Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Perry Romps Over Field in Local Republican Straw Poll

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2011 at 6:29 PM

Texas governor Rick Perry
  • Texas governor Rick Perry
If a straw poll taken of local Republican cadres by East Shelby Republican Club president Arnold Weiner is to be taken seriously, it indicates an unexpected level of strength for Texas governor Rick Perry¸ who finished way ahead of the rest of the field of active or potential GOP presidential candidates.

The poll was of attendees at last week’s annual East Shelby club “Master Meal, and the results broke down this way — Perry, 61; former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 12; Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and Georgia entrepreneur Herman Cain, 6 each; Ron Paul, 5, and other candidates, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, trailing with scattered votes.

“I was surprised at Perry’s strength, and I was surprised by how few votes (2) Sarah Palin got,” said Weiner, who described the club's poll as “maybe the first straw vote taken in the South.” (Weiner would later say the results indicated the depth of conservatism among local Republicans.)

Reinforcing the accuracy of the local straw-vote results to some degree is the fact that the Texas governor, a late entry in the presidential sweepstakes, has been topping the charts in various national surveys of Republicans, as well.

One of the featured speakers at the annual dinner, held last week at the Great Hall in Germantown, was state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who expressed satisfaction that the Norris-Todd bill, moved in the General Assembly by himself and state Rep. Curry Todd, also of Collierville, was essentially upheld by federal Judge Mays as the lynchpin of the ongoing process of merging Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools.

Said Norris: “It’s too bad that it took a federal court to explain the role of state government in education, isn’t it? Should that have been necessary? How many people at the time took swipes at the legislature for getting involved with education in Shelby County? They didn’t know the role that state government plays in providing public education in this state”

Other speakers at the Master Meal event, which is a kind of summer counterpart to the Shelby GOP’s annual Lincoln Day celebration, were Justin Joy, Shelby County Republican chairman; and Chris Devaney of Nashville, chairman of the state Republican Party.

Joy noted that the only two countywide elective offices not currently held by Republicans — General Sessions Court clerk and Assessor, now held by the beleaguered Otis Jackson and Cheyenne Johnson, respectively— were on the 2012 ballot, and challenged his audience of party adepts to help capture them. A third office, that of District Attorney General, is currently held by Amy Weirich, who will seek reelection as a Republican.

In his remarks, Devaney put forth three goals for 2012: to reelect U.S. Senator Bob Corker; to elect enough Republicans to the General Assembly to make it “walkout-proof” (a reference to the situation this year in Wisconsin, where a Democratic boycott was aimed at denying a legislative quorum); and “to send Barack Obama back home — to Chicago or Hawaii or wherever he’s from.”

Recipients of special recognition from the club were veteran club member Bob Pitman, now suffering from the after-effects of a stroke (his award was received by wife Toni and son Alan); and John Willingham, the venerable sage and frequent candidate who, in his role as barbecue maven, had catered the event.

Cohen's District to Go Country?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2011 at 5:19 PM

cohen_as_country_congressman_2y.jpg
Steve Cohen, rural congressman? Could be, according to the current 9th District U.S. Representative, who was commenting on informal reports making the rounds concerning possible redistricting in Tennessee.

Cohen cited an article in the Nashville Tennessean concerning a rumored plan by the state’s majority Republicans to carve Davidson County, currently the base of the 5th congressional district, held by Democrat Jim Cooper, into three districts. And he said he had heard reports that his own 9th District, though still based in Memphis, would be extended eastward into Fayette and Hardeman counties to accommodate the eastward shift of Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn’s 7th congressional District.

“I could handle that district, but I’d prefer to keep the Memphis district intact,” said Cohen, who said the party-line ratios and black-white percentages would be similar in the rumored reconfiguration to what they are in the currently proportioned 9th District. Current Memphis City Schools board member and local Urban League head Tomeka Hart has said she will oppose Cohen in the Democratic primary but has thus far shown little evidence of campaigning.

For the record, Republican sources in the legislature, which will make the final determination on district lines, deny that the plan reported by the Tennessean is in the works. The rumored plan, first publicized by a Nashville-area blogger, was the occasion for a visit to the newspaper’s offices by Nashville mayor Karl Dean and Cooper, both concerned about the prospect of dividing the current 5th District.

Cohen, who in recent weeks has kept a busy schedule, presiding over a series of constituent forums and seminars on federal programs, has just returned from a trip to The Congo and Rwanda on behalf of CARE, Inc., a group that concerns itself with survivors of cataclysms. The congressman said that, despite the massacre of some 800,000 Rwandans that occurred in 1994, that country appears considerably more advanced and prosperous than does The Congo.

County Commission Endorses MOU, Sets Ground Rules for Interim Board Appointments

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2011 at 1:13 AM

Despite a predictable rear-guard action from District 4 (suburban) members Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland, a Memorandum of Understanding on the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools was handily ratified by the Shelby County Commission at a special meeting Monday — leaving only the Memphis City Council to complete the cycle.

After a mediation process presided over by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, the MOU was agreed upon last week by legal representatives of all the contending parties with an interest in the merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools. Judge Mays had earlier mandated MCS-SCS merger, more or less along the lines provided for in the Norris-Todd bill, passed earlier this year by the legislature.

The Commission also approved a framework of seven single-member districts for an all-county school board and arranged an interview date, September 7, for applicants interested in filling those seven slots on an interim basis, beginning October 1. Consistent with the Mays ruling, elections for the positions will be held in August 2012, pending completion of merger on September 1, 2013.

All votes were unanimous except for absentees and the opposition of Commissioners Bunker, Thomas and Roland. The three suburban commissioners repeated their previous objections to the entire merger process — essentially, as Bunker put it, that a functioning system, Shelby County Schools, was being shut down prematurely and forced into unwanted union with a problematic city system, that, in Roland’s words, the people of District 4 “don’t want this,” and that, as Thomas predicted, adverse educational change would be the consequence.

After hearing further protests from the dissenting commissioners, the Commission majority agreed to be flexible on ground rules for the candidate interviews — for example, removing from a list of FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) for the candidates inquiries about party affiliation or prior attitudes toward school merger. As various members of the Commission majority pointed out, however, questions of that sort are likely to be asked anyhow, though, just not listed.

A further stipulation was that those candidates who had submitted themselves to examination in March, when the Commission was considering making appointment to a provisional 25-member board, would not need to repeat the entire interview process, though they would be subject to questions by commissioners.



Commissioner Thomas objects to merger process



Commissioner Brooks rebuts objections and defends the MOU



Commissioner Mike Carpenter also challenges the objectors

Friday, August 26, 2011

SCS, MCS Boards Take First Steps Toward Unity

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 1:13 AM


SCS board member David Reaves bites the bullet.

