Friday, May 31, 2013

Mayors Wharton and Landrieu and the 66 Percent Doctrine

Posted by on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 1:50 PM

Mitch Landrieu
  • Mitch Landrieu
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu came to Memphis and The Peabody Thursday and had the audience in the palm of his hand. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton came to the Memphis City Council Thursday and had them at his throat.

Landrieu was guest of honor at an event called "A Summons to Memphis" sponsored by our sister publication Memphis magazine. He said lots of nice things about Memphis and suggested that mayors and cities try to do things that two-thirds or 66 percent of "the people" will support, writing off the other 33 percent as hardcore opposed.
He contrasted the idea of trying to achieve a majority of "50 percent plus one" ("which doesn't work because somebody can flip that one") with "governing on the 66 percent model," in that "Something that works for almost everybody is always better than something that works for half the people, plus one."

Coincidentally, Landrieu, who comes from a political family, was elected in 2010 with 67 percent of the vote.

Wharton was guest of honor at an event that could have been called "A Summons to The Reckoning" with a mostly cranky Budget Committee of the City Council. Coincidentally, Wharton was elected in 2011 with 65 percent of the vote. Close enough to make him, like Landrieu, a certified 66-percenter.

But if you want to be hailed as a great guy mayor with a bright future, it is not a bad idea to travel to another city where you can smile, compliment, tell jokes, and speak in platitudes. I have no doubt A C Wharton would get a standing ovation as luncheon speaker next week anywhere in New Orleans.

The 66-percent doctrine is brilliant in its simplicity. And if it is not taken too literally, it makes some sense, particularly when a city is on its heels from a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or reveling in euphoria over the success of its favorite professional sports team as New Orleans was with the Saints in 2010.

But it breaks down when you apply it to specific ideas and things and have to put a price on them, as Wharton did Thursday when he floated a 50-percent property tax increase and 3,250 city employee layoffs as the extremes of the spend-cut continuum.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Super Tuesday Coming Up on City Budget

Posted by on Thu, May 30, 2013 at 7:29 PM

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Stock up on the energy drinks. The upcoming City Council session on the budget next week looks like a marathon, with scary numbers like a 50 percent increase in property taxes and/or 3,250 layoffs of city employees being tossed out.

The City Council's Budget Committee met with Mayor A C Wharton Thursday in a dress rehearsal for Super Tuesday. Wharton and CAO George Little presented four for-illustration-purposes-only scenarios ranging from a property tax rate of the current $3.11 per $100 of assessed value with 3,250 layoffs to a scare-the-pants-off-you $4.83 with no layoffs and hefty payments for future debt service and pension obligations. In between were the mayor's favored $3.36 rate with no layoffs and $3.11 with 1,420 layoffs.

The final rate is likely to be something north of $3.36 and south of $4 when the council gets through hacking away at it. The council and administration have been engaging in a dance of "who will make the tough cuts." Councilman Kemp Conrad, a budget hawk from way back who has said for years that the council and administration are "kicking the can down the road" to ruin, called the $4.83 rate — which he does not support — an "honest budget" because it owns up to long-term obligations as well as wish-list budgets from various city divisions. From the administration side, Little presented, in the finest of fine print, a list of 21 possible cuts and savings.

"This is the package," he said when pressed by members about whether the administration is willing to take ownership of them.

The items in the package include such goodies as elimination of medical benefits for the dependents of retirees, a defined contribution retirement plan instead of a defined benefit plan for city employees, reductions in paid leave, elimination of the proposed 4.6 pay increase for city employees, and a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments in employee benefits.

Cutting 3,250 jobs would eliminate nearly half of the city's workforce, impose extreme cuts in every type of city services,, restore the 4.6 percent pay cut for employees who don't lose their jobs, and cut the property tax rate from Wharton's recommended $3.36 to $3.11. At least some of the increase is due to a decline in the aggregate property valuation in Memphis. When that goes down, the tax rate has to go up to compensate.

Boosting the property tax rate to $4.83 (on top of the Shelby County rate of a proposed $4.32) would give Memphis a sky-high combined rate that would make the most dedicated Memphians think seriously about leaving town. The "upside" would be no layoffs of employees, no cuts in services, restoration of the 4.6 percent pay cut, and payment of about $170 million to future debt service and reserves, pensions, and post-employment benefits.

