Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ku Klux Klan Rally Is a Non-event in Memphis

Posted By on Sat, Mar 30, 2013 at 4:39 PM

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A cold rain, massive law enforcement presence, and a malfunctioning bullhorn put a damper on a Ku Klux Klan rally of about 75 people protesting the renaming of Civil War parks including the one named for Nathan Bedford Forrest Saturday.

The group arrived in two city buses and gathered in front of the Shelby County Courthouse. They were enclosed by a chain-link fence and a line of uniformed police officers and sheriff's deputies. There was no room to march, and members were not allowed to stand on the upper steps of the courthouse, so they crowded together on the sidewalk and lower steps.

Nearby streets were blocked off as they are during a presidential visit. Members of the media were corralled behind yellow tape across the street, and a group of protesters were similarly separated at the other end of the street, out of earshot of the Klan group. There was no interaction, and other than periodic shouts of "white power" it was nearly impossible to tell what the Klan speakers were saying. One sheriff's assistant chief said the group did not have batteries for their bullhorn.

The law enforcement response was overwhelming, starting hours before the rally, which began about 2:30 p.m. There were hundreds of officers in riot gear, scores of vehicles, canine units, horse-mounted units, TACT units, armored vehicles, motorcycles, fire trucks, mobile command posts, and enough firepower to repel, or at least mount a fair challenge, to General Robert E. Lee's Army of Virginia.

The purpose of the rally, such as it was, was hard to discern. A single sympathizer, a woman, carried a sign that said "Save Our Parks." There were about a dozen Klansmen in robes and hoods — a wise fashion choice in light of the rain — but no masks were allowed. Some of the men wore dark glasses or camouflage hats. About a dozen of them carried flags of the USA, the Klan, and a neo-Nazi group. The speeches began about an hour after the scheduled 1:30 start time. Speakers took turns, but other than the white power chant and some vague denunciations of the "corrupt mayor and city council" it was hard for the assembled media to hear what anyone said.

After the first few speakers finished, several members of the group were smiling and taking photographs of one another, as were the assembled cops. The Klansmen and their friends shut down after less than two hours and boarded the two buses that took them back to the parking lot of The Pyramid.

What a way to spend a Saturday.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Rare Bright Day for the Unified School System

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 7:22 PM

Dorsey Hopson and staff
For a day, at least, it was all sunshine.

Under a bright blue sky, Interim Superintendent "Dorsey" (Hopson) introduced Interim assistant superintendent "David" (Stephens) and the rest of the administrative staff. No formality, no bodyguards, no limos, no scowling Irving Hamer, no snark, no hostility, no guarded answers. Maybe it was the weather, or the spirit of Easter and renewal. But less than 24 hours after another five-hour school board meeting, the new leadership aired it out.

Hopson said there will be no attendance zone changes and no busing. There could be more school closings, but not until the 2014—2015 school year. The school system will try to get full payment of past debts from the city "but I don't want to be in an adversarial position with the city," Hopson said. "I hope they do the right thing and pay what they owe."

John Aitken was "great" but "the work goes on." Hopson does not plan to apply for the permanent superintendent's job, if permanent can be used in such a context.

"We've got to all be partners whether we have one district or ten districts," he said.

The picture was worth 1000 words. Both Hopson and Stephens have children in the city or county public schools. And Stephens has a good personal story. His father, O. Z. Stephens used to work for the Memphis City Schools back in the busing years. In fact, he cowrote Plan Z, the "terminal" busing plan that drove more than 30,000 students out of the system in 1973 and 1974.

David Stephens
  • David Stephens
David Stephens said his father's views of the merger have softened since two years ago when I interviewed him and he said he feared another round of white flight and busing. The slow pace, in this case, has been a good thing. David is working on his doctorate, and part of his research is interviewing his dad. They got about an hour on tape. I asked David if I could listen to it some time and he agreed. I will write more after we meet.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Tie Vote on Teacher Pay Change at School Board

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 9:37 PM

Dorsey Hopson
  • Dorsey Hopson
The Unified School Board voted 10-10 Tuesday on a proposal to change the way teachers are paid. But the measure, which needed 12 votes to pass, can come up again because of some strategic moves by proponents of the change.

