AutoMD.com sent mystery shoppers to auto repair places in the top-50 most populous U.S. cities and asked them how much it would cost to repair the front brakes on a Ford Focus.
The site found the Memphis repair shops ranked the best for fairness and consistency of the prices quoted. Chicago was the worst.
The overall bad news for drivers and car owners is this:
"If you are one of the 88 percent of car owners who feel that they are not getting a fair shake at the repair shop** ... this report shows that you are probably right," said AutoMD.com President Shane Evangelist. "Repair shop quotes in more than half of the cities for the same job had a variance from lowest to highest of over 150 percent - with over two-thirds of the shops overall changing their price quote when presented with an industry standard price."
But did I mention Memphis was the best?
The option of trading funding for the Regional Medical Center and Memphis City Schools between Shelby County and Memphis City governments is off the table.
After learning that the Med needed roughly $30 million in annual funding locally, some city council members wanted to take over the Med funding in exchange for the county taking over the city's "maintenance of effort" obligation to the city schools. The switch, in the long-term, was supposed to alleviate double taxation for city residents.
But the obstacles proved too large.
The Metro Charter Commission is enlisting LaunchMemphis — and local citizens — to help it fulfill one of its most important responsibilities: figuring out what the new consolidated government would be called.
The commission hopes to set up a way to get citizen suggestions by next week and plans to keep the process open for two to three weeks.
Following the example of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt — a.k.a. Brangelina — I think we have to go with Memphishelby.
In all seriousness, there are statutory limitations on the name of the new government. It has to be either the Memphis Metropolitan government, Shelby Metropolitan government, Memphis Shelby Metropolitan government, or something the commission deems historically or geographically appropriate.
At a meeting last night, metro charter commission members acknowledged that the choice was limited, but said the naming contest would help build citizen awareness about the charter commission is and what they are doing.
But when you think about it, it's not that limited. There are all sorts of things we could go with.
There's Wolf River Metro. Or, better yet, the Wolf Metro.
If we became the Wolf Metro area, there's no way citizens could suffer from all those feelings of inadequacy they do as Memphians. We would be Wolfians. Plus, when Forbes publishes its their most miserable places, no one would know where Wolf was. But it would sound badass.
We could acknowledge the way the world is going — corporate citizens, anyone? — and, as a nod to it, choose something such as FedExia.
Shelvis? (Bianca Phillips gave me this one. Just for the record.)
Just think of all the rebranding possibilities.
The city would take on the $30 million in annual funding that the Med needs, while the county would slowly take over the funding the city has been giving to MCS.
As councilman Reid Hedgepeth said at a recent Memphis City Council meeting:
"We've got $38 million we tried to give away two weeks ago. The school board did not accept the money," he said. "We have $38 million we're going to give to someone. We want to get out of the school business."
The city and county have had a long, thorny relationship with funding their joint entities.
Take, for instance, $12 million in emergency funding for the Med.
Sometimes, here on this blog or other places on the site, we talk about preservation/preservationists.
And, in fact, the topic sometimes seems as controversial as gay marriage, abstinence-only education, and cats versus dogs.
In that vein, I thought I'd mention a recent NYT story about some preservationists trying to buy the land behind the Hollywood sign to keep development from happening there.
To make their case, they began on Thursday to drape the sign with a banner that will read “Save the Peak” in the hope that a day or two without their most recognized civic symbol will entice Los Angelenos to donate the final $5 million needed by spring to keep mansions from dotting the ridge line around it.
“This is, for us, like the Statue of Liberty in New York or the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco,” said Tom LaBonge, a councilman whose district includes the section of Hollywood with the sign. “People land at LAX and they want to see the Hollywood sign. If that mountain that surrounds it were filled with mansions, it would ruin the view and ruin the free spirit of Los Angeles.”
The Hollywood sign began as an advertisement for the Hollywoodland housing project. More than 20 years later, the chamber of commerce repaired the "H" and removed the "land." It was still 20 years after that the sign was designated a landmark.
It just goes to show it's funny what people can start to love, or what kinds of buildings and structures denote a place best. Even if they don't say it explicitly with 50 feet tall letters.
Traditionally, a school board is a body of political novices and a training ground for those with further political aspirations.