The bargaining begins , or ends, Tuesday. The state comptroller has served notice that Memphis may not balance its budget via smoke and mirrors, also known as pushing around debt.

"I don't think we will have a budget on Tuesday," said Councilman Shea Flinn.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Will Rhodes Students Take to Bikes?

Posted by on Mon, May 27, 2013 at 1:24 PM

(Tyler Springs is a 2013 graduate of Rhodes College with a degree in English. He wrote this post on the Tennessee Bicycle Summit at Rhodes last week.)

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Fifty percent of all bicycle trips made in the United States are under three miles in length. As someone who often called on an old Diamondback Recoil to get me the two blocks between my front door and an 8 a.m. geology class at Rhodes College, I can count myself as an active member of the “under-three” club. More to the point, the local membership in that club has the chance to get considerably bigger, and soon.

With the second annual Tennessee Bike Summit being held this past week at Rhodes, it is clear that bikes matter in the Bluff City, and that is becoming more and more true for the school and its surrounding population in particular. Anthony Siracusa, a 2009 graduate who started Revolutions Community Bike Shop and earned a prestigious Watson Fellowship to study bike cultures around the world, is happy to see the cause advancing around his alma mater’s Midtown campus.

“The McLean Avenue bike lane will take you from this area all the way to Cooper-Young, a primary entertainment district, and [within a year] the North Parkway bike lanes will be able to take you from the college all the way downtown,” he said. “I think [Rhodes] should take very seriously the investment that the city is making, and also make a subsequent investment here on campus, both in terms of [bike] education, and pushing students to get out and use that new infrastructure.”

Though he has commuted to Rhodes by bike for years (first as a student, now as an administrator), Siracusa believes that the framework for a widespread proliferation of pedal-power is just now being realized.

“They’re going to build a connector trail from the main circuit of Rhodes and Overton Park to East Parkway that will carry riders across East Parkway with timed signal into the new protected bike lanes on Broad Ave and to then, the Shelby Farms Greenline,” he said. “That should be boasted about to incoming students as a major asset. You literally walk out your front door, have access to one of the oldest growth forests in an urban area in the country, and then you access the only two way cycle track in the country to a seven-mile Shelby Farms Greenline that leads you to the largest urban park in America. That’s pretty sweet.”

An obstacle to a more bike-friendly mindset, however, might be the notion that people at a residential college contained on barely one hundred acres don’t need anything more than their feet to get around. With 70% of students currently living on the Rhodes campus—where most academic buildings are just a five-minute walk from residence halls—some would probably say that bikes actually aren’t needed in greater numbers. For a kid with daily access to the campus rec center and a weekly meal-plan that can cover all meals, the incentive to buy (and maintain) a bicycle might seem limited. Still, Siracusa says that more bikes could simplify some prominent campus issues.

“You can solve a number of problems [by encouraging biking], one of the big ones being having too many cars here on campus,” Siracusa said, referring to the parking lots that are becoming increasingly crowded as the school grows its student body from 1,800 to more than 2,000. “But you’ve got to have a commitment from the college to getting folks out on bikes and safely using that infrastructure.”

At the moment, Rhodes does operate a bike maintenance and rental shop on campus for Rhodes students and faculty, but it may take some time yet for the college to embrace a role as a biking base for Midtown. But, the wheels are turning.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Taps" For a Memphian Awarded the Medal of Honor

Posted by on Sun, May 26, 2013 at 12:12 AM

Now there are ten of them.

Vernon McGarity, a Memphian who was one of the last living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge, died last week. He was 91 years old.

"Extraordinary bravery", "extreme devotion to duty", "intrepid leader of men", and "gallant soldier" are some of the phrases in Mr. McGarity's citation.

Funeral services were held Saturday, two days before Memorial Day. At the time of his death, Mr. McGarity was one of 80 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest decoration for valor. There are now only ten living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II.

"He never asked to be a hero but he handled it well," said the brief obituary notice. Mr. McGarity was eulogized by his son, Ray McGarity, as a humble man who never tried to capitalize on his honors although he knew Tennessee politicians from Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb to Governor Ned McWherter.

Mr. McGarity was born near Savannah, Tennessee and joined the Army on his 21st birthday. He shipped overseas in 1944 and in December of that year he and his squad of ten men were ordered to "hold out at all costs" against the German counter-offensive. They continued to do that for two days, as Mr. McGarity rescued comrades, routed German machine-gun nests, destroyed tanks, and risked his life to gather a hidden stash of ammunition. They fought, literally, to the last bullet before Mr. McGarity was captured. He spent six months in a prisoner-of-war camp before being liberated.