Three members of the 23-member board were absent. Board member Kevin Woods voted "no" but is actually in favor of the change. By voting no he reserved the right to bring up the measure again — a practice that is fairly standard on the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission. Barbara Prescott, chairman of the Transition Planning Commission which proposed the change, said she believes there is one more "yes" vote among the three absentees, which, with Woods, would make a majority.

The proposal puts more emphasis on student test scores and less emphasis on experience and advanced degrees. But interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson emphasized that it would not cut the pay of any current teacher or any teacher currently working on an advanced degree.

In the face of dozens of Memphis Education Association members holding signs urging board members to vote no, Hopson defended the proposed change, in the first test of his leadership as superintendent.

He gave a good account of himself, as did several board members in the debate that avoided emotional outbursts. The complex issue, with conflicting studies and research, lends itself to "on the one hand, on the other hand" speeches, and there were several of them.

The division on the board defied the usual stereotypes. Both suburban and Memphis representatives were to be found on both sides. So were board members with advanced degrees. Proponents included David Reaves, Tomeka Hart, Jeff Warren, Betty Mallott, and Billy Orgel. Opponents included Joe Clayton, Snowden Carruthers, David Pickler, Sara Lewis, Patrice Robinson, Stephanie Gatewood, and Kenneth Whalum Jr.

No speaker carried the day, but Hopson had the most memorable line. He repeatedly used the fictional example of a degree in "basket weaving" qualifying a teacher for more money. In the example he used, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and excellent student test results and mentoring experience would make $43,994. Another teacher with a master's degree and 45 more hours of graduate school with mediocre test results and no outside mentoring or added responsibility could make $66,258.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Reactions to the New Riverfront Report

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Memphians with a stake in the riverfront have had time to consider the six "quick fixes" for the riverfront proposed by urban design expert Jeff Speck this week. Here is some of what they had to say.

Henry Turley, developer: “I thought the quote of the night was Paul Morris (head of the Downtown Memphis Commission) saying “plan less, do more.” I have long thought there was a battle between river access and expressway on Riverside Drive. Jeff Speck hit that right. On Bass Pro, I think he hit that right too. It is turned south and therefore does not significantly impact The Pinch. Several years ago I asked the McWherter administration not to put the state welcome center in Arkansas. The idea was to develop those sites, where the parks and development sites would go together. Overall, I didn't find much to pick at.”

Charlie Ryan, partner in Beale Street Landing restaurant. “Wow. Wow. We already don't have enough parking. So what else can I say. It is difficult to get to the building. It's as simple as that.”

Bud Chittom, partner in Beale Street Landing restaurant: “Once the smoke clears there will be parking at the end of the park. We've got to have that little parking lot.”

Burton Carley, minister of Church of the River, called “the church of None Shall Pass” in the report. “It would cost the city millions for the river walk to come across our property. We spend a lot of money maintaining it.” Carley said the church has talked with the city and railroad about doing something to help the bike path to the Harahan Bridge without putting it in front of the church, with its big windows looking out over the river. “We are not obstructionists. The renewal of the riverfront began with the Church of the River.” Nor is he alarmed by anything in the report. “What I have learned in my 30 years here is not to pay attention too much.”

Tom Jones, who introduced Speck, wrote this on his Smart City Memphis blog, which includes links to the full report. Jones has been a close observer of downtown projects for more than three decades.

Jimmy Ogle, Beale Street Landing. “Taking out parking at Tom Lee Park would be tough right now. How do you get to the park?” Ogle said he is “lukewarm” to making changes in Riverside Drive.

Jim Holt, executive director of Memphis In May: “I met with Mr. Speck. Tom Lee Park has been our home for 37 years. Part of the magic of the event is the river. Every modification has an impact. We have been flexible.”

