Monday, March 29, 2010

Tennessee Races to the Top

Posted By on Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 11:41 AM

In the first round of the federal $4 billion Race to the Top education-reform competition, only Tennessee and Delaware have been awarded funding.

Tennessee asked for $502 million, but the exact amount of funding it will receive should be released at the official press conference at 1 p.m. today. [UPDATE: Tennessee was the big winner, with a $500 million award. Delaware will receive $100 million.]

Fifteen states were named as finalists last month, out of 41 initial applications. Both Delaware, which got the highest ranking, and Tennessee stressed data-driven reform in their applications.

Under Tennessee's plan, the state will intervene directly in persistently low-achieving schools and will require that at least half of a teacher's performance evaluation be based on student achievement data.

According to the Washington Post:

[Education secetary Arne] Duncan's decision to name only two initial winners gives the Obama administration continued leverage to upend the status quo in public education. It also squelches any suggestion that Duncan would seek to spread the money around as much and as fast as possible to help Obama win favor in key political states.

At least one blog, Education Week's Politics K-12, is suggesting that Tennessee and Delaware may have won b/c they have powerful Republican lawmakers the Obama administration is trying to court to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Second-round applications are due June 1st.

The Tax-Base Problem

Posted By on Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 11:18 AM

In a nut shell ...

In Mayor A C Wharton's City of Choice presentation last week, he presented two population maps. The first was population distribution in 1960, and each dot represents 300 people. (This map was actually created for a Memphis Flyer story on I-269 and the cost of urban sprawl.)

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"You can see it's clustered in the core city," Wharton said. "Service delivery wasn't that difficult."

The second was population distribution in 2000.

Continue reading »

Friday, March 26, 2010

Googling

Posted By on Fri, Mar 26, 2010 at 10:35 AM

A healthy diet includes plenty of fiber. Just ask Google.

Memphis mayor A C Wharton will file Memphis' application for Google Fiber, a new super high-speed broadband network, today.

"Google Fiber would not only bridge a stark divide that affects so many of our low-income and under-served households, it would also transform us into a global destination for knowledge workers, web developers, and other drivers of the 21st-century economy," the mayor said in a statement. "Memphis has always been driven by a civic spirit of innovation and thirst for new ideas, values we share with Google."

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The city is one of about 200 nationwide vying to be one of the search giant's test cities.

For more, including testimonials from Wharton and other local leaders, visit memphisgoogle.net.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Introspective on Car Inspections

Posted By on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 at 11:51 AM

As the city's been thinking about privatizing car inspections and looking for new ways to make the system more efficient, I've been reminded daily — by a tag renewal form sitting on my counter — how user-unfriendly the system really is.

A few months ago, I bought a new used car.

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The dealer gave me the option of transferring the tags from my old car or getting new tags for the new car. Transferring tags was the more wallet-friendly of the two approaches, so of course, I chose that.

Until, a few weeks later, when I started getting calls from the dealer's paper pushers, saying they needed me to take the car through inspection to finish finalizing the paperwork.

Honestly, if I had known that at the time, I would have chosen differently. But I waited in line for about an hour in November, the car passed inspection, and I drove down to the dealership to drop off the paperwork.

And now, roughly four months later, my tags are about to expire. And guess what I need to do to renew them? Go through inspection again. During the height of the commercial season.

I know it's probably not a common situation, but it seems like there should be some sort of exemption for this kind of thing, in addition to the proposed less than four years old rule. Maybe skipping a year?

(And I know that the city says that you can go through inspection early and it won't affect the date of your tags, but I did that once and instead of a brand new APR sticker I got a MAR in the mail. And right then and there I thought, I'm not paying for 11-month tags.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Car Inspection Reform

Posted By on Tue, Mar 23, 2010 at 12:30 PM

The City Council's Public Services and Neighborhoods committee voted today to move forward on two initiatives to help make the city's car inspection process more convenient for citizens.

One removes funding for vehicle inspections from the city's 2011 operating budget and looks to privatization. The other removes mandatory inspections for vehicles four years or younger.

"We're in the ironic position of having people wait with their cars idling, which is harmful to the environment, in order to protect the environment," said council member Shea Flinn. "Newer cars have lower emissions. They should be exempt. The safety standards — it would be nice, but we're not required to do it. The county can do it through moving violations. So could we."

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The city's vehicle inspection process grew out of its status as a federal non-attainment area for air quality.

During the inspections, the city also looks at 12 safety checks — including windshield wipers, brake lights, and side mirrors — but none of those are required by law. There has been talk of omitting them entirely, but they only add about a minute to the overall inspection time, and city officials don't think removing them from the process will make much difference.

"We know we have to do emissions," said councilman Bill Morrison, who proposed the resolution along with Jim Strickland. "Ultimately, this is to reduce the wait for our citizens."

The inspection stations would ultimately have to remain open for cars built before 1996. But for cars newer than that, an onboard diagnostic check could be done by private entities.

