Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A New County Commission Endorsement of Consolidation? Mulroy Proposes Just That

Posted By on Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 9:51 AM

mulroy_and_guleff.jpg
  • Mulroy (l); Guleff
Back in October, a coalition of Shelby County commissioners — newly elected ones in the van — combined to put the county commission on record as opposing the then pending November 2nd referendum on city/county consolidation.

This was the same county commission which (though differently constituted) had combined with the Memphis City Council a year earlier to create and subsidize the Metro Charter Commission which developed and proposed the referendum in the first place.

And, of course, the voters on November 2nd pretty much obliterated the consolidation concept. The referendum lost by a majority of 85 percent in the outer county, and though it passed muster in the city, it was only by the barest of margins, 51 percent. Decisive? Enough to put the issue on hold for the generation that usually passes before wiped-out consolidation proponents decide to try again?

Nah! Not by Steve Mulroy, the intrepid and decidedly un-bashful commissioner from District 5, an East Memphis-based swing district on the seam of city and county. Mulroy believes that what was defeated so badly on November 2nd was not consolidation per se but only the somewhat feckless variety that was proposed by the 2009-2010 version of a charter commission, one that was basically put together by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who transitioned from county mayor to city mayor during its formation and thereby was able to name all its members.

So Mulroy, less than a month after consolidation was rejected, has a brand-new resolution proposing that the county commission (yep, the same county commission that said no in October) give its approval to — are you sitting down? — a “Resolution In Support of the Concept of Consolidation,” which would provide for a new charter commission.

The measure was scheduled for discussion in committee this Wednesday and, presumably, will be taken to the county commission’s regular biweekly public meeting on Monday for a vote.

Mulroy professes to believe that the commission will be open-minded, particularly his fellow Democrats — several of whom joined the majority of the commission’s Republicans in October to reject consolidation.

At the time there was an ongoing backlash against the referendum among African Americans in the inner city, and both Sidney Chism, the current commission chairman, and James Harvey joined newcomer Justin Ford in voting no to consolidation, along with GOP members Wyatt Bunker, Terry Roland, Heidi Shafer and Chris Thomas — the latter three being new members representing suburban areas outside the city.

Mulroy’s resolution suggests that the commission’s October vote, like that of the voters on November 2nd, “could be misinterpreted as opposition to metro consolidation generally,” which is described as “appropriate and inevitable.”, .

The resolution proposes that “the City Council and County Commission have greater input into the selection of members of any appointed Metro Charter Commission;” that “[g]reater efforts are made to achieve racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity among any Charter Commission appointees;” and that “[a]ppropriate efforts are made to avoid any undue influence of corporate interests on the process.”

Lastly, the resolution declares, “The issue of school consolidation, if still applicable, should be given weight equal to that of any other major issue in Charter Commission deliberations.”

That, of course, is an allusion to the currently raging controversy between the city and county school boards, who seem locked in a race to transform the relationship between the two school systems of Shelby County. The Shelby County School Board may seek legislative approval in January for a separate county school district for county schools, while the city Board is considering a proposal to surrender its charter, a move which, if approved by city voters in a referendum, would automatically consolidate the two systems.

One of the ironies of the current situation is that the issue of school consolidation, carefully sundered from the November 2nd vote, is now front and center, and Mulroy’s more inclusive resolution clearly acknowledges the issue as relevant to his proposal -- which, at very minimum, is that the county commission formally withdraw its prior renunciation of consolidation and underwrite his suggestions for how a new Metro Charter commission might be composed.

Mulroy’s resolution had already prompted a response by one prominent opponent of consolidation, Tom Guleff of Save Shelby County, an organization formed last spring to combat the consolidation effort.

Guleff has emailed his network of consolidation foes, alerting them to Wednesday’s committee meeting and proclaiming the following:

“The pro-consolidation forces are back. To be honest, the cult-like fascination with Consolidation is creepy. After being soundly defeated by an 85% margin in the county, the losing side wants to re-write the narrative of its demise and bring it back to life. I could understand the current effort, if the vote was close, but it wasn’t. This small group appears disconnected from political reality. This is just plain weird.”

The fat, as they say, is once again in the fire.

Monday, November 29, 2010

GADFLY: How "the Greatest Health-Care System in the World" Is Our Most Serious Health Threat

Posted By on Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 8:50 AM

the_gadfly_as_patient_2.jpg
Some things happened this past week that reminded me how far we have yet to go in this country to have the best health care system money can buy.

One of our guests at Thanksgiving told a story of a relative's recent experience at the hands of that system. It seems she was hospitalized for pains that ended up being gall stones, but in the process of diagnosis and treatment, she contracted an infection (an alarmingly common occurrence in hospitals) and had to receive IV medication.

In a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease, an improperly inserted IV line caused a blood clot that migrated to her brain, which caused her to have a stroke (something, amazingly enough, the hospital even admitted, maybe because the victim is one of its management employees). The story reminded me of how frequently we hear about injuries, or even death, in hospitals as a result of “complications.” Only the health care system could categorize death as a complication.

This story came on the heels of the publication (under-reported, as always) of the results of a multi-year study of the rate at which patients are harmed by medical care.

The study, published the day after Thanksgiving in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, though reported in the national media, wasn't even reported in our fair city since it was apparently of less concern than what was happening at airline checkpoints.

It confirmed what an expose of medical mistakes, ten years ago, revealed about how frequently medical care kills us, and less than a week after the government issued its own report regarding Medicare patients which showed that “adverse events” contribute over $4 billion to the cost of health care and to the deaths of 180,000 patients a year.

I had to read that number twice to make sure my eyesight wasn't deceiving me. That's like losing the population of Knoxville or Salt Lake City, every year!

