Wednesday, November 30, 2011

City Gives the Boot to Unpaid Parking Tickets

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 11:16 AM

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Beginning in January, the city court clerk's office will begin installing boots on cars belonging to people with three or more outstanding parking tickets. After booting, if tickets and the $75 booting fee aren't paid in full within 48 hours, the car will be towed to the city impound lot.

The new Boot and Tow Program is expected to be approved by the Memphis City Council on third reading at its next meeting on Tuesday, December 6th.

Tickets are considered outstanding after 60 days. If violators wish to avoid having their vehicle booted, they'll have the month of December to work out a payment plan with the court clerk's office. Once a vehicle has been booted or towed, payment plans will no longer be offered. If a car is towed, the booting fee is dropped, but tickets and impound lot storage fees must be paid in full before the car can be retrieved. A person with more than $500 in unpaid parking tickets will be towed without booting.

"The city court clerk's responsibility is to collect money owed to the City of Memphis for parking violations," said city court clerk Thomas Long. "It is not the objective of the city court clerk's office to boot or tow vehicles, but we will do what we must do."

Delinquent parking fines will also begin increasing after the first of the year. Tickets not paid after 60 days will increase from $20 to $40, and after 30 more days, they will increase from $40 to $80.

These changes are a way to recoup some of the nearly $1.5 to $2 million lost annually in unpaid parking fines, Long said. There's a one-year statute of limitations on unpaid parking tickets, and Long said many people simply don't pay, hoping they won't get caught for a year. Others circumvent paying tickets by making false claims about stolen tags, but Long said they're working on a solution to that problem.

The Memphis Police Department will use its license plate reading cameras to seek out those with three or more delinquent parking tickets, and special event officers will apply the boots. If boots are removed or damaged by the car's owner, criminal charges may be filed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ACLU-TN Launches Campaign Against State Internet Law

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 12:15 PM

A new campaign is teaching people how to stand up for their “dotRights” and avoid identity theft, unwanted snooping through emails, and even incarceration.

The dotRights campaign, headed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is a national movement to inform internet users about the privacy risks associated with their online activities, as well as what they can do to protect themselves.

The Tennessee chapter of the organization, ACLU-TN, is focusing on a Tennessee law passed this summer that makes it a crime to post images or statements online that could be considered “emotionally distressing.”

State Representative Charles Curtiss, who sponsored the bill, said its primarily targeting people that habitually harass, offend, or threaten people through online messages and photos, also known as “cyber-bullying”.

“It has to be an intentional act. If someone posted something and didn’t intend for it to be seen by all people, that’s not violating the law,” Curtiss said.

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Lindsay Kee, communications director for the ACLU-TN, said the organization considers the law unconstitutional due to its vague description of what is or isn’t offensive.

“What’s sensitive to one person is not offensive to another person. What’s art to one person might offend somebody,” Kee said.

Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, also a University of Memphis law professor, said under the First Amendment, people generally have the right to say or display things that might be viewed as offensive by others.

However, Mulroy said this doesn’t apply if one deliberately tries to threaten someone or physically intimidate them.

“The first amendment protects the communication by picture as well as the communication by word,” Mulroy said. “To say that you should have known that sending a photo could have frightened or intimidated, or caused emotional distress is too broad.”

Those that violate the law could spend up to a year in prison or receive a fine of up to $2,500. No one has yet been prosecuted for violating the law.

The national dotRights campaign is also raising awareness about the accessibility of a person’s private information online.

Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo, Google Docs, and Youtube are among the sites that could place one’s identity at risk when providing personal information to join them.

“We’re spending so much time online these days, from web mail to photo sites to YouTube, and people don’t realize that the privacy protections they have come to expect in their personal lives offline don’t always apply in the online world,” Kee said.

Kee said the campaign isn’t designed to steer people away from online activity, but just make them more aware of the high possibility that their information is being viewed by a third party.

“Sometimes it seems like it's just innocent conversational things that you’re putting out there, but the difference is that if you’re sitting in the coffee shop having that conversation, there's nobody standing behind you recording it all. But online you can’t tell who’s watching and collecting that [information],” Kee said.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 is the current privacy law being utilized to protect those on the Internet. This law was created years before the Internet came about. Current law allows the government to access without a search warrant any web mail that’s been left in an account for more than 180 days.

