Wednesday, October 30, 2002

CAN THE DEMS GET ON THEIR FEET?

CAN THE DEMS GET ON THEIR FEET?

Posted by on Wed, Oct 30, 2002 at 4:00 AM

NASHVILLE -- When we go to the polls on Nov. 5 (earlier than that for many of us), Tennesseans will decide more than who will be our next governor, U.S. senator, members of Congress and whether we want a state lottery.

We will determine the philosophical direction of Tennessee, which turned decidedly Republican in 1994 and continues along that path. That brings us to today’s topic: the future of the Democratic Party in Tennessee.

Political experts largely agree that Tennessee is one-third Democratic, one-third Republican and one-third independent. Exit polls show the percentage for the major parties to be a bit higher, up to 40 percent each. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says Republicans have an edge, based on recent voter trends.

“Tennessee leans Republican, but that’s about it,” Sabato said. “It’s the independents that make the difference. When you push them, they lean Republican and conservative. It produces about a 53-47 percent edge for Republicans in Tennessee. That’s not overwhelming.”

In the gubernatorial race, former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen could benefit from the public’s disdain for Republican Gov. Don Sundquist, who pushed hard during his second term for a Tennessee income tax. Republican Van Hilleary has distanced himself from fellow Republican Sundquist.

“Independents are not firm Republicans. If the Republicans mess up, independents have no hesitation about voting Democratic,” Sabato said It appears that Tennessee has more Republicans than Democrats, whose top candidates kicked off a statewide bus tour two weeks ago in the Republican stronghold of East Tennessee. Democratic strategists recognize the growing disparity between party allegiances and are reaching out to moderate Republicans as well as independents.

Bredesen is a good example. He is a conservative Democrat who, philosophically, could have been considered either a “D” or an “R” 20 years ago. He is a successful businessman who wants to keep a lid on state spending and taxation, two strong Republican themes.

There is no question about the Republican credentials of Hilleary, Bredesen’s opponent in the gubernatorial race. If anything, Hilleary is swinging more and more to the right, and that appears to be what many Tennesseans want in a governor.

That brings us to a Vanderbilt University lecture by Democrat Artur Davis, 34, a Harvard-educated former U.S. attorney who defeated a five-term incumbent Democrat in Alabama’s 7th U.S. House District.

Davis, who like his former opponent is black, has become a student of the eroding Democratic Party in the South. He has perspective: he comes from modest means and, should he defeat his Libertarian opponent as expected on Nov. 5, will represent one of the poorest districts in the country.

The Democratic Party in the South must work with both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, Davis noted. That means working with business leaders while retaining the traditional support of organized labor. It means meeting the needs of the poor while realizing the limitations of government spending.

Jobs and education get the attention of those who feel disenfranchised from the political process. Educate them, and the poorest of the poor can find work in skilled or high-tech industries. Unskilled jobs those workers once filled have gone offshore or disappeared altogether.

According to Davis, the Democratic Party also must “recognize that elections are about very large consequences and values in our society. TV commercials don’t win elections, values do. And when I say values, what I mean is a sense of what is important, a sense of what matters.”

He added: “I think the Democratic Party has to always be É the party that preaches and speaks to compassion in our society. It has to be the party that Robert Kennedy tried to build in 1968.”

Tennessee’s Democratic Party appears to be working on those themes. We’ll know on Nov. 5 how well it has succeeded.

WILLIE HERENTON SPEAKS OUT LOUD

WILLIE HERENTON SPEAKS OUT LOUD

Posted by on Wed, Oct 30, 2002 at 4:00 AM

DO DEMOCRATS HEED MAYOR HERENTON? Scarcely a month after the Lamar Alexander campaign began to feature him as an all-but-formally declared surrogate and supporter and in the same week that his son Rodney Herenton co-hosted a Memphis reception for Alexander, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton taped a Get-Out-the-Vote telephone message, apparently on behalf of the whole Democratic ticket, to be called into households, especially African-American ones, in Memphis and elsewhere. Here’s what the mayor said. CLICK HERE AND HEAR IT NOW before it starts to be played into homes via robo-calls during the next few days. (There may be a slight delay while the sound file loads on your computer.) The text: “Hello, this is Mayor Willie Herenton. We are facing an election that is critical to this great state and our nation. You must vote. If you don’t vote, we lose. It’s that simple. Your vote for the Democratic family will decide these elections. Your vote will get our state moving in the right direction -- for better schools, affordable health care, and secure jobs. Take the lead for your family and your community. Please vote.” Back in September Herenton had scandalized local Democrats by appearing at an Alexander campaign function in Memphis alongside the Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former governor, whom he called “ a very good friend, one I’ve known for 20 years, and who supported educational reform when I was superintendent [of Memphis schools].” Herenton avoided any direct comment, pro or con, about the Senate campaign of Democratic nominee Bob Clement. Defending his participation at the event, which co-billed Alexander and himself and at which the mayor talked broadly about a “coalition” with the GOP candidate but avoided any variation on the word “endorse,” Herenton said, “As the mayor of Memphis, I hold a non-partisan position,” and he recalled that prominent Democrats, like members of the locally influential Farris family, had in 1991 supported his mayoral opponent, then incumbent Dick Hackett, who was presumed to be a Republican. “And you have the fact that the local Democratic Party has always been controlled by the Ford family,” Democrats were privately furious but tried to look the other way and paid no formal note, so as to avoid the kind of intra-party strife that has so often dogged active Democrats in the Memphis area. Subsequently, though, both Herenton’s son Rodney and his close aide Reginald French, who had briefly held the title of Shelby County chairman of the Democratic Coordinating Committee, actively joined the Alexander campaign effort. Clement and his supporters were hurt but bravely set about soldiering on in the Memphis area, buoyed by the continued support of U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., his father Harold Ford Sr.. the former 9th District congressman, and other members of the Ford family, Herenton’s historical rivals for power among African-American Democrats in Memphis. “He’s covering his tracks with this recorded message,” noted one prominent Democrat Tuesday. “If Bob wins, he can cite it as proof that he really gave him valuable support. If Lamar wins, he’ll come right out and claim to have been part of the campaign all along.” During the 1994 gubernatorial campaign, Herenton kept a conspicuous silence concerning then-Democratic nominee Bredesen and announced publicly that he had “supported” home-town Republican winner Don Sundquist after the election. The mayor has been vocal on Bredresen’s behalf this time around -- a decided contrast to his attitude toward Clement.

Monday, October 28, 2002

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

City council approves Walnut Grove stop signs, despite recommendations to the contrary

Posted by on Mon, Oct 28, 2002 at 4:00 AM

In a world of speed Bumps, road-width restricters, and roundabouts, the city council decided to go with old-fashioned stop signs for a cut-through to Walnut Grove.

In an effort to retrain motorists and appease the surrounding neighborhood, the city council voted last week to put in a four-way stop sign at the intersection of Walnut Bend and Walnut Creek. But in doing so, they went against the advice of the city engineer and traffic guidelines adopted by the state of Tennessee.

"I've been getting calls about that intersection for the last five years or so," Councilman Brent Taylor said earlier this week. "I had been trying to get relief for the neighbors by working through the administration, but it had been to no avail. The problem continued to fester. I realized I needed to involve the council."

When the intersection was part of the county, there was a four-way stop sign there. But after annexation, the city took out two of the signs. According to guidelines set out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (the national traffic-control bible) and traffic volume on the streets, the intersection did not warrant a four-way stop.

"Our major concern is if we put in a four-way stop that is unwarranted, it will simply breed contempt for the device," city engineer Wain Gaskins told the council. Gaskins, who had to be called into the meeting specifically to discuss the intersection, explained that under the manual's guidelines, the street's volume simply did not warrant a four-way stop. Instead, the city engineer recommended a two-phase $150,000 project that would first reduce the width of the road from 40 to 20 feet to the tune of $40,000. The second $110,000 phase would be to construct a traffic circle there.

"We decided in committee we wanted stop signs," said Councilman Barbara Swearengen Holt. "Stop signs should suffice. I can't in clear conscience approve $40,000."

In the end, it seemed to come down to simple economics.

"It's unusual that the council will do what it did and take a different action than that recommended by the city engineer," said Taylor. "That's why there was so much discussion about it. It's not a function of the council to decide where to put traffic lights or stop signs. We didn't want to set a precedent, but everybody recognized it was an area that needed relief. And relief could be gotten for less than $150,000."

Sunday, October 27, 2002

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO DON SUNDQUIST?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO DON SUNDQUIST?

