Robertson, based in New York City, also did a 1998 master plan for the Boston Seaport District for $85,000.

Memphis appears to be in the same ballpark as Pittsburgh, which hired another consulting firm, Chan Krieger & Associates, for its riverfront plan for an area known as Three Rivers Park. Lisa Schroeder, executive director of the Riverlife Task Force, said Chan Krieger and five other consultants were paid slightly less than $800,000 for nearly two years' work. Cooper Robertson also bid on that job.

Benny Lendermon, president of the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), says Memphis is getting more for its money than the other cities are. The Cooper Robertson team, which includes other consultants, is working with Memphis for 18 months. The Detroit job announced earlier this month is for three months, according to Detroit newspapers. Baltimore's contract, announced in April, is for approximately one year. If those jobs get bigger, the bills could go up, Lendermon notes.

While the plans may be as different as a Cadillac and a Chevy, they're also alike in many respects.

Each city's waterfront is described as "world class" on its Web site and in media reports.

The planning process includes public presentations and input, and the plans are supposed to guide development for 20 years or more.

Each city has an agency similar to the RDC empowered to see that something gets done and the plan doesn't sit on the shelf. In Pittsburgh, it's the Riverlife Task Force. Detroit has the East Riverfront Study Group, and Baltimore has the Baltimore Development Corporation.

The groups all have corporate and foundation heavy-hitters on their boards and funding from private and public sources.

The Memphis City Council approved the creation of the RDC and the $750,000 contract with Cooper Robertson. Major funding for RDC operations comes from the Hyde Foundation and the Plough Foundation, each of which is contributing $750,000 over a period of years. Lendermon, a former city director of the Division of Public Works, has a staff that includes former city engineer John Conroy.

But there have been some unexpected changes downtown since the RDC was created in the surge of downtown enthusiasm that followed the opening of AutoZone Park.

The RDC's driving force, Redbirds co-founder Kristi Jernigan, has moved to Europe with her family for at least a year. She was the prime mover for AutoZone Park as Pat Tigrett was to the bridge lighting, John Tigrett was to The Pyramid, Henry Turley and Jack Belz were to HarborTown, and the Chickasaw Bluffs Conservancy was to the Bluffwalk.

The city and county approved construction of the new NBA arena. If the University of Memphis men's basketball team joins the Memphis Grizzlies there, The Pyramid will have no major tenant.

And a Mud Island development in which the RDC is supposed to be a partner became a public embarrassment when a mountain of fill dirt collapsed and closed Wolf River Harbor for two weeks. Its future is as uncertain as the stability of the land. Some developers, it seems, will ignore plans and guidelines as easily as "No Dumping" signs.

The central piece -- and the most costly and controversial one -- in Cooper Robertson's Memphis plan is the land bridge to Mud Island. Another big piece is the remaking of the so-called Overton Blocks of public promenade along Front Street that have vexed would-be developers for decades. Either one would substantially increase the amount of office space in a downtown where "space for lease" signs from Front Street to Danny Thomas Boulevard are as common as pigeons.

From the Mud Island Greenbelt to Tom Lee Park to the top of Riverside Drive, the riverfront itself has never looked better. The new lighted sidewalk above the re-arranged cobblestones is a nice RDC-inspired addition. The median and landscaping on Riverside Drive should be another one when the work is done.

But Memphis didn't create the RDC and pay consultants $750,000 for a Cadillac plan to play landscaper. Apart from the corporate co-financing, there was an underlying assumption that the Memphis Park Commission, the city council, and city employees were simply not up to the job of remaking the riverfront. The RDC and Cooper Robertson must prove that they can do it better and are worth the money invested in them.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Flying Right

One year after the terrorist attacks, Memphis International is getting back to normal.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2002 at 4:00 AM

No one is more eager than Larry Cox to see things get back to normal at Memphis International Airport.

The head of the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority cringed a little bit when a visitor asked him this week about a national newspaper report that airline passengers at some of the bigger airports are seen as potential terrorists instead of customers.

"If we ever get to that point, then we might as well fold the terminal up," said Cox, who was fielding several interview requests on the eve of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Cox is blunt in his assessment of the screening procedures of airlines and airport security personnel.

"People want better security, but they want it to be common sense," he said.