A day after the sanctioning by federal Judge Hardy Mays of a Memorandum of Understanding binding the several litigating parties in the school-merger case, the two school systems about to become one — Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools — took their first concrete steps toward union.

First up was SCS, which, in that body’s typically brisk manner, ran through a standard administrative agenda, then voted to accept the MOU with only modest misgivings expressed by Bartlett board member David Reaves. But he and the others signed on to the concept of unity, extending kudos to Judge Mays in the process and even indulging in some quiet praise for their opposite numbers at MCS.

At SCS chairman David Pickler’s suggestion, the board members agreed to submit to Pickler by Monday three names each of prospects for the Board’s five nominees to serve on the 21-member advisory committee established by the Norris-Todd legislation which serves as an enabling umbrella for the merger process.

As Judge Mays clarified the terms of Norris-Todd, the advisory committee is empowered only to make non-binding recommendations to the new all-county board that, in interim form, will come into being on October 1, composed of the current 9 MCS board members, the current 7 SCS members, and 7 additional members to be appointed by the Shelby County Commission.

The advisory committee also will have members appointed by the MCS board, by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, by Governor Bill Haslam, and by Ron Ramsey and Beth Harwell, Speakers of the state Senate and state House, respectively.

Later in the afternoon the Memphis City Schools board met, also approved the Memorandum of Understanding, and went ahead and certified the five MCS nominees for the advisory committee. They are: Fred Johnson, longtime educator and former SCS Board member; Barbara Prescott, former MCS Board member; Kenya Bradshaw, director of Stand for Children; Reginald Green, a professor of education at the University of Memphis; and Daniel Kiel, law professor at UM and lecturer on local education issues.

Advisory Committee nominee Kiel meets with media.
  • JB
  • Advisory Committee nominee Kiel meets with media.

Analysis to follow in separate article.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Local Litigants Bypass State Resistance, Concur on New School Board Plans

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 5:23 PM

Walter Bailey, chairman of County Commissions education committee, reads MOU at press conference.
  • JB
  • Walter Bailey, chairman of County Commission's education committee, reads MOU at press conference.

UPDATE At Thursday's meeting of the current Shelby County School Board, which formally affirmed the Memorandum of Understanding, SCS board chairman David Pickler confirmed that resistance from the state Attorney General and the state Department of Education had impeded completion of the agreement announced on Wednesday.

Pickler said the state officials had regarded the 23-member Board created by the MOU as both unwieldy and in conflict with the premises of the Norris-Todd bill.

Although stout and unexpected resistance from the state Attorney General’s office threatened to derail it and managed to delay it for several days, a final agreement was reached on Wednesday between the various parties involved in the long-running school-merger case.

(One observer close to the negotiations attributed the State's resistance to the state Education Department, one of the many organs of government the A.G serves.)

Basically, the agreement is in the spirit of the initial ruling made earlier this month by presiding U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays. Everybody gets a substantial portion of their original wish-list.

In particular, the nine current members of the current Memphis City Schools board and the seven current members of the Shelby county Schools board will continue to serve on a combined city/county board until September 1, 2013, the point at which final MCS-SCS merger is effected. The two systems' administrations will continue to function, more or less independently, until September 1, 2013.

As of that date, the remaining members of the city and county boards will leave the new board in the hands of seven other members, who will have been elected in August 2012 from as many districts across Memphis and Shelby County. And, prior to those elections, seven members representing the same newly apportioned districts will have been appointed by the Shelby County Commission, beginning October 1 of this year — making for a total interim board membership of 23.

Convening all the parties in his courtroom mid-way on the third day of the mediation which he presided over (Tuesday was an off day), U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays read a Memorandum of Understanding signed onto by all parties save one.

The one holdout was the State of Tennessee — or more specifically the state Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr., who had been something of a Forgotten Man during earlier legal proceedings. Various principals, including David Pickler and Martavius Jones, the presidents of the Shelby County and Memphis School boards, and Judge Mays himself, began attempting to persuade the State’s representatives, legal and political, to sign on to the MOU, as early as Friday, when agreement was reached by the various other parties to the litigation.

The Attorney General’s objection — or that of whatever State officials may have prompted him — could have been to the fact that Norris-Todd, the state legislation which forms the basic framework for the merger, was widely interpreted as meaning that both the MCS and SCS boards would continue as entities until final merger. Under the MOU approved Wednesday by Judge Mays, whose earlier ruling had declared the current Shelby County board unconstitutional, the two systems will continue to be administered separately but will be governed by the newly created interim board.

At various times, representatives of state government and the State's attorneys in Memphis indicated a receptiveness to the new arrangement, but Cooper was to remain adamant. The impasse was finally broken on Wednesday afternoon when the Attorney General assented to urgent pleas from the other principals to seek dismissal from the case.

And so, when Mays convened the parties Wednesday afternoon, the first action was a statement from Ross Dyer, a lawyer representing the State, seeking dismissal from the case “without prejudice.” Judge Mays granted the motion, releasing the State from involvement, and then proceeded to read from the terms of the MOU signed onto by all other principals.

When formal approval is conferred on the agreement in the form of a consent decree by the various parties — including the two school boards, the Memphis city government, the Memphis City Council, the Shelby County Commission, and the Memphis Education Association — Judge Mays will appoint a Special Master. Under the Judge’s oversight, the Special Master will help implement the agreement until the final merger date of September 1, 2013.

Judge Mays also suggested that the current chairs of the two school boards — Pickler of SCS and Jones of MCS — should proceed forthwith in appointing five members each of an interim 21-member Planning Commission provided for by Norris-Todd. The state law also calls for appointments by County and State governments.

One question has intrigued several observers: Has the advisory aspect of that Planning Commission been co-opted by the fact of the newly constituted interim School Board? The same question may have piqued the interest of Attorney General Cooper.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Corker Urges Congressional “Super Committee” to Consider Tax Reform

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2011 at 1:57 AM

Senator Corker at MAAR
  • JB
  • Senator Corker at MAAR
Bob Corker, the junior U.S. Senator from Tennessee, made it clear Monday, in a talk to the Memphis Area Association of Realtors on Poplar, that he doesn’t think the spending cuts provided for in the last-minute congressional settlement of the debt-ceiling crisis were sufficient.

Corker, a Republican, was the author of a spending-cap bill — “the only bill that was bicameral and bi-partisan” — that, over a 10-year period, would have trimmed the nation’s deficit by some $5 trillion, a sum he contrasted with the $4 trillion figure that many in Congress had regarded as “the magic number” for reduction and with the $2.5 trillion in cuts, now and later, that was actually mandated by the final bill.