If someone wants to be the sheriff, for instance, or an elected judge, they generally need to meet certain criteria, say, a background in law enforcement or a law degree.
To be on the school board, however, the only criteria you have to meet is be able to say "The children are our future" or some similar refrain convincingly. It helps if you're a parent with a child in the system, but it's not necessary. And you generally don't have to worry about running against the A C Wharton's of the world.
But in the current funding crisis, it would help if MCS board members had more political experience.
A few weeks ago, the MCS school board voted to ask the city of Memphis to fully fund $50 million the city had promised them. The move, in effect, rejected a City Council approved plan to take $28 million from the city reserves, make $10 million in city budget cuts, and then forgive $12 million that the district owes the city.
What a waste of a discussion. Why even vote for a resolution asking for all $50 million? We get it, the school system budgeted for that $50 million and it wants it in cash, but just reiterating your position over and over doesn't help find a solution.
I am a huge fan of Fast Company and have been ever since the magazine started.
In this month's issue, for example, they have a story about how Volkwagen is trying to win over America and one about sophisticated prostheses that seem like something out of The Six Million Dollar Man.
But what caught my eye was a story about an influx of new urbanites and how tech companies are trying to build new green cities to house them. It begins thusly:
The Korean government had found his firm on the Internet and made an offer everyone else had refused. The brief: [Gale International head Stan] Gale would borrow $35 billion from Korea's banks and its biggest steel company, and use the money to build from scratch a city the size of downtown Boston, only taller and denser, on a muddy man-made island in the Yellow Sea. When Gale arrived to see the site, it was miles of open water. He signed anyway.
The instant city is designed LEED-certified, emitting a third of the green-house gases of a typical city its size, as well an international business district, an aerotropolis (no, we're not the only ones chasing this concept), and a smart city with every inch of the city wired.
But with humans becoming an urban species, and the world's 20 largest megacities consuming 75 percent of its energy, these green instant cities represent an emerging market and an opportunity for technology companies.
Jacksonville, Florida, consolidated in 1968 after a period of widespread public corruption, problems with the school system, and an inferiority complex.
And in the 40 plus years since then, Jacksonville has thrived. They now have an NFL team; their citizens have fewer taxes than in other large Florida cities; and they're not dependent on tourism.
"Our darkest hour became our finest," Richard Mullaney, Jacksonville's general counsel, told the metro charter commission Thursday afternoon. "In my opinion, some forms are local government are better than others. Some provide a competitive structural advantage over others."
With charter commission members in attendance, as well as sheriff Mark Luttrell, County Commissioner Mike Carpenter, MLGW head Jerry Collins, and Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn, Mullaney gave an overview of Jacksonville before the merger and after.
"What we've seen ... is a remarkable change in Jacksonville over the past 40 years, and that change has been consolidated government," he said.
Pre-1968, for instance, different branches of government each had their own legal counsel.
"That model was good for lawyers," Mullaney said. "It slowed things down, it was very expensive, and it was very difficult to get anything done."
But getting rid of lawyers isn't the only reason to consolidate. Mullaney laid out six benefits of the transition for the commission:
Don't know if y'all saw this but the General Services Administration Building in Portland is apparently getting a green makeover. One that includes fins.
From a NYTimes story:
As part of a $133 million renovation, the General Services Administration is planning to cultivate “vegetated fins” that will grow more than 200 feet high on the western facade of the main federal building here, a vertical garden that changes with the seasons and nurtures plants that yield energy savings.
The architects are still trying to figure out all the logistics, such as irrigation and pruning, but the GSA estimates a savings of $280,000 annually in energy costs.
But it's not without controversy.
The city of Memphis announced today that it was willing to negotiate with the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the Zippin Pippin roller coaster.
"Given the obvious budgetary pressures we're under, any opportunity for the city of Memphis to monetize one of its major assets needs to be looked at very carefully," said city CAO George Little. "It's been clear for some time that renovating and reconstituting the Zippin Pippin is simply beyond our capacity."
The coaster, known to be Elvis' favorite, was part of the former Libertyland amusement park at the Mid-South fairgrounds. Demolition began at the fairgrounds in December to make room for new, as yet un-named, development.
Green Bay is interested in installing the Pippin in its Beach Bay Amusement Park.