The reports of a nursing mother required to drink her own breast milk, a man in a wheelchair painfully lifted from his seat, or people standing in line for two hours while grandmothers and grandfathers remove their shoes rile him as much as they do the average traveler. A "trusted traveler card" or something similar may be in the offing, Cox predicted.

"The whole purpose of air travel is to reduce time," he said. "We can't start to go the other way" by increasing delays at the terminal beyond a certain point, particularly at some of the larger airports that connect to Memphis.

Since June, Northwest Airlines has reinstated most of the flights it lopped off after the attacks, and passengers without checked luggage on domestic flights can safely arrive an hour or even half an hour before departure, Cox said. With 123 large jets and 153 regional jets operating out of Memphis, Northwest is "almost precisely where they were before," he said.

Overall passenger loads in Memphis, however, are down about 9 percent from a year ago. Cox expects United Airlines to go into bankruptcy this month. The airline operates just six regional United Express jets from Memphis. U.S. Airways has basically gone to all regional jets here as well.

Some of the more visible airport-security measures have been or are about to be eliminated. The fatigue-clad and gun-toting National Guard soldiers have been gone since May, and the ban against parking within 300 feet of the terminal will be lifted later this year.

Other heightened security measures are probably permanent, even if they are less obvious.

"We never saw an air marshal in Memphis until last year, and now we see them all the time," said Cox.

The federal government is now totally in charge of security, although it will not have all of its own employees deployed until November. The machine that scans all checked luggage for explosives, which was going to be added even before 9/11, should be used on all bags by the end of the year. Only ticketed passengers with boarding passes are allowed in the concourses. All passengers are screened at least twice, and carry-on bags are examined more thoroughly.

Cox said the biggest potential delay in the system, apart from another terrorist attack, is working out the kinks in the laborious process of matching all bags to passengers. Not all airlines or airports are computerized, as Northwest is.

There have been no security breaches at the Memphis airport, although "we have been catching people with pocket knives, knitting needles, and the occasional gun in their luggage for 30 years," Cox said. Nor have there been any specific security warnings directed to Memphis. Cox believes Memphis is "not likely to be a threat from the passenger side."

On the freight side, FedEx is logging 2,335 flights a week in and out of Memphis, compared to 2,261 a year ago, according to the company. A spokesman said the company has boosted security provisions at the airport but declined to discuss them. The company did reinstitute its jump-seat policy last month after suspending it as a security precaution a year ago. There are no new guidelines for customers as to what can and cannot be shipped. The company said it already had strict procedures in place before 9/11.

FedEx received a total of $101 million from the federal Department of Transportation for disruption to its global services last September. Among other freight carriers, UPS got $51 million, while passenger carrier Northwest Airlines got $405 million.

In a local footnote to 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration will honor the personnel of the two control towers in Memphis this week for playing a significant role in getting airborne planes safely on the ground after the government shut down the system. By virtue of its geographic location and four runways, Memphis tied with Indianapolis for the most planes diverted (45) from scheduled destinations.

The Fugitive [conclusion]

The Conclusion to last week's cover story on grandmother/criminal Margo Freshwater.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2002 at 4:00 AM

When Margo Freshwater escaped from prison in Nashville in 1970, it was relatively easy for someone to apply for a Social Security card without identification. According to Greg Elliott of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Freshwater took advantage of the system to obtain a new Social Security number. Using the alias Tonya Myers, she moved in with Phillip Zimmerman, and the two of them wound up in her home state of Ohio. Nine months and one day after Freshwater escaped, she had a son, whom she named Phil Zimmerman. According to a story about Freshwater in The Commercial Appeal, an Ohio prosecutor wondered about the timing of the birth.

Did Freshwater exchange sexual favors with a guard in return for help in her escape? Or did she engage in a quick tryst almost immediately after she jumped the fence? Freshwater and Zimmerman later had a daughter, Angela. Much like Freshwater's own father, Zimmerman left the family in the mid-'70s and lost contact with both children. Single once again, Freshwater and her two young children moved around Ohio, with Freshwater taking whatever jobs she could find.

When she worked as a housekeeper, she brought her children along because she couldn't afford a baby-sitter. It was a struggle for the family to pay the bills, and yet her children say that their mom did what she could to give them a normal childhood. She took them camping, helped them raise Great Danes, and never missed her children's softball and baseball games. And like all good parents, she knew her children's friends.