The bill wasn’t enough, it was “kind of like kissing your sister, I guess, not exactly what we had in mind.” But it was a start, said Corker. His more striking statement was a piece of advice for the newly appointed “super committee” of 12 congressional members — evenly divided by chamber and by party and charged with finding a debt-reduction formula by Thanksgiving.

The senator said that “tax reform” needed to be taken into account, along with line-item reductions per se. Inasmuch as that phrase is a mite ambivalent and has so far lent itself more to Democratic rhetoric than to the GOP party line, Corker’s suggestion was something of a revelation.

In point of fact, during the climactic negotiations over raising the debt limit Republican congressional leaders had shied away from tax talk, whether coupled with the word “reform” or not, as if shielding themselves from a plague.

Spelling out what he had mind, Corker envisioned a closing of loopholes and the possibility of “flattening and broadening the tax code” so as to raise ample revenue while lowering the tax rate for most people.

Corker acknowledged that he had sought an appointment to the 12-member super-committee- “which was right up my alley” — and was disappointed not to be named.

Corker’s espousal of “tax reform,” which he said would unleash “a tremendous energy in the country,” was not the senator’s only deviation from GOP orthodoxy.

He also advocated a “six-year transportation bill” that sounded vaguely like what Democrats mean when they talk about spending money on the nation’s infrastructure.

And, in a formulation that contrasted with the resurgent “supply-side” thinking that now seems to dominate most Republicans in Congress, Corker said plainly, “You’ve got to have demand. Demand is soft right now.”

Corker also offered general praise for the educational reforms now being advanced by the Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan — especially what he saw as the Obama administration’s distancing itself from No Child Left Behind.

The senator noted that he had joined other members of the state’s congressional delegation in supporting Governor Bill Haslam’s request that Tennessee be granted a waiver from NCLB.

Corker got on the same page as other congressional Republicans in his disapproval of Obama’s health-care program — called “Obamacare” in GOP boilerplate — and made it clear he thought the bill was not only “unworkable” but certain to be found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on account of its mandating that citizens purchase health insurance.

Given the nature of his audience, it was hardly surprising that Corker was asked a number of questions about his views on reviving the slumping housing market. Among other things, the senator made it clear that he did not favor removing mortgage-deduction provisions from the tax code and did favor measures to ease the current home foreclosure logjam.

Surprisingly, given his membership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his prominence as an advocate of rethinking policy toward countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, Corker got no questions from the MAAR audience about the ongoing overthrow of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi by rebels.

Asked about that situation afterward, Corker said it was “hard not to be excited” over the deposing of long-term dictator Gaddafi, but he cautioned against direct American entanglements in yet a third theater of conflict in the Middle East.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shelby Dems Have Busy Week for Fundraisers

Posted By on Sun, Aug 21, 2011 at 4:18 PM

Ex-candidate (and plaintiff) Shep Wilbun makes out check for election appeal as fellow plaintiffs Regina Newman and Randy Wade watch.
  • JB
  • Ex-candidate (and plaintiff) Shep Wilbun makes out check for election appeal as fellow plaintiffs Regina Newman and Randy Wade watch.

The Shelby County Democrats held two fundraising events the past week, one looking back and other looking ahead. and drew decent crowds and presumably decent cash at both.

The first event, held Wednesday night at Alfred’s on Beale, was a fundraiser for the party’s ongoing legal challenge of the 2010 countywide general election, during which the Democratic slate — somewhat unexpectedly, given the demographics — was swept by the Republicans.

The Democrats are appealing a ruling last year by Chancellor Arnold Goldin which disallowed the party’s protest, which was based on alleged irregularities, some inadvertent, some believed by the Democrats to be more suspicious.

Then, on Friday night, some 100 people gathered at the Spaghetti Warehouse for a “straw poll” giving participants a chance to cast ballots indicating their preferences in the forthcoming Memphis municipal election. Perhaps unsurprisingly, candidates known to be Democrats swamped those with Repubican or strictly independent connections.

The results, released this weekend, show the winners to be:

Memphis Mayor: A C Wharton
City Council Dist. 1: Bill Morrison
City Council Dist 2: Sylvia Cox
City Council Dist 4: Wanda Halbert
City Council Dist 6: Edmund Ford Jr.
City Council Dist 7: Lee Harris
City Council Dist. 8 Pos. 1: Joe Brown
City Council Dist. 8 Pos. 2: Rosalyn NicholsCity Council Dist. 9 Pos. 1: Paul Shaffer
City Council Dist. 9 Pos. 2: Shea Flinn
City Clerk: Thomas Long

(Unopposed candidates are not listed.)

Shelby County Democratic chairman Van Turner, getting ready for Fridays straw vote.
  • Steve Ross
  • Shelby County Democratic chairman Van Turner, getting ready for Friday's straw vote.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Halbert, Lowery Feud in Angry Email Exchange

Charges of "Silly," "Unprofessional," "How Dare You!," and (the piece de resistance) "you are not well respected by your colleagues" fly back and forth. The subject? A Council vote to limit each member to five minutes' discussion on a given issue.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 5:09 PM

Halbert (left); Lowery
  • Halbert (left); Lowery
An exchange of angry emails between two members of the Memphis City Council reflects not only a serious disagreement over a Council matter two weeks ago but larger discontents simmering on the Council regarding personalities, issues, and procedures.

The immediate argument is between District 4 Council member Wanda Halbert and Council chairman Myron Lowery, who holds a District 8 Super-District position. Halbert was one of two Council members whose early departure from the meeting of Tuesday, August 2, seems to have provoked a key rules change from the eight members who stayed behind to keep a quorum.

The rules changes, voted on as the last item of business at that August 2 meeting and approved 8-0, restricts members to a five-minute time limitation in their comments on any issue before the Council.

After reading about the rules change in the Flyer, Halbert dispatched an email to chairman Lowery and other Council members, accusing them of being “SILLY and UNPROFESSIONAL,” in the course of stating several other complaints about the Council’s action.

Lowery ‘s response to Halbert’s email was just as intense. He observed that Halbert had so far received no reply to her original email from other Council members and said, “That's because you are not well respected by your colleagues.” He also responded to criticism from Halbert concerning several Council members’ past action in recusing themselves from voting on specific items.

“HOW DARE YOU !!,” wrote Lowery, going the all-caps route himself. “… WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION YOUR PEERS ABOUT THEIR MOTIVATION ?”

Halbert's response to that was relatively restrained: "I simply would like to see a more professional approach to the method and not the madness but I digress to will of the majority.”