Greg Maxted, The Harahan Project: "The idea I liked a lot was Riverside Drive, adding a bike lane and parallel parking, and removing the parking lots and adding more green space." As for the bridge project and the church, Maxted said the design utilizes Virginia Avenue for access and will not impact the church.

Virginia McLean, Friends For Our Riverfront: "I think what he had to say about Bass Pro Boulevard was a strong and good suggestion. If they would listen again they might have a chance of developing that little part. But if nobody listens now and they go ahead with their large sign and lights, then I don't think there is any possibility of mixed-use going in there."

While it is true that downtown has a lot of plans on the shelf, it also has a lot of riverfront projects costing many millions of dollars. Most of the projects since 1980 have expanded public parkland and amenities and deemphasized cars. A partial list includes:

Mud Island River Park, now entering its fourth decade and closed half the year. It has had two full-service restaurants in addition to a snack bar. It has been managed by the city and the Riverfront Development Corporation. At various times, it has had paid concerts, longer hours and a longer season, free concerts, a swimming pool, kayaks, paddle boats, air-boat rides, a museum, playground, overnight camping, and free admission.

Tom Lee Park was expanded to more than double its acreage, with a broad sidewalk at the edge of the river from just south of Beale Street to the top of the hill at Ashburn-Coppock Park. The sidewalk was extended south behind the Rivermont apartments to Martyr’s Park, which has the highest viewpoint of the river in Memphis.

A lighted sidewalk on the west side of Riverside Drive above the Cobblestones Landing.

The Bluff Walk from Beale Street to the South Bluffs, including a pedestrian bridge over Riverside Drive and staircases to walkways across the road to Tom Lee Park.

Henry Turley
Greenbelt Park on Mud Island, with a lighted sidewalk above the flood plain and paths and benches on the grass near the river, and room for several special outdoor events including a bike race.

Harbor Town was developed as a walkable residential community that now has thousands of residents.

The A. W. Willis Jr. Bridge opened Mud Island to private development. The bridge has protected sidewalks on each side.

Mud Island River Park is accessible by bike from the bridge or the sidewalk above the monorail, which can be accessed by elevator. Bikes are allowed in the park.

A landscaped median and crosswalks were added to Riverside Drive to make it more pedestrian friendly.

The Main Street Trolley goes north and south on the pedestrian mall. Cars are banned. The Riverfront trolley line carries passengers from Auction Street to the train station.

A pedestrian bridge was built to connect the University of Memphis law school with the park north of it.

Bike lanes on Front Street.

New projects or additions to what urban experts call "the built environment" are often premised on the idea that people would walk and bike more if they only had more places to do it. I am unable to associate myself with this thesis. Most people bike for recreation, not to get somewhere for a specific purpose. And we love our cars. There is no better illustration than the bike racks and parking lots at Rhodes College and the University of Memphis, the very demographic that is supposed to be hot for bikes. One is packed, the other isn't.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Expert Suggests Six Quick Fixes for Riverfront

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 8:42 PM

Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, suggests six quick fixes for the riverfront.

At the request of Mayor A C Wharton, Speck reviewed some 20 riverfront plans dating back more than 30 years. He gave a nice straightforward 90-minute talk to about 125 people at the Memphis Cook Convention Center Monday. Speck showed familiarity with the past, present, and future of the riverfront. He was last here for an extended visit in 2008, but also remembers the 2002 grand vision that included a land bridge and high-rise buildings on Front Street. He called it "as imaginary as it was imaginative."

"The last thing the city needs is another plan," he said.

Here are his six suggestions, along with my comments.

The Pyramid: Its connection should be to Main Street, not Front Street. The Pinch should focus on attracting people from conventions, not travelers on the interstate. Bass Pro "still has a long way to go" to understand the city. Speck suggests selling off four acres on Bass Pro Boulevard (the southern entryway next to the state visitors center) for private development and turning the boulevard into two or three lanes of car traffic and a lane for bikes and pedestrians.