Posted by on Sun, Oct 27, 2002 at 4:00 AM

DESTIN, Fla. Ð Capitol Hill reporters, at least this one, thought Gov. Don Sundquist was joking each time he said he was taking vacation at his “doublewide” in Florida. Guess what? He wasn’t kidding. Sundquist, who since has built a comfortable retirement home near Townsend in the Great Smoky Mountains, really has a doublewide mobile home in Florida. It’s parked off the beaten path about five blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. The structure is the only doublewide sitting in the Destin RV Resort (motto, “Your Sun Sets Here”). Only one other mobile home is set up in the park, which has 153 spaces for recreational vehicles. The rest are RVs, according to the park manager. Sundquist rarely spends time there these days. Mostly, a daughter and brother-in-law use the mobile home, the manager says. From outward appearances, Sundquist did not soak Tennessee taxpayers for this spot, which is located near some of the best golf in the Southeast. Tax records show the entire RV park, owned by Arquette Development Corp. of Panama City, Fla., is valued at less than $1.6 million. The Sundquist villa is a nondescript tan structure with an attached carport. There are better things to do than check out your departing governor’s vacation home during a getaway to the Gulf Coast. But when it rains Ð hard Ð one has to amuse oneself, since one cannot play golf as planned. That means reading (Tom Clancy’s “Red Robin” is a nice diversion.) and/or watching television, which brings us to our next point. Destin is so close to Alabama that it is nearly impossible to avoid radio and television political ads broadcast from Mobile and Dothan, Ala. The ads sound eerily familiar. There’s President Bush telling a crowd that Republican Bob Riley is the sort of man who will bring integrity and strong moral values to the governor’s office in Montgomery. As I recall, Bush did much the same for our own Van Hilleary, and that shows up time and again in Hilleary’s television ads. The Alabama governor’s race appears to be at least as intense as Tennessee’s battle between Hilleary and Democrat Phil Bredesen. Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, accuses Riley of failing to pay his taxes for nine years. The Siegelman ads say Riley paid the taxes only after “authorities” forced him to do so. Riley denies that, and targets Siegelman for non-bid state contracts to campaign contributors. An intelligent, mature lawyer from Huntsville, Ala., brought up the Alabama governor’s race and called it the nastiest he’s even seen. That includes the bitter battle over an Alabama lottery, which was defeated three years ago.In Tennessee, as we well know, Hilleary tries to create the impression that Bredesen, who became wealthy and created thousands of jobs as a health care entrepreneur, is just an “HMO millionaire.” That label is supposed to paint Bredesen as a bad guy on two fronts: he’s rich and he’s been involved with HMOs, which we are supposed to despise. The Sundquist-Bredesen campaign of 1994 was hard-fought but didn’t plunge to the low level of these two gubernatorial races. Negative campaigning works, but why must candidates Ð or their political advisers Ð take it to such distasteful levels? The Nov. 5 election is less than two weeks away. We must take the claims, as my grandmother used to say, with a grain of salt. There may be some truth in there somewhere. Meanwhile, Sundquist is enjoying his last months in office away from the political wars. His support of a state income tax made him persona non grata, even to his own political party. Hilleary has TV commercials showing Bredesen morphing into “BredeSundquist.” Now, the Hilleary campaign is passing out bumper stickers that say, “No More BredeSundquist.” When he was shown the commercials, Sundquist paused and said, “I regret it, if Hilleary has his people doing that. He ought to know better. Shame on him!” Sounds like the sun hasn’t yet set on Don Sundquist.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Change of Mind

The county commission's "line in the sand" on development suffers some erosion.

Posted by on Thu, Oct 24, 2002 at 4:00 AM

They're looking for excuses to change their vote." That was the blunt assessment of Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson concerning a majority vote by his colleagues that overturned a previous vote disapproving a subdivision proposal for east Shelby County.

The first vote -- which saw commissioners deadlocked at 6-6, with one absentee -- occurred on September 23rd amid a great deal of talk about creating a "line in the sand" on new homebuilding projects in the outer county. Thompson was one of a hard core of four commissioners -- the others being Deidre Malone, Joyce Avery, and Michael Hooks -- who insisted that no new development should be approved unless a mechanism was at hand to provide funding for the additional county classrooms that would have to be constructed to service the new residents.

The matter was submitted to a revote Monday by virtue of Hooks' motion at the intervening meeting of October 7th to allow a reconsideration. Hooks did so, he said then, at the request of Commissioner Julian Bolton, who had been absent on September 23rd and desired an opportunity to vote on the project, which would allow an additional 60-odd homes to an existing subdivision project of developer Kevin Hyneman in Cordova.

Hooks, Malone, and Thompson voted no again Monday, when the project came back up, but switched sides. Avery switched sides, however, and her vote, along with Bolton's and that of John Willingham, who had passed on the proposal last month, helped provide a comfortable 9-3 margin for the additional units. (Commissioner Linda Rendtorff, another no voter on September 23rd, was absent.)

What seemed to offer a basis for the commission's approval was an argument by Michael Fahy, a spokesman for Hyneman on the Lee Line Farms subdivision project, that a county school system document had overestimated the number of students currently being served by county schools in the affected area. Fahy was supported by Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, who said she had checked Fahy's arithmetic by calling the schools in question and finding, as he did, that surplus space was available instead of there being a situation of overcrowding.

Maura Black, director of planning for the county schools, countered that Loeffel and Fahy had overlooked another portion of the document, which allowed for a temporary drop in enrollment at certain schools because of others coming into line this year. But the report still suggested, she said later, that the overall impact of new development might be to force new school construction.

The discussion concerning the two sets of school numbers left some observers (and commissioners) more confused than enlightened. "These numbers are hard to follow," Avery said afterward. "I had planned to vote no, but when he [Fahy] presented the facts on the schools, I changed my mind. I don't want to vote to stop growth. I just want smart growth. I just want to make sure taxes are not growing sky-high because of building in the area." Loeffel, too, found enough discrepancy to justify her repeating her earlier yes vote for the subdivision units, while yea-sayers Willingham, David Lillard, and Joe Ford cited the need not to deter legitimate development nor to impose restrictions that forced it out of the county.

None of that satisfied Thompson, who said, "The idea seemed to be that bad development is better than no development." He said that the uncertainty over the school numbers should have been an argument for deferring the vote rather than, as Loeffel seemed to suggested, for siding with the developer so as to avoid unfairness.

"And too much emphasis was placed on the issue of the schools alone," said Thompson. Yes, new school construction and the need to fund it are compelling reasons to be cautious about new development, but those aren't the only costs the county -- and the taxpayer -- will have to furnish. There's a good deal of infrastructure that will be costly in and of itself."

At one point during the discussion of the issue Monday, Hooks, a property appraiser by trade, announced to his colleagues the results of his own arithmetic concerning the new units. New tax revenues would be $300,000, he said. New costs to be borne by the county would be $900,000, for a net deficit of $600,000 overall.

Unlike the case with the school numbers, these figures drew no contradiction Monday.

Cohen Wins a Prelim

In an opinion released last week, Tennessee attorney general Paul Summers supported state Senator Steve Cohen in the senator's defense of his right to use his office facilities in campaigning for the forthcoming state-lottery referendum on the November 5th election ballot.

In his opinion, Summers said explicitly, "It is not a violation of any law for a state legislator to use his or her office for fundraising calls for a not-for-profit entity formed to promote the lottery referendum on the November 2002 ballot" nor "to use his or her office to disseminate information regarding the state lottery referendum."

Former ambassador Joe Rodgers, a representative of the anti-lottery group Gambling-Free Tennessee, had argued in a debate with Cohen at the Jewish Community Center earlier last week that Cohen was in violation of state law in using his state-assigned facilities on behalf of the lottery. Rodgers had cited a previous opinion from Summers suggesting it was unlawful to "use ... state facilities to prepare and distribute only material that directly advocates voting for a particular candidate, party, or referendum issue."

Rodgers had gone further, using the last few seconds of his time during the debate to suggest that Cohen's alleged violation might be "criminal" and stating, "I think, Senator, you and General Summers have something to talk about." Cohen, who was prevented by lack of time from responding during the debate itself, called the charge "sleazeball" and said it was misleading. For one thing, Cohen said, Rodgers' citation omitted some key succeeding words from the prior Summers opinion (responding to a request from state Representative and Republican chairman Beth Harwell) -- specifically, the follow-up clause "unless access to the facilities is provided to all sides on the topic" and the even more explicit sentence, "Further, the statute prohibiting the use of public buildings or facilities does not apply to popularly elected officials such as state legislators."

Cohen and Summers did, in fact, have "something to talk about," though it resulted in the explicitly stated follow-up opinion from the attorney general that would seem to license fully pro-referendum activity by Cohen, chief legislative proponent of the lottery for almost two decades. The senator crowned 16 years of effort when, as the last step of a multistage process, he persuaded a two-thirds majority of the state Senate last spring to authorize the forthcoming referendum.

At a press conference following receipt of Summers' latest opinion, Cohen announced that, while he would honor commitments to debate the lottery issue with opponents "of good will, sincerity and moral purpose," he would no longer participate in public forums with members of Gambling Free Tennessee, whom, on the basis of Rodgers' debate remarks and other statements made during the campaign, he regarded as lacking in those qualities.

(That meant that Monday night's debate on WPTY-TV Channel 24 had to be reconfigured, with state Representative Kathryn Bowers and Memphis School Board member Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge taking the pro-lottery position in Cohen's stead and Bill Wood and the Rev. Bill Bouknight opposing the lottery.)

Cohen also used the occasion of his press conference last week to rebut lottery opponents' contentions that poor citizens are disproportionate purchasers of lottery tickets in other states and that lottery participation tends to diminish year by year. In Georgia, whose lottery-funded HOPE scholarships provided the model for his own legislation, the reverse has been the case, said Cohen: Participation and the resultant revenues have risen year by year.

The lottery in Tennessee, if voted in next month, would establish scholarships on the Georgia model. Next year's General Assembly would still be required to pass enabling legislation to establish the machinery for the lottery.

* The issue of whether to build an arena for the NBA Grizzlies may have been resolved, but the question of how to build it is still a matter for some dispute -- at least in the minds of union representatives who fear that local workers will get short shrift as the project wears on.

A rally will be held under the auspices of the Memphis Building and Construction Trades Association at the arena site south of Beale Street on Friday, November 1st, says Edward Panis, business agent of Ironworkers Local 167. "We just want to be sure that there is participation by local workers as they proceed to further stages of the project. I've talked to several of the contractors doing iron work on this project, and it seems they're prepared to bring their own people down here from elsewhere."

