Friday, April 26, 2013

Animal Advocates to Protest Dismissal of Former Shelter Director's Charges

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 2:12 PM

Ernie Alexander
  • Ernie Alexander

Members of Save Our Shelter-Memphis (SOS) will be holding a peaceful demonstration on Saturday, April 27th at noon at the corner of Poplar and Highland to protest the district attorney's office's decision to drop animal cruelty charges against former Memphis Animal Services (MAS) director Ernie Alexander and supervisor Tina Quattlebaum.

The DA's office announced last week that it would not prosecute Alexander and Quattlebaum for charges that stemmed from a 2009 Shelby County Sheriff's Office-led raid at Memphis Animal Services that revealed dogs dying of starvation.

According to a statement from the Shelby County district attorney's office, the charges were dropped due to lack of cooperation of key witnesses, a lack of direct evidence of the defendants’ contact with the animal victims, budget constraints that were placed on MAS by the city administration at that time, and because both Alexander and Quattlebaum made attempts to notify their supervisors about shelter conditions. Based on those factors, the DA's office determined that prosecution would not have a "reasonable likelihood of success."

Members of SOS wants the former administrators to be held responsible: "SOS Memphis implores the City of Memphis and the Shelby County Attorney General to prosecute all documented animal cruelty cases to the full extent of the law and to request the Courts to sentence the full terms of imprisonment and fines allowed by Tennessee Law with regard to aggravated and misdemeanor animal cruelty."

They're also asking the city to implement an employee review process for workers at MAS. According to SOS's press release about the protest, "Due to lack of documentation and lack of action taken, two MAS employees are still on the job despite watching animals being tortured and doing nothing. Mistakes attributed to 'clerical errors' continue to occur, resulting in animals that are missing or unnecessarily dying while in the care of MAS."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crosstown Developers Address Neighbor Concerns

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 11:06 AM

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The Crosstown Development Team and Crosstown Collaborative (the neighborhood's new association) held a public forum on Tuesday night at the Crosstown Arts office on Cleveland to fill neighbors in on plans for the Sears building.

Todd Richardson, project leader for the Crosstown Development Team, gave a presentation on plans to turn the 1.4-million square foot building into a "vertical urban village" complete with healthcare from the Church Health Center, Methodist Hospital, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, shared art-making facilities and artist residency programs run by Crosstown Arts, and an education component with Gestalt Community Schools and Memphis Teacher Residency. The plans also include a mix of market rate and affordably priced apartments, retail, and possibly a restaurant space.

Construction is expected to begin by early 2014 with a completion goal of 2016. The development team is asking the Memphis City Council to budget $15 million to cover some infrastructure costs for the $175 million project.

Neighbors — many of them from the nearby Evergreen Historic District, the Vollintine-Evergreen Historic District, and the Speedway Terrace Historic District — asked questions about the current condition of the building, the importance of city funding, and parking issues.

Richardson said parking for the building's new tenants and employees could mostly be accommodated by the existing parking garage. As for increased neighborhood traffic, Richardson said the streets around the Crosstown building were designed to be wide to accommodate Sears traffic in its heyday and that the project is just bringing the neighborhood's capacity back to where it used to be.

One resident asked Richardson how the developers would prevent gentrification that may come with rising rents and property values of existing neighborhood homes and businesses. Richardson said protecting the ethnically diverse neighborhood's population is a goal of the development team, and while he expects rents to rise a little, he said the team is making an effort to communicate with business and property owners in the area to ensure that they are prepared for any changes.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tennessee's "Ag Gag" Bill Passes

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 11:17 AM

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The Tennessee House voted in favor of a bill that would require anyone who shoots video or takes pictures of animal cruelty to submit those images to law enforcement within 48 hours. UPDATE: The Senate has now also passed the bill.

Known as the "Ag Gag" bill, it was one of many being considered by state governments across the country. Proponents of the bill, which was heavily favored by animal agriculture lobbyists, claim the requirement to turn over cruelty images protects animals.

But the bill's critics, which includes the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Tennessee Political Action Committee, claim the legislation is designed to prevent thorough investigations of animal cruelty. Many undercover cruelty investigations at factory farms can take several weeks of documenting footage, and such bills would prevent animal activists from carrying out those investigations.

The bill was one vote shy of being voted down.

East Tennessee's Knoxville News Sentinel is taking a brave stance against the bill. In an opinion column written before the bill's passage, the paper states, "If the Ag Gag bill happens to pass and the News Sentinel records images of animal cruelty, we will not consider ourselves bound to turn those images over to law enforcement. We will assume that the [state's] shield law, and more importantly, the First Amendment, will pre-empt such a law. I'd recommend that anyone else who believes in freedom of expression take the same position, too."

Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden has more on the First Amendment implications of "Ag Gag."

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lausanne Adds Meditation Program for High School Students

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 3:50 PM

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Last year, Lausanne Collegiate School added optional meditation classes for its middle school students. Kids could choose to opt out of recess one day a week in exchange for a guided meditation class led by Peddler Bike Shop founder Daniel LaMontagne.

Those sessions have been so successful, Lausanne is now beginning meditation classes for its high school students. Starting last week, those students had the option of skipping their daily 35-minute advisory period — the time they meet with their academic adviser — in favor of finding some inner peace.

The six-week meditation course for high school students is also led by LaMontagne, and the first session of 25 students is already at maximum capacity.

Greg Graber, the principal at Lausanne, said he's been traveling the world to talk about Lausanne's successful meditation program. He's led talks in Philadelphia, Des Moines, Iowa, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"Our students today live in this accelerated culture. Everything is done at hyper-speed, at the touch of a button. It seems like they're always plugged in," Graber said. "This is way for them to relax and focus."

Graber said, since the school began implementing meditation for its middle school students, he has noticed a big change in some students' abilities to focus on school work.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cruelty Charges Against Former Animal Shelter Director Dropped

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Ernie Alexander
  • Ernie Alexander

Animal cruelty charges against former Memphis Animal Services (MAS) director Ernie Alexander and supervisor Tina Quattlebaum were dismissed Tuesday morning in Shelby County Criminal Court.

The charges stemmed from a 2009 Shelby County Sheriff's Office-led raid at Memphis Animal Services that revealed dogs dying of starvation. Former MAS veterinarian Angela Middleton was also charged with animal cruelty after the raid, but she was acquitted of all charges in October.

According to a statement from the Shelby County district attorney's office, the charges were dropped due to lack of cooperation of key witnesses, a lack of direct evidence of the defendants’ contact with the animal victims, budget constraints that were placed on MAS by the city administration at that time, and because both Alexander and Quattlebaum made attempts to notify their supervisors about shelter conditions. Based on those factors, the DA's office determined that prosecution would not have a "reasonable likelihood of success."

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The United States files a civil injunction lawsuit to shut down Mo’ Money Taxes

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 11:33 AM

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The United States has filed a civil injunction lawsuit to shut down Mo’ Money Taxes, a Memphis- based tax preparation and return chain that markets iself as a unique alternative to other tax services.

From the press release:

The government suit alleges that the defendants promote a culture that favors volume and profits over accuracy and integrity, and creates an environment where fraudulent return preparation and tax-law violations flourish. According to the complaint, Mo’ Money Taxes’ managers, licensees and employees prepare fraudulent returns that cause their customers to incorrectly report their federal tax liabilities and underpay their taxes and charge customers bogus and unconscionably high fees.

At its peak Mo Money operated 300 offices in 18 states.

The United States accuses Mo’ Money Taxes and its owners, Markey Granberry and Derrick Robinson, and store manager Eumora Reese of creating and maintaining a business environment that encourages the preparation of fraudulent federal income tax returns.

According to the complaint, the defendants encourage Mo’ Money preparers to

· Falsely claim the earned-income credit;

· Claim improper filing status;

· Claim bogus education credits;

· Improperly prepare returns using paystubs rather than employer-issued W-2 forms;

· Fabricate bogus W-2 forms;

· File tax returns without customers’ consent;

· Sell false and deceptive loan products; and

· Charge deceptive and unconscionable fees.

The complaint estimates that tax losses resulting from fraudulent practices at Mo’ Money Taxes offices in Memphis, Atlanta, Richmond and Jackson exceeded $9-Million in 2011.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Animal Fighting Enforcement Act Fails

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 at 12:09 PM

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Last week, the Memphis Flyer reported on Knox County Senator Frank Niceley's support of cockfighting on the (likely historically false) grounds that Abraham Lincoln was down with cockfighting as well.

Niceley was urging fellow Tennessee senators to vote against the Animal Fighting Enforcement Act (SB285), which would have increased penalties for spectators at any animal fight to a Class A misdemeanor and would have made cockfighting a Class E felony. Cockfighting is still a misdemeanor in Tennessee. That bill failed to pass a Senate vote yesterday.

No senators from Shelby County voted against the bill, but two passed on voting. Jim Kyle of Memphis, Brian Kelsey of Germantown, and Mark Norris of Collierville voted in favor of strengthening penalties against animal fighters and spectators. Ophelia Ford of Memphis did not vote, and