"This sends a message to the administration that we want this to become a priority," Morrison said of the measure.

Both initiatives will go before full council in two weeks.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Decent Proposal: Bartlett House Meeting

Posted By on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 8:30 AM

[As stated previously, the Flyer's cover story this week takes an early look at the consolidation process and players. To read it, click here.]

One a recent Saturday evening, Venita and Deadrick Doggett hosted a Rebuild Government meeting at their Bartlett home. The participants, spanning a range of ages and colors, included the Doggetts' neighbors, church members, and co-workers.

"We're trying to get people plugged in," says Venita Doggett.

The group had questions about legislative representation, if the real issue against consolidation had anything to do with race, crime, and, of course, taxes.

Though she lives in Bartlett, Doggett says she is for consolidation. As a research analyst for the Memphis City Council from 2001 to 2005, she has seen that government from the inside.

"I'm excited about the possibility," she says. "I think there's a lot of overlap between the city and the county. It makes sense. We're too large and interdependent not to be consolidated."

In her Bartlett neighborhood, there are still lots for sale and houses under construction. Though Doggett thinks the suburbs have grown at the expense of Memphis, she doesn't attribute all their growth to Memphians moving out.

"Memphis must be doing something right for the suburbs to be continually growing."

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Decent Proposal: Save Shelby County

Posted By on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 8:30 AM

[As stated previously, the Flyer's cover story this week takes an early look at the consolidation process and players. To read it, click here.]

Tom Guleff and Ron Williams say they fell in love on Facebook.

That's a joke, but Guleff, a Republican who lives in Midtown, and Williams, a Democrat who lives in unincorporated Shelby County, became friends through the social media site.

That friendship became the basis of their anti-consolidation group, Save Shelby County.

"We could not have done this 15 years ago," Guleff says. "There's no way he and I could have linked up."

The group formed as a "counter weight" to Rebuild Government.

"It goes back to the listening tours," Williams says. "I could never get a straight answer about why are you doing this? How is it going to save me money? What are the advantages?"

Continue reading »

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Decent Proposal: Marlin Mosby

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2010 at 8:30 AM

[As stated yesterday, the Flyer's cover story this week takes an early look at the consolidation process and players. To read it, click here.]

For the last 25 years, Marlin Mosby has been trying to hire Ivy League graduates to come to Memphis to work with his company, Public Financial Management (PFM). And in that 25 years, he's been able to convince only a few who didn't already have ties to the area.

"We hired two who came here and they left within a couple of years," he says. "Most I wasn't able to get here. ... People who want to compete against the best and want to be at the highest level of their career, they don't see Memphis as a place where they are going to be successful."

He staffs his office here with Rhodes graduates.

(I know, I know. You're thinking: What does this have to do with consolidation?)

PFM is the financial adviser for Shelby County, Germantown, Collierville, and Bartlett, and was a consultant for the city of Memphis for 20-plus years until a few years ago. As he sees it, Memphis doesn't have high taxes because of government inefficiency or corruption:

"It appears on the surface that we're paying a significantly higher tax rate than Nashville/Davidson County. To make it comparable, you have to figure out what the tax rate would be if you levelized it across the whole community," Mosby says. "It brings it much closer."

But the most important factor for him is the relatively large number of children in the area. In the Memphis region, school-aged children account for almost a quarter of the population. In almost every other city, school-aged children are about a fifth of the population.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Decent Proposal: Darrell Cobbins

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 8:30 AM

A few weeks ago, I realized that many city and county residents really don't know or understand what's going on with the consolidation drive. Maybe it's just that, as a community, we've talked about consolidation for so long that it seems like it will always be hypothetical.

But the talk right now is more than just talk; it comes with a vote November 2nd.

In light of that, we decided to do a cover treatment on consolidation. (It should be hitting the streets today and should be live on the website tomorrow.)

I'll admit it's kind of a tricky thing on consolidation right now. There's not a lot of specifics to talk about, since the charter commission still has to write the new document. But if we don't start talking about it now, a lot of people are going to be taken unaware on August 10th when the new document is filed, and on November 2nd when city and county residents are asked to vote on it.

And then we started writing, and it turned out there was more to talk about than I originally thought.

Starting today, I'm going to be posting some of my note overflow: mostly things people said that I thought were interesting but didn't quite make it into the paper because of space. And because you can't just run a bunch of quotes. It's a journalism rule.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Urban Design 101

Posted By on Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 1:05 PM

If you read the paper (or, hey! this blog), you probably see the terms urban design, sustainability, and urban sprawl used quite a bit.

Not sure what they mean? Or just want to learn more?

The Memphis Regional Design Center will be hosting its latest semester of "Urban Design 101" Thursday evenings from April 1st to May 20th at the Center City Commission.

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Speakers include Ken Reardon (left), director of the U of M's graduate program in city and regional planning, Belz vice president John Dudas, and Looney Ricks Kiss founding partner Frank Ricks, among others.