Panis also said some Memphis workers involved in preliminary stages of the project may have been misclassified by out-of-state contractors and paid wages less than they are entitled.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

A C's Druthers

If Tom Jones is cleared, the former aide could be back in the mayor's office.

Posted by on Thu, Oct 17, 2002 at 4:00 AM

I guess it's my background as a defense attorney," said Shelby County mayor A C Wharton in an interview with the Flyer Saturday, "but I'm not ready to write off Tom Jones." Indeed, said Wharton, if current allegations against Jones are dispelled, "I'll be the first to give him an apology and would be ready to offer him a substantial position in county government."

The former public defender and recently inaugurated county chief executive acknowledged that he had badly wanted to employ Jones, a chief adviser to former mayors Bill Morris and Jim Rout, in his own administration and was dissuaded only by the enormity of the public reaction to a controversy over possible credit-card abuses that caused Rout to suspend Jones with only a week to go in the Rout administration.

"I just was unwilling to spend the first year of my administration dealing with this," Wharton said of the controversy over Jones, now under investigation by the district attorney general's office for purported use of his county-issued credit card for private purchases. Jones is also accused of improperly accessing a county fund set aside for liaison with a Chamber of Commerce project.

Meanwhile, Wharton says, he has chosen not to replace Jones in the uniquely authoritative position, which, under Rout, saw Jones occupy multiple positions -- including public-affairs director and deputy executive assistant.

* If Republican nominee Marsha Blackburn, currently a state senator from the Nashville suburban community of Brentwood, wins her 9th District congressional race, she is adamant about one thing (well, one more thing): No gender-specific or gender-neutral title for her. No "congresswoman." No "congressperson."

"I'll be a congressman," she said categorically while attending a picnic in east Shelby County Saturday. "In the state Senate, I haven't been a 'senatress.' I've been a senator."

While serving as a senator, Blackburn won wide recognition as a determined opponent of a state income tax, and that reputation, plus some assiduous campaigning in Shelby County, won her an easy victory over five GOP opponents in the August primary. She finished second in Shelby County, in fact, where she maintains a part-time residence on Highway 64.

Blackburn, who is opposed in the general election by Democrat Tim Barron of Collierville, indicates she may be a mite more flexible than some observers would have believed. Like many Republicans in this depressed stock-market era, she has backed off the word "privatization" in relation to Social Security, though she still calls for "a portion" of an individual's Social Security account to be administered as the individual sees fit.

And, though she wants President Bush's tax-cut package to be made permanent, she acknowledges that unforeseen expenditures of the war on terror could justify a "continuing-resolution" vote that would leave that outcome for future consideration, especially if action against Iraq (which she would support) takes place.

* Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Bredesen isn't conceding that his onetime considerable lead over GOP foe Van Hilleary has "evaporated" (as at least one recent neutral poll indicates), but he acknowledges that some dimunition has occurred, which he credits to his opponent's negative campaigning.

"Van's history is to go hard, hard negative in the last month of a campaign, and that's what he's doing here," said Bredesen after addressing attendees at the monthly Dutch Treat Luncheon Saturday at Willingham's Restaurant at Perkins and American Way.

Former Nashville mayor Bredesen, who has emphasized his nonsupport of a state income tax, "both implicitly and explicitly," said that 4th District congressman Hilleary was attempting to mislead voters by "making the issue about taxes." Bredesen defended a recent TV commercial of his own, criticized by some Democrats, in which he called his opponent by name and defended himself against Hilleary's income-tax charge. "That may violate the canon of political-advertising practice," Bredesen acknowledged, "but I've never been unafraid to violate political canons."

In his presentation to the conservative-oriented luncheon group, Bredesen emphasized what he said was his superiority to Hilleary in three areas: management experience, support of education, and job creation. He reemphasized his opposition to legalized gaming and welcomed the recent Supreme Court decision calling for equalization of teacher salaries in Tennessee as "a good thing."

The ruling would prove beneficial to the state if Tennessee is allowed to make "one move at a time" to implement it and if the state works within the structure of the existing Basic Education Plan to incorporate the funding changes.

* Not all local Democrats approved of last week's vote by 9th District U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr. for a congressional resolution authorizing use of force by President Bush against Iraq. There was considerable private grumbling, but most of it stayed that way -- private.

For the record, Ford issued a statement doubting administration claims of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda but endorsing the idea that "America's national security is at stake" and supporting the president's call for national unity.

Off the record, one observer acquainted with Ford noted a distinction between the current congressman and his father, former Rep. Harold Ford Sr., who voted against a similar resolution in 1991, but pointed out, "Harold Sr. wasn't planning to run for the Senate in 2006 in a Republican state."

* George Flinn, who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor as a conservative Republican, has had a change of heart -- sort of. Flinn had an operation last week to implant a pacemaker device. Even in his preparations for the operation, however, the 2002 GOP nominee maintained his partisan connections. When Vice President Dick Cheney who has had a similar operation, visited Memphis recently, Flinn asked him for an opinion. "He told me who should do it, and I did it his way, and, politically, I should be as good as he is," Flinn joked to Saturday's attendees at the Dutch Treat Luncheon.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

UP AND DOWN WITH THE TIGERS

UP AND DOWN WITH THE TIGERS

Posted by on Tue, Oct 15, 2002 at 4:00 AM

We’re a strange crew, those of us who count ourselves among the U of M football faithful. We show up in remarkably large numbers, year in and year out, to root on our heroes. We enter each and every season full of hope, only to watch those hopes get dashed to bits, like so many leftover Cinquo de Mayo pi–atas. Why do we do it? Over the years, I've been asked that question a hundred times, by dozens of family members and friends, people who genuinely care about my well being. They are always particularly concerned after heart-breaking losses like the one the Tigers suffered at the hands of Louisville, 38-32, in the Liberty Bowl last week. Why, they ask, do you persist? Why, they say, don't you take up a pastime more satisfying? Something less painful, say, like ritual self-mutilation? No, I quietly explain, every time I'm asked: Being a Tiger football fan is more than an avocation; it's a way of life. Better yet, it's a metaphor for life. For what we do is tough -- way more difficult, and way nobler, than anything any Big Orange supporter, for example, could possibly imagine. Hey, it's easy to be a UT fan. You win eight times out of ten, ten years out of twelve, and plan your holidays around a bowl game, year in and year out. How hard is that? Lots of good times, lots of glory. But, I ask you, is real life like that? Of course it isn't. Real life is about winning and losing, and, frankly, there's usually a bit more losing involved than winning, for nearly all of us. And keep in mind the bottom line, as an existentialist friend of mine likes to say, about life on Planet Earth: "Nobody's getting out of here alive." See? What could be a more perfect way to train for real-life adversity than by supporting a college football team whose entire modern history has been an exercise in near-futility? You've all heard the adage: "Almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades? Well, it could be a U of M football mantra. So near yet so far, so many times that the faithful among us have long stopped counting. Tuesday last week, for example, there we were, on the verge of victory, with a couple of minutes left, the Tigers having clawed their way back into a football game half of the 44,081 in attendance had already abandoned. All around us in Section Eight, folks were going berserk. We had the ball on the Louisville 26, down just six points, first and ten, and... "Damn," I heard a voice next to me say, "it's starting to rain." Sure enough, out of nowhere on a brilliant autumn evening, a storm cloud had materialized, just in time, as it turned out, to dampen our hopes yet again. Alas, the Tigers went four and out, failing even to get a first down, and going down to defeat for the fourth time this season. All around us, there were many long faces. We regulars, however, were altogether calm about the outcome. After all, the last time Louisville visited the Liberty Bowl (in 1999) the Cardinals administered a painful 32-31 coup de grace with a TD completion in the end zone as time ran out. So for loyalists, this was a preferable death, the kind Dr. Kervorkian could appreciate. "Must've been that damned cloud," said a long-suffering colleague as we filed out silently, the rain stopping as suddenly as it had started. But they say that every cloud has a silver lining, and this one, certainly, was no exception. Who knows what the future holds, but at least three things stand out as positives from an otherwise distasteful evening at the ballpark:
  • The Tigers showed up to play. In sharp contrast to the “Sham in Birmingham,” the U of M this time around played with grit, heart and intelligence, overcoming yet another special-teams goof in the first ninety seconds to take the lead at halftime, and roaring back from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to take control of its own destiny in the game’s final minutes. Two second-half turnovers were fatal, but the defense played an inspired game, led by Tony Brown, whose switch from defensive end inside to tackle reaped huge dividends.
  • ESPN2 got to showcase a big-time quarterback. No, not Louisville’s Dave Ragone, but our own Danny Wimprine, who’s on course to break every modern U of M passing record if he doesn’t get killed running the football first. Wimprine out-passed and out-led Ragone, and had Travis Anglin not mistakenly thought he was auditioning for a Butterfingers commercial, the Tiger quarterback may well have been all the rage on “Sports Center” Tuesday night.
  • C-USA is all shook up, as Elvis might say. Look at last Saturday’s screwball results: Tulane beats Cincinnati? South Florida knocks off Southern Miss? Who’s in charge here? Evidently, no one. Which means that even three conference defeats may not be the end of the world for the U of M. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch. But that’s what makes U of M football fans so, um, unusual. We’ll be back in droves at the Liberty Bowl Saturday evening, as the Tigers face off against Mississippi State, expecting the worst, but always hoping for the best. Hey, at least we’ll never need a reality check.