Comment: I watched the Tunica casinos come out of the ground in 1994-1995. There was an incredible sense of drive, mission, and urgency. The Bass Pro Pyramid does not have that. I doubt it will meet the 2013 opening deadline. The boulevard is small change.

Mud Island Park: Still disconnected from the rest of downtown. Needs stairs to the monorail from the visitor center. Speck suggests a water taxi from Beale Street to the tip of the island. He thinks the park should be open year round. Speck did not comment on the naming controversy over Jefferson Davis Park, which is just south of the visitor center. He said this park is "the next great waterfront opportunity."

Comment: Visitor experts overestimate Mud Island River Park every time. Memphians are bored by it, and it attracts very few tourists. It is closed six months for a reason.

Riverside Drive: Shrink it from four lanes to three lanes or two lanes. Include a buffered bike lane and a lane for parallel parking. Take the parking lots out of Tom Lee Park and next to Beale Street Landing. Keep Memphis in May in the park. Break the park up into small areas separated by trees.

Comment: A $42 million boat dock with a restaurant with no parking lot. Yikes.

The Cobblestones. Speck said it is about impossible to make it usable and historically accurate at the same time, given the demands of accessibility and preservationists. He said the RDC should finish the project and add light structures "draping" on it.

Comment: The man has done his homework.

The Riverwalk: By this he meant the sidewalk and Bluff Walk going from the Pyramid to Martyr's Park. It now leaves the riverfront and goes behind the law school and into South Bluffs residential development. Speck suggests making it more linear and always within sight of the river. The walk should be extended between the Church of the River and Channel 3's offices to the French Fort area south of the Harahan Bridge.

Comment: The section along the railroad tracks between Union and Madison is a pain, but I like the dogleg through South Bluffs. Those who want to stay in sight of the river can take the 84 steps down from the Bluff Walk to Tom Lee Park at Huling Street and follow it south to where it ends near the church.

Beale Street to Beale Street Landing: Needs "edging" — development along Beale Street by the parking lots near the river, once envisioned as the site of One Beale, a tall hotel and condo. The Harahan Project needs something on the West Memphis side in the floodplain, maybe just a loop trail and a pavilion, because Main Street West Memphis (the other half of the "Main Street to Main Street" idea) is too far away.

Comment: The fact that there is basically nothing on the bluff at the corner of Beale and Riverside Drive, a pretty famous American intersection, is sad. This corner, like the Pinch on the north end of downtown, actually had more activity 30 years ago when Captain Bilbo's was around.

To learn more about Speck and his 74 pages of observations and proposals, visit the city of Memphis website.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fact Checking "Argo," "Lincoln," Steinbeck, and Who Knows?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 10:55 AM

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According to various reports, the government of Iran is considering suing Hollywood over the movie "Argo."

No surprise there. These days everyone's a fact checker, and news stories, blogs, books, movies, and famous authors are all fair game.

The Iran and Argo story was reported recently in the CBS News and Huffington Post among others. That car-chases-plane scene at the end was pretty over-the-top, got to admit, but you would think Iran would have bigger things to worry about.

Earlier this year, a congressman from Connecticut pointed out inaccuracies in "Lincoln" about the vote for 13th Amendment. Joe Courtney spotted something strange in the movie's depiction of the landmark vote. He found out that the Connecticut congressmen depicted in the film — and two more who weren't portrayed — were for, not against, passage of the amendment.

"How could congressmen from Connecticut — a state that supported President Lincoln and lost thousands of her sons fighting against slavery on the Union side of the Civil War — have been on the wrong side of history?" Courtney wrote in a letter to the movie studio DreamWorks.

Former journalist Bill Steigerwald has written a good book about John Steinbeck called "Dogging Steinbeck" in which he exhaustively fact checks the eminent author's 1960 road trip (which Steigerwald duplicated) with his French poodle that was the subject of the book "Travels With Charley." Turns out Steinbeck made up some interviews and other stuff.