Below is the text of the original Flyer article which triggered the email exchange, followed by the text of the emails themselves:

Friday, August 5, 2011


"In So Many Words or Less?": City Council Decrees Less

Posted by Jackson Baker on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 1:30 PM

Considering all the attention that has been paid to the last several meetings of the Memphis City Council, it would seem impossible that fundamental changes in the Council’s procedures, which have to be voted on, could escape public notice.

But such was the case last Tuesday in the wake of the two main items on the Council agenda: disposition of city employees’ demand to revoke a 4.6-percent paycut contained in the current year’s budget (resolution of which was put off for at least 30 days); and the formal signing off on the Memphis City Schools budget and approval of a $78.5 million payment to MCS for the 2011-12 academic year.

Though the auditorium would fairly rapidly empty out upon the completion of action on these two issues, there were other items left to be discussed — some of which drew extended commentary from Council members.

Two other factors began to loom large. One was the fact that Tuesday night had been designated as “National Night Out” for Council members, an occasion for holding meetings out in their districts or otherwise dealing with constituents.

Another factor was that several items (importantly, the schools matter) required the kind of immediate implementation that needed the Council’s ratification by a procedure called “same-night minutes” — i.e., formal approval of the minutes on the night of the action rather than the customary two weeks later. And approval of “same-night minutes,” like the customary delayed kind, required a Council quorum of seven members.

The problem was that, for reasons of National Night Out or whatever, Council members began to leak out, endangering prospects for keeping a quorum. When the number of Council members got down to the bare minimum of seven, a few members began to resent that the entire burden of holding the fort — and thereby keeping things legal — had been left to them.

In the aftermath of it all, some of the stick-it-out seven would cite two Council members, who had spoken at length concerning their objections to the proposed handling of a Community Redevelopment Plan for the Greenlaw Community Center, then left the stage and the auditorium. The two members were Wanda Halbert and Joe Brown, the latter of whom has made one of his rhetorical catch-phrases, “in so many words or less,” famous in the course of many Council debates.

Later on, as the Council neared the end of its agenda, Councilman Ed Ford asked to speak regarding “a point of personal privilege.” The point turned out to be a complaint about the departed members. Said Ford: “I’m going to say this because I’m not going to bite my tongue. We should have more than seven council members here, and I really don’t appreciate it when our quorum cold be imperiled….Nobody’s better than the next person and if somebody cannot do that job they may need to step aside.”

Council chairman Myron Lowery seemed to agree and took something of a mea culpa: “If an individual goes on and on the chair should bring him in…Perhaps I should do a better job of reining him in.” Lowery would go on to say he understood the “frustration with members who spoke for long periods of time tonight and then left, leaving those of us here to complete the work of the Council.”

The chairman also made a point of noting that “we control our own rules.” After Councilman Harold Collins added his amen to what Ford had said, applying it further to absenteeism at committee meetings, Councilman Reid Hedgepeth responded to Lowery’s reminder concerning the Council’s prerogatives.

Somewhat unexpectedly, he moved as follows: “that each council member has five minutes to speak on an issue.” Upon Lowery‘s request for clarification, Hedgepeth said he meant for that stricture to co-exist with a standing restriction disallowing more than three comments on an issue by any given Council member. Councilman Jim Strickland seconded the motion, which would pass unanimously on a vote by the remaining members, who had meanwhile increased their number to eight — Lowery, Ford, Hedgepeth, Strickland, Collins, Berlin Boyd, Bill Boyd, and Shea Flinn.

Hedgepeth, normally somewhat taciturn himself, noted, “I think we will very rarely have to hit a stopwatch on this. We’ll know the times.” And he declined to ask for a “same-nights minutes” vote on his resolution, inviting input from the missing members on the occasion of the Council’s next meeting in two weeks’ time — said input presumably to be stated in integers of five minutes or less.


.
Halbert responded via email to Lowery, with copies to other Council members, on Friday August 5:

This was really SILLY and UNPROFESSIONAL!!!!! Tuesday was NOT the first time council members have left meetings early yet, so why the expressed concerns now?

For the record, I had to leave for an out of town trip that was delayed so I could attend the meeting (of which rules were violated and attempted to eliminate some of the items ON THE AGENDA). Why was nothing said about that? Additionally, FOR THE RECORD, LET ME NOT BITE MY TONGUE (and expect for it to be respected the same); several council members having to consistantly recuse themselves from votes should not constitute a problem or need for others to stay in meetings, especially when they must leave to simply secure a quorum! If we can't perform our primary duty as a council member (voting on issues) why run?

Additionally, it is my understanding you all made a procedural change for the council. WHY WERE WE TOLD IN THE PAST PROCEDURAL CHANGES HAD TO BE SENT TO COUNCIL VIA EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE?!! There have been a number of procedural violations and absence of procedures that have caused concerns but it just appears the rules of council and our respect (or lack thereof) toward each other varies depending who the council member is (i.e. allowing the audience to talk disparagingly about some but not all).

This council should really stop this! Not only is it embarrassing, IT'S VERY UNPROFESSIONAL and shows we clearly are not a team (when we choose to not be).

W. Halbert,
Speaking up when someone should have Tuesday night!

Lowery answered her this week:

WH:

You have asked me a few times why some of your e-mails are not answered.

The one that you sent below is a good example of why.

First let me say that I waited several days before answering because I did not want to respond emotionally, as you often do and I wanted to give other Council members the chance to respond first. As you can see, like many others you have sent, no-one did.

That's because you are not well respected by your colleagues.

You have called the Council's action really "SILLY and UNPROFESSIONAL". Eight members of the Council made that decision so I guess if you are to be believed that's what we are. But your fellow Council members do not believe that.

And you know that everyone wanted to leave early to participate in National Night Out activities. Thats why the concerns were expressed at that meeting.

You seem to take this personally. It was not aimed at you. No-one cared about what you had to do. We all had plans for that evening. Some chose to leave while a majority remained.

No rules were violated. You seem to forget that after the request was made to delay some items on the agenda, I asked "without objection?" You were there. You said nothing, because you knew you were going to leave and you did not care.

And then you change the subject in the e-mail and critize Council members who recuse themselves from some votes.

HOW DARE YOU !!

No-one should question a Council member for utilizing their right to refrain from voting on any issue.

And then you question why they would run for office. WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION YOUR PEERS ABOUT THIER MOTIVATION ?

Regarding past procedural changes, you know any change can be made in any Council meeting. Rules can be suspended and seven votes rules the day. Thats what happened.

And when you raise the question of respect, please remember it must be earned, but NOT by sending the kind of e-mails like the one below.

You are right, we can never be a team as long as you are illogical and emotional.

Wanda, you will never earn your colleague’s respect as long as you continue to send emails like this. They will simply go unanswered and you'll contine to wonder why?