Mr. McGarity served in the Tennessee National Guard for 28 years and worked with veterans for many years in Memphis and Jackson, Tennesse. The Harrison McGarity Bridge over the Tennessee River in Savannah is named for him.

Ray McGarity is well known to Memphis tennis players as "Big Ray," a gentle giant who was an excellent player, teacher, and undoubtedly the biggest and strongest man ever to play the game at such a high level in his tournament days. He could probably drive a ball right through you, cartoon-like, were it not for his sportsmanship and soft-spoken disposition.

"Daddy was quiet and strong," he said in his eulogy. "A father's love never dies, nor does a family and son's love for him."

President Truman and Vernon McGarity
  • President Truman and Vernon McGarity
Mr. McGarity received his Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman on October 15, 1945.

"I'd rather have that blue ribbon with the Medal of Honor on it than be President of the United States," Truman told him.

Here is the citation from the Medal of Honor Society's website:

He was painfully wounded in an artillery barrage that preceded the powerful counteroffensive launched by the Germans near Krinkelt, Belgium, on the morning of 16 December 1944. He made his way to an aid station, received treatment, and then refused to be evacuated, choosing to return to his hard-pressed men instead.

The fury of the enemy's great Western Front offensive swirled about the position held by T/Sgt. McGarity's small force, but so tenaciously did these men fight on orders to stand firm at all costs that they could not be dislodged despite murderous enemy fire and the breakdown of their communications. During the day the heroic squad leader rescued one of his friends who had been wounded in a forward position, and throughout the night he exhorted his comrades to repulse the enemy's attempts at infiltration.

When morning came and the Germans attacked with tanks and infantry, he braved heavy fire to run to an advantageous position where he immobilized the enemy's lead tank with a round from a rocket launcher. Fire from his squad drove the attacking infantrymen back, and three supporting tanks withdrew. He rescued, under heavy fire, another wounded American, and then directed devastating fire on a light cannon which had been brought up by the hostile troops to clear resistance from the area. When ammunition began to run low, T/Sgt. McGarity, remembering an old ammunition hole about 100 yards distant in the general direction of the enemy, braved a concentration of hostile fire to replenish his unit's supply.

By circuitous route the enemy managed to emplace a machinegun to the rear and flank of the squad's position, cutting off the only escape route. Unhesitatingly, the gallant soldier took it upon himself to destroy this menace single-handedly. He left cover, and while under steady fire from the enemy, killed or wounded all the hostile gunners with deadly accurate rifle fire and prevented all attempts to reman the gun. Only when the squad's last round had been fired was the enemy able to advance and capture the intrepid leader and his men.

The extraordinary bravery and extreme devotion to duty of T/Sgt. McGarity supported a remarkable delaying action which provided the time necessary for assembling reserves and forming a line against which the German striking power was shattered.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Judge Potter and a Man Called Hoss Apologize

Posted by on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 1:36 PM

Larry Potter
  • Larry Potter
Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter apologized to a man for calling him "hoss" Thursday during a hearing.

The man, Danny Carter, also apologized to Potter for the exchange earlier in the day. Carter was in court over allegations regarding his property when Potter addressed him casually as "hoss" and Carter objected. He was threatened with jail and ordered to sit down and his case was pushed to the end of the daily docket.

Court employees said the apologies came later in the day. One observer described it as "friendly" and said both men "sort of were hat-in-hand."

Club 152 on Beale is Open Again

Posted by on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 1:20 PM

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Let the upscale freakism resume.

Club 152 on Beale Street reopened Friday at noon (technically 1 p.m. because the order came just after noon) after a settlement was reached in Environmental Court. Third time was the charm, as the case had been reset twice this week while Judge Larry Potter met with attorneys. The club was closed a week ago as a public nuisance due to drug sales.

"This resolution must be abided by," said Potter. "Deviation from this will incur the wrath of the court."

Ted Hansom, representing Club 152, and Katie Ratton from the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office, both said it was their common interest to try to get drugs off of Beale Street.

"The club has taken steps in assuring the prevention and abatement of any nuisance activity that was alleged to have existed at Club 152. Managers of Club 152 drug tested each and every potential employee of the club and are complying with the current mandatory background check requirement," says the order. "Respondents have been very cooperative and efficient in complying."