People, people: our health care system is killing us at an alarming rate, and everyone's worried about being felt up by a stranger at the airport? Where's the outrage? Can you imagine what would happen if airplane accidents, or for that matter even terrorism, killed as many people as medical care does? Airline executives would be in jail and who knows how many more wars we would be launching.

You're far more likely to die in the place you go to avoid (or at least prolong) that fate than you are from exploding shoes or underwear, but guess which one gets more attention?

I've been an avid observer of the pass the health care industry seems to get from our society for so many of its failings (and no, I don't handle malpractice cases in my law practice). We have one of the most expensive health care systems in the world, so you'd think we'd also have one of the best to go along with that. After all, you get what you pay for, right?

Well, it turns out that by any standard, we're not getting what we pay for because the quality of medical care in this country is substantially below most other industrialized countries, on any of a number of criteria.

So, now that the Republicans and tea party whackadoodles are in power in Washington and so many state capitals, what can we expect from them to make health care safer? Why, of course, an attempt to repeal one of the biggest single advancements in health care in this country in 50 years (what they dismissively call “Obamacare”), and their perennial drum beat for “tort reform,” because everyone knows it's not doctors and hospitals that are killing us by the tens of thousands, it's malpractice suits.

For conservatives, there is no problem, whether it's a broken financial system or a broken health care system, that can't be effectively dealt with by denying it exists, or better yet, by preventing anything effective from being done about it. All I can say is, do your best to stay well, my friends, because as a society, we're about to get a lot sicker.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ford Takes Hit for Urging Dems to "Collaborate"

Posted By on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 at 12:49 PM

Harold Ford jr.
  • Harold Ford jr.
Loosing a blast at former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., now head of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, the influential left-oriented Daily Kos blog wondered on Tuesday if the DLC was still in business.

Characterizing Ford as a “serial loser” (apparently on the basis of Ford’s loss of a 2006 U.S. Senate race in Tennessee and his failure to get another one going this year in his adopted home of New York), Kos looked askance at a Ford op-ed in Fortune Magazine advocating that President Obama recoup his electoral losses this year by following policies congenial to the Wall Street investment community.

Kos then observed that “the DLC's website is offline. It looks like they're officially kaput.”

An exploratory visit to the site on Tuesday, however, indicated it was still online (though the number of “Blue Dog” members of Congress favored by the DLC was halved in the election).

On Tuesday, the site headlined an article by Ford, co-published in Politico last week and entitled (no, we’re not making this up), “Yes, We Can Collaborate.”

That article, which is similar to the one in Fortune, concludes with this advice: “Let’s not wait for another season of “change” elections to force Washington to change its approach to encourage job creation, innovation and growth here at home.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tweet Revenge: Showdown at County Commission

Posted By on Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 8:39 AM

UPDATE. The world was made safe for the Tweetocracy on Monday, with anti-Twitterists failing to enlarge on their original beachhead of four votes.

Mulroy quotes "Voltaire" to a disbelieving Roland. - JB
  • JB
  • Mulroy quotes "Voltaire" to a disbelieving Roland.
At its regular bi-weekly session on Monday, the Shelby County Commission was scheduled to consider an initiative from commissioner Terry Roland to prohibit his colleagues from engaging in that newest form of public communication — the tweet -- while in session.

“Prohibit’ may not be the right word. “Discourage” is better, since it is hard to see what enforcement machinery could be provided for Roland’s resolution — which, in any case, was defeated in committee last Wednesday, though a group of conservative outer-county Republicans (Roland, Heidi Shafer, Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas) was marshaled in support of it.

Bunker’s inclusion in the coalition may be at least partly an act of atonement. A couple of weeks ago the commission was discussing a proposal by another Republican, Mike Carpenter of Cordova, to ban roadside sales of animals. During debate on the issue, Bunker got off a sally to the effect that they must eat pit bulls up in Millington — a tribute, if you will, to the ruggedness of the folks up thataway.

The quip was immediately circulated by Carpenter, who famously exercises his hand-held for Twitter purposes during meetings and has numerous followers for his tweets, which rarely lack for candor.

Mayor Richard Hodges declined to see the dining-on-dog remark as a compliment, however, and he urged Roland to see to some sort of retribution.

That took the form, not of a reprisal against Bunker for saying it, but of the aforesaid resolution aimed at Carpenter for reporting it.

Ironically, the right to tweet may have been saved, at least temporarily, by Democratic commissioners Henri Brooks and James Harvey, voluble sorts who, the week before, had suffered partial curtailment of their right to speak without limit during committee meetings when the full commission voted in some modest curbs on debate.

Both now characterized the anti-tweet measure as an assault on free speech and the First Amendment. “I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” protested Brooks, while Harvey defended tweeting not just as an information service but as an outlet of sorts for the “testosterone” that gets flowing during verbal exchanges.

Democrat Steve Mulroy, he of limerick fame, had no doggerel for the occasion, but he did offer a tongue-in-cheek quotation from “Voltaire” to the effect that the French sage might disagree with a sentiment but would defend to the death the right to tweet it.

And Carpenter, while chairing the session, managed to tweet a running commentary on the whole debate.
That first round on Wednesday went to the pro-tweeters. It remained to be seen how the anti-tweeting resolution would fare before the full commission on Monday, but one thing was certain: Anyone attuned to Twitter would find out first.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

MAD AS HELL: Scanning, Groping, or Common Sense (Pick One)

Posted By on Sat, Nov 20, 2010 at 8:28 AM

airport_grope.jpg

When the Tea Party can agree with the ACLU, maybe there is hope for salvaging the last remaining vestiges of private liberty.

“Don’t Touch My Junk!” has replaced “Don’t Taze Me, Bro!” as our new rallying cry. In the airline industry’s never ending duck walk to a national police state, the US has crossed The Rubicon. When airplane passengers are forced to choose between going through full body x-ray scanners or being groped by a federal agent, we have crashed all the barriers of reason and common sense.