Not all errors are intentional. Last week a Memphis publication put the Front Street Deli at the corner of Front and Main, which are parallel streets. The deli is at Front and Union. The error was corrected.

There but for the grace of God go I, I thought. I have become convinced that sometimes reporters simply cannot catch their own errors no matter how much they proofread. I once reported that a living person was dead, and I have misspelled many a name I should know. A friend, also from the North, topped me though. He interviewed a sheriff in North Carolina and reported that he had a degree in "farms and bums." A sharp-eyed editor took note, and it turned out the sheriff said "firearms and bombs."

Flyer stories in the paper are read by the author and three other people before they are published. Blog posts go online without a second set of eyes looking at them. Comments, of course, are often anonymous and sometimes full of bogus statements of "fact" that get recycled even if they are corrected.

Plagiarism and factual errors are only going to get worse as daily and weekly newspapers and magazines like "Time" fight for their lives in the digital age and reporters and bloggers publish without a net. Whatever you think of them, old media put a lot of effort into editing stories and fact-checking.

Are you willing to cut Hollywood some slack but do you still want the facts right in your news? Be prepared to pay someone, some way, somehow.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Federal Prosecutors Seeking Death Penalty in Henning Double Murder

Posted By on Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 12:10 PM

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United States Attorney Edward Stanton III said the government will seek the death penalty in the case of Chastain Montgomery Sr., who is charged with killing two postal workers in the West Tennessee town of Henning.

In a hearing before U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla, Stanton himself made the announcement of the unusual decision. He declined to comment after the hearing, but a spokesman said he believes the last federal defendant to be executed was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Montgomery is charged with shooting and killing Paula Robinson and Judy Spray while robbing a Henning post office with his son in October 2010. His son was later killed in a shootout with law enforcement. Montgomery was in court Friday, slumped in a chair next to his attorney, but did not say anything. Family members of the victims were also in the courtroom but declined to speak to reporters.

Montgomery's attorney, Michael Scholl, said seeking the death penalty is unusual but not unprecedented in his experience in federal cases in Memphis.

"This prevents a quick resolution of this case," he said, predicting there will be "litigation for years at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers."

He said the alternative would be for the government to seek life without parole.

Scholl said he will attempt to show that Montgomery has a mental disability and an IQ below 65. Montgomery confessed to the post office shootings after being arrested.

Resolution of various motions in the case is expected to take several months.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lee Busby of Front Street Deli is Dead

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 5:36 PM

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Lee Busby was a good man on a good corner.

Lee was one of the last of the one-man deli owners. His place was Front Street Deli, on the corner of Union and Front, in the heart of what was once the Memphis cotton district downtown. He died Wednesday in the hospital after trouble related to heart problems.

Regulars knew Lee's place as the scene of a bit in the Tom Cruise movie "The Firm" based on John Grisham's book. Lee was a fan of baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Memphis Redbirds, the Memphis Tigers and Grizzlies, and sports and scuttlebutt in general. He had worked on the river before going into the deli business and was a fountain of information about that too. And he made an honest sandwich or a plate of fried chicken with a side of chili, deviled eggs, or a chocolate shake.

He was a friendly, hard-working Memphian and we'll miss him.

Visitation will be held in the Narthex of Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Friday, March 8, 2013, from 1:00-2:00 p.m., with the funeral service beginning at 2:00 p.m.

The Commercial Appeal and Hospital Salaries

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2013 at 2:32 PM

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Let's cut right to the chase. The head of nonprofit Baptist hospital system, Stephen Reynolds, makes more than $3 million a year and the head of nonprofit Methodist hospital system, Gary Shorb, makes over $2 million, according to 2011 tax returns for the hospital systems. That is not news to regular readers of this column, but it might be news to readers of The Commercial Appeal.

Why do I bring this up now? Because a column on the op-ed page of The Commercial Appeal this morning, Wednesday, set off my inner Mr. Cranky.