The club acknowledged the allegations and will submit to court supervision and monitoring for one year. They will fire all employees involved in illegal activity and ban them from the premises. Hansom said 106 employees had been tested. He said at least two and possibly more employees face criminal charges.

Club 152, which markets its upper floors as "upscale freakism," will pay $4,000 to the West Tennessee Judicial Drug Task Force. Most important to the club owners, however, is that the club will reopen for what is expected to be one of the biggest weekends of the year.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Is It OK for a Judge to Call Someone "Hoss" in Court?

Posted by on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 7:42 PM

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There was a weird incident in Environmental Court Thursday. I haven't seen anything like it in my career.

I was covering the "public nuisance" hearing for Club 152 on Beale Street, which was postponed until Friday. Meanwhile, Judge Larry Potter called a couple of other cases.

Some quick background. My use of the word "cases" may be a little misleading. If you appear in Potter's court you are accused of creating some sort of public nuisance from blight to noise to running a rowdy nightclub. Most people are there because of their property, and they represent themselves before the judge and a public prosecutor.

A man named Danny Carter was called. He was a short, bearded, stocky guy in bermuda shorts and a shirt who looked like he didn't take any crap. He was there about his allegedly blighted property. He objected to Potter's description of the property and offered the comment that he was tired of taking pictures of nearby properties that looked worse. He said he did not have the money to fix his property up. That's when things got strange.

Potter, in the midst of some fairly unsympathetic comments, called Carter "hoss." Seconds later, Carter firmly but respectfully took exception to being called "horse" which is not the same as "hoss" but maybe close enough. He told Potter that he "disrespected me." Potter paused for several seconds, apparently deciding how to respond. Then he proceeded to lecture Carter about disrespecting the court, and called him "hoss" again. Carter did not give any ground and spoke up again, drawing a warning from Potter that "there is a place for you." A marshal cautioned Carter to keep his mouth shut. Suddenly three of us reporters in the front row were taking notes. Back to his seat in the courtroom he went. I do not know how his case came out but I would be surprised if it went well for Carter.

Now a little context: In the previous case, Potter was nice as pie, complimenting a man on cleaning up his property in exemplary fashion. So impressed was the judge that he asked the man to offer lessons to the court in a future appearance. And in the case that followed Carter, Potter was back to old school and called the man in front of him "sir." Potter has a good reputation and by his account often works until 6 p.m. But in hundreds of trials and court appearances I have covered, I have never heard a person in the dock addressed as anything but sir, ma'am, Miss, Mrs., or Mr., and that goes for rogues in prison clothes and bluebloods.

I thought an apology to Carter was in order, along the lines of, "sorry about that, won't happen again, now about your case." "Hoss" is sort of like Bub, My Man, Bro, or Fella. It is not insulting or racial but it struck me as overly familiar and distracting. Carter's response, for all I know, could have been influenced by free-wheeling television courtroom shows like Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. Or a bad experience with a horse. Whatever, a reminder from the judge that decorum is the order of the day would have been proper.

A judge is a god. Gods must be treated carefully. They're entitled to be human and have bad days. But the rest of us have rights too, and one guy chose to exercise them in his own way. I hope I would have as much sand in the same circumstances and would like to hear what courtroom regulars, witnesses, jurors, judges, lawyers, and defendants think. And my house and yard are squeaky clean, by the way.

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Surprise! Memphis Gains Population Since 2010

Posted by on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 10:40 AM

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A U.S. Census report out Thursday says Memphis is the 20th largest city in the country and its population has grown by more than 7500 people since 2010 when the school merger talk began.

The report says the population of Memphis grew from 647,612 in 2010 to 655,155 in July, 2012. The population of Shelby County increased from 928,792 to 940,764 during the same period.

"It appears we are seeing a leveling off of movement from the city as we approach the merger of the school systems," said Maura Black Sullivan, assistant chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis.

She said annexations did not account for the increase. The Southwind residential annexation takes place this year, and the South Cordova annexation came after July of 2012.

The news is cold comfort. Both Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell say the taxable property base is down and the property tax rate will have to rise to yield the same amount of money as last year. The schools merger takes place this year, and there could be a Big Churn when the suburbs start their own systems.