Which is why the comment by Homeland Security Department Secretary, Janet Napolitano, after hearing the public’s outrage, should be the quote of the year, “I really want to say, look, let’s be realistic and use our common sense.” The Secretary does not realize the obvious—- continuing and accelerating Bush security policies prohibit the use of common sense because for the eight years George W. Bush was president, common sense was like WMD in Iraq——it was not to be found.

Cheri DelBrocco
  • Cheri DelBrocco
Since the establishment of the Homeland Security Department in 2002, airline travelers have suffered a full frontal assault on their personal freedoms. The mantra, “It’s for your protection” has been repeated ad nauseam to anyone who dared even to whisper a complaint about the utter absurdity of going through airport security.

Ninety pound grannies being hoisted out of wheel chairs to be scanned by metal detector wands——for our protection. Mothers being made to drink their own breast milk——for our protection. Eighty year old veterans, with steel plates in their hips being patted down for setting off metal detectors ——for our protection. Traumatized two-year olds being placed in glass puffer machines while their sobbing parents watched——-for our protection. Shoe removal. Clothing removal. Liquid bans. Jewelry removal. Scanning, puffing, searching, touching— our bodies and our possessions——- all for our protection. Or so we were told.

But this week, the ridiculous evolved into the reprehensible—a breast cancer survivor was forced to show a TSA agent her prosthetic breast—- flyers had to publicly display their colostomy bags, men to watch their daughters and wives being groped by TSA agents, children watched their parents being felt up. The most personal of intrusions, from total strangers, we were told once again, was for our protection.

For the federal government to assume that every person boarding a plane is equally likely to blow it up is patently knee jerk and reactive. The security measures we currently use were in place when one man was able to board a plane with explosives in his shoe. Our reaction? Everyone must take off their shoes!

Flyers removed their shoes at airports when a ring of terrorists were busted in a London flat for attempting to make liquid explosives. Our reaction? Everyone must be limited to three ounce liquid containers in a quart-size plastic bag! (Interestingly, passengers can now buy all the liquid they want after they go through the checkpoint and can bring it on board.) Travelers here were complying with security measures when a man boarded a Detroit bound plane in Amsterdam with explosives in his underwear. Our reaction? Everyone must be body scanned! It’s a good thing the guy wasn’t naked with explosives in his anus! Taken to its logical conclusion, the next reaction will be for TSA agents to glove up with KY jelly for without doubt, a terrorist somewhere in the world has already figured out how to make a suppository filled with explosive chemicals.

How do we stop racing down this inherently absurd road where every security measure involves a retreat from not only our civil liberties, but all boundaries of decency? Where does the insanity end?

It is time to listen to people like Isaac Yeffet, a New Jersey security business owner and former anti-terrorism specialist for the Israeli secret service who ran El Al Airlines for years. In a television interview this week, Mr. Yeffet pointed out the travesty of the US system and stated that technological measures used here are not only useless, but actually work as a detriment to our security. He called for a complete screening transformation by implementing the use of better employee training, eye-to-eye communications with customers, and questioning of passengers. These sensible measures have worked in Israel for years.

It is time for city officials across the country to listen to New York City councilman David Greenfield, who has proposed legislation that bans the use of all body scanners in New York City airports because they have been proven by outside security firms to not only be ineffectual, but downright dangerous.

It is time for us to wake up and realize that Americans are having their fourth amendment rights violated by unreasonable searches and the lawsuits that will ensue could further threaten our economy by forcing more airlines to go broke.

It is time to redeem that precious commodity called Common Sense. As Benjamin Franklin once stated, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security, will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” The use of body scanners give us neither.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Matt Kuhn to Seek Chairmanship of State Democratic Party

Posted By on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 at 5:33 PM

Matt Kuhn
  • Matt Kuhn
Matt Kuhn, who was turned to by a reconstituted Shelby County Democratic Committee in 2005 to become a “new broom” party chairman, is offering himself in a similar role for the state Democratic Party.

In a letter Wednesday to members of the state Democratic Committee, Kuhn said, “I’m exploring the opportunity to run as chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party and am actively discussing my candidacy with executive committee members as well as leaders of our Party.”

Kuhn thereby becomes the first declared alternative to current state Democratic chairman Chip Forrester, who has already announced his candidacy for reelection in January.

Several disaffected Democrats, including veteran political figure David Briley and former state party chairman Will Cheek, both of Nashville, have called for Forrester to step down in the wake of the party’s severe losses in this month’s state and federal election. But, until Kuhn’s announcement, no other Democrat had made an announcement of availability for the chairman’s post.

Kuhn, now a resident of Lakeland, served as Shelby County party chair from 2005 to 2007. He subsequently served as an interim Shelby County Commissioner to fill a vacancy, before resigning that post in December 2009 to serve as policy advisor to interim county mayor Joe Ford.

The son of longtime former county attorney Brian Kuhn and local Democratic executive committee member Nancy Kuhn, Matt Kuhn has connections elsewhere in the state through his service in 1999 to Bill Purcell, whose successful candidacy for Nashville mayor was managed by Kuhn. Kuhn has managed other Democratic campaigns, including one of South Carolina Democratic congressman John Spratt’s victorious races. He also served as an aide to congressman John Tanner in Tennessee's 8th District.

In 2005, during a period of turmoil and cries for reform in the Shelby County Democratic Party after the revelation of the Tennessee Waltz scandal, Kuhn was a last-minute choice for county Democratic chair, defeating party veteran David Cocke. Kuhn served only one two-year term, however, and opinions vary among local Democrats as to his effectiveness.

Kuhn’s letter to state committee members reads as follows:



November 17, 2010

Members of the State Democratic Executive Committee

RE: Moving Forward

Dear Executive Committee member:

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

I was on the mall that day, January 20, 2009 and felt the outpouring spirit of 2 million souls crammed onto the majestic national mall and what I experienced could be compared to having a conversation with a friend. I felt encouragement, enlightenment, excitement and a great kinship with everyone present. What was Right on that day for America, is what we need in Tennessee today.