I am ready to continue this discussion with you personally if you wish.

Take care.

ML

And Halbert’s response to that email, also this week, went this way:

ML:

Respectfully, I can’t tell you how many times women (including those in leadership) hear that we are emotional so I am not surprised at your cursory opinion.

It doesn’t matter who the issue was targeted toward/about, what was important is, council members leave meetings early on a regular basis and nothing is ever said by colleagues, the media, etc. We lack consistency of council procedures, expectations, and rules/regulations without regard as to who or what it negatively affect (reminder of your vote against public comments during council meeting but (rightfully so) denying public sentiments of sanitation workers doing same) .

I simply would like to see a more professional approach to the method and not the madness but I digress to will of the majority.

Thank you,

WH


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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Question of Interim County School Board Dominates Special County Commission Meeting

Consensus is that current Shelby County Schools board, ruled unconstitutional by Judge Hardy Mays, cannot proceed with school merger plans.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 9:16 PM

Commissioner Steve Mulroy tells the media why there should be an interim county school board.


Well, here’s an irony for you — or a scenario out of The Sixth Sense.

On Wednesday the big issue in the matter of a Memphis City Schools-Shelby County Schools merger seemed to be whether and how soon the folks at MCS would respond to a request from the SCS board for information — all the information in MCS’ possession — about the workings of the current city school system.

The idea, based on the SCS people’s understanding of this week’s ruling by federal Judge Hardy Mays, was that MSC officially was on its way out of existence and that it was up to Shelby County Schools to begin implementing the merger of the two systems, inevitable since the vote by the MSC board last December to dissolve itself and freshly certified by Judge Mays.

But the reality is that the current Shelby County Schools board was declared unconstitutional by Judge Mays, whose ruling simultaneously guaranteed at least a caretaker existence for Memphis City Schools and its board until August 2013, the moment of formal merger.

In other words, it is the SCS board that is defunct — though it continues to operate in the belief that it is alive, much in the way of some of the recently deceased characters in the aforementioned shocker movie by M. Night Shyamalan.

And if the opinion expressed Thursday by Martavius Jones, current president of the MSC board, turns out to reflect the views of the other city School Board members and of the MSC administration, the current SCS board shouldn’t count on getting any of that information it wanted any time soon. Jones said he thought city school board officials would wait until a new county school board was constituted in line with Mays’ ruling.

Jones had just left Thursday afternoon’s special called meeting of the Shelby County Commission, at which the question of how and when to create a new county board had turned out to be the most vexing question.

There was considerable debate back and forth at the Commission meeting, which was called to certify the Commission’s response to Judge Mays’ request that each of the litigating parties in the merger dispute submit its plan for a new county board by Friday.

In the end, the Commission resolved to submit two similar plans, each prepared some months ago, each involving a seven-member county school board in keeping with Judge Mays’ specifications, each freshly updated by the Office of Planning and Development on the basis of 2010 census information. The Commission majority expressed a preference for what it called Plan 2, which more cleanly separated the existing area served by Shelby County Schools from that now controlled by MCS.

Commissioners Wyatt Bunker and Terry Roland, both Republicans representing the exclusively suburban District 4, proposed to present plans for a 13-member board, on the grounds that 13 districts would more fairly represent the various components of Shelby County’s population. Nobody on the Commission quarreled with that concept in principle, but it was voted down after several variants and several timetables for implementing a 13-member board (or, alternatively, an 11-member board) had been proposed.

The problem for the Commission majority was that Judge Mays had clearly specified a seven-member board, in keeping with the number spelled out in the existing Shelby County charter, and that asking him to set aside that structure would require either a consent decree based on the concurrence of all he litigating parties in the merger matter or a formal charter-amendment process. “We can always do that later,” chairman Sidney Chism said, and the majority agreed.

Then came the most intense debate, over the matter of an interim county school board. Commissioner Steve Mulroy advocated that the Commission present to Judge Mays a resolution urging the expediting of such a board, so as to proceed with the process of merger. Arguments ensued over whether a special election should be called this fall or, as Bunker argued, as late as next March, in tandem with the 2012 Tennessee presidential primary and assorted regularly scheduled local elections.

Mulroy, noting the need to proceed on school merger with a constitutionally valid all-county school board, continued to press for the immediate creation of an interim board, either in an October special election to coincide with the Memphis municipal election or via appointment by the County Commission itself. Roland vehemently objected to the idea of making appointments, contending that the current Memphis-dominated Commission majority would somehow skew the results.

In the end, the Commission voted for a second resolution that simply urged Judge Mays to allow the expediting of an interim school board, with both the appointment and special election processes suggested as options. Once again the ball is in his court.

After Merger Ruling, it’s a Matter of Bona Fides

Armed with Judge Mays’ Order, Shelby County School Board asks City Board for everything, including the kitchen sink. Will they get it? And are their intentions pure? Or is an appeal coming?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 11:34 AM

SCS superintendent John Aitken pledges to do what's right by "the kids."

Periodically, there are circumstances out in the real world that call to mind the boast of necromancer Owen Glendower in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One: “I can call spirits from the very deep.” To which the skeptical Harry Hotspur responds, “Aye, but will they come.”

The conundrum has come up again in the ongoing MCS-SCS school-merger affair.

Operating on the assumption that U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays’ school-merger ruling on Monday had given them sanction, Shelby County Schools authorities resolved at Wednesday’s SCS Board meeting to renew their unheeded January request for full and complete records concerning the operation of Memphis City Schools.

The question remained, however, whether SCS would have better success this time around. And the even more pressing question as to whether the county School Board was prepared to fully accept the Mays ruling also remained unanswered.

On the latter score, SCS Board chairman David Pickler was, to say the least, equivocal. In comments made to reporters after the Board had voted to request the information from MCS, Pickler noted that Judge Mays’ order remains in the pending category until the issue of how to reconstitute the Shelby County Schools board is resolved.

Mays will meet with representatives of the various litigating parties Friday to receive their proposals for reapportioning the Board, whose current composition the judge Mays ruled was unconstitutional.

Pickler expressed himself carefully, making sure to hold on to some options. “The ruling has not yet been made final. I’m not saying we’re going to appeal. I’m not saying we’re not going to appeal. That’s driven by the nature of the final document. Now that the judge has given a ruling on the basic issues perhaps we can reach an agreement between all the parties with respect to some of the remaining issues.”

The SCS Board chairman wasn’t ambivalent on the score of the information requested of MCS, however. “We have been given direct instructions by the judge,” he said, echoing the sentiment expressed in the resolution just passed by his board, which quotes Mays as enjoining the SCS Board to make “present decisions” regarding the future of Memphis public schools, teachers, and students and goes on to declare therefore that “it is necessary” for the SCS Board “to have immediate access to information that is possessed by the Memphis City Board of Education….”