“Anything that you might consider personal information that you wouldn’t want viewed, delete those emails when you’re done or don’t put them in your email in the first place,” Kee said.

The ACLU considers this a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Under that amendment, the government is required to present a warrant for searches and seizures.

Kee said until the act is updated, people can delete cookies on their computer to protect information. They can also limit online sharing of personal information and be aware of all the material they’re releasing that can be viewed by the public.

ACLU-TN launched a statewide speaking tour in early November, which made stops in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis, that addressed technology, online free speech and privacy, and encouraged people to get involved with the campaign. For more information on how to get involved, visit: http://dotrights.org/

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Memphis Police Officers Deliver Baby

Posted By on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 11:52 AM

Melanie Medlock
  • Melanie Medlock

Two Memphis Police officers got a little hands-on training in obstetrics Sunday night after delivering a baby boy in Binghampton.

Officers Melanie Medlock and James Dolan were leaving the scene of a domestic disturbance call in the Chickasaw Oaks apartments around 11 p.m. when they noticed a woman on the ground near 221 East Red Oak.

They were advised that the 26-year old was in labor and needed an ambulance. But they quickly realized the baby wasn't waiting on an ambulance. The two officers placed the woman in their patrol car, and Medlock put on a pair of gloves. As her partner held a flashlight, Medlock delivered the baby boy. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck, but Medlock was able to displace the cord. He was delivered with no injuries.

The mother and her baby were transported to St. Francis Hospital for follow-up care.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shelby County Gets Grant for Greenways

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 11:44 AM

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There may be more greenways and bikeways coming to Shelby County. Earlier this week, Shelby County government was awarded a $2.6 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to be used in planning a greenway regional network.

The money will be used to connect greenways and bike paths in distressed neighborhoods in an effort to reduce blight and link neighborhoods. Planning for new routes will begin in July and will be led by the Mid-South Regional Greenprint & Sustainability Consortium, a group of 25 greenway organizations, businesses, and local and state governments.

Besides the governments of Memphis and Shelby County, the consortium will also include Bartlett, Collierville, and West Memphis governments. The Hyde Family Foundation, the Community
Development Council of Greater Memphis, the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, and the Memphis Regional Design Center will also be involved.

The Shelby County Office of Sustainability applied for the grant last month.

“We are pleased to receive the grant. Ours was the only Tennessee community to receive the federal money,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Memphis Police Officer Arrested on Pot Charges

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 1:25 PM

Tramaine Johnson
  • Tramaine Johnson

Memphis Police officer Tramaine Johnson learned a valuable lesson the hard way on Saturday: Smoking pot inside a moving vehicle is probably not a good idea ... especially when you're a police officer.

Johnson was in Nashville when a Tennessee State University campus cop pulled over the 1998 Ford van he was riding in with several other passengers. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer smelled marijuana. After calling for back-up, the police found 9.2 grams of marijuana inside the vehicle. Johnson was also carrying his MPD-issued gun. All occupants of the van were arrested.

Johnson has been charged with possession of a controlled substance and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia. He's been relieved of duty from the MPD pending an investigation. Johnson has worked at Midtown's Union Station since 2009.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rhodes College to Host Candlelight Vigil in Support of Occupy UC Davis

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 3:32 PM

If you haven't seen the chilling footage of campus police officers pepper-spraying a line of seated, peaceful Occupy protesters at the University of California Davis, you should probably take a few minutes to watch the video here.

In response to the UC Davis incident, Rhodes College students have organized a solidarity vigil on Barret Lawn at 8 p.m. According to the event flyer: "This is an event to demonstrate that we, the Rhodes community, stand in solidarity with the Occupy movement, specifically with the students who have been unfairly and unnecessarily brutalized as they protested peacefully."

Occupy Colleges, an organized response from higher education institutions to the Occupy Wall Street movement, has enjoined colleges and universities across the country to hold candlelight vigils for UC Davis.