The phrase that President Obama used in his inaugural address can be applied to our party. As a brand we are broken and starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin the work of remaking the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Since that time on the mall, a mere 22 months ago, I heard the call of service and demonstrated my willingness to stand by Obama’s phrase by serving as a Shelby County Commissioner and then as the Policy Advisor to the Mayor of Shelby County. One thing that was clear to me that bright brisk day on the mall is that those with the capacity to serve our country have to have the courage to do it. We in Tennessee have lost so many of our brand’s salesman that we are left struggling to be relevant. First and foremost we must dispel the rumors of our demise, which have been greatly exaggerated.

I want to work as your Chairman to bring salesman back to our brand. I want to be part of a dialogue that was started by Committeeman Briley about where we are going and what our ideas are for the future. Here are mine.

We have to work diligently to replace the John Tanner’s, Ned McWherter’s, and Phil Bredesen’s of our brand. We have to have a 10 year strategic plan in place that rebuilds our party and regains the trust of the rural and suburban voter who has abandoned our party over the last 10 years and as a former Shelby County Chairman and Campaign Manager and staffer to John Tanner, I believe I know the rural and suburban voter well.

What would I propose as Chairman?

A. Fundraising re-organization

The “friends of” funds which we have always relied on are no longer available to us. We have to explore alternative means of funding the Democratic message through every legally permissible way. This includes the encouragement of the pro democratic business community to galvanize democratic business leaders to participate in the debate. The entire executive committee needs to take on fundraising. We have to change the way we do the ‘business’ of our politics. We need to set up PACs in each Senate District and raise funds year round. Each Senate District Executive Committee man and woman should work with the direction of the Chair and ED to hold three fundraising events a year. The Party will provide infrastructure and fundraising lists per district, but as Salesman we must work for our brand year round.

B. Under 40 recruitment

As we sell our brand raising dollars we must diligently pursue our future. Every $1000 contributor to the party should be asked who in their community should run as a democrat that is under 40 years old and would represent our brand well. Who are the entrepreneurs and up and coming civic leaders who show an interest in service? We need a list of our best and brightest potential candidates. The TNDP’s 40 under 40 list to be promoted on our website can highlight our brand and build for our future.

C. Tennessee Truth Project

The one area which I believe we’d be foolish to abandon during the off cycle is the constant collection of opposition research material as well as Democratic led pro-business initiatives that help the working family. I propose that a professional media savvy staffer be dedicated to chronicling, commenting and cataloguing every preposterous statement and attack on working families that will come from the General Assembly. I worked in Congress in 1994 and that was the year that we lost the majority last time. The rhetoric that came from freshman republican congressmen was astounding. We should expect an onslaught of sanity testing ideas coming from a Republican led legislature, such as trying to roll back the progress we’ve seen with the Pre-K program in Tennessee.

I’m exploring the opportunity to run as chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party and am actively discussing my candidacy with executive committee members as well as leaders of our Party. I look forward to our dialogue.

Lastly, I’m discussing a run with my family and in all areas of service it is that commitment which makes or breaks any decision. I ask for your counsel, advice and prayers during this exploratory period and will announce my decision to run by Dec 1st.

Democratically yours,
Matt Kuhn

GOP's Ryder: Effort to Purge Republican Chairman Steele "Ironic"

Posted By on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 at 7:18 AM

John Ryder
  • John Ryder
Democrats aren't the only ones rethinking their way forward. The urge to re-group is something which even the victors in this year’s election seem to be obsessed by.

Speaking to a Tipton County Republican women’s group in Munford on Saturday, Memphis lawyer John Ryder shook his head in evident amazement at an ongoing move to shuffle the leadership deck in national Republican ranks.

“Think about the irony of this,” he said. “We just won one of the greatest victories a party has ever won in American electoral history. And the soon-to-be former Speaker of the House [Nancy Pelosi] has announced that she is running for election as minority leader, having lost 60-plus seats in her own caucus. And the victors are about to oust the national chairman.

“So go figure. I just thought that was an interesting kind of ironic juxtaposition,” repeated Ryder, who is considered close to the current Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele, who last year named Ryder to chair the RNC’s national redistricting effort.

Steele is currently under fire from South Carolina Republican senator Jim DeMint and others, especially conservatives of the Tea Party persuasion, who want to replace Marylander Steele, who eked out a victory over several other contenders in 2009, becoming the first African American to head the national GOP.

On the subject of redistricting in Tennessee, Ryder acknowledged that the very size of the GOP’s overwhelming victory, which, among other things, gave Republicans an almost 2-to-1 majority in state House seats, might complicate efforts to reconfigure district lines, in the sense that newly elected GOP legislators might prefer to run for reelection with the same constituencies as before.

“But I’m confident that we’ll find a way that is fair,” he said.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Election Commissioners Resign in Pension Snafu

Posted By on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 6:10 PM

UPDATE Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne has informed Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini that Commissioners Stamson and Johnson may retain their employment while legal options are being reviewed.

One option apparently being explored is that Stamson and Johnson might be permitted to draw their county pensions while serving without pay -- something that both men have volunteered to do. County commissioner Mike Carpenter, whose inquiry prompted the change of status for S tamson and Johnson, said he would be satisfied with some such solution.

Steve Stamson (left); James Johnson
  • Steve Stamson (left); James Johnson
ORIGINAL STORY: In a dramatic development prompted by a Shelby County commissioner’s inquiry, two members of the county Election Commission have resigned in response to a ruling by county attorney Kelly Rayne suspending their pension payments as long as they remained on the county payroll.

The two Election Commission members are Democrat James Johnson and Republican Steve Stamson — both of whom tendered their resignations to Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini Tuesday.