But a gain is a gain. Discount it all you want. Explain it away if you will. Knock yourself out. They're not downplaying the numbers in Nashville. To see how one newspaper handled the report of the growth in Middle Tennessee, see this story from The Tennessean.

Some other numbers from around Tennessee and DeSoto County, Mississippi:

Davidson County (Nashville), 628,021 to 648,295. Nashville is the 25th largest city in the U.S.

Southaven passed with the 50,000 mark. It's population is 50,374.

Fayette County, east of Shelby County, 38,413 to 38,659.

Rutherford County (Murfreesboro), 263,779 to 274,454.

Williamson County (Franklin and Brentwood south of Nashville), 184,063 to 192,911.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bikes and Memphis Aim Beyond Paint on Pavement

Posted by on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 5:02 PM

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Grants, sponsors, visiting experts from afar, a mayoral endorsement, the $35 million Harahan Bridge Project, a ranking as "most improved" (from "worst") biking city, a specially designated "Bike To Work Day" and a three-day Tennessee Bike Summit at Rhodes College starting Wednesday.

As a public relations campaign and a public policy priority, bikes have made it. Broad acceptance is another matter. Advocates hope to get beyond paint on the pavement, and the summit is a start.

Beloved by a small number of hardcores who commute by bike and supported in the abstract by Memphians who prefer to drive their cars as a practical matter, bike lanes began appearing on city streets such as North Parkway and Madison Avenue a couple of years ago. The city's Çomplete Streets program put bike lanes (not counting shared lanes for cars and bikes) on 51 miles of city streets.

On Wednesday, Mayor A C Wharton announced that 15 miles of protected "green lanes" will be added in the next two years at undetermined locations. The Green Lane Project is working with six U.S. cities (Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC) to get green lanes on the ground. Green lanes are protected from cars and sidewalks by barriers and buffers and sometimes marked in green paint.

Also announced this week was a $350,000 project to connect Overton Park to Broad Street.

"No longer will we take it for granted that streets are only for those who want to get in their two-ton vehicle and chug up and down the street," said Wharton. He said people who say they would bike if only it were safer will have no excuse when the projects are finished.

Memphis is among several cities experimenting with various bicycle proposals. Mayor Michael Bloomberg made them a key part of his legislative program in New York City, as The New York Times noted recently.

A blog post on the Green Lane Project website last week featured Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. and examined whether biking has grown beyond the white middle-class community.

Speakers at the summit include Kyle Wagenschutz from the City of Memphis; City of Memphis CAO George Little, a frequent bike commuter; Jessica Wilson from the Tennessee Department of Transportation; Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists; Greg Maxted for the Harahan Bridge Project; Hal Mabry from The Peddler Bike Shop; and long-distance rider and Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop founder Anthony Siracusa.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Beale Street Club 152 Hearing Postponed

Posted by on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 11:50 AM

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The environmental court hearing for Club 152 that was scheduled for Monday to determine how long the club should be closed will be held Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. instead.

The club was shut down last Thursday as a "public nuisance" by District Attorney General Amy Weirich and West Tennessee Drug Task Force agents.

Les Smith of Fox13 News and I ran into attorney Ted Hansom in the lobby of 201 Poplar and talked to him briefly. Hansom said he is representing club owners Charlie Ryan, Kevin Kane, and Bud Chittom. Based on an undercover investigation, the complaint makes allegations of drug use and sales by at least four unnamed employees, and cites a long record of "violence and crime at and around the location on Beale Street."

Hansom said that as of Monday morning there had been no arrests.

"This is like closing Macy's two weeks before Christmas," said Hansom. "Memphis In May and the barbecue contest weekend are big times for all the employees who work there."

Hansom said the owners "tried to be proactive" and contacted former district attorney Bill Gibbons three years ago to do something about drugs on Beale Street. Kane said in an interview last week that the effort went nowhere. He questioned the timing of the club closing during the barbecue contest and a week before the Memphis Grizzlies next home game in the Playoffs.

"The club has been under investigation since last November," Hansom said. "What occurred in the last two weeks that didn't occur two months ago, or what was happening that they couldn't have waited until June 1st?"

The complaint says the club "constitutes a nuisance as well as a clear and present danger to the patrons of the club, the patrons of Beale Street, and this community at large."

It was closed Thursday in a dramatic show of force, with media notified in advance and club patrons ushered out of the club and on to the street. Hansom said the owners face a hard choice.