    Monday, October 14, 2002

    WHARTON WOULD REHIRE JONES

    WHARTON WOULD REHIRE JONES

    Posted by on Mon, Oct 14, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    “I guess it’s my background as a defense attorney, but ,” said Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton in an interview with the Flyer Saturday, “I’m not ready to write off Tom Jones.” Indeed, said Wharton, if current allegations against Jones are dispelled, “I’ll be the first to give him an apology and would be ready to offer him a substantial position in county government.” The former Public Defender and newly inaugurated county chief executive acknowledged that he had badly wanted to employ Jones, a chief adviser to former mayors Bill Morris and Jim Rout, in his own administration and was dissuaded only by the enormity of the public reaction to a controversy over possible credit-card abuses that caused Rout to suspend Jones with only a week to go in the Rout administration. “I just was unwilling to spend the first year of my administration dealing with this,” Wharton said of the controversy over Jones, now under investigation by the District Attorney General’s office for purported use of his county-issued credit card for private purchases. Jones is also accused of improperly accessing a county fund set aside for liaison with a Chamber of Commerce project. Meanwhile, Wharton says, he has chosen not to replace Jones in the uniquely authoritative position which, under Rout, saw Jones occupy multiple positions -- including public affairs director and deputy executive assistant. (For more of the interview with Wharton, see this week’s print edition of the Flyer.)

    MORE POLITICS

  • If Republican nominee Marsha Blackburn, currently a state senator from the Nashville suburban community of Brentwood, wins her 9th District congressional race, she is adamant about one thing (well, one more thing): No gender-specific or gender-neutral title for her. No “Congresswoman.” No “Congressperson.”

    “I’ll be a congressman,” she said categorically while attending a picnic in East Shelby County Saturday. “In the state senate, I haven’t been a Ôsenatress.’ I’ve been a senator.”

    While serving as a senator, Blackburn won wide recognition as a determined opponent of a state income tax, and that reputation, plus some assiduous campaigning in Shelby County, won her an easy victory over five GOP opponents in the August primary. She finished second in Shelby County, in fact, where she maintains a part-time residence on Highway 64.

    Blackburn, who is opposed in the general election by Democrat Tim Barron of Collierville, indicates she may be a mite more flexible than some observers would have believed. Like many Republicans in this depressed stock-market era, she has backed off the word “privatization’ in relation to Social Security, though she still calls for “a portion” of an individual’s Social Security account to be administered as the individual sees fit.

    And, though she wants President Bush’s tax-cut package to be made permanent, she acknowledges that unforeseen expenditures of the war on terror could justify a “continuing-resolution” vote that would leave that outcome for future consideration, especially if action against Iraq (which she would support) takes place.

  • Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Bredesen isn’t conceding that his onetime considerable lead over GOP foe Van Hilleary has “evaporated” (as at least one recent neutral poll indicates), but he acknowledges that some dimunition has occurred, which he credits to his opponent’s negative campaigning.

    “Van’s history is to go hard, hard negative in the last month of a campaign, and that’s what he’s doing here,” said Bredesen after addressing attendees at the monthly Dutch Treat Luncheon at Willingham’s Restaurant at Perkins and American Way.

    Former Nashville mayor Bredesen, who has emphasized his non-support of a state income tax, “both implicitly and explicitly,” said that 4th District congressman Hilleary was attempting to mislead voters by “making the issue about taxes.” Bredesen defended a recent TV commercial of his own, criticized by some Democrats, in which he called his opponent by name and defended himself against Hilleary’s income-tax charge. “That may violate the canon of political-advertising practice,” Bredesen acknowledged, “but I’ve never been unafraid to violate political canons.”

    In his presentation to the conservative-oriented luncheon group, Bredesen emphasized what he said was his superiority to Hilleary in three areas: management experience, support of education, and job creation. He re-emphasized his opposition to legalized gaming and welcomed the recent Supreme Court decision calling for equalization of teacher salaries in Tennessee as “a good thing.”

    The ruling would prove beneficial to the state if Tennessee is allowed to make “one move at a time” to implement it and if the state works within the structure of the existing Basic Education Plan to incoporate the funding changes.

  • Not all local Democrats approved of last week’s vote by 9th District U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr. for a congressional resolution authorizing use of force by President Bush against Iraq. There was considerable private grumbling, but most of it stayed that way -- private.

    For the record, Ford issued a statement doubting administration claims of a connection between Iraq and Al Quaeda but endorsing the idea that “America's national security is at stake” and supporting the president’s call for national unity.

    Off the record, one observer acquainted with Ford noted a distinction between the current congressman and his father, former Rep.Harold Ford Sr., who voted against a similar resolution in 1991, but pointed out, “Harold Sr. wasn’t planning to run for the Senate in 2006 in a Republican state.”

  • George Flinn, the radiologist/broadcast executive who ran unsuccessfully for county mayor this year as a conservative Republican, has had a change of heart -- sort of. Flinn had an operation last week for implantation of a pacemaker device.

    Even in his preparations for the operation, however, the 2002 GOP nominee maintained his partisan connections. When Vice President Dick Cheney, who has had a similar operation, visited Memphis recently, Flinn asked him for an opinion as to how he should proceed. “He told me who should do it, and I did it his way, and, politically, I should be as good as he is,” Flinn joked to Saturday’s attendees at the Dutch Treat Luncheon.

    Sunday, October 13, 2002

    Previous: WATCH THIS SPACE

    Previous: WATCH THIS SPACE

    Posted by on Sun, Oct 13, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    What Does SHE Want to Be Called? (It might surprise you.)

    What does HE want to do about Tom Jones. (It WILL surprise you!)

    Why is HE grinning? (Or is he grimacing?)

    Why'd HE vote that way?

    What's new -- brand new -- with HIM?

    Pssst! Answers on Sunday.

    Friday, October 11, 2002

    Crossing the Lines

    As old political divisions loosen up, new coalitions form. But will they hold?

    Posted by on Fri, Oct 11, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    Q: What do loose morals, the Black Panthers, and the Third Reich have in common? A: They were all evoked in an unforeseen controversy that erupted in Monday's biweekly meeting of the Shelby County Commission. The argument, over county funding of a contraceptive program, was one of two issues -- the other concerned a zoning matter -- that underscored the tendency of the current body, elected in August, to cross partisan and racial lines more freely than previous commissions had.

    Said Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham: "Are we not encouraging loosening up promoting promiscuous sex legalizing morality -- or the lack of it? [It] does give the girl and her partner free rein, doesn't it? If guys know they can pay without paying the price, they're going to." Said Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel: "To me, it's a moral issue. It's a matter of core belief, not a debate over financial responsibility . It's not our place to promote birth control. They can't remember to do homework, to make their beds, to catch the bus on time."

    These sentiments had to do with a resolution initially considered so innocuous that it was placed on the commission's "consent agenda," which normally lists a plethora of routine matters that are voted out of the way early in a meeting so that the real controversies, if such there be, can come later and get all the time and attention they deserve.

    It read this way: "Resolution approving expenditure of funds in the amount of $66,000 for the purchases of Depo Provera Prefilled Syringes from Pharmacia Corporation for the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department's Family Planning Program." In effect, the syringes in question provide temporary inoculation against pregnancy, and that fact made the resolution an anathema to Loeffel, a longtime activist on social-conservative issues -- especially since the category of potential subjects necessarily includes females who are formally classified as minors and who are students in the county's junior high schools and high schools.

    In asking that the resolution be taken off the consent agenda and placed on the commission's regular agenda, Loeffel intended only to be given the opportunity to vote against the measure, she said, adding, "I had no intention of provoking a debate." The debate ensued, however, sometimes heated, sometimes bizarre, and, as indicated, irrespective of the usual partisan lines.

    One strong opponent of Loeffel's view, for example, was newly elected commissioner Joyce Avery, who turned out longtime commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf this year largely on the strength of her advocacy of tighter fiscal restraints for county government. Indeed, Avery, the sponsor of the disputed resolution, defended it as a classic instance of financial responsibility. "These are people who are already sexually active, are they not?" she asked Yvonne Madlock, county health department director, who concurred and added that, in her view, it was "the right of every individual to make rational decisions about reproductive life."

    Avery attempted to mollify Loeffel by saying that, "as a Christian," she sympathized with the Cordova commissioner's views but added, "I agree to disagree." She said she felt that society was being unfairly burdened by "children having children" and that "a sense of fiscal responsibility" required making the contraceptive syringes available. In any case, said Avery firmly, she was determined to see the matter come to a vote without being deferred.

    In the end, the commission would approve the expenditures by an 8-4 vote. Voting for it were Republicans Avery, Linda Rendtorff, Tom Moss, and David Lillard and Democrats Deidre Malone, Michael Hooks, Cleo Kirk, and Joe Ford. Voting with Loeffel and Willingham were newcomer Bruce Thompson, a Republican, and vintage Democrat Walter Bailey, who currently serves as chairman and who asked Loeffel to take over the chair briefly while he articulated his position -- along unanticipated lines, it's fair to say.

    Some decades back, when he was a member of the board of an American Civil Liberties Union chapter, Bailey recalled, he had supported positions taken by the Black Panthers, a radical group prominent in the late '60s and early '70s, opposing state-supported birth-control programs on the grounds that, as a means of "population control," they were aimed at blacks. Asked after the meeting if he regarded that as a live possibility in today's circumstances, Bailey said he did, throwing in what was arguably a non sequitur: "Who could have foreseen what Hitler would do?"

    The other matter Monday that operated independently of party structure was precipitated by Commissioner Hooks' request to reconsider a zoning proposal that was defeated two weeks earlier when it could not get a majority vote. This, a project by developer Kevin Hyneman to build 50 new homes in the Cordova area, received a 6-6 vote on September 23rd, when a coalition of Republicans and Democrats resisted two new subdivision proposals aimed at families with children.