As Johnson explained in his letter of resignation, “I have been informed that a letter from the Administrator of the Shelby County Personnel department has been sent notifying me that if I continue to serve in the capacity of Election Commissioner that my pension would be stopped. Effective immediately, with regret, I am officially resigning my position as an Election Commissioner.”

Both Stamson, the former Juvenile Court Clerk, who was appointed to succeed Brian Stephens in October, and Johnson, who served as chief county Election Administrator, had been serving as Election Commission members following their leaving active county service and after they had begun to receive their county pensions.

In a letter to Rayne, County commissioner Mike Carpenter had inquired as follows:

1. Can some election commissioners be classified as part-time employees, while others are classified as temporary employees?
2. Can the County Commission or Mayor adopt a personnel policy that forbids reclassification of an employee simply for the purpose of financially benefiting the employee or prospective employee?
3. Can the county Commission adopt a policy preventing current and future election commissioners who are retired County employees from collecting both their County pension and a County paycheck while employed with the election commission?


In a reply dated last Wednesday, November 10, Rayne answered that state law would not permit Election Commission members to be regarded as “temporary,” thereby preventing such members from both collecting county paychecks while simultaneously receiving pension payments. Since their appointment was for two-year terms, the employees would have to be classified as "part-time;" as such, they would be actively contributing into the pension fund and would be ineligible to receive pension payments.

Carpenter said that he made the original inquiry of Rayne some weeks ago in deference to a constituent's request and that both Stamson and Johnson had specifically requested a change of status to "temporary" so as to maintain their pension status. "Not every employee can do that; so I regarded the issue to be one of fairness," Carpenter said.

Responding to Johnson’s resignation letter, Giannini accepted the resignation with regret, conveyed appreciation for the “intangible value” of Johnson’s, and said, “I am outraged with the way in which Shelby County Government handled your situation. The process, the abrupt nature of the opinion handed down, and the complete failure to offer some reasonable notice of its application has left the Shelby County Election Commission in a very precarious position. It is a disservice to all voters in Shelby County and jeopardizes our ability to conduct our statutory responsibilities.”

Giannini said that, because of the resignation of Stamson and Johnson, the five-member Election Commission (at full strength, composed of three Republicans and two Democrats) was at least temporarily unable to convene a quorum and perform its functions. He also suggested that the strict letter of Rayne’s opinion, forbidding simultaneous receipt of pensions and county payroll checks, might encompass “one or two members” of the Shelby County Commission, who could be forced either into resigning from the commission or seeing their pension payments suspended.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crime and Punishment in River City: The Swearengen-Ware Case

Posted By on Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 8:03 AM

Barbara Swearengen Ware
  • Barbara Swearengen Ware
As Joe Friday used to say on the old Dragnet TV shows: Just the facts, ma’am:

At 3:30 or so on Friday afternoon, November 12, a “graveyard” time for news in the lexicon of journalism, City Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware— or “Swearengen-Ware,” in the hyphenated form of a press release from the District Attorney General’s office — was “taken into custody,” booked, and released on her own recognizance.

In lay terms, Ware — who has, by all accounts, been seriously ill during several weeks of hospitalization — turned herself in.

Her crime? (And, given the fact of her indictment, that word isn’t an ironic as the circumstances of this case might make it seem.) In the words of the D.A.’s press release: “… [O]n at least eight occasions between June 30, 2002 and May 13, 2009, Swearengen-Ware registered or renewed the registrations for motor vehicles which had not been inspected as required by Memphis City Code of Ordinances.”

In other words, she ducked automobile inspection for eight years.

Hinted at only obliguely (and without dollar amounts specified) in the press release is the fact, which became public knowledge through previous indictments of employees of the Shelby County Clerk’s office, that Councilwoman Ware paid several of these employees $5 each for their help in processing her illegal registrations.

In lay terms, she tipped them — though the aforesaid previous indictments referred to these payments as “bribes.”

Ware’s alleged crime — defined as "official misconduct" and pursued “in agreement with” Charles Nichols, the former chief administrative officer of the Clerk’s office — is classified as a Class E felony, for which, if convicted, she could serve a term of one to two years.

She isn’t likely to, of course. As the D.A.’s press release points out, “Under state law, the court could grant her probation or diversion.” And most likely would.

Besides the embarrassment of the indictment, however, there are other immediate real-world penalities. They were summed up by a single sentence in a pro forma statement issued by current Council chair Harold Collins: “Any elected or appointed official charged with official malfeasance shall be suspended with pay pending resolution of the charge.”

Matter-of-factly, Collins elaborated: “Now that these charges are official, Mrs. Ware has been relieved of her official duties as Chairman of the Public Services & Neighborhoods Committee and Landmarks Committee, as a member the of O&M Budget Committee, Housing & Community Development Committee, Parks Committee, Personnel Committee, Planning & Zoning Committee and as liaison to Convention Center Board and Riverfront Development Corporation, as well as suspended from her official duties as a member of the Memphis City Council until such time as this matter is resolved.”

“Until such time,” indeed. What has been resolved already is Ware’s longstanding influence in city government — reckoned until quite recently by journalists who cover the Council on a day-to-day basis as without peer among the 13 members of that body.

With council elections coming next year, with Ware burdened with health problems as well as legal ones, with the stigma of public punishment already upon her, Barbara Swearengen Ware is already off the map of the power establishment.

It is a change as abrupt and meaningful as the one that occurred in May 2005 when several members of Shelby County’s legislative contingent — notably the very powerful Go-To Guy, state Senator John Ford — were extracted from their positions of influence (and ultimately from their liberty) by the FBI’s “Tennessee Waltz” sting.

The Waltzers all netted thousands of dollars in improper gains — Senator Ford himself toting up some $50,000 to go with hundreds of thousands of dollars he was later demonstrated, in another trial for another offense, to have come by.

