“With great humiliation, Maria, please call the roll,” says Memphis City Councilman Shea Flinn on a video of yesterday’s council meeting. (You can watch the 8-minute video here.)
The meeting, one of the 2012 budget hearings, consisted of Councilmen Flinn and Conrad. Apologies were made to the attendees who came prepared to answer the council’s questions about budget proposals.
“We’ve had some lightly attended meetings,” said Flinn in an interview the next day. “To have everyone miss was extraordinary.”
So where was the rest of the council? The answer sounds like a response to “why none of my fourth-grade classmates came to my birthday party.”
“Certain members couldn’t make it, and then other members heard those members weren’t going to be there, and it just snowballed,” said Flinn. “It was embarrassing. Humiliating.”
Flinn has asked the other council members to prepare any ideas for the budget and send them to him by Tuesday, so he can forward them to the administration.
“The vote that matters is on June 7th,” Flinn said, “but I don’t want to get there on June 7th and have people ask a bunch of questions that we can’t answer immediately. I’m trying to get everything on the table. It’s a long, unpleasant, arduous process, but we need members to participate.”
A few weeks ago, Crosstown Arts held its second MemFeast event, at which seven artists proposed public art projects for Midtown's Crosstown neighborhood. At the dinner, guests voted on their favorite, and Robin Salant's plan to light up the water tower of the abandoned Sears Crosstown building with colored solar lights was victorious.
Salant was awarded $5,000 raised through fees paid by MemFeast diners. But, as Salant stated in her presentation, she would need to raise additional funds to add lights to individual windows in the massive structure.
After the dinner, an anonymous donor pledged $3,000 to another art project that didn't win — Eli Gold and Colin Kidder's plan to create a giant disco ball from spinning rims to be installed on the side of the Crosstown building.
Following that, Crosstown Arts has launched a fund-raising campaign to gather more money for Salant's lights, Gold and Kidder's disco ball, and musician Sean Murphy's plan to create audio recordings with various instruments played inside and on top of the Sears building.
To read more or make a donation, go to the Crosstown Arts website.
Memphis was ranked the 7th worst city for pedestrians out of 54 large metro areas, according to a new report by Transportation for America.
Between 2000 to 2009, 266 people in Memphis were killed while walking. The report — Dangerous by Design 2011: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods) — based findings on how much risk pedestrians face when walking around the city. Transportation for America blames the problem on a lack of safe sidewalks, crosswalks, and signals.
“Memphis is actively trying to reverse this disturbing trend. Last fall, a successful demonstration project
was completed that added defined crosswalks and bicycle lanes along with increased on-street parking
on Broad Avenue," said John Lawrence of Liveable Memphis. "A seminar was held at the Memphis Area Association of Realtors that focused on increasing home values through walkable neighborhood center development. The Memphis City Council recently passed new bicycle safety laws and is currently reviewing updated pedestrian safety ordinances.”
In Tennessee, minority pedestrians are far more likely to be hit by cars. From 2000 to 2007, the rate of Hispanic pedestrian deaths was 73 percent higher than for non-Hispanic whites. During that same time frame, the rate of African American pedestrian deaths was 102 percent higher than whites. The elderly and children are also disproportionately affected.
Memphis has made a few pedestrian-friendly changes since the data collection for this study was complete, including the Shelby Farms Greenline. Designs are also currently underway for a greenline connecter from Overton Park to Tillman and 55 miles of bike lanes across the city.
Disaster experts from both the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are canvassing neighborhoods throughout West Tennessee to spread the word about FEMA assistance following the flood.
The representatives are offering advice on how to apply for FEMA money, and some FEMA inspectors are already visiting flooded sites to document property damage.
After flood victims have registered with FEMA, they're assigned an inspector to document property damage. Victims are encouraged to photograph any damage before beginning any sort of clean-up, but they do not have to wait for an inspection to begin rebuilding. Flood victims should also contact their insurance companies to file a claim.
A few FEMA officials will also be at Lowe's at 585 N. Perkins to offer advice to residents on protecting their homes from future disasters. They'll be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Monday, May 23rd.
For more on FEMA flood assistance, read Hannah Sayle's story from this week's Flyer.
Last week, a vacant home at 1104 Beechwood in South Memphis went up in flames, the result of a suspected arson. That home was one of 223 arsons committed in the last nine months in Memphis.
Of those 223 arsons, only 47 arrests have been made, according to records kept by the Memphis Fire Department. The arsons have resulted in an estimated $4 million in property damage.
The Memphis Fire Department and CrimeStoppers held a press conference this afternoon in front of the burned-out Beechwood home to draw attention to the city's arson problem. The department is putting new focus on urging the public to report any tips on suspected arsons to CrimeStoppers at 528-CASH.
CrimeStoppers executive director Buddy Chapman said he can only remember one arson tip ever made to CrimeStoppers.
"Most people don't realize arson is a felony. They don't realize they can call 528-CASH and get a cash reward, anonymously," Chapman said.
The one arson tip Chapman does remember actually resulted in a reward that was paid this morning. It came from a woman in 2008, who reported seeing a man exiting a smoking building on Jefferson in Midtown. That man, Willie Tyler, confessed to that fire, and eventually pleaded guilty to all seven arsons that had occurred in abandoned buildings in Midtown's Washington Bottoms.