"If they call the police then the DA says look how many police reports there are. And if they don't call the police . . ." His thought trailed off and he shrugged and turned up his hands.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Two Cheers for the Unified School Board

Posted by on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 12:48 PM

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One crisis at a time. One year at a time.

That's how the Unified Shelby County School Board played it. And nobody knows better than the 23 members how much was left on the table. This was an 11th-hour budget of necessity, cobbled together under pressure and the eye of a court-appointed special master.

Nobody expects the unified school system, the budget, or the board to look the same a year from now. Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson will probably be gone. A majority of the board members will be gone. The suburbs will probably bolt, taking with them perhaps 30,000 of the estimated 2013-2014 enrollment of 138,629 and tens of millions of dollars of funding. School closings were largely sidestepped. The former MCS has ten high schools where the enrollment is projected to be 550 or less next year. The lowest projected enrollment at a former Shelby County high school next year is 1,300.

What if the MCS board members who voted to surrender the charter had tried to save the unified system, suburbs included, instead of hunkering down, nitpicking the superintendent search process, and criticizing the transition report? What if John Aitken had been offered the job of superintendent six months ago? What if Judge Hardy Mays had appointed a special master a year ago instead of waiting so long? What if some of the suburban board members had said "we should give this a shot"?

It doesn't matter now. Stalemate was not an option. The board deserves two cheers for coming up with a proposed $1.18 billion budget, implementing a version of the 172-point transition plan, doing a ton of homework, attending hundreds of hours of meetings late into the night, and taking public criticism from all sides. And they did it for pennies compared to the six-figure pay packages for corporate directors for rubberstamping the policies of the CEO with zero scrutiny.

At Thursday's session, which featured a new seating chart, there seemed to be genuine affection as well as mutual respect among members who barely knew each other a year ago. That counts for something. As Hopson said, they did as well as they could.

Beale's Club 152: "We'll take care of it," says Kevin Kane

Posted by on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 11:44 AM

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Kevin Kane says he was surprised when he got the news Thursday night that the Beale Street nightclub Club 152, in which he has an ownership interest, had been shut down as a public nuisance.

The head of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau owns Club 152 along with Charlie Ryan and Bud Chittom. State drug agents and local prosectors closed it after getting an injunction in, of all places, Environmental Court, signed by Judge Larry Potter. The alleged nuisance includes fights, drug sales and other criminal activity reported to police since 2012 and observed by an undercover officer and an informant over the last five months.

"The law-abiding businesses and patrons of Beale Street deserve better than what Club 152 has allowed to happen, said Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich. A court appearance is scheduled for Monday. The "manager and owners" are ordered to appear.

Kane, father of three young children, said he coaches Weirich's child in youth sports. He said he and his partners bought the club and the real estate in 2009 "as a pure real estate play" because it is next door to Blues City Cafe, which they also own. They bought it with Rusty Hyneman but bought him out after a year.

"I"m one of the owners but I don't run the place. We didn't know drug sales were going on for six months," Kane said. "We fire people every week trying to get rid of bad employees. I'm outraged, and I want Beale Street to be a positive, safe environment for everyone."

He thinks the unnamed security employees selling drugs in the complaint are four part-timers out of 150 employees.

"We're not sure it was a manager" as alleged Weirich's petition, which says the atmosphere at Club 152 is "quite dangerous with busy crowds both in the club itself and on Beale Street at the heart of the Memphis entertainment district." Beale Street is getting unusual attention and television exposure this month due to Memphis In May and the Grizzlies run in the NBA playoffs. But the rowdy reputation of Club 152 precedes that, as Weirich's petition documents.

Club 152 is ranked Number 71 in Nightclub and Bar's "Top 100" for 2013.

The investigation went to considerable pains to document the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, and Percocet at the club, probably in part because of the high-profile location and ownership. Kane admitted it would be nearly impossible for a club manager not to recognize the smell if not the sight of employees and patrons openly smoking marijuana, as the complaint alleges. He and Chittom said that three years ago they went to then attorney general Bill Gibbons and said "we've got a problem" with drugs on Beale Street but nothing came of it.

Kane said he visits the club maybe five times a year, but not at 3 a.m. He described it as tourists on the first floor, urban on the second floor, and VIPs, big-spenders, and athletes on the third floor. The age limit for admission is 21.

"It draws a diverse crowd," he said. "It is not some rogue, dark, seedy terrible environment. We'll deal with it."