Councilwoman Ware’s fate will be a source of satisfaction to some and a reason for dismay to others. Questions of justice aside, one fact is indisputable: In a time of general economic dislocation, the definition of “ill-gotten gains” has come in for serious deflation indeed.

Then Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Distirct Attorney General Bill Gibbons, and Police Director Larry  Godwin announcing the first Clerks Office indictments in 2009
  • JB
  • Then Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Distirct Attorney General Bill Gibbons, and Police Director Larry Godwin announcing the first Clerk's Office indictments in 2009

Saturday, November 13, 2010

MAD AS HELL: The Undead Party Is Baaaaack!

Posted By on Sat, Nov 13, 2010 at 7:29 PM

Cheri DelBrocco
  • Cheri DelBrocco
While President OBambi was roaming the woods looking for an olive branch to chew on, the Republicans performed a poltergeist—They’re Baaaaack!!

Yep. In our brave new world of Orwellian doublespeak, where war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and right wing fantasy is news, Republicans have come back from the dead. You’ve gotta hand it to them, when it comes to winning over Low Information Nation, the GOP nails it every time.

So now we’ve got John Boehner, the new Weeper of the House, a Drama Queen so good at crying on cue he makes Susan Lucci envious.

However, Psycho IV: The Tea Party’s Triumph was only the prequel to a big Coming Attraction. Prepare yourselves for the Tea-publican Fantastic Feature of 2011—- Witch Hunt II: Mission from God. It will be opening in January on swearing-in day.

Although we’ve seen this movie before, this new one will be BOFFO, because Americans never tire of watching a horror flick. This one promises to be a sequel to a 1998 production—Witch Hunt: Mission to Destroy—-when the last Democratic president was investigated by a cast of fanatics determined to dig and panty-sniff their way to finding just what they needed to run him out of DC on a rail.

We watched while characters like Dan Burton got the enterprise cranked up by spending millions investigating the suicide death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster. After that, the real action began when the last Republican Diva of the House, Newt Gingrich, along with Metrosexual Special Prosecutor Ken Starr and their merry band of House ‘managers,’ proceeded to blow through countless budgets producing box office smashes like Whitewater, Travel-gate, and the infamous Paula Jones Trooper-gate.

When the total excavation of Bill Clinton’s personal life was completed they finally — finally! —hit the Mother Lode! An intern, a blue dress, and some oral sex—lights, cameras, action! At long last, like Tapioca pudding, the plot had thickened and it was time to get to the climax (no pun intended): Impeach Bill Clinton and remove him from office!

So now, the Midterms have graced us with new stars. The role of ingénue has fallen to Oversight Committee chair Darryl “the Slice-A” Issa (R-CA), who has already been all over the airwaves promising to conduct seven investigative hearings a week for his first 40 weeks. On the day after the election, Issa held a press conference alleging illegal conduct by this administration: to wit, that President Obama received $700 billion in “walking around money” from the stimulus funds.

That same day, Issa apologized for his former claims of asserting that President Obama was the “most corrupt president to ever hold office” and that “now is time for some political payback”.

Representative Issa has got all the Bad Boy creds it takes to be a superstar in Tea-publican show biz. In 1980, the congressman and his brother were prosecuted in California for allegedly faking the theft of Issa’s cherry red Mercedes 240 sedan and selling it to a car dealer for $16,000. After a judge ordered them to stand trial on felony charges, they both pleaded not guilty.

A few months later, a prosecutor dismissed the case and the charges were dropped, although the judge who ordered the trial said he strongly suspected the two men committed the crime. Issa was also the driving force behind the effort to recall California governor Gray Davis and to install The Govenator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As usual, job creation, deficit reduction, or helping the President fix the nation’s daunting problems won’t be the focus of the new Tea-publican zealots. Oh no; the new spectacle in Washington will take us back to the future of twelve years ago and push us even farther down the economic rathole.

Millions will be blown on subpoenas, special prosecutors, investigations, and indictments, and ultimately, on the completed work of their Trilogy: Last Epic: The Impeachment of Barrack Obama.
Tune in, unless you’ve already sold your plasma and recliner on Craigslist to pay for a Thanksgiving turkey and your Christmas layaway at Wal-Mart.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

City Politics and the Pending Anti-Discrimination Vote

Posted By on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 12:45 PM

Councilman Shea Flinn discusses the shape of the anti-discimination study with contending parties Davis (l) and /Cole.
  • JB
  • Councilman Shea Flinn discusses the shape of the anti-discimination study with contending parties Davis (l) and /Cole.

A couple of significant actions taken by the Memphis City Council Tuesday evening have to be reckoned against the political calendar. Next year is election year for city government, and, while nobody on the current council is fool enough to consider running against Mayor A C Wharton, all the members will have to see to their own reelection (a just-passed referendum nullifies the staggered council terms that were approved in another referendum not that long ago).

And that means that, both for their immediate safety and their long-term prospects (A C can’t run forever, now, can he?), council members will be vying for position.

Tuesday’s approval by the council of a study of discrimination in city government is a case in point. Though clearly directed at the question of discrimination against gays — a hot-button issue which the Tennessee Equality Project and other representatives of the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered) community is pushing vigorously — the proposed inquiry has in theory a broader base.

In large part, the study’s general cast is to mollify critics of an explicitly worded anti-discrimination ordinance — one which was introduced on Tuesday and had the first, more or less pro forma, reading of three readings required for passage. Final passage of the ordinance is problematic, and the study, which will intervene time-wise, will be completed and evaluated before a third reading and a decisive vote. So promised Councilman Shea Flinn, sponsor of the study resolution.

Tuesday’s vote authorizing the study drew a single no vote — from Councilman Kemp Conrad, who based his opposition, he said later, on his aversion to “identity group politics,” and his sense that, however generally worded, the study will end up focusing primarily on the issue of discrimination involving the GLBT community.