    One of those was that of Hyneman, who, along with brother and fellow developer Rusty Hyneman, has abundant political contacts. One of those on a number of former occasions was Hooks, who, to many of his colleagues' surprise, took the lead at the previous meeting in holding the line against the proposed new developments on the ground that, until reliable means of financing future school construction could be assured, it was folly to approve new family-oriented subdivisions.

    Buttressing the argument, which is a staple of what is coming to be known as the "Smart Growth" concept, was the presence at that meeting of Maura Black, director of planning for Shelby County schools.

    Black was absent from Monday's meeting, and so, crucially, was the united "Smart Growth" front of Hooks, Malone, and GOP add-ons Avery and Thompson, who, with members picked up from the other commissioners on the key proposals, were able to hold the line last time.

    At the start of Monday's session, Democrat Julian Bolton, an absentee on September 23rd, asked Hooks if he, as a member of the prevailing side in the Hyneman vote, would mind moving to reconsider the proposal. To the discomfiture -- and raised eyebrows -- of some of his new allies (a couple of whom had skeptically predicted such a move two weeks ago), Hooks agreed, and the motion to reconsider, coupled with another that deferred renewed voting on the measure until the commission's next meeting, duly passed.

    "He was very kind to me during my recovery, and he would have done the same thing for me," Hooks, who made a dramatic return to action after a widely publicized bout with cocaine addiction, would say later, justifying his decision to honor Bolton's request. "I am not so unmindful as not to know how Julian will end up voting," said Hooks, who, like everyone else, saw the former 6-6 deadlock on Hyneman's subdivision turning into a 7-6 vote of passage next time out.

    Though no one professed any doubt about Hooks' motives for the record, two of his colleagues, commissioners Thompson and Lillard, the latter of whom had voted Hyneman's way in September, expressed displeasure at the result and suggested that a better option for Bolton, who had an opportunity to see the September 26th agenda in advance, would have been to seek deferral of the measure before its initial vote, not to have it resurrected for a second try later on.

    Malone, however, saw no reason for distress. The "Smart Growth" faction, so far equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, would hold together as a unit in the future, she predicted.

    • "I'm probably not going to make the list, ever, of the 50 most beautiful people, but there's a list of 50 I think I can make!" So said former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen after being introduced by 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. to an overflow Peabody ballroom crowd of several hundred supporters Monday.

    Of course, Bredesen's list -- of U.S. governors -- depends not on People magazine's arbiters of style but on the Tennessee electorate, which both Democrat Bredesen and his Republican opponent, 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, are assiduously courting just now. The two, currently regarded as being in a dead heat, were in Memphis for a weekend debate on WREG-TV Channel 3, and though some sparks flew in that one, neither candidate prevailed, in the view of most observers.

    Each, however, scored off the other's positions -- Bredesen casting doubt on Hilleary's arithmetic and consistently regarding the economic benefits of drastic TennCare reforms and Hilleary making some telling points regarding the financial arrangements, signed onto by Bredesen, between Nashville and the NFL's Tennessee Titans. As Hilleary pointed out, Memphis made a better, more cushioned deal with the NBA to get the Grizzlies.

    • Last month, when Young Republican chairman Rick Rout was asked by his fellow members of the Shelby County Republican steering committee to am-scray, by a vote of 18-8, Rout's answer was "Thanks, but no thanks." On Thursday night of last week, a month later, the committee voted in Rout's absence to begin his removal by impeachment.

    That vote was even more decisive, at 26-7, but as committee parliamentarian Jerry Cobb pointed out, Article C of the state Republican bylaws mandates that a majority of the 43-member committee -- or 29 members -- must vote in favor of such a removal, and therefore, the whole process would have to be repeated at the committee's November meeting.

    Cobb would say later on that he had no intention of party-pooping, stressing that his motive in raising the quibble was merely to make sure that any impeachment process, once completed, could not be reversed on a technicality.

    In the meantime, committee members had wrangled amongst themselves over the nature of the process, the order in which steps had to be taken, and whether -- as member Scott McCormick and others suggested -- the local committee's bylaws, which explicitly disallow Article C's constraints in case of "open and notorious" support of Democrats, permit a simple majority of the quorum present to do the deed.

    But unlike the case at September's meeting, there was no serious argument or discussion about whether Rout deserved the punishment. It was taken as a given, even by his nominal supporters.

    As Bob Pittman, not a supporter and one of several members who, like Rout, aspire to the local party's chairmanship, put it, "We've got the rule [prohibiting such 'open and notorious' apostasies], and we either ought to amend it or enforce it."

    What Rout did, of course, was send out indiscreet e-mails during the late county election period advertising his discontent with the Republican mayoral nominee, George Flinn. When his e-mails surfaced in public, Rout, son of then-Mayor Jim Rout (who was also unenthusiastic about Flinn but more cautious about expressing it), made halfhearted and somewhat disingenuous claims that he'd only been joking.

    The committee votes against him have followed, initiated by a motion last month from John Willingham (who, as the two tallies surely have indicated, was no Lone Ranger in the matter).

    Stay tuned; this one may require as many installments as the lingering death of Francisco Franco did in Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segments of the 1975-'76 season. Ultimately, maybe in February or March, the GOP executive committee would have to conduct a trial.

    Rout retains his membership -- and his seriously compromised chairmanship candidacy -- in the meantime. Declared or likely chairmanship candidates include Ray Butler, Bob Pitman, Kemp Conrad, and Arnold Weiner.

    • Two local legislative races to watch are those for districts 89 and 93, in which Democratic incumbents Carol Chumney and Mike Kernell are being challenged, respectively, by Republicans Ruth Ogles and John Peliciotti. More of these anon.

    Wednesday, October 9, 2002

    POLITICS: Crossing the Lines

    As old political divisions loosen up, new coalitions form, but will they hold?

    Posted by on Wed, Oct 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    CROSSING THE LINES Q: What do loose morals, the Black Panthers, and the Third Reich have in common? A: They were all evoked in an unforeseen controversy which erupted in Monday’s biweekly meeting of the Shelby County Commission. The argument, over county funding of a contraceptive program, was one of two issues -- the other concerned a zoning matter -- that underscored the tendency of the current body, elected in August, to cross partisan and racial lines more freely than previous commissions had. Said Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham: “Are we not encouraging loosening up …promoting promiscuous sex, ..legalizing morality -- or the lack of it?...[It] does give the girl and her partner free rein, doesn’t it?...If guys know they can play without paying the price, they’re going to.” Said Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel: “To me, it’s a moral issue. It’s a matter of core belief, not a debate over financial responsibility…It’s not our place to promote birth control...They can’t remember to do homework, to make their beds, to catch the bus on time.” These sentiments had to do with a resolution initially considered so innocuous that it was placed on the commission’s “consent agenda,” which normally lists a plethora of routine matters that are voted out of the way early in a meeting so that the real controversies, if such there be, can come later and get all the time and attention they deserve. It read this way: “Resolution approving expenditure of funds in the amount of $66,000.00 for the purchases of Depo Provera Prefilled Syringes from Pharmacia Corporation for the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department’s Family Planning Program.” In effect, the syringes in question provide temporary inoculation of women of child-bearing age against pregnancy, and that fact made the resolution an anathema to Loeffel, a longtime activist on social-conservative issues -- especially since the category of potential subjects necessarily includes females who are formally classified as minors and who are students in the county’s junior high schools and high schools. In asking that the resolution be taken off the consent agenda and placed on the commission’s regular agenda, Loeffel intended only to be given the opportunity to vote against the measure, she said, adding, “I had no intention of provoking a debate.” The debate ensued, however, sometimes heated, sometimes bizarre, and, as indicated, irrespective of the usual partisan lines. One strong opponent of Loeffel’s view, for example, was newly elected commissioner Joyce Avery, who turned out longtime commissioner Clair VanderSchaaf this year largely on the strength of her advocacy of tighter fiscal restraints for county government. Indeed, Avery, the sponsor of the disputed resolution, defended it as a classic instance of financial responsibility. “These are people who are already sexually active, are they not?” she asked Yvonne Madlock, county Health Department director, who concurred and added that, in her view, it was “the right of every individual to make rational decisions about reproductive life.” Avery attempted to mollify Loeffel by saying that, “as a Christian,” she sympathized with the Cordova commissioner’s views but added, “I agree to disagree.” She said she felt that society was being unfairly burdened by “childen having children,” and that “a sense of fiscal responsibility” required making the contraceptive syringes available. In any case, said Avery firmly, she was determined to see the matter come to a vote without being deferred. In the end, the commission would approve the expenditures by an 8 to 4 vote. Voting for it were Republicans Avery, Linda Rendtorff, Tom Moss, and David Lillard, and Democrats Deidre Malone, Michael Hooks, Cleo Kirk, and Joe Ford. Voting with Loeffel and Willingham were newcomer Bruce Thompson, a Republican, and vintage Democrat Walter Bailey, who currently serves as chairman and who asked Loeffel to take over the chair briefly while he articulated his position -- along unanticipated lines, it’s fair to say. Some decades back when he was a member of the board of an American Civil Liberties Union chapter, Bailey recalled, he had supported positions taken by the Black Panthers, a radical group prominent in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, opposing state-supported birth-control programs on the grounds that as a means of “population control” they were aimed at blacks. Asked after the meeting if he regarded that as a live possibility in today’s circumstances, Bailey said he did, throwing in what was arguably a non sequitur: “Who could have foreseen what Hitler would do?” The other matter Monday that operated independently of party structure was precipitated by Commissioner Hooks’ request to reconsider a zoning proposal that was defeated two weeks earlier when it could not get a majority vote. This, a project by developer Kevin Hyneman to build 50 new homes in the Cordova area, received a six-six vote on September 23, when a coalition of Republicans and Democrats resisted two new subdivision proposals aimed at families with children. One of those was that of Hyneman, who, along with brother and fellow developer Rusty Hyneman, has abundant political contacts. One of those on a number of former occasions was Hooks, who, to many of his colleagues’ surprise, took the lead at the previous meeting in holding the line against the proposed new developments on the ground that, until reliable means of financing future school construction could be assured, it was folly to approve new family-oriented subdivisions. Buttressing the argument, which is a staple of what is coming to be known as the “Smart Growth” concept, was the presence at that meeting of Maura Black, director of planning for Shelby County schools. Black was present at Monday’s meeting but did not play as conspicuous a role as at the earlier meeting, nor, crucially, did the united “Smart Growth” front of Hooks, Democratic newcomer Malone, and GOP add-ons Avery and Thompson, who, with members picked up from the other commissioners on the key proposals, were able to hold the line last time. At the start of Monday’s session Democrat Julian Bolton, an absentee on September 23, asked Hooks if he, as a member of the prevailing side in the Hyneman vote, would mind moving to reconsider the proposal. To the discomfiture -- and raised eyebrows -- of some of his new allies (a couple of whom had skeptically predicted such a move two weeks ago), Hooks agreed, and the motion to reconsider, coupled with another that deferred renewed voting on the measure until the commission’s next meeting, duly passed. “He was very kind to me during my recovery, and he would have done the same thing for me,” Hooks, who made a dramatic return to action after a widely publicized bout with cocaine addiction, would say later, justifying his decision to honor Bolton’s request. “I am not so unmindful as not to know how Julian will end up voting,” said Hooks, who, like everyone else, saw the former 6-6 deadlock on Hyneman’s subdivision turning into a 7-6 vote of passage next time out. Though no one professed any doubt about Hooks’ motives for the record, two of his colleagues, Commissioners Thompson and Lillard, the latter of whom had voted Hyneman’s way in September, expressed displeasure at the result and suggested that a better option for Bolton, who had an opportunity to see the September 26 agenda in advance, would have been to seek deferral of the measure before in its initial vote, not to have it resurrected it for a second try later on. Malone, however, saw no reason for distress. The “Smart Growth” faction, so far equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, would hold together as a unit in the future, she predicted.