"This is about the role of campus spaces in a democracy, so we don't want to wait until our campus space is violated to see that it has anything to do with us," says Leigh Johnson, a philosophy professor at Rhodes who specializes in ethics and social and political philosophy. She has been asked by student organizers to say a few words at tonight's event. "What's important here is to insist upon maintaining the integrity of campus spaces for things like critical discourse, civic engagement, and democratic action."

Johnson anticipates that, despite the inclement weather, a couple of hundred students will be in attendance. The vigil is also open to the public. For more information, visit the event page on Facebook.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rotary Club Study Points to Big Problems at Animal Shelter

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 at 4:31 PM

There's an understanding among the employees at Memphis Animal Services (MAS) that some employees are above following the rules and have even engaged in pit bull fighting, according to the Rotary Club's newly released evaluation of MAS.

"The employees at every level, while not willing to say so on record, will readily volunteer that there has been a relationship between certain individuals and the illicit dog fighting rings in the community. This is particularly true where those who are perceived to be in a protected status are concerned," reads the 22-page report, which was based on three months of interviews with shelter administration and staff.

Additionally, the report found MAS employees have had "haphazard or non-existent training." Although the Rotary Club had no real issues with the shelter's labor contract, employees don't seem to be following the rules set out in that contract.

Background checks on potential animal adopters are not being consistently performed, although they are required. The report notes that since the majority of intake dogs at MAS are pit bulls, the background check process for adoptions is important to prevent criminal activity, such as dog fighting. The study suggests MAS keep a record of background checks on every adopted animal and that those records should be available for audit.

"Under no circumstances should an employee, regardless of rank, be allowed to conduct viewing and adoption 'off the books'," reads the report. "Every animal that is put on the truck or dropped off by someone should be accounted for from start to finish. There is simply no excuse for any missing animals at any point in the system."

A lack of GPS tracking on animal control officer's vehicles means "management has no idea where the field officers actually are or what they are actually doing," reads the report. Before former director Matthew Pepper resigned, he did indicate that such tracking was being tested by the city's sanitation department and could eventually be coming to MAS. The study also suggests MAS install an internal video monitoring system inside the new shelter, which the city has already done.

The Rotarians said the new shelter facility on Appling Cove, which opened on Tuesday, is an improvement over the old facility on Tchulahoma. But the report states MAS does not have enough employees to staff the larger center and must rely on increased volunteer efforts, including help from critics of the shelter's current operations.

Occupy Memphis Meets the Tea Party

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 at 2:36 PM

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Back in October, President Barack Obama had this to say to ABC News about the Occupy Wall Street movement: “In some ways, they’re not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party. Both on the left and the right, I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren’t looking out for them."

While the two groups couldn't be further apart politically, there may be a few similarities. Tonight, Occupy Memphis representative Mallory Pope will speak at the Mid-South Tea Party meeting at the Bartlett Municipal Center (5868 Stage Rd.) at 6:30 p.m. in the hopes of finding out what the groups may share in common.

According to the Tea Party's meeting announcement, they're hoping to learn more about Occupy Memphis' goals and to inform them about the Tea Party movement.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Memphis Responds to Eviction of Occupy Wall Street

Posted By on Tue, Nov 15, 2011 at 2:20 PM

Over a thousand miles away, Memphians are pledging their support for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters who were forcibly evicted from Zuccotti Park by NYPD in the early hours of the morning today. Zuccotti Park has been the home of the Occupy Wall Street movement for two months. Occupy Memphis has set up camp in Civic Center Plaza for the past month.

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It is unclear whether the OWS protesters will gain re-entry into the park that has been the hub of operations for the movement. (The New York Times has reported on a court-ordered injunction against the eviction, which could allow the protesters to resume occupation of the park.) Nevertheless, in response to the forcible, and at times violent, removal of protesters from Zuccotti Park, Occupy Memphis and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center will rally in Civic Center Plaza at 5 p.m. and march at 6 p.m.

The following is an official statement from Occupy Memphis:

In light of the overnight police raid on Occupy Wall Street, the 99% of Memphis is coming together today in solidarity to show support.

We, the Occupy Memphis General Assembly, are repulsed by the direct infringement on First Amendment rights granted to the American people by the Constitution. We are disgusted with the repressive tactics used by the New York City Police Department. Citizens were assaulted and arrested for practicing their rights. Journalists were blocked by police. Personal property valued at thousands of dollars has been destroyed.