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The column by Albert R. Hunt, a Washington insider, television pundit, and columnist for Bloomberg View is titled "U.S. health care sicker than we thought." Hunt lavishly praises a recent story in Time magazine by Steven Brill about "the scam the U.S. health care system has become" called "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us." Brill's story is a memory-choking 20,000 words so I am not going to link to it but you can find it easily enough if you want to.

Hunt and Brill zeroed in on nonprofit hospitals, "the cornerstone of many communities, capriciously overcharge patients, sticking the powerless with exorbitant bills while paying lavish salaries to their executives."

Another Brill bite: "In hundreds of small and midsize cities across the country — from Stamford, Conn., to Marlton, N.J., to Oklahoma City — the American health care market has transformed tax-exempt “nonprofit” hospitals into the towns’ most profitable businesses and largest employers, often presided over by the regions’ most richly compensated executives. And in our largest cities, the system offers lavish paychecks even to midlevel hospital managers, like the 14 administrators at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who are paid over $500,000 a year, including six who make over $1 million."

At the end of his column, Hunt wrote that "the system's big stakeholders have well-connected lobbyists, are important campaign contributors or forces in their communities. They react to articles such as Brill's, but really aren't much worried. They are rich, powerful, and protected."

Yes they are protected, and one way they are protected is by local media not responsibly reporting readily available information on profits and salaries. Last Sunday, CA editor Chris Peck used his column to write about health care and the newspaper's editorial board meeting with Shorb, CEO of Methodist. The subject of salaries and Brill's article apparently never came up. Or at least it didn't make it into Peck's column.

Perhaps it was because, as former CA editorial page editor Otis Sanford wrote in his column two years ago, "Salaries are always a touchy subject."

Salaries are a touchy subject because people like to know what other people make, but most of them don't like other people to know what they make. That's private, unless the salary is public information. The salaries paid by nonprofits, if they are over a certain amount, are reported on a publicly available tax Form 990, available online via guidestar.org to anyone with minimal curiosity and computer skills.

Some salaries are touchier than others. When former Flyer reporter Mary Cashiola left the newspaper to take a job as brand manager for the city of Memphis, The CA saw fit to publish her salary — a jaw-dropping $64,000. Twice. The CA and local television stations often report on the salaries of public officials, as they should. But the visuals are awful. And what about so-and-so? On Tuesday night, a WREG-TV reporter mentioned that Rick Masson, the newly appointed special master, will be paid $250 an hour. Co-anchor Richard Ransom correctly noted that lawyers in the schools cases are making more than that.

Whoa! Where ya goin' with that, Richard? Co-anchor Claudia Barr raised an eyebrow and segued into the next story. Maybe Ransom and Sanford, now holder of an endowed chair of journalism at the University of Memphis, will explore this subject on WREG's "Informed Sources."

What media rarely do, however, is report the salaries of highly paid chief executives of nonprofits such as hospitals, even though that is also easily accessible public information and very much in the news. Nonprofits, foundations, and quasi-public organizations that get public funding and/or tax-exempt status have taken over a big slice of the functions governments used to do — the Riverfront Development Corporation, Overton Park and Shelby Farms conservancies, the Kroc Center, and charter schools to name a few.

For 20 years, Memphis magazine and the Flyer have periodically reported on nonprofit salaries, usually in the context of a news story or survey. This is not wildly popular with the people in the surveys or, probably, some people in our sales department. But it makes no sense to write about, say, an athlete or celebrity making $10 million a year (they don't care what you say and are not going to call you up) or the mayor or some superintendent or division director making $64,000 or $200,000 and write nothing about the local people in the middle who are just as influential or more, and whose salaries are also public information.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that there are days and weeks when column writers struggle to find something to get exercised about. Occasionally speaking truth to power — local power that can bite back — is part of the job. The CA has some very able reporters who are well aware of the salaries paid to hospital executives and other heads of nonprofits. I know because I used to work there and have nagged a couple of my ex-colleagues about this.