But which SCS Board — the current one, regarded by Mays as unconstitutional in a merged system, or the newly apportioned one he has asked the litigating parties to provide plans for?

Pickler was categorical about that: “At this point, this Board has been given this responsibility, and were not going to shirk our responsibility.” Until a future ruling says otherwise, “we are the Shelby County Board.”

The SCS chairman got some backing on that point from the immediate past chairman of the Memphis City Schools Board, Freda Williams, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. “The Shelby County Board will lead this process. At the time this is the SCS Board. It’s appropriate for them to begin this process.”

And she fully backed the SCS request for immediate and complete access to MCS’s store of information. ”All of this is information that has to be requested and received for transition to occur.”

Williams was asked if she heard any ambiguity at Wednesday’s meeting regarding SCS’s resolve to go forward with a merger that she, who had opposed it originally now accepts as a “done deal.”

“I don’t get that sense from what I heard here today,” she said.

Betty Mallott, another attendee from the MCS Board, was not so sure, however. “I feel like they were saying that ‘we don’t accept this entirely.’ That’s why they said ‘we’ll continue to work with our attorneys’.”

On the other matter, as to how soon MCS might choose to comply with the SCS request for the city school system’s internal information, there were varying expectations among Shelby County Schools officials.

SCS Board attorney Valerie Speakman noted, as Pickler had done, that much of the same information had been sought in vain from MCS in January.

“They kept telling us, ‘we’ll get it to you, we’ll get it to you, we’ll get it to you,’ and we never got it.” Speakman said the most recent ignored request has occurred on July 1. Ergo, said Speakman, “I wouldn’t think there would be immediate access.”

But Superintendent John Aitken, who had earlier [see video,]voiced a firm resolve to cooperate with the process and who acknowledged he is a likely candidate to head an enlarged all-county district, said,” I think we’re get a more favorable response, because the judge has ruled.”

Speakman, Aitken, and Pickler agreed on one thing. Wednesday’s request for MCS information by SCS amounted to asking for full and complete and total access to every scrap of information that had to do with MCS operations. Everything in the building, including the kitchen sink.

“Absolutely,” said Speakman, “because how do you plan for the future if you don’t know what’s there?”

SCS chair David Pickler (right) reads Board resolution, as vice chair Mike Wissman listens. - JB
  • JB
  • SCS chair David Pickler (right) reads Board resolution, as vice chair Mike Wissman listens.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Judge Mays Rules!: It's Basically Norris-Todd as MCS-SCS School Merger Goes Through

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2011 at 3:30 PM

U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays
  • U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays
Federal judge Hardy Mays, who was in charge of the multiple consolidated litigations regarding the pending merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools, has rendered his decision. In two words (rather, one hyphenated one), it is: Norris-Todd -- or Public Chapter One, as the court's ruling refers to it.

The decision, which was filed Monday morning in 146 pages, comes down to this: Mays' finds the provisions of Norris-Todd both applicable and constitutional, though he declines to rule on its enabling of future new school districts as not "ripe."

The decision also finds constitutional the 1961 Private Act under which MSC opted to surrender its charter last December, an action ratified by the Memphis City Council in February.

MCS is thereby regarded as defunct “for all purposes except the winding down of its operations and the transfer of administration to the Shelby County Board of Education.,,,” The transfer, as specified in Mays’ order, is to take place at the beginning of the school year 2013-14 — the exact timetable specified by the Norris-Todd bill passed by the General PAssembly earlier this year.

Though Judge Mays' order calls for MCS as an entity to complete its dissolution as of August 2013, he specifically directs that "[t]he City of Memphis has the obligation during the transition process to maintain its funding of the Memphis City Schools."

The Planning Commission established by Norris-Todd is also recognized as valid by the order, which directs all the entities entitled to make appointments to it to do so forthwith; its recommendations are to be submitted to the state Education Department for review, but approval of them is within the province of the Shelby Couty Schools board.

The order further specifies that the Shelby County Commission, which had petitioned for approval of its plans to appoint an immediate 25-member all-county school board, “lacks authority” to do so. Nor do the City of Memphis nor the City Council have any official role in proceeding with the merger, which is to take place under the exclusive authority of Shelby County Schools.

The County Commission will meet in executive session on Tuesday to discuss the outcome. Memphis City Council chairman Myron Lowery responded Monday afternoon as follows: "I am very pleased with Judge Mays’ ruling today regarding the merger of the Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.

" Now that we have closure on questions surrounding the legality of the abolishment of Memphis City Schools, both Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools can begin working together to bring about a unified school system where every child in Shelby County will have an equal education under the new Shelby County School Board. Judge Mays’ ruling is truly a compromise that will benefit all of our children."

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said, "I'm glad the judge has ruled because this moves us closer to some certainty..... The key thing is we now can mark a date on the wall as to when certain things will be complete..... In short order, both parties should be able to get things worked out and get this out of the headlines and get back to the children."

Wharton also noted the obvious — that in the long run the ruling "could bring some financial relief" for the City of Memphis.

Other points of interest: The current SCS districts are regarded as “unconstitutional,” and August 12 has been set as a date for the presentation of plans to correct the current mal-apportionment, based only on areas outside the previous boundaries of the Memphis City Schools district.

That means in effect that, while the SCS Board will administer the merger process, it will be a new SCS Board that does so, one reapportioned according to district lines that are held constitutional.

The means of selecting the new members — numbering seven in all, as is the case at present — is unspecified in the order but could presumably involve, as the order seems to suggest, an immediate election once the new lines are approved and established.

That would be somewhat in accordance with the alternate Plan B suggested by the County Commission -- a fact referenced by Commission chairman Sidney Chism, who said, "I think he’s [Mays has] pretty well split the baby. Everybody got something. As far I know, the commission will have a chance to do something with Plan B. We’ve already drawn some lines. We might have to tweak them a little bit."

Chism's Commission colleague Steve Mulroy, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Memphis, was even more sanguine. In a widely distributed statement, Mulroy said, "“This is a big win for those favoring prompt school merger. We have always emphasized the need for a unified school board; that it need be formed now not in 2013; that it drive the bus on the transition to a unified system; and that the current 7-member SCS board is unconstitutional for lack of Memphis representation. The judge agreed with us on all those points…”

Additionally, the SCS Board is required to submit a plan to the state Education Commissioner ensuring that "teachers' rights are protected," and the Commissioner will "determine whether the rights and privileges of teachers who work at Memphis City Schools will be impaired, interrupted, or diminished."