May is National Arson Prevention Month.
"Believe Memphis" may have started as a motto to build support for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA Playoffs, but the words have taken on a life of their own as parts of the city grapple with yet-undetermined flood damage.
Florida-based t-shirt company Encore Select Inc. has created a shirt to benefit the Red Cross relief efforts in Memphis. The blue tee features the words "Believe Memphis" in bold letters, positioned under "Memphis Pride."
“We are your neighbor south in Florida and we are familiar with devastation caused by Mother Nature and the resulting trauma on a community,” says Richard Moore, president of Encore Select, Inc. “BELIEVE … says it all."
The shirts may be ordered on Encore, Select Inc.'s website. They're $19.99, and a portion of the proceeds benefit the Red Cross.
The first round of printing begins tomorrow, Friday, May 13th, at JnJ Graphic Solutions in Memphis.
About two weeks ago, before the Mississippi River began its rapid rise, the Wolf River reached the flood stage, covering the southern edge of Shelby Farms Park with water.
The primitive Wolf River trails were completely submerged, but the new Wolf River pedestrian bridge connecting the park with the land that backs up to Wolf River Boulevard was never underwater. The water flooding the trails has now receded, but Shelby Farms Park spokesperson Jen Andrews said they'll remain closed until park staff can fully access the damage.
Andrews said some of the trails may need to be rebuilt, and about five percent of the landscape plants at the bridge's footing will need to be replaced.
"We'll have to remove debris. We will not reopen that area until we're sure it can be safe," Andrews said.
A day after Memphis and Shelby County Office of Preparedness director Bob Nations warned citizens of an evacuation flyer hoax, he announced that county officials will begin handing out the real flyers today.
The official county flyer is yellow with a picture of the county seal. It says "EVACUATE!!!" in large letters across the top, followed by "Your Property Is in Danger Right Now." Flyers will be hand-delivered by public safety personnel. Since the flyer can be easily photocopied, Nations urged citizens to verify the person delivering their flyer is official by asking for credentials. Only citizens in flood zones will receive flyers, but Nations said receiving a flyer isn't a guarantee that certain properties will flood.
"This does not mean the water is at your doorstep," Nations said at the 8:30 a.m. flood press briefing at the Memphis and Shelby County Emergency Management Agency. "It means you are in a high impact area."
At Thursday's 4 p.m. press briefing at the Memphis and Shelby County Emergency Management Agency, Shelby County Office of Preparedness director Bob Nations said some citizens have claimed to have received flyers urging them to evacuate, but those flyers are not from the county. He said any flyers going out now are a hoax, but the EMA will soon be distributing official flyers urging some residents to evacuate.
"You will know when its official," Nations said. "We will have official personnel delivering the message."
Following several citizen complaints on the quality of the flood maps posted on the Shelby County Office of Preparedness website, a team at the University of Memphis has designed more detailed, colored maps showing flood zones by zip code.
Unlike the current maps, which fail to show landmarks and only list major street names, the new maps will be much more detailed. At the briefing, a representative from the University of Memphis said the new maps should be posted to the county's flood information website by 10 a.m. on Friday. The U of M team has also developed a FAQ page for the website.
When the Mississippi River crests at 48 feet on May 11th, it's expected to stay that way for several days, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Rich Okulski.
Okulski told a crowd of media and emergency professionals gathered at the Memphis and Shelby County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) operations center today that the high water may last from four to seven days. The Mississippi River is expected to maintain a 40 foot crest through the end of May. But Okulski said no additional rainfall is expected in the Memphis area over the next week. He said he isn't sure how rainfall in the Ohio Basin might affect flooding downstream.
"This is not a flash flood. This is a progressive flood," said Memphis and Shelby County EMA director Bob Nations. "It may rise about one foot every 24 hours."
Nations said the expected slow recession of water could "be a very damaging event" in terms of how it may affect infrastructure.
The latest numbers from the EMA show that 2,832 properties in Shelby County will possibly be flooded by the time the river crests. Some have already been evacuated. That number is down from yesterday's prediction of 5,300 properties.
Northside High School is the only Memphis City School that may see flood waters high enough to come into the building. Six other schools may see some flooding on their property, but specifics were not available at today's 4 p.m. press briefing.
Nations said he had "high confidence" that area levees would hold, but he admitted those levees have never been tested like they will be when the river crests.
Nations issued a warning to people who may think the lack of rainfall and lowered number of potentially flooded properties could mean the threat of flooding is lessened: "The bullet hasn't been flown yet," Nations said. Maps are being updated often, and he said people should remain on guard.
For a look at areas expected to flood by zip code, check out the maps here.
Here's the latest numbers from the emergency flooding operations center on Avery. I'll be attending a press briefing there later today, so I'll report additional information at that time.
When the Mississippi River crests at 48 feet, which is expected to happen on Wednesday, May 11th, the following numbers of properties will be potentially be affected:
* 2,832 properties
* 706 single family residences
* 12 Apartment complexes-(432 units)
* 7 Schools
* 226 Businesses
* 322 Industrial sites
The 2,832 properties are not in addition to the 5,300 that was announced yesterday. It’s a new and lower total, according to county public affairs officer Steve Schular.