The backdoor way to do this is to let someone else do the dirty work. But why have Al Hunt use space in your newspaper to quote Steven Brill in Time magazine on something your own reporters can localize? It's like doing an arms-length story about the National Enquirer breaking a sleazy story.

Except salaries are not sleazy. They're serious business, and may well be justified and then some. If it's worth Steven Brill's time and Al Hunt's time and space in your product, and there's a local angle that hits you in the face, it's worth your time too.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rick Masson Named Special Master

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 7:54 PM

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Rick Masson, former chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis under Mayor Willie Herenton, has been named special master by federal judge Samuel H. Mays to oversee the merger of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems.

For three terms, Masson was Herenton's "go-to guy" for major projects as well as the main contact with the Memphis City Council.

"Rick is an extremely capable executive who has had high level managerial experience in city government and on the board of MLGW," said Herenton. "I have utmost confidence in Rick's ability to lead this board through this merger."

Herenton said Masson played a key role in the "complicated outsourcing of our I.T. (information technology) department)" and the establishment of annexation reserve areas with Shelby County municipalities in the 1990s when Jim Rout was county mayor.

"He's been in complicated situations that will help him complete this merger," said Herenton, who is hoping to start several charter schools under the new unified school system.

Like Mays, a White Station High School graduate in 1966, Masson has some connections to the MCS optional schools program. His son attended White Station when the Massons lived in the Evergreen neighborhood in Midtown.

Former City Councilman John Vergos, also a 1966 WSHS graduate, was delighted with the selection of Masson.

"He's the kind of guy who would come into the office and put his feet up on the desk and talk about whatever was troubling you," he said. "I was on the first council that majority African-American, and Rick had a reputation for being able to work with the administration and council."

Vergos believes Masson has "a healthy skepticism about school budgeting and I think that is good in this situation."

Masson's selection was something of a surprise. Only last week he was announced as the newest "heavy hitter" addition to a local public relations and consulting firm, Caissa.

Mays listed eight duties of the special master.

1) To monitor the work of the Shelby County Board of Education as it makes the decisions necessary to transfer the administration of the Memphis City Schools to the Shelby County Board of Education;

2) To assist the Shelby County Board of Education and its staff in making decisions and in establishing and maintaining deadlines for decisions;

3) To ensure that the issues identified in the Transition Plan approved by the Transition Planning Commission and reviewed by the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education are considered and resolved in a timely and appropriate way;

4) To work with the parties and the Tennessee Department of Education as necessary to provide that the rights of teachers are not impaired, interrupted, or diminished;

5) To work with the Shelby County Board of Education in establishing a practical budget for the combined school systems and with the appropriate parties to the Consent Decree that the budget is adequately funded;

6) To gather such information as may be necessary to implement the Consent Decree and to report to the Court orally or in writing, as may be necessary, considering always that time is of the essence;

7) To promote cooperation among the parties and among the members of the Shelby County Board of Education and to encourage voluntary compliance with the Consent Decree; and

8) To recommend specific action by the Court if decisions are not made or not timely made.

From the order: "The special master may communicate ex parte with the Court, with counsel, with representatives of any party, or with such other individuals as necessary to perform his duties. The Court appoints Rick Masson of Shelby County, Tennessee, as special master. Mr. Masson has experience in municipal administration and finance, the organization and management of nonprofit organizations, and strategic planning for public agencies. He will serve at the pleasure of the Court and be compensated at the rate of $250 an hour, plus expenses, payable monthly. His compensation will be paid one-half by the Memphis City Schools and one-half by the Shelby County Schools, as provided in the Consent Decree. He will assume his duties on the entry of this order. The special master is directed to take all appropriate measures to perform his assigned duties fairly and efficiently."

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Monday, March 4, 2013

On Civil War Monuments and Tennis Players

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 11:24 AM

RICHMOND — Behold the monument of the great Civil War general on horseback! And behold the monument of the great tennis player, apparently preparing to thrash some children with a racquet.