"You know, when you're a kid and you say, 'I wish so-and-so was our mom,'" says Angela Hudkins. "Well, that was our mom. All of our friends loved her."

Freshwater's oldest son, Phil, lives in an assisted-living home because of a disability. School wasn't easy for him, but she made sure he graduated. "She was our best friend, and she was our mom," Phil says. "I feel like I'm kind of lost. She has always been there for us."

In 1979, Freshwater married Joe Hudkins, a truck driver who had three children of his own. He was perhaps the first good man in her life, and together, they had a son, Tim. Hudkins adopted Angela and Phil as well. Together, the two raised six children and, by all accounts, enjoyed a happy marriage and lived a regular, all-American life. He promised that, one day, he'd teach his wife how to drive a rig, but he died of cancer in 1988, before he could make good on the deal.

A little more than two years ago, in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Freshwater married Daryl McCartor.

After Freshwater's past life came to light, her friends and family expressed amazement that this loving woman they had known had such a dark past. Naturally, they insist that the person they know could never have been involved in a murder and simply must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. "I would have never guessed anything about this. Never," says Tina Carter, Freshwater's maid of honor during her wedding to McCartor.

Jerome Woods worked at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company with Freshwater as a property-and-casualty specialist. He recalls that when he found himself in a rather contentious divorce, she helped him cope. "I didn't have anything in my condo after my divorce, and she gave me plates and dishes and she lent me her mattress," Woods recalls, adding that he told her not to go out of her way but that she insisted.

Like her other friends, Woods says that he still supports the woman he knew as Tonya McCartor. "Even now, I'm still in shock," he says.

Even though Freshwater is unable to discuss her murder conviction in any detail with anybody other than her attorneys, she does talk to her family by phone. "I had the opportunity to ask her if she killed anybody and she said no,'' her husband says. "That's all I needed to know."

Knoxville lawyer Robert Ritchie enjoys a reputation as a top criminal defense attorney, but the Freshwater case may be one of his toughest challenges. Not only did a jury find Freshwater guilty of murder, but the state Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that conviction. And since her original defense conceded that she was at the scene of the crime, it's not clear what sort of new evidence Ritchie could collect to corroborate her assertion that she was an unwitting accomplice in the brutal slaying of Hillman Robbins in Memphis in 1966. For example, she testified that she tried to help the victim, going so far as to untie him. But no one alive can corroborate that claim, other than the man who actually pulled the trigger, Glenn Nash, who was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Ritchie won't detail his legal strategy, but indications are that he's going to either craft another appeal or hope to prove to the state that she's rehabilitated in an effort to win clemency. "At this point, we are reinvestigating the original case," he says, "as well as her life -- the past 32 years." To date, Ritchie hasn't exploited the fact of Nash's freedom to gain favor for his client.

But the man who helped put her back behind bars says that's exactly where she belongs. "She was convicted of first-degree murder, and she did not finish serving her time," Elliott says. "In my mind, how she's lived her life since then is irrelevant."

By some accounts, Freshwater is holding up well at the prison she thought she left behind for good 32 years ago. Her friend Jerome Woods depicts her current state as somber and numb. "Still, I don't detect any signs of bitterness," he says.

Carter says that her friend is trying to be strong, if only for her family. "She called me from jail and said that her spirits were okay. I told her I was there for her, and she kind of broke down crying."

Earlier this month, Freshwater's three children and Tim's fiancée Casey rented a car and drove to Nashville to see their mother. If she was despondent, she did a good job of keeping up appearances. "She was beautiful and, as always, cheerful," Casey says. "And we told her that we love her and we're doing everything we can to get her out."

The day after that visit, Freshwater was allowed to call her family. Sounding more like she was on a business trip than in a penitentiary, Freshwater, who was on speakerphone, calmly arranged with her family who would visit her and when. Like most inmates, Freshwater is restricted to a certain number of visitors each month. Throughout the conversation, Freshwater remained composed and strong.

Daryl McCartor is overhauling his life to pay his wife's extensive legal bills, which include a $60,000 retainer. He has dropped his health insurance, organized car washes with her children, and made himself available to media across the country, hoping to draw more public attention to his wife's plight. He also helped develop a Web site (GEOcities.com/mccartorfund) dedicated to telling her story and soliciting donations to her legal fund. He won't say how much money the site has raised but indicates that it's minuscule.