He predicted it will reopen within the month.

Monday's hearing should be interesting. Drug use and sales among bar and nightclub employees are not considered unusual by people who have worked in the business. Owners and managers are supposed to deal with it. Weirich says Club 152 crossed a line. The owners are nobody's fools. The Grizzlies will be playing at home next week. It's Beale Street. Enough said.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Schools Budget "best we could do" says Superintendent

Posted by on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Dorsey Hopson
  • Dorsey Hopson
The Unified Shelby County School Board voted 17-3 Thursday to send its proposed 2013-2014 $1.186 billion budget to the Shelby County Commission.

Capping three straight days of public comments, staff revisions, and discussion among members, the board got the job done in about 90 minutes in an early afternoon meeting. It is the first budget presented by the combined Memphis and Shelby County school boards and is $75 million less this year's combined budgets. Some members confessed to being groggy after the long work week and watching the Grizzlies play until nearly midnight Wednesday.

"I think we have done the best job we could to cut $75 million but keep as far away from classroom cuts as possible," said Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

The budget has a deficit of $30 million that will have to addressed by the county commission. Hopson said the deficit started at $57 million, so the smaller deficit represents progress, and board members noted that the budget request is lower than the one proposed by the Transition Planning Commission.

It makes some cuts the TPC did not recommend but declines to make others on the scale recommended by the TPC, notably in the area of school closings. Facing intense pressure to get schools open this summer, and working under the eye of federal court-appointed special master Rick Masson, the board left that debate for another year. Enrollment projections released by the schools administration this week peg the unified system at about 138,000 students. Charter schools and Achievement School District schools bring the total to about 150,000. The unified system is expected to shrink drastically next year if suburbs form their own systems.

Voting against the budget were former MCS board members Kenneth Whalum Jr., Sara Lewis, and Betty Mallott. Among those voting for it were the prime movers of MCS charter surrender, Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has proposed a property tax increase that would partially offset the deficit. If it passes, the combined Shelby County and Memphis property tax rate, based on numbers currently being considered by the commission and city council, could be right around $8.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Comparison of Detroit and Memphis, Again

Posted by on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
  • Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
The frustrated mayor who hoped to save the city decided this week to call it quits later this year in the face of overwhelming problems.

He listed them in an interview with a writer for The Daily Beast: Blight, corruption and crime. Historic financial issues. Declining population and low density. A City Council resistant to his plans for change. A Republican governor appointing someone to take over failing systems. The city's midtown and downtown pocked with abandoned structures, some in the shadows of hotels and stadiums of pro sports teams. Low voter turnout in local elections. Media trashing the city.

The city is Detroit, and the mayor is Dave Bing. Detroit is the national standard for failing cities, as we have been told by Time magazine, a couple of recent documentaries including "Detropia" which was shown in Memphis last year, some books by Detroiters such as Charlie LeDuff's "Detroit: An American Autopsy," and about a million newspaper articles, blogs, and reader comments.

Other than that, my view of Detroit is based on nothing more than occasional visits to a small slice of the city. The parallels to Memphis are irresistible, or at least they are to me, a Michigan native, fan of Detroit novelists Loren Estleman and Elmore Leonard, and regular reader of the Detroit newspapers for more than 50 years, back before Bing was the star of the Detroit Pistons.

Finally, I thought four years ago when he was elected mayor, Detroit gets the right person for the job. But when I read the stories about him calling it quits this week, I couldn't help thinking "Is this what's in store for Memphis?"

Taking the indictment one count at a time, I would say Memphis is better off. For now.

Corruption: Detroit's former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, is in prison after being convicted in March. Memphis had Tennessee Waltz and Main Street Sweeper, which netted more convictions of public officials. But Kilpatrick's influence was greater. A close call, but Detroit gets the edge as "worst."

Backgrounds of Bing and Wharton: Both men are 69 years old. Bing was a successful Detroit businessman after his NBA career. He was elected in 2009 and served one term. Wharton, an attorney, has held public offices since 2002, including county and city mayor since 2002. The lesson: a "business approach to government" does not necessarily translate to success with unions, other politicians, and loss of population and tax base. Nor do political experience, charm, and personal decency.

Crime: In one recent survey of "most dangerous U.S. cities" Detroit ranked first and Memphis tenth. In another survey, Detroit was fifth and Memphis sixth. On Wednesday, Bing and the emergency manager announced the appointment of a new police chief. As in Memphis, his job will be reducing violent crime on a budget.