    Saturday, October 5, 2002

    RICK ROUT TAKES ANOTHER HIT

    RICK ROUT TAKES ANOTHER HIT

    Posted by on Sat, Oct 5, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    Last month when Young Republican chairman Rick Rout was asked by his fellow members of the Shelby County Republican steering committee to am-scray, by a vote of 18-8, Rout’s answer was (literally) “Thanks, but no thanks.” On Thursday night, a month later, the committee voted in Rout’s absence to begin his removal by impeachment.

    That vote was even more decisive, at 26-7, but, as committee parliamentarian Jerry Cobb pointed out, Article C of the state Republican by-laws mandates that a majority of the 43-member committee -- or 29 members -- must vote in favor of such a removal, and therefore the whole process would have to be repeated next month.

    Cobb would say later on he had no intention of party-pooping, stressing that his motive in raising the quibble was merely to make sure that any impeachment process, once completed, could not be reversed on a technicality.

    In the meantime committee members had wrangled amongst themselves over the nature of the process, the order in which steps had to be taken, and whether -- as member Scott McCormick and others suggested -- the local committee’s bylaws, which explicitly suspend Article C’s constraints in case of “open and notorious” support of Democrats, permit a simple majority of the quorum present to do the deed.

    But, unlike the case a month ago, there was no serious argument or discussion about whether Rout merited the rebuke. It seemed to be taken as a given, even by his nominal supporters.

    As Bob Pittman, not a supporter and one of several members who, like the dogged Rout himself, aspire to the local party’s chairmanship, put it, “We’ve got the rule [prohbiting such “open and notorious” apostasies], and we either ought to amend it or enforce it.”

    What Rout did, of course, was send out indiscreet emails during the late county election period advertising his discontent with the Republican mayoral nominee, George Flinn. When his emails surfaced in public, Rout, son of then Mayor Jim Rout (who was also unenthusiastic about Flinn but more cautious in expressing it), made half-hearted and somewhat disingenuous claims that he’d only been joking.

    The committee votes against him have followed, initiated by a motion last month from John Willingham (who, as the two tallies have indicated, was clearly no Lone Ranger in the matter).

    Stay tuned; this one may require as many installments as the lingering death of Francisco Franco did in Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update segments of the 1975-6 season. Ultimately -- maybe in February or March, the GOP executive committee would have to conduct a trial.

    Rout retains his membership -- and his seriously compromised chairmanship candidacy -- in the meantime, but the temper of the times in GOP-land would seem to offer something less than a vote of confidence to either Rick Rout or any other member of the erstwhile Republican first family.

    Thursday, October 3, 2002

    Center Ring

    Senate candidates Alexander and Clement compete for the middle-of-the-road vote.

    Posted by on Thu, Oct 3, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    The first of five planned debates between the two major-party U.S. Senate candidates is now in the can. After a televised encounter Monday night in Chattanooga, it is clear that Democratic candidate Bob Clement, currently the congressman representing Nashville, has his work cut out for him in hoping to overtake his Republican opponent, former Governor Lamar Alexander.

    One of the ironies of Clement's situation was highlighted by polls taken during the past few weeks and showing his political future ebbing and flowing on wildly fluctuating findings. One day's survey would show him almost 20 points behind Alexander, another only eight, and the Clement camp's chief lobbying point was that, as the candidate himself urged on a recent evening in Memphis, "when our name-recognition is the same with a group of voters, we come out even."

    What is astounding about this is that Clement has run for -- and held -- statewide office before, has been the capital city's man in Washington for more than a decade, and is the son of one of Tennessee's most legendary governors in modern times, Frank Clement, a magnetic orator whose keynote speech at the 1956 Democratic Convention mesmerized the nation's listeners.

    The senior Clement was still serving as governor during the late '60s when an automobile accident terminated his life and career simultaneously. Indeed, it was almost entirely on the basis of the family name that son Bob was able to launch his own political career in the years following his father's death, winning election as a Public Service Commissioner and mounting a credible challenge for governor.

    As the Democratic nominee for the 7th District congressional seat in 1982, he was upset by a Republican who later became governor, Don Sundquist, but his race that year, followed by his subsequent service in the Nashville-based 5th District, should have guaranteed wide name recognition in the state's two most populous areas.

    The fact is that Clement, though arguably in possession of a quite lustrous vita (he also served terms as a director of the Tennessee Valley Authority and as president of Cumberland University), has a persona problem that stems not from any dearth of ability (his gifts are generally recognized) or even from his diminutive stature (he stands at considerably less than six feet) but from the fact that he seems low-profile by nature, almost bashful -- an introvert in an extrovert's profession.

    One difference between Clement and Alexander was dramatized during the televised debate Monday night in the periodic cutaway shots of either candidate reacting to what the other was saying. Alexander appeared to have the actor's gift of knowing when he was on camera; he seemed polite, attentive, shrewd, and skeptical as needed. When he smiled, it was in good-natured acknowledgment of the developing plot line.

    Clement, on the other hand, seemed to pout and glower whenever his adversary was making a point that he deemed off the mark or unfair in what it suggested and to purse his lips when he was just listening. At several points, the camera caught him rolling his tongue in the hollow of his right cheek -- a maneuver that in close-up looked huge and almost volcanic.

    In short, Alexander at all times had his public face on, while Clement's private self kept wandering into the proceedings like a lost child. It was a situation that could be interpreted to either man's credit or to either's blame, but in any age when appearances count for as much as issues, the cosmetic edge clearly belonged to the former governor.

    Even the logistics of the TV studio in Chattanooga worked to Clement's disadvantage: Those who have seen them both in the flesh are aware that Clement is as ruddy of complexion as Alexander is, but the side of the set on which the congressman sat seemed to be bathed in an antiseptically yellow light, while the former governor had the benefit of pinker and more natural-looking hues, a state of affairs that somewhat equaled out on those rare occasions when Clement was able to stand center stage and field a question from a guest in the studio audience.

    Echoes Of the Primary

    From time to time, Clement has picked up and hurled at Alexander one of the barbs thrown at the Republican nominee by his erstwhile antagonist in the GOP Senate primary, U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant.

    The kiss-and-make-up etiquette of partisan politics requires that intra-party rivals support each other even after the most bitter of primaries, and that between Alexander and Bryant was one such. Speaking at a recent luncheon meeting, the outgoing 7th District congressman dutifully endorsed -- and sported the stickers of -- both Alexander, whom he so recently was chastising on an almost daily basis, and congressional colleague Van Hilleary, the GOP gubernatorial nominee with whom Bryant played Alphonse-and-Gaston a few seasons back, when both men, equally ambitious, were eyeing both a Senate and a governor's race for 2002.

    Though Bryant was no doubt sincere, the exercise had a bit of a pro forma feel to it, and Clement, perhaps overoptimistically, has frequently made appeals on the stump to the erstwhile Bryant voters, professing to represent their populist interests against the putatively more elitist and establishmentarian Alexander.