A key issue in the litigation, which had involved claims and counter-claims from all the relevant political and pubic educational bodies in Memphis and Shelby County, was the consitutinality of a provision in the Norris-Todd bill allowing the creation of special or municipal school districts in Shelby County in August 2013 at the time of the completed school-system merger.

The court adjudged that the issue of new school districts was not "ripe" and would not be until such time as attempts might be made to create the new districts (i.e., August 2013); accordingly, the court dismissed claims on that point.

Governor Bill Haslam weighed in regarding the ruling late Monday afternoon by means of a statement released from the governor's office: "We are currently reviewing the judge's entire decision. In an initial review, the governor is pleased that the court ruled this year's Memphis city school legislation is constitutional.

"He also appreciates the clarity the decision affords the process and believes it is the appropriate time for the transition planning commission to get to work."

Friday, August 5, 2011

"In So Many Words or Less?": City Council Decrees Less

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 1:30 PM

Councilman Hedgepeth makes his motion.
  • Councilman Hedgepeth makes his motion.

Considering all the attention that has been paid to the last several meetings of the Memphis City Council, it would seem impossible that fundamental changes in the Council’s procedures, which have to be voted on, could escape public notice.

But such was the case last Tuesday in the wake of the two main items on the Council agenda: disposition of city employees’ demand to revoke a 4.6-percent paycut contained in the current year’s budget (resolution of which was put off for at least 30 days); and the formal signing off on the Memphis City Schools budget and approval of a $78.5 million payment to MCS for the 2011-12 academic year.

Though the auditorium would fairly rapidly empty out upon the completion of action on these two issues, there were other items left to be discussed — some of which drew extended commentary from Council members.

Two other factors began to loom large. One was the fact that Tuesday night had been designated as “National Night Out” for Council members, an occasion for holding meetings out in their districts or otherwise dealing with constituents.

Another factor was that several items (importantly, the schools matter) required the kind of immediate implementation that needed the Council’s ratification by a procedure called “same-night minutes” — i.e., formal approval of the minutes on the night of the action rather than the customary two weeks later. And approval of “same-night minutes,” like the customary delayed kind, required a Council quorum of seven members.

The problem was that, for reasons of National Night Out or whatever, Council members began to leak out, endangering prospects for keeping a quorum. When the number of Council members got down to the bare minimum of seven, a few members began to resent that the entire burden of holding the fort — and thereby keeping things legal — had been left to them.

In the aftermath of it all, some of the stick-it-out seven would cite two Council members, who had spoken at length concerning their objections to the proposed handling of a Community Redevelopment Plan for the Greenlaw Community Center, then left the stage and the auditorium. The two members were Wanda Halbert and Joe Brown, the latter of whom has made one of his rhetorical catch-phrases, “in so many words or less,” famous in the course of many Council debates.

Later on, as the Council neared the end of its agenda, Councilman Ed Ford asked to speak regarding “a point of personal privilege.” The point turned out to be a complaint about the departed members. Said Ford: “I’m going to say this because I’m not going to bite my tongue. We should have more than seven council members here, and I really don’t appreciate it when our quorum cold be imperiled….Nobody’s better than the next person and if somebody cannot do that job they may need to step aside.”

Council chairman Myron Lowery seemed to agree and took something of a mea culpa: “If an individual goes on and on the chair should bring him in…Perhaps I should do a better job of reining him in.” Lowery would go on to say he understood the “frustration with members who spoke for long periods of time tonight and then left, leaving those of us here to complete the work of the Council.”

The chairman also made a point of noting that “we control our own rules.” After Councilman Harold Collins added his amen to what Ford had said, applying it further to absenteeism at committee meetings, Councilman Reid Hedgepeth responded to Lowery’s reminder concerning the Council’s prerogatives.

Somewhat unexpectedly, he moved as follows: “that each council member has five minutes to speak on an issue.” Upon Lowery‘s request for clarification, Hedgepeth said he meant for that stricture to co-exist with a standing restriction disallowing more than three comments on an issue by any given Council member. Councilman Jim Strickland seconded the motion, which would pass unanimously on a vote by the remaining members, who had meanwhile increased their number to eight — Lowery, Ford, Hedgepeth, Strickland, Collins, Berlin Boyd, Bill Boyd, and Shea Flinn.

Hedgepeth, normally somewhat taciturn himself, noted, “I think we will very rarely have to hit a stopwatch on this. We’ll know the times.” And he declined to ask for a “same-nights minutes” vote on his resolution, inviting input from the missing members on the occasion of the Council’s next meeting in two weeks’ time — said input presumably to be stated in integers of five minutes or less.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Globe-trotter Haslam Phones Home from Kuwait

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 12:11 AM

haslam_with_flag.jpg
Tennessee governor Bill Haslam is clearly making an effort to step up his accessibility to the state media. For one thing, Haslam of late has taken to holding telephone conference calls with state reporters.

In one such last week, he and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman made waves with the news that the state was requesting a waiver from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, seeking to substitute instead the achievement standards of Tennessee’s federally supported Race to the Top initiative.

And on Tuesday Haslam’s staff invited reporters to call in for a mystery moment of sorts, not specifying what the governor had in mind but promising it would be worth the dial-up.

Indeed it was. When Haslam came on the line he promptly explained that he had left Washington on Monday morning with three other governors (from Kentucky, Utah, and Nevada, as it turned out) and was flown by the Department of Defense to the Middle East, where the group of governors had already been to “five or six” different military bases in both Iraq and Kuwait.

It was 130 degrees over there, Haslam explained, a little like “living all day with your hair dryer on, blowing right in your face.”

Among the governor’s discoveries: “I was surprised at how safe and under control Baghdad felt. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”

Haslam surmised that he had been invited to make the trip because of the relatively high number of Tennesseans in military service in the Middle East. Conversations with the troops (most of whom worked 12 hours a day, every day, and returned to the same base domicile at night, every night) had to do with homesickness of a sort.

“Every one of them misses being at home, as any of us would be,” Haslam said. (Indeed, the governor, who shared meals and living quarters with the troops, confessed that he, too, had begun to long for being back where he could go to restaurants with his wife Crissy or go shopping or experience the other pleasures of home.)

The troops wonder about the state of the American economy, Haslam said, but had not been able to follow closely the recent debt-limit crisis in Washington. They also are concerned with handing over control of t heir areas of responsibility to Iraqis when the current December 31 deadline for evacuating combat troops from Iraq occurs.

All in all, “an incredible, eye-opening experience,” said the governor, who won’t be returning to Tennessee until the weekend.