“We might just as well look at discrimination against women, Republicans, left-handed people, or whatever,” said Conrad, dismissing the effort as a waste of time and resources.

Division on the Council

The issue of time is highly relevant. By its nature, a formal study (like one of those committees Mayor Wharton is fond of appointing) could either expedite or delay consideration of the subject if focuses on (a fact leading to the nearly unanimous authorizing vote). And it remains to be seen which is the case here. Flinn talked about a minimum period of six weeks, but forecast no end point for completion.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, both Jonathan Cole of TEP and Josh Davis of the Family Life Council, which adamantly opposes an anti-discrimination ordinance, expressed guarded support for the concept of a study — yet another indication of the ambiguity inherent in it.

There are hard and fast council advocates of an explicitly worded anti-discrimination ordinance. Two such are Flinn and Janis Fullilove, who made an emotional statement in session Tuesday in which she regretted that she had been talked into withdrawing her own anti-discrimination ordinance some months ago after an embarrassing episode in which, as she put it, she had “a good time dancing on a boat.” But she promised: “My voice will not be silent. This is the right thing to do.”

There are also diehard opponents — Conrad and Bill Boyd, for example. Most of the other council members fall in between, and while some profess an absolute open-mindedness and await the outcome of the study, others are frank to concede that they’d just as soon the vexing issue would go away before it requires a formal member-by-member commitment.

“This thing is liable to come to a head just before the filing deadline,” one member (who declined to be identified) worried after Tuesday’s meeting.

That anxiety was in recognition of the obvious fact that opinions are likely to be sharply divided in the larger Memphis community — with possible consequences at election time. The election date for next year’s city election is October 6, and the filing deadline will probably be set for a summer date, some months earlier.

No More Half Measures

Another action taken by the council on Tuesday could be regarded as predicated at least partly on a general desire by the council to hedge on controversy. Despite advance reports that Boyd intended to make an all-out effort to be elected chairman for the 2010-11 term, the council would vote unanimously instead for Myron Lowery.

That outcome could be credited to the general respect in which Lowery is held, as well as the fact that he had not completed his term as chairman when he interrupted it to become interim mayor after former Mayor Willie Herenton’s resignation in mid-2009.

But it is also a fact that Boyd is regarded as an active leader of the opposition to the anti-discrimination ordinance, while Lowery, though counted on the pro side, is something of a “bridge” personality on the council, more likely to calm such storms as may arise.

And well they might. The TEP and other GLBT organizations have made it clear they are no longer willing to settle for half measures like the anti-discrimination resolution passed by the Shelby County Commission in 2009. That one, avoiding any direct mention of gays per se, was a winnowed-down version of an explicitly worded ordinance originally introduced by Commissioner Steve Mulroy.

During this year’s election cycle, Mulroy campaigned on his sponsorship of the ordinance and passage of the resolution, while Commissioner Wyatt Bunker was able to campaign on what he boasted was the defeat of the ordinance.

Whatever emerges from the City Council’s deliberations between now and next October 6 is unlikely to bestow bragging rights on both sides of the equation.

See also Bianca Phillips' "Gaydar" blog.

Rep. Todd Compares Children of Illegal Immigrants to "Rats"

Posted By on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 6:43 AM

State Rep. Curry Todd
  • State Rep. Curry Todd
The immigration issue, which at times became a subject of heated rhetoric during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, continues to fester on Tennessee’s political scene.

A wire service report by Lucas Johnson of the Associated Press from Nashville indicates that State Rep. Curry Todd,, a Collierville Republican whose District 95 includes parts of Metropolitan Memphis, compared children born within the United States of illegal-immigrant parents to multiplying rats.

During a meeting Tuesday of the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee on the state’s Cover Kids health-insurance program, discussion turned to the issue of eligibility for pre-natal care. Todd asked if children of illegal immigrants were covered and was told that, if born in the U.S., they were automatically citizens and could not be denied.

According to the AP story, Todd then interpreted that to mean that illegal immigrants could “go out there like rats and multiply.”

Todd was quoted as saying later, “I was wrong, and I actually admit when I’m wrong,” and said he should have used the term “anchor babies,” itself considered objectionable by some.

The legislator continued to insist that proof of citizenship should be a requirement for participation in any state-run aid program.

Though not as well-publicized as some of his legislative colleagues, Todd has a reputation for being outspoken. He earned headlines some years ago when he clashed on the floor of the House with Brian Kelsey, a Shelby County colleague, now a state senator and then a state representative.

The issue was Kelsey's disinclination to accept his share of district-by-district allocations of what were being termed "community enhancement grants" from state surplus funds. Kelsey called them "pork," handing then House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh some symbolic slabs of bacon in an envelope.

Todd rose to protest, challenging Kelsey to give back his PAC campaign contributions in that case and accusing him of "grandstanding...to draw media attention to your stuff up here."

It is probably a fair assumption that, in the case at hand, Todd would just as soon that "media attention" to his own remarks would go away.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Free Showing of Fair Game at Cordova Malco

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 12:17 PM

fair_game.jpg
Last week’s election results (dismal for them) notwithstanding, Democrats still have George W. Bush to kick around. There’s a fair amount of local buzz about Fair Game, the new movie starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts as Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame — the couple who became pawns in some high-stakes political intrigue related to the former president’s invasion of Iraq.

Wilson, it will be remembered, is the former ambassador who was deputized to make a fact-finding trip to Niger to check out reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase yellowcake uranium from that African nation. He found no such evidence and, when the administration went ahead anyhow and cited the uranium claim as part of its buildup for the invasion, Wilson wrote a debunking op-ed for the New York Times.

Not long thereafter, leaks appeared in the media blowing Plame’s cover as a CIA agent — am act of apparent retribution which resulted in the trial and conviction of Scooter Libby, a ranking aide to then Vice President Dick Cheney.