    In any case, Clement has, as indicated, appropriated some of Bryant's weaponry, repeating the 7th District congressman's charges that Alexander was out of step with the Senate, which passed by a 97-0 vote on a corporate-reform measure that Alexander disapproved of, and strongly suggesting, as did Bryant, that the former governor had amassed his fortune by means of sweetheart deals that may have leveraged his governmental connections.

    In Monday night's debate, as previously, Clement made much of a recently renewed $102 million contract between the state and Education Networks of America (ENA), a company on whose board Alexander sits for an annual salary of $60,000. Alexander should give the money back, Clement suggested, "but it hasn't happened."

    For the record, Alexander has denied anything improper and has noted, as in the televised debate, that Clement, like himself, is a "multimillionaire." He made an attempt to turn the tables by recalling what he said was Clement's membership on the board of directors of a bank owned by the Butcher brothers, Jake and C.H., once-prominent Tennessee Democrats whose banks later failed, leading to federal fraud convictions for both men.

    An apparently surprised Clement denied any such membership, but the Alexander campaign later e-mailed reporters copies of a photograph from the 1973 annual report of the City and County Bank of Knox County, showing a youthful Bob Clement as one of several "directors."

    Though Clement quibbled about the meaning of the picture -- and the nature of his relationship to the bank and to the Butchers, whom he ended up on the wrong side of, politically, losing to Jake Butcher in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 1978 -- and Alexander has pooh-poohed the nature of his ENA involvement, the fact is that both men have profited from private-sector opportunities their public prominence made easier for them.

    There is no great surprise in this -- it is one of the unspoken perks of public life, conspicuously so in the careers of most recent American presidents, for example -- and there is nothing necessarily improper about it. In any case, the fallout from Monday night may make it more difficult henceforth for Clement to link Alexander with "Enron capitalism" -- though the former governor seems to have been measurably more active in the corporate sector than the congressman.

    Clement may have more luck with another stratagem inherited from Bryant. In the primary, the GOP congressman made much of a remark made by Alexander early in the year to Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey, who quoted the two-time presidential aspirant as saying, "I wanted to be president. The Senate will have to do."

    Bryant interpreted the remark as demonstrating the arrogance of a lordly Alexander deigning to go slumming for what he regarded as a consolation prize. This is how Clement would prefer it be seen, as well.

    As it happens, Alexander first learned of the possible repercussions of his statement while on a visit to the Flyer office during the primary. Informed of Bryant's first broadside on the subject, the former governor was clearly taken aback. He had made the statement near the end of a long interview at the close of a long day's worth of campaigning, he said, and had just let his guard down.

    In subsequent interviews, Alexander would amend his response, suggesting that he had been indulging in some kind of levity. (That seems to be the favored approach these days of political figures confronted with potentially embarrassing quotations.) There is no reason why the statement should not be taken at face value, however, and no particular reason why any odium should attach to it. By definition, anybody who has tried for the presidency -- as Alexander did in the 1996 and 2000 cycles -- and failed is settling for less by seeking another public office later on.

    A Moderate's Reemergence

    What has intrigued some in the current race is the obvious ease with which Alexander has worn his Senate candidate's mantle -- contrasted with the relatively awkward and unconvincing manner of his two presidential races, in which, having compiled a moderate record as the successful two-term governor of Tennessee, he chose to run as a conservative's conservative -- even to the point, in 1996, of advocating the abolition of the Department of Education he once headed and, in 1999, of denouncing then rival George W. Bush's phrase "compassionate conservatism" as a case of "weasel words."

    In his primary campaign this year against Bryant, Alexander was compelled once again to stress his conservative credentials but, since then, has reemerged as a reassuringly middle-of-the-road figure -- capable, for example, of stretching hands across partisan boundaries to form a "coalition" with Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, a nominal Democrat and former city schools superintendent who professes admiration for Alexander's educational reforms as governor during the '80s. Herenton's son Rodney, as well as his longtime aide Reginald French, briefly chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Coordinating Committee this year, are members of a newly formed "Shelby County Citizens Coalition" for Alexander.

    Meanwhile, those red-meat Republicans who always distrusted Alexander for the very moderation he practiced as governor, when he had to make common cause with Democrats to get his programs enacted, have apparently been mollified by his stated allegiance in this campaign year to the programs of the Bush administration.

    The difference between administrative and legislative functions being what it is, there is relatively little likelihood that a Senator Alexander would run afoul of his party's conservatives, though he -- like Clement -- has shown signs of wanting to brake the administration's headlong rush toward confrontation with Iraq. (While giving lip service to the president's pronouncements, Alexander has advocated a greater role for Congress and America's allies in the shaping of a military policy, and he makes a point of saying that his own interest is in domestic policy and in "winning the peace.")

    Clement has proved a doughty campaigner, and his wife, Mary Clement, has won numerous admirers for her strength and sagacity on the campaign trail (though she, like her counterpart Honey Alexander, has been underemployed as a campaign surrogate). He has legitimate policy differences with Alexander -- notably on providing prescription-drug insurance for seniors through Medicare and imposing a form of price controls on drugs -- but his own history as a sometime fellow traveler with the Bush administration (on the initial Bush tax cuts, for example) makes it difficult for him to draw graphic contrasts.

    With a month to go, it would seem to be the mellifluous-voiced Alexander's race to lose, but the undecideds in an electorate that has seen Republican Hilleary close the gap with Democrat Phil Bredesen, the long-term leader in that race, may reserve judgment for a few more weeks yet between candidates Alexander and Clement, both of whom are doggedly working the middle of the road.