Before he left, Haslam had bared his soul somewhat in an interview published this week in Nashville’s City Paper with reporter Jeff Woods, a no-holds-barred iconoclast,

Woods states directly what many other journalists discuss in private but have danced around in their copy: “In last year’s gubernatorial election campaign, his opponents dismissed Bill Haslam as an amiable featherbrain incapable of leadership. He seemed to play the role with TV ads revealing the candidate’s love of hard work, nice-guy politics, chocolate pie and very little else. …”

Woods also takes note of a sense in the media and among Legislative Plaza adepts that, where legislation is concerned, the governor has deferred too much to his former rival in last year's Republican gubernatorial primary, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), who serves as state Senate Speaker and was the architect of many of the key bills, particularly conservative-oriented ones, that got passed in the 2011 session of the General Assembly.

Haslam is quoted as presenting this defense: “You see a governor’s role being a lot different than I do. I think you see a governor’s role as being one that’s about positions and influencing legislation. I see that as a piece but only a piece of the job. My much bigger job is helping drive a 43,000-employee organization and doing everything from taking care of folks with mental health issues to educating 4-year-olds and Ph.D. students and building roads and working hard to bring jobs to Tennessee and working hard to drag us out of the bottom when it comes to education.

“I see what happens on Capitol Hill as being a relatively small percentage of what I’m doing. It would be in my top five, but it’s not one, two or three.”

You had the feeling on Tuesday that, homesickness or not, the governor would just as soon have the opportunity to stay on his fact-finding tour a tad longer. There are ways other than the purely physical in which places like Baghdad might actually be a safer environment just now.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tennesseans in Congress Split on Debt-Limit Vote

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2011 at 11:48 AM

Cohen: bill a Trojan horse
  • Cohen: bill a "Trojan horse"

9th District congressman Steve Cohen went Greek in his disdain for the debt-limits bill passed by the House of Representatives Monday. The Memphis Democrat likened the bill to a “Trojan horse,” containing a no-win “Scylla and Charybdis” choice.

Said Cohen in a floor speech before the vote and the bill’s passage: “…This country has been taken to this point by a group of ideologues that don’t like government, want to reduce it, are reducing it, want to hurt employment figures to hurt the President of the United States, Mr. Speaker, and I don’t want to hurt him. Justice Louis Brandeis said the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. Justice Brandeis is with us today.”

Two other Memphis-area Representatives, Marsha Blackburn (R-7th) and Stephen Fincher (R-8th) voted Aye on the bill, Blackburn explaining her stand this way: "This bill is not perfect, but it accomplishes two significant tasks. It gives the American people the security of avoiding the possibility of default and charts a new course for fiscal responsibility. Republicans have stood by our principle that Washington doesn't have a revenue problem — it has a spending problem…. I voted for this bill knowing that these spending cuts aren't the first cuts we've achieved, nor will they be the last. This plan will also ensure that we get a clean vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment in both chambers….”

Besides Cohen, two other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation opposed the debt-limits bill — U.S. representatives Chuck Fleischmann (R-3rd) and Scott DesJarlais (R-4th). Fleischmann, like DesJarlais a Tea Party favorite, put it this way: “I have said all along that a debt ceiling raise must be accompanied by a Balanced Budget Amendment and significant budget reforms. While ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance’, and an earlier version of the ‘Budget Control Act’, did these things, the bill put forth today did not do so….”

The state’s two U.S. Senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both Republicans, also said the bill hadn’t gone far enough, but voted for it anyhow.

Said Corker: “…[R]egrettably, with the current administration and Republican control of only one house of Congress, I believe this is the largest package we can get at this time. In the final analysis I had to ask myself: do I believe two to four more weeks of negotiating would produce a better deal? The answer is no, and I think the deal could get even worse.”

The Senator went on: “I’m encouraged that passage of this agreement changes the paradigm in Washington by requiring real cuts in order to raise the debt ceiling. I view the $900 billion down payment as a start and the additional $1.5 trillion the select committee is charged with finding as the floor for their work and will be pushing hard between now and December to get them to work toward something that is much more significant. In business, I learned that you shouldn’t say no to taking a profit, and in Washington I’ve found that you shouldn’t say no to a cut in spending.”

In a “corrected” version of the press release issued later on Monday, that last sentence was altered to read: “In business I learned that you can never go broke taking a profit, and in Washington I’ve discovered a similar adage: that you should never say no to spending cuts.”

Before casting his vote, Alexander, too, had been warily watching his words, promising only to “review carefully” the terms of the agreement between congressional leaders and President Obama. On Tuesday, Alexander characterized the bill as”an opportunity to take an important step in the right direction—toward stopping Washington from spending money it doesn’t have,” emphasizing, “Make no mistake. This is a change in behavior—from spend, spend, spend to cut, cut, cut.

City, Rotarians Team Up for Animal Shelter Fix

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2011 at 10:48 AM

dog_with_thumbs_up.gif
Largely overlooked during the sturm und drang concerning the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the Memphis City Schools board and the Memphis City Council and, later, by the runup to this week’s debt-limits legislation in Washington was a piece of good news on the local front — especially for those who believe in the reality of public-private partnerships .

This was the agreement recently reached between the City of Memphis and the Memphis Rotary Club whereby the Rotarians — who include a significant number of CPAs, management types, and veterinarians — will commit themselves to the resolution of various problems and controversies plaguing the city’s Animal Shelter.

A letter from Rotary president John Coats to Mayor A C Wharton, who would appear at a press conference with Rotarians to announce the deal, spells things out:

"...Initially, we would like to offer, at no cost to the city or taxpayers, to do a management study of the Memphis Animal Shelter. Our varied membership of business professionals counts numerous CPAs, attorneys and business owners, with a wealth of invaluable intellectual capital to offer. A cursory glance at our volunteers for this project would show at least 360 cumulative years of business expertise that could benefit the basic operations of the shelter.

"We propose that we would do a 60-day study of the operation, encompassing management, administration, operations, accounting, community image, and community outreach. The resulting report would then be delivered to your office and to any other person(s) you designate. Also, in the interest of full transparency, it is our intention to make our recommendations available for public view on our website.

"We only ask that your office notify the shelter that our volunteers would be making multiple visits to the shelter and would expect their full cooperation. Further, we know that you have a community advisory board in place, but please know that we will operate independently and not under the supervision of this board. Our findings and analysis should remain objective to the operation...."

Coats’ letter goes on to indicate the Club is “looking at additional ways our members can become involved with the shelter, including hosting of adoption days or possible work with summer internships.” A contingent of some 15 Rotarians arfe “standing ready to assist,” Coats said. “Also, we have been in contact with and have agreed to work closely with the Memphis/Shelby County Veterinary Medical Association in determining the best practices to benefit the shelter.”

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