Fair Game recounts these events, and Participant Media, which co-hosted with the White House the recent “START Now Summit: Women Leaders for Nuclear Security,” scheduled a free screening of the film for 7:30 p.m., Thursday, November 11 at the Cordova Malco Theater. Germantown’s Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, who participated in the summit, was helping to organize local attendance, with registration and more information available at tnfairgame.eventbrite.com.

Ulysses Jones, Veteran Legislator, Dies Unexpectedly

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 8:20 AM

Ulysses Jones, a battalion chief of the Memphis Fire Department and one of the longest-serving and most respected members of the Tennessee legislature, has died in Memphis at the age of 59 from a collapsed lung, various sources have confirmed. Exact details, not as yet forthcoming, will be reported as learned.

State Rep. Ulysses Jones
  • State Rep. Ulysses Jones

Jones had just been reelected without opposition to his 13th term in the state House of Representatives. A Democrat, he represented District 98, a sprawling area in north central Memphis. He had numerous committee memberships and was the chair of the House Ethics Committee. He had served as chairman of the Tennessee African-American Male Task Force, and the Governor's Minority Business Development Advisory Committee, and 1st Vice-President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

Universally respected in the legislature, Jones was an impassioned and highly active floor speaker on causes he favored. Some of these included the state lottery and state enterprise zone legislation.

In 1977, as part of a Fire Department First Response unit, Jones answered an emergency call to the home of Elvis Presley. One of those who discovered the late entertainer on the floor of his bathroom at Graceland, he participated in emergency resuscitation efforts and transported Presley to the old Baptist Memorial Hospital structure on Union Avenue, where Presley was pronounced dead.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Corker , on Mission to Reform Spending, Responds to Being on Tea Party Purge List

Posted By on Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Corker at City Hall on Thursday
  • JB
  • Corker at City Hall on Thursday
The GOP's Bob Corker, Tennessee's junior U.S. Senator, belongs to the party that romped all over the opposition in the 2010 election cycle. He pulled his oar by making a well-noted late appearance on behalf of one of his party’s few really long-odds hopefuls, 9th congressional District candidate Charlotte Bergmann, a bona fide Tea Partier.

That Bergmann was hazarding the impossible task of running against incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen in the staunchly Democratic 9th is almost beside the point. Corker showed himself (almost against his better instincts, one imagines) to be a team player.

So how, one day after the Tsunami election in which Republicans, statewide and nationally, won almost everything in sight, did Corker end up on the hit list of an influential Tea Party/Republican blog, Red State.org?

Erick Erickson, the site’s proprietor, listed the 12 Republican senators up for reelection in 2012, and narrowed the list down to five Republicans he considered choice targets for Tea Party-sponsored candidates to take on in the primary races. And Corker, along with Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, was pointedly referenced a second time, with Erickson insisting that the two of them “in particular make exciting prospects for the tea party movement.”

After making a speech at City Hall Thursday evening in which he advocated serious reductions in federal spending, Corker was asked about his presence on the hit list.

“I’ve been through this before,” said Corker, who four years ago narrowly defeated Democrat Harold Ford Jr. to win his seat. “In 2006 people tried to nationalize the race I was involved in. This is a small group of people, Washington-centrric, who don’t like the fact that I actually think about what I do, that I actually ask questions about bills, that I just don’t automatically jump up and say ‘yes’ when the electric shock hits the chair. OK? And that concerns some people.

“Yet I think if you look at people in Tennessee, we actually have some data that, when Bill Haslam was running for governor, they polled, Tea Party people in Tennessee actually support me more than Republicans do. So this is a Washington-centric deal. It’s very Washington-centric….What happens is, you have a handful of people who try to manipulate movements like this, and that’s just the way it is….”

Corker’s staff would subsequently forward copies of the poll he referred to, one done by GOP pollsters Whit Ayres and Dan Judy, a portion of which reads as follows:

“The strongest supporters of the Tea Party movement give Senator Corker a nearly five-to-one favorable to unfavorable rating. In a statewide survey conducted June 1-3, also with 600 likely Republican primary voters, we found that voters who support the Tea Party movement and have attended or plan to attend a rally give him a 72 to 15 percent rating, compared to an 81 to 7 percent rating among voters who support the movement but would not attend a rally, and a 69 to 15 percent rating among voters who do not support the movement.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if (a) Corker is the object of an organized Tea Party purge attempt in the Republican primary of 2012; and (b) native Tennesseans join in such an effort seriously.

In any case, the senator’s presence on such a purge list could be considered an anomaly. Corker is a conservative’s conservative, especially on economic matters. He was one of Congress’ most serious opponents of bailouts for the financial and automotive industries, and his speech Thursday was the 41st occasion on which he formally stated his warning against excessive federal spending

Essentially, what the senator proposes is that Congress fix spending levels at a specific percentage of the country’s annual Gross National Product (GNP) — doing so by averaging out GDP figures for a span of years — and his own recommended spending level is 18 percent — which is 2.5 percent lower than the 50-year average and represents a ceiling that Corker believes would yield balanced budgets.
The senator is also an advocate of bipartisan cooperation in seeking his ends, and this may be the sticking point with Erickson et al.

In a Q-and-A with the audience following his remarks, Corker found himself beset by activists and partisans of various stripes, most of whom made longish, hectoring speeches rather than asking questions per se. There were critics of his economic plan, advocates of liberalized immigration laws, opponents of the Federal Reserve, and one impassioned supporter of a bill that would put FedEx under stricter labor legislation.

The senator patiently heard them all about, agreeing when he could, stating his opposition when he couldn’t, and, in other cases, honestly acknowledging he needed to know more about the proposed measure.

All in a day’s work, his aides explained, and the kind of thing he’ll doubtless get on the campaign trail in 2012 if the proposed purge effort actually gets under way.

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