Occupy Memphis will have a rally today at 5 p.m. in Civic Center Plaza to express our anger and disgust with these actions from law enforcement in an effort to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. While the City of Memphis has stated publicly the right for protesters to assemble as long as they are peaceful, other cities are not as fortunate.

Following our rally at 6 p.m., we will march to the Civil Rights Museum as a tribute to preceding generations who have fought for our rights; the same rights which have been ignored. While we understand the need for peace and safety, it is unlawful to suppress the voice and assembly of citizens who strive for political and social change.

“We need to speak out for people who tried to be silenced,” said Becky Muehling, one of the protesters with Occupy Memphis. “We need to band together, so that we can show the people trying to suppress our free speech: we will fight.”

“We cannot sit idly by as the livelihood and culture of our country is being trashed,” said Tristan Tran, another occupier who watched the Occupy Wall Street raid live online.

If you believe that the First Amendment rights of freedom of assembly, press, and speech exist always and not just between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., stand with us.

If you feel that your voice as a citizen has been suppressed by the power of lobbyists and self-serving politicians, speak out with us.

We invite the communities and city of Memphis to occupy this public space; to voice the issues which affect us; and together create solutions for a better society.

We the people shall speak for ourselves.

Occupy Memphis has been camped out in Civic Center Plaza, located in downtown Memphis, for 30 days. It stands in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street ongoing protests, which has been camped out in Zuccotti Park in New York City since Sept. 17.

Learn more at www.occupymemphis.org.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Strip Club Regulations to Take Effect in January

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 11:01 AM

No more stripping at city strip clubs?
  • No more stripping at city strip clubs?

There will be no more drinking or stripping at strip clubs beginning January 1st, thanks to a 2007 Shelby County adult business ordinance that's going into effect after years of being tied up in court.

U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald upheld the ordinance after strip club owner Jerry Westland filed a lawsuit in 2008 declaring the ordinance unconstitutional.

According to the new rules, clubs won't be allowed to sell alcohol, nor will customers be allowed to bring their own. Dancers will be required to cover their nipples and wear opaque bottoms, and they won't be allowed to come within six feet of patrons or one another. Dancers are also required to purchase permits, and clubs must pay an annual $500 licensing fee.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The City Skate Park Is Open!

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 3:44 PM

The city's first public skate park opened yesterday afternoon. There's two bowls, a snake run, and plenty of ramps and rails for skateboarders and roller-skaters of all levels.

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Designed by Wormhoudt and Associates and Askew Hargraves and Harcourt, the $500,000 project has been in the works for several years. Aaron Shafer of Skatelife Memphis has been pushing the city to develop a public skate park since 2006. You can read more about Shafer's efforts here.

Today, on its first official day of being open, at least 20 skaters, mostly young adult males on skateboards, took turns doing tricks on the large concrete bowls. One guy attempted tricks wearing inline skates, and another rode a bicycle around the park. A handful of onlookers gathered outside the fence to watch. Patrons of the park skate at their own risk. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the fall and winter and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the spring and summer.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mississippi Voters Reject Personhood Amendment

Posted By on Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 11:24 AM

The nation watched yesterday as Mississippians voted to reject the controversial Amendment 26, an amendment to the state constitution that, if passed, would have defined "personhood" as beginning at the moment of conception. The amendment was put forth by Personhood USA, a national organization devoted to getting personhood initiatives on state ballots throughout the country.

More than 55 percent of voters opposed the ballot measure. Despite Mississippi's strongly anti-abortion constituency, many felt Amendment 26's broad implications outweighed its potential pro-life benefits.

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"Word just got out that it was about way more than abortion, that this was going to endanger lives in Mississippi," says Cristen Hemmins, a plaintiff in the ACLU case against Personhood Mississippi last August. The ACLU lawsuit attempted to keep the Personhood Initiative off the November 8 ballot, but was not successful.
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"Mississippians do not want the government between them and their doctors," says Hemmins. "Even though the 'yes' side couched it as only being about abortion and tried to make it seem like it was just an opinion poll, word quickly got out that it was really about changing the state constitution."