As Margo Freshwater sits alone in prison, the man who confessed to the killing for which she was sentenced roams free. In 1994, Glenn Nash gave a brief interview to Michael Kelly of The Commercial Appeal. "I'm just concentrating on taking the medicine that I have to take at the right time," he said. Today, people who have kept up with him say that Nash still lives at the same home with the same woman he was married to at the time he met Margo Freshwater.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

CITY BEAT

CITY BEAT

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2002 at 4:00 AM

FLYING RIGHT No one is more eager than Larry Cox to see things get back to normal at Memphis International Airport. The head of the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority cringed a little bit when a visitor asked him this week about a national newspaper report that airline passengers at some of the bigger airports are seen as potential terrorists instead of customers. “If we ever get to that point then we might as well fold the terminal up,” said Cox, who was fielding several interview requests on the eve of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Cox is blunt in his assessment of the screening procedures of airlines and airport security personnel. “People want better security but they want it to be common sense,” he said. The reports of a nursing mother required to drink her own breast milk, a man in a wheelchair painfully lifted from his seat, or people standing in line for two hours while grandmothers and grandfathers remove their shoes rile him up as much as the average traveller. A “trusted traveller card” or something similar may be in the offing, Cox predicted. “The whole purpose of air travel is to reduce time,” he said. “We can’t start to go the other way” by increasing delays at the terminal beyond a certain point, particularly at some of the larger airports that connect to Memphis. Since June, Northwest Airlines has reinstated most of the flights it lopped off after the attacks, and passengers without checked luggage on domestic flights can safely arrive an hour or even half an hour before departure, Cox said. With 123 large jets and 153 regional jets operating out of Memphis, Northwest is “almost precisely where they were before,” he said. Overall passenger loads in Memphis, however, are down about nine percent from a year ago. Cox expects United Airlines to go into bankruptcy this month. The airline operates just six regional United Express jets from Memphis. U.S. Airways has basically gone to all regional jets here as well. Some of the more visible security airport measures have been or about to be eliminated. The fatigue-clad and gun-toting National Guard soldiers have been gone since May, and the ban against parking within 300 feet of the terminal will be lifted later this year. Other heightened security measures are probably permanent, even if they are less obvious. “We never saw an air marshal in Memphis until last year,and now we see them all the time,” said Cox. The federal government is now totally in charge of security, although it will not have all of its own employees deployed until November. The machine that scans all checked luggage for explosives, which was going to be added even before 9/11, should be used on all bags by the end of the year. Only ticketed passengers with boarding passes are allowed in the concourses. All passengers are screened at least twice, and carry-on bags are examined more thoroughly. Cox said the biggest potential delay in the system, apart from another terrorist attack, is working out the kinks in the laborious process of matching all bags to passengers. Not all airlines or airports are computerized, as Northwest is. There have been no security breaches at the Memphis airport, although “we have been catching people with pocket knives, knitting needles, and the occasional gun in their luggage for 30 years,” Cox said. Nor have their been any specific security warnings directed to Memphis, and Cox believes Memphis is “not likely to be a threat from the passenger side.” On the freight side, FedEx is logging 2,335 flights a week in and out of Memphis compared to 2,261 a year ago, according to the company. A spokesman said the company has boosted security provisions at the airport but declined to discuss them. The company did reinstitute its jump-seat policy last month after suspending it as a security precaution a year ago. There are no new guidelines for customers as to what can and cannot be shipped. The company said it already had strict procedures in place before 9/11. FedEx received a total of $101 million from the federal Department of Transportation for disruption to its global services last September. Among other freight carriers, UPS got $51 million, while passenger carrier Northwest Airlines got $405 million. In a local footnote to 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration will honor the personnel of the two control towers in Memphis this week for playing a significant role in getting airborne planes safely on the ground after the government shut down the system. By virtue of its geographic location and four runways, Memphis tied with Indianapolis for the most planes diverted here (45) from scheduled destinations.

Friday, September 6, 2002

White-collar Crime, Then and Now

William B. Tanner had little in common with today's "perp walkers."

Posted By on Fri, Sep 6, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The latest addition to the list of American cultural icons is the "perp walk."