Along with overviews on what urban planning is and why it's important, the unified development code, and neighborhoods of choice, students will participate in an interactive workshop with South Memphis residents to re-design South Parkway East and transform a long-abandoned neighborhood car wash into a farmers' market and health information center.

The cost of the class is $200. To enroll or learn more, email executive director Chooch Pickard at cpickard@mrdcinfo.org.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ETAs for NY Subways

Posted By on Wed, Mar 10, 2010 at 1:47 PM

New York's subway system is getting high-tech. Or maybe just tech.

The New York subway system recently installed digital L.E.D. displays to give riders real-time info on when exactly their train or bus would reach the station or stop.

From the NYT earlier this week:

Electronic arrival-time clocks, a convenience long enjoyed by users of mass transit in London, Paris and Washington, are starting to trickle into New York City’s labyrinthine transportation network, part of a recent push to bring 21st-century technology to a system that runs very much as it did on its first day more than a century ago.

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority say the clocks will revolutionize the way New Yorkers get around, soothing the usual anxieties that come with waiting for a bus or train that might never arrive.

Though a subway tracking system and GPS-based bus timers cost millions of dollars, a potential vendor covered the cost for three pilot programs. Installation was around $20,000.

Might I suggest we figure out who the vendor is and give them a call?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fairgrounds Arena Building Gets Reprieve; Youth Bldg. Part of Demolition

Posted By on Tue, Mar 9, 2010 at 3:02 PM

The Memphis City Council's executive committee today voted to demolish most of the buildings on the former fairgrounds and create a great lawn.

"It's probably better to tell you what's remaining," said architect and former council member Tom Marshall. "The children's museum and its annex, and buildings that park services is using for storage will remain; Fairview will remain, and the women's center will remain."

Continue reading »

City to Ease Inspection Station Woes with New Facility

Posted By on Tue, Mar 9, 2010 at 1:21 PM

Since extending hours of operation at area motor-vehicle inspection stations last month, the average wait time at the Washington Avenue station is now down to 40 to 45 minutes.

"The White Station facility is about one hour. When the Washington station gets down to 15 minutes, if the line is backed up on Lamar or White Station, they alert citizens they can go to other inspection stations," said Janet Hooks, director of public services and neighborhoods.

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TODAY'S LINE AT THE WHITE STATION INSPECTION STATION

Hooks blamed the (much reviled) city inspection stations' long wait times on capacity, and said the problem should be helped by a new inspection station that should come online within the next 6 months.

Memphis inspects 416,000 vehicles each year through the city's 10 inspection lanes. Chattanooga, which inspects more than 200,00 vehicles, has 22 lanes, and Nashville, which inspects 577,000 vehicles each year, has 17 lanes, each with the ability to be doubled.

The new Appling Road facility will have six lanes, four of which will be designated for passenger vehicles.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Housing and Homeless Survey

Posted By on Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 2:48 PM

Getting citizens to show up at public meetings can be dicey.

"We're required to have two public meetings a year," says Memphis Housing and Community Development (HCD) planning administrator Mairi Albertson. "We don't always get the level of participation we want, especially at the evening meetings."

Every few years, HCD prepares a three-year strategy to submit to the federal government. That plan is based on a housing market analysis, a homeless-needs assessment, and community input.

"We wanted to find a way to get a little bit more from people and give them an opportunity to share their priorities with us," Albertson says.

The result is an 12-question survey on homelessness, housing, and job creation. The survey is anonymous and will be used by the HCD to allocate future federal funding.

Each year, HCD receives 95 percent, or about $15.5 million, of its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To take the survey, click here. The deadline to do so is April 1st.

"The plan is due to HUD May 15th," Albertson says. "Our goal is to have all the information from the survey and the research study so we can incorporate those into our plan."

But if a public meeting is more your style, HCD will be hosting one Wednesday, April 7th, at 6 p.m. at the Benjamin Hooks Central library.

Citizens may also submit their comments in writing by mail or fax to:

City of Memphis
Division of Housing and Community Development
Planning Department
701 North Main Street
Memphis, TN 38107
Fax: 901-576-7426

Monday, March 1, 2010

New CHC Pharm

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Scott Morris, the founder of the Church Health Center, often says this: "The best diagnosis in the world doesn't do you any good if you can't afford your medicine."

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To help more people afford medicine, the Church Health Center is partnering with Methodist University Hospital to open a new Outpatient Pharmacy on the hospital's first floor.

The pharmacy currently serves Methodist outpatients and associates, but it will expand in coming months to serve Church Health Center patients, Methodist Teaching Practice patients, and then the 3,000 workers and their dependents under the Church Health Center's MEMPHIS plan. The eventual goal is to open the pharmacy to others who lack access to affordable prescriptions.

"What we bring to the table is the ability to collect donated medications," says Marvin Stockwell, the Church Health Center's PR manager.

Continue reading »

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