Mississippians for Healthy Families, an organization dedicated to the fight against Amendment 26, highlighted those broad implications in an advertising campaign (www.votenoon26.org) leading up to yesterday's vote. Featuring doctors, religious leaders, and concerned women, the campaign informed Mississippians about the threat the amendment would pose for fertility clinics, certain types of birth control, and the rights of pregnant women.

In a state where only one clinic provides abortion services, Personhood USA likely saw a smooth road for such an amendment in Mississippi. With support from the largest Christian denomination — the Mississippi Baptist Convention — the amendment was slated to pass, even if by a tight margin. (The day before voters went to the polls, a Washington Post blog reported that 45 percent of voters supported the amendment, while 44 percent opposed it.)

"It was really down to the wire, and I feel like we just barely got the word out there," says Hemmins. "We were so underfunded, it really had to rely on grassroots efforts. When people realized that it was about so much more than abortion, they wanted to make sure their friends and neighbors understood the implications. That's why we managed to defeat it."

The opponents of Amendment 26 also got some help from Republican politicians, whose wavering support made the party line as clear as mud. Haley Barbour in particular waffled over the issue, eventually voting in favor of the amendment, all the while making strong arguments against it.

Hoping to create a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, Personhood USA has stated that it is not calling it quits. Despite being handed resounding rejections in Colorado and South Dakota, the organization is pushing similar initiatives in states all over the country. (Heads up, California, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregon.)

Joan Carr of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis is acutely aware of the continual wave of threats against women's rights in the United States and in the South in particular. (There is a Tennessee ballot initiative currently in the works for 2014 that would change the state constitution by adding the line: "Nothing in the Constitution of Tennessee secures or protects right to abortion." We will have more on this initiative in the coming months.) But she is buoyed by yesterday's defeat of Amendment 26 in Mississippi.

"It was a decisive victory," says Carr. "That in the most conservative state in the nation, people could band together and defeat this is extremely gratifying and heartening."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wharton Calls for Review of Second Chance Program

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Anwar Gates
  • Anwar Gates

Last week, Memphis Motor Vehicle Inspection Bureau employee Anwar Gates, a member of the city's Second Chance employment program for felons, was arrested and charged with aggravated burglary after he allegedly robbed the Wells Fargo Bank on Germantown Parkway.

The arrest of Gates, who previously served time for first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping, was the second arrest this year of a Second Chance employee working for the city of Memphis. In July, Memphis Animal Services employee Demetria Hogan was charged with animal abuse.

As a result of the arrests, Mayor A C Wharton is calling for a review of the Second Chance program's admission criteria and monitoring process. In the last five years, nearly 40 of the active program participants have been re-arrested.

“Through our public/private partnerships, the city of Memphis’ Second Chance program has helped more than 1,200 ex-offenders find employment,” Wharton said. “While this arrest is certainly unfortunate, I hope it will not leave a black eye on a program that has helped so many people who truly deserve a second chance."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

City Reaches Out to Small Business Owners

Posted By on Thu, Nov 3, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Small business owners looking to do business with the city of Memphis will have a chance to get their feet in the proverbial door next Thursday, Nov. 10th at the "Promoting Growth" Business Expo.

Hosted by the city's Office of Contract Compliance, the expo will give business owners a chance to meet with the city's key decision makers in Community Enhancement, Engineering, Executive, Finance, Fire, Housing and Community Development, Human Resources, General Services, Information Services, Legal, Park Services, Police Services, Public Services, and Public Works.

The free event will be held at City Hall (125 N. Main) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call the Contract Compliance office at 636-6210 or email jovce.douqlas@memphistn.gov.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Newby's Restaurant & Bar seized by the State of Tennessee

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 at 4:43 PM

Newbys
  • Newby's
Newby's Restaurant, the popular Highland Strip watering hole and live music venue has been seized by the state of Tennessee for non-payment of taxes. The bar was shut down on Wednesday, November 2. No further information is currently available.

UPDATE: Newby's has reopened according to owner Todd Adams who described the brief closing as a "tic" of the clock. "I was supposed to turn in some [tax related] paper work on Friday and totally let it slip," he explained.

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