    POLITICS: Center Ring

    POLITICS

    Posted by on Thu, Oct 3, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    CENTER RING The first of five planned debates between the two major-party U.S. Senate candidates is now in the can, after a televised encounter Monday night in Chattanooga, and it is clear that Democratic candidate Bob Clement, currently the congressman representing Nashville, has his work cut out for him in hoping to overtake his Republican opponent, former governor Lamar Alexander. One of the ironies of Clement’s situation was highlighted by polls taken during the past few weeks, showing his political future ebbing and flowing on wildly fluctuating findings. One day’s survey would show him almost 20 points behind Alexander, another only eight, and the Clement camp’s chief lobbying point was that, as the candidate himself urged on a recent evening in Memphis, “when our name-recognition is the same with a group of voters, we come out even.” What is astounding about this is that Clement has run for - and held - statewide office before, has been the capital city’s man in Washington for more than a decade, and is the son of one of Tennessee’s most legendary governors in modern times, Frank Clement, a magnetic orator whose keynote speech at the 1956 Democratic Convention mesmerized the nation’s listeners. The senior Clement was still serving as governor during the late ‘60s when an automobile accident terminated his life and career simultaneously. Indeed, it was almost entirely on the basis of the family name that son Bob was able to launch his own political career in the years following his father’s death, winning election as a Public Service Commissioner and mounting a credible challenge for governor. As the Democratic nominee for the 7th District congressional seat in 1982, he was upset by a Republican who later became governor, Don Sundquist, but his race that year, followed by his subsequent service in the Nashville-based 5th District, should have guaranteed wide name recognition in the state’s two most populous areas. The fact is that Clement, though arguably in possession of a quite lustrous vita (he also served terms as a director of the Tennessee Valley Authority and as president of Cumberland University), has a persona problem that stems not from any dearth of ability (his gifts are generally recognized) nor even from his diminutive stature (he stands at considerably less than six feet) but from the fact that he seems low-profile by nature, almost bashful - an introvert in an extrovert’s profession. One difference between himself and Alexander was dramatized during the televised debate Monday night in the periodic cutaway shots of either candidate reacting to what the other was saying. Alexander appeared to have the actor’s gift of knowing when he was on camera; he seemed polite, attentive, shrewd, and skeptical as needed. When he smiled, it was in good-natured acknowledgement of the developing plotline. Clement, on the other hand, seemed to pout and glower whenever his adversary was making a point that he deemed off the mark or unfair in what it suggested, and to purse his lips when he was just listening. At several points the camera caught him rolling his tongue in the hollow of his right cheek - a maneuver that in closeup looked huge and almost volcanic. In short, Alexander at all times had his public face on, while Clement’s private self kept wandering into the proceedings like a lost child. It was a situation that could be interpreted to either man’s credit or to either’s blame, but in an age when appearances count for as much as issues, the cosmetic edge clearly belonged to the former governor. Even the logistics of the TV studio in Chattanooga worked to Clement’s disadvantage: Those who have seen them both in the flesh are aware that Clement is as ruddy of complexion as Alexander is, but the side of the set on which the congressman sat seemed to be bathed in an antiseptically yellow light, while the former governor had the benefit of pinker and more natural-looking hues, a state of affairs that somewhat equaled out on those rare occasions when Clement was able to stand center stage and field a question from a guest in the studio audience. Echoes of the Primary From time to time, Clement has picked up and hurled at Alexander one of the barbs thrown at the Republican nominee by his erstwhile antagonist in the GOP Senate primary, U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant. The kiss-and-make-up etiquette of partisan politics requires that intra-party rivals support each other even after the most bitter of primaries, and that between Alexander and Bryant was one such. Speaking at a recent luncheon meeting, the outgoing 7th District congressman dutifully endorsed - and sported the stickers of- both Alexander, whom he so recently was chastising on an almost daily basis, and congressional colleague Van Hilleary, the GOP gubernatorial nominee with whom Bryant played Alphonse-and-Gaston a few seasons back, when both men, equally ambitious, were eyeing both a Senate and a governor’s race for 2002. Though Bryant was no doubt sincere, the exercise had a bit of a pro forma feel to it, and Clement, perhaps over-optimistically, has frequently made appeals on the stump to the erstwhile Bryant voters, professing to represent their populist interests against the putatively more elitist and establishmentarian Alexander. In any case, Clement has, as indicated, appropriated some of Bryant’s weaponry, repeating the 7th District congressman’s charges that Alexander was out of step with the Senate, which passed by a 97-0 vote a corporate reform measure that Alexander disapproved of, and strongly suggesting, as did Bryant, that the former governor had amassed his fortune by means of sweetheart deals that may have leveraged his governmental connections. In Monday night’s debate, as previously, Clement made much of a recently renewed $102 million contract between the state and Education Networks of America (ENA), a company on whose board Alexander sits for an annual salary of $60,000. Alexander should give the money back, Clement suggested, “but it hasn’t happened.” For the record, Alexander has denied anything improper and has noted, as in the televised debate, that Clement, like himself, is a “multi-millionaire.” He made an attempt to turn the tables by recalling what he said was Clement’s membership in the ‘70s on the board of directors of a bank owned by the Butcher brothers, Jake and C.H., once prominent Tennessee Democrats whose banks later failed, leading to federal fraud convictions for both men. An apparently surprised Clement denied any such membership, but the Alexander campaign later emailed to reporters copies of a photograph from the 1973 annual report of the City and County Bank of Knox County, showing a youthful Bob Clement as one of several “directors.” Though Clement quibbled about the meaning of the picture - and the nature of his relationship to the bank and to the Butchers, whom he ended up on the wrong side of, politically, losing to Jake Butcher in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 1978 - and Alexander has pooh-poohed the nature of his ENA involvement, the fact is that both men have profited from private-sector opportunities that their public prominence made easier for them. There is no great surprise in this - it is one of the unspoken perks of public life, conspicuously so in the careers of most recent American presidents, for example - and there is nothing necessarily improper about it. In any case, the fallout from Monday night may make it more difficult henceforth for Clement to link Alexander with “Enron capitalism” - though the former governor seems to have been measurably more active in the corporate sector than the congressman. Clement may have more luck with another stratagem inherited from Bryant. In the primary the GOP congressman made much of a remark made by Alexander early in the year to Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey, who quoted the two-time presidential aspirant as saying, “I wanted to be president. The Senate will have to do.” Bryant interpreted the remark as demonstrating the arrogance of a lordly Alexander deigning to go slumming for what he regarded as a consolation price. This is how Clement would prefer it be seen, as well. As it happens, Alexander first learned of the possible repercussions of his statement while on a visit to the Flyer office during the primary. Informed of Bryant’s first broadside on the subject, the former governor was clearly taken aback. He had made the statement near the end of a long interview at the close of a long day’s worth of campaigning, he said, and had just let his guard down. In subsequent interviews, Alexander would amend his response, suggesting that he had been indulging in some kind of levity. (That seems to be the favored approach these days of political figures confronted with potentially embarrassing quotations.) There is no reason why the statement should not be taken at face value, however, and no particular reason why any odium should attach to it. By definition, anybody who has tried for the presidency - as Alexander did in the 1996 and 2000 cycles - and failed is settling for less by seeking another public office later on. A ‘Moderate’’s Re-emergence What has intrigued some in the current race is the obvious ease with which Alexander has worn his Senate candidate’s mantle - contrasted with the relatively awkward and unconvincing manner of his two presidential races, in which, having compiled a moderate record as the successful two-term governor of Tennessee, he chose to run as a conservative’s conservative - even to the point, in 1996, of advocating the abolition of the Department of Education which he once headed and, in 1999, of denouncing then rival George W. Bush’s phrase “compassionate conservatism” as a case of “weasel words.” In his primary campaign this year against Bryant, Alexander was compelled once again to stress his conservative credentials, but since then has re-emerged as a reassuringly middle-of-the-road figure - capable, for example, of stretching hands across partisan boundaries to form a “coalition” with Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, a nominal Democrat and former city schools superintendent who professes admiration for Alexander’s educational reforms as governor during the ‘80s. Meanwhile, those red-meat Republicans who always distrusted Alexander for the very moderation which he practiced as governor, when he had to make common cause with Democrats to get his programs enacted, have apparently been mollified by his stated allegiance in this campaign year to the programs of the Bush administration. The difference between administrative and legislative functions being what it is, there is relatively little likelihood that a Senator Alexander would run afoul of his party’s conservatives, though he - like Clement - has shown signs of wanting to brake the administration’s headlong rush toward confrontation with Iraq. (While giving lip service to the president’s pronouncements, Alexander has advocated a greater role for Congress and America’s allies in the shaping of a military policy, and he makes a point of saying that his own interest is in domestic policy and in “winning the peace.”) ClemeNt has proved a doughty campaigner, and his wife, Mary Clement, has won numerous admirers for her strength and sagacity on the campaign trail (though she, like her counterpart Honey Alexander, has been under-employed as a campaign surrogate). He has legitimate policy differences with Alexander - notably on providing prescription-drug insurance for seniors through Medicare and imposing a form of price controls on drugs - but his own history as a sometime fellow traveler with the Bush administration (on the initial Bush tax cuts, for example) makes it difficult for him to draw graphic contrasts. With a month to go, it would seem to be the mellifluous-voiced Alexander’s race to lose, but the undecideds in an electorate that has seen Republican Van Hilleary close the gap with Democrat Phil Bredesen, the long-term leader in that race, may reserve judgment for a few more weeks yet between candidates Alexander and Clement, both of whom are doggedly working the middle of the road.

    Wednesday, October 2, 2002

    CITY BEAT

    Council Takes Aim at CVB, CCC, RDC, and "Quasi-governmental" agencies

    Posted by on Wed, Oct 2, 2002 at 4:00 AM

    ALPHABET SOUP The alphabet agencies are about to catch a little flak from the City Council. The spark that set off the council’s fire was the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau’s (CVB) hiring of former Shelby County mayoral aide Tom Jones less than a month after Jones was suspended for using a county credit card for personal items. When Jones was not reappointed by new county mayor A C Wharton, the CVB and its president, Kevin Kane, snapped him up. Jones will be doing a job in community development that did not previously exist at the CVB. The Commercial Appeal reported that his salary will be approximately $100,000, but Kane said last week it is not that much. Kane attended Tuesday’s council committee meeting where the issue of “quasi-governmental agencies” was pressed most forcibly by council members TaJuan Stout Mitchell and John Vergos. Kane noted that the CVB wasn’t created by the city or county and gets “not one penny from the general tax fund in 20 years.” It does, however, get a dedicated revenue stream from the so-called bed tax on hotel rooms. The council committee unanimously approved a resolution requiring the “quasis” to regularly provide information about budgets and expenses. The list of agencies is yet to be compiled but members indicated it will include the CVB, Center City Commission (CCC), Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), Memphis in May, the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Orpheum. Mitchell said she wasn’t singling out the CVB or Jones, but felt the job should have been posted because “there are a lot of folks looking for jobs and people need to know where the opportunities are.” She said she didn’t care if “Donald Trump or Donald Duck” gets the job. “This is just a request for information,” she said. “It does not imply that someone will lose funds.” Vergos said some of the agencies are “creating kingdoms” run by a handful of well-connected board members who are hostile to requests for sensitive information but quick to run to the council in time of need. “They want to all act as if they are independent private corporations,” he said, noting that his father, Rendezvous founder Charlie Vergos, was instrumental in setting up both the CVB and the Memphis Development Foundation which runs the Orpheum. Turf and jealousy may be factors with the council as well. The alphabet agencies have been grabbing a lot of headlines, and the pay and perks are usually better than they are in government. The City Council gets the heat, a modest salary, some of the bills, and a supporting role. Top executives at the quasis tend to be consumate government insiders or, like Jones, former top-level government employees. In recent years, three city and county division directors have moved over to alphabet agencies Ñ Benny Lendermon and John Conroy at the RDC and Dexter Muller at the chamber of commerce. Neither Kane nor council members were particularly happy with the term “quasi-governmental agencies.” In addition to being a mouthful, it lumps together agencies like the RDC and CCC that were created by elected public officials and organizations like the CVB and chamber of commerce that get most of their operating support from their members. The resolution adds to the confusion by making it seem that divisions of city government are the target. It says “each division of the City of Memphis that is either dependent on city funds or the approval of same shall provide the Memphis City Council and the chief administrative officer of the city of Memphis copies of their enabling legislation, annual report, 10K form, and personnel policies and procedures” each year. A handier and more accurate catch-all phrase is nonprofits, although that has a “food baskets to the needy” connotation that is outdated. All of the groups the council is interested in are nonprofits, and they are already required by the IRS to file and make readily available to the public an annual Form 990 listing their public purpose, top salaries and benefits, budget, income and expenses. Nonprofit organizations, specially created authorities, and quasi-governmental agencies have virtually taken over much of downtown, including the public parks on the riverfront, AutoZone Park, the new NBA arena, the Orpheum, Memphis in May, and dozens of office buildings and apartments to which the Center City Commission’s Revenue Finance Corporation holds title so they can get tax freezes. Councilman Jack Sammons pointed out that many nonprofit board members serve for altruistic reasons, bring special skills and fresh ideas to the table, and “would be glad to provide us this information.” This is not the first time the accountability issue has surfaced. During the NBA arena debate, State Sen. John Ford, a member of the Public Building Authority, argued that the authority and by extension the arena could not exist without the enabling legislation and support of the state legislature. Elected officials have made similar comments about the Center City Commission, with the result that several of them now serve on the board. Vergos said having a city council representative or other elected official on the board of the quasi-government agencies doesn’t solve the accountability problem if the board is “stagnant” and run by a handful of insiders.
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