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By coincidence, I found myself in Richmond, Virginia, the Capital of the Confederacy, last weekend as the controversy over the Nathan Bedford Forrest monument in Memphis simmers. So I took a morning to visit Monument Avenue, with its majestic monuments of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and Arthur Ashe.

In case you don't know, Ashe was an African-American tennis star, a Favorite Son of Richmond, and a late add-on to Monument Avenue. The other four guys were Confederate generals or, in the case of Davis, presidents.

Jarring, at least to this visitor. Very jarring, and also very understandable.

Ashe monument
I am a tennis fan, tennis player, and saw Ashe play in person a few times when he was in college and as a professional and many other times on television. He was unusually stylish, dignified, reflective, and good. He beat bratty Jimmy Connors when Connors was at the top of his game and Ashe looked like he was doing transcendental meditation on every changeover. Sportswriters had a field day with that one. In 1993, Ashe, 49, died of AIDS. He believed he contracted H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, through a transfusion of tainted blood during his second round of heart-bypass surgery in 1983.

He learned the game on the public tennis courts of Richmond when he was not allowed into the whites-only clubs. His monument went up in 1996, not without controversy over its appropriateness on Monument Avenue. The Lee monument was unveiled in 1890. The other generals got their due early in the 1900s, when the last of the Civil War veterans were dying. A final salute to the cavaliers who, according to historians, brought their soldiers to tears. At around the same time, the monument to Forrest, who fought mainly in and around Tennessee, went up in Memphis, but Jefferson Davis, notably, didn't get his Memphis monument until 1964.

Richmond went through some of the monument agonies Memphis is going through now. As a visitor, I found it convenient to see all the monuments on one street. I can see how placing a monument to Ashe somewhere else could have been perceived as a snub. But it also struck me as jarring, if only for a moment, in both its placement and pose, and probably as a journalist as much as a tourist. I have the same feeling about adding more statues to Forrest Park.

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Flotsam and Jetsam at Beale Street Landing

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 9:29 AM

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  • Memphis Flyer photo
If you only get one chance to make a first impression then $42.5 million Beale Street Landing could be in a tough spot this Saturday when the American Queen steamboat with 430 passengers visits Memphis and 430 more board for the return trip to New Orleans.

They might need to be issued mud boots and blinders. The project, which the Riverfront Development Corporation says on its web site ("The Truth About Beale Street Landing") was supposed to be finished in the summer of 2011, is far from finished today.

The gift shop and main building opened last Friday, and the steamboat is scheduled to make its first visit of the 2013 season in five more days. Barring a massive cleanup operation, passengers will step on to the new floating dock and see several months accumulation of trash trapped in the backwater around the dock and cylindrical ramp.

Jimmy Ogle, newly appointed general manager for Beale Street Landing, was at the park Sunday and Monday when I visited it and said he hopes at least some of the trash can be removed before the boat lands. His first thought was using john boats, but "we can't get them in there" so he hopes that long rakes might work instead. The big logs that washed up on the banks will remain there for a while, said Ogle and Benny Lendermon, director of the Riverfront Development Corporation, who was also at the site Monday morning. Lendermon said the new completion date is November or December of this year, with a grand opening next spring.

An eddy in the river at the southern tip of Mud Island forces water and debris back toward the dock and ramp. Lendermon said the long-range solution is a screen or boom to block debris from reaching the landing. The river is expected to rise two feet by Saturday.

I have no urge to bash Beale Street Landing. Its cost overruns, construction delays, and unusual design choices such as the "pixilated sunset" colors on the roof are a well-reported matter of record. I work near the landing and hope it works, but the RDC seems to have bitten off more than it can chew. Appointing Ogle was a good move. He is as pleasant and diligent an ambassador as any city could have.

I was walking the riverfront Sunday afternoon with developer Henry Turley. We entered the building, which was open for business and selling souvenirs from the Memphis Queen, which was taking passengers out for a cruise. We saw what any visitor will see. Signs that say "Please Excuse Our Mess While We're Under Construction" might earn BSL some points for caring, but the reviews could be brutal.

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