That's where the FBI parades a handcuffed corporate executive accused of wrongdoing through a gauntlet of news cameras and reporters. The press gets to shout questions, which the perp walker ignores before ducking into a government car.

White-collar crime sure ain't what it used to be.

William B. Tanner is probably the most famous perp walker in Memphis history. He didn't take a perp walk. He ran a perp marathon, starting with the autumn afternoon in 1983 when the FBI raided his office.

At that time, the William B. Tanner Company was one of the biggest around in the media-placement and advertising business. It occupied a sizable building in Midtown with Tanner's name on top of it, right next to the rooftop racquetball court. Tanner's forte was barter, and he was known as the Sultan of Swap, among other things. He sold his company to Media General for $40 million, which was a big deal in its day.

I wrote several newspaper articles and one long magazine profile of Tanner during that time and got to know him well. The phrases "no comment" and "you'll have to talk to my lawyer" simply were not in his vocabulary. Tanner did his own talking, for better or worse.

I bring this up not for the sake of nostalgia but because I can't help remembering Bill Tanner when I read the daily business stories about Enron, WorldCom, Salomon Smith Barney, Arthur Andersen, and the rest.

Today's corporate creep gets 15 seconds in front of the cameras. Tanner's building was raided by the FBI and locked down as if there were drug dealers or hostages inside.

The Enron and WorldCom pretty boys boo hoo to their Sunday school classes then hide behind their security gates and their lawyers' suits and skirts. Tanner stuck his jaw out and defiantly spoke for himself from the day he was busted.

Merrill Lynch gets fined and Salomon Smith Barney gets a rap on the knuckles with a ruler for letting "star" analysts make $20 million a year while screwing investors out of their retirement accounts. Tanner got 18 months in the slammer for evading taxes that wouldn't pay for an analyst's luxury cars and for making payments to corporations that wouldn't even cover the ante today.

Companies like WorldCom and AOL Time Warner overstate earnings and revenue by billions. Tanner was accused of understating the value of advertising commitments and barter agreements on his books. No hot stock allocations of 1 million shares like Salomon gave WorldCom's Bernard Ebbers, as did, apparently, lots of other brokerage firms. There were not thousands of employees who lost their jobs and savings.

There was no stock-market manipulation, period, because Tanner's company was privately held, not public. If anyone was a loser, it was Media General, which bought Tanner's company without, apparently, checking a single local reference on a man who any number of people could have told them was the sharpest horse trader around.

For three years, the FBI and the United States Attorney's Office spent considerable time and manpower on Tanner. The FBI raided Tanner's building while Tanner was out of town, supposedly to keep him or anyone from destroying files. Then, it notified reporters so that there were plenty of pictures in the newspaper and on television.

Tanner, nothing if not combative, did not know me from Adam's Ox, but he took my phone call to Colorado that night and gave me and my employer at the time, The Commercial Appeal, plenty of fodder for three pages of coverage. As soon as he got back to Memphis, he held a press conference at which he took on all comers and complained long and loud about being treated "like a cheap dope."

Tanner remained accessible and talkative as his case progressed. He was funny and candid, sides most people didn't see. Most of all, he was irrepressible, and he thrived on challenge and adversity. In the old days, he once told me, while selling proprietary drugs in small towns all over the South, he was "just gettin' warmed up after the third or fourth no."

We played racquetball together scores of times before, during, and after the spring day in 1985 when he made his guilty plea and, through his attorney James Neal, asked Judge McRae for leniency. The flamboyant judge listened with barely concealed disdain then hammered Tanner with a four-year prison sentence. Several people in the courtroom gasped, but Tanner didn't flinch. The media pack followed him outside, and every television station in town led with footage of Tanner hugging his crying family. He didn't run, and he didn't hide.

He did 18 months in a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama. Reliable witnesses say he pretty much had the run of the place, and I don't doubt it. By 1988, it was all behind him, and he built another fortune in outdoor advertising.

A couple of years ago, he was diagonosed with cancer. I heard he was in the hospital, heard he was a goner. I should have known better. A few months ago, I ran into him at a Beach Boys concert in Tunica, rocking away to "Help Me Rhonda" and "Little Deuce Coupe." He had a brush cut, a bright red shirt, and a grin as wide as the Mississippi.

Just gettin' warmed up, I guess.

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