Declining population and vast footprint. Detroit's population has fallen from nearly two million in the 1950s to about 700,000 in a city of 142 square miles. The population of Memphis, boosted by annexation of 35,000 residents, declined 0.5 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 647,000 in more than 300 square miles.

Low voter turnout: 17 percent in Detroit, and about the same in the 2011 Memphis mayoral and City Council election. Low turnout has been a given in Memphis for decades and the inflated number of "eligible voters" due to the reluctance of the Election Commission to purge the rolls, makes it look worse.

Blight near stadiums: As we're seeing with the Grizzlies, pro sports can boost community morale and have a big economic impact, but championships (Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons in last ten years) and new side-by-side stadiums (Tigers and Lions) couldn't avert Detroit's population loss, financial crisis, or blighted condition. Downtown Memphis has empty office buildings and blighted sections, but the redevelopment of the Chisca Hotel, South Main Street, and public housing projects will make for a better-looking and more vibrant downtown.

Bad publicity: A Los Angeles sportswriter took some shots at Memphis, as did Forbes and other publications that purport to rank cities. But Memphis gets some good national attention too, for its music, food, and mystique. Our toughest critics are in the suburbs and in Nashville. Wharton, except for complaining that local television news programs over-emphasize violent crime, is not a media critic in the manner of his predecessor, Willie Herenton. Bing was apparently unloading on national more than local media depictions of Detroit.

State oversight: Detroit has an emergency manager. Worst case scenario is biggest-ever city bankruptcy. Memphis has the state-run Achievement School District which has taken over some public schools, and a federal judge and special master overseeing the merger of the school districts. Worst case scenario is failure of the biggest school system merger in U.S. history, but exactly what that would mean in dollars and cents remains to be seen.

City Council opposition: Mayors get things done by cultivating council allies. It is hard to identify anyone currently carrying water for Wharton. On one side is Jim Strickland, pledging to vote against tax increases. On the other is Joe Brown, saying tax the rich because they can afford it and don't care. There will be bad feelings, but also a balanced budget and probably a tax increase next month. That's more than Detroit can say.

On May 30th, Memphis magazine is bringing New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in for a luncheon called "A Summons to Memphis." If he'll come, Bing would be a good choice for a follow-up. He's a truth-teller, with no worries about being reelected, and he has a story to tell.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Mississippi Casinos and the Upside of Disaster

Posted by on Mon, May 13, 2013 at 12:10 PM

Harrahs_casino_tunica_mississippi.jpg
All those television ads about how BP is cleaning up the Mississippi and Alabama beaches after the 2010 oil spill have helped the Coast casinos overtake Tunica as Mississippi’s top gambling destination.

The 2013 American Gaming Association survey shows the Gulf Coast, with $1.095 billion gross gambling revenue, is now the 8th largest casino market in the United State. Tunica is 10th, at $822 million. The Coast overtook Tunica in 2011 and has grown nearly 20 percent since then, while Tunica has stayed flat. The 30 Mississippi casinos combined make the state the fourth largest market in the country, behind Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Chicago.

The Tunica market, 20 years old this year, faces competition from Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, Arkansas, which isn’t in the AGA survey but is a casino for all intents and purposes and closer to Memphis. Also, some Tunica casinos were closed in 2011 due to flooding of the Mississippi River.

Bobby Leatherman, whose family owned the land where some of the first casinos in Tunica were built, thinks the Gulf Coast gains can also be traced, somewhat paradoxically, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill. The hurricane forced the beach casinos to rebuild and state legislation allowed them to move on shore. The Coast was flooded with construction workers, federal aid, and insurance money. The oil spill did little damage to the manmade beach on the Mississippi Sound, but Mississippi got a bonanza of BP-sponsored ads urging visitors to come to the Gulf Coast.

With its 30 casinos, Mississippi ranks third among states in the number of jobs, 23,377, which is down from 36,000 in 1999. Mississippi has 36,032 gambling machines (Arkansas has 1,900) and got $273 million in casino tax revenue in 2012, down .6 percent from 2011. The states combined state and local gambling tax of 12 percent is one of the lowest in the country.

The rest pf the casino Top Ten, in order: Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Chicago, Detroit, Connecticut, Philadelphia, St. Louis, The Poconos. New York City is 15th, based on first full year of operations for a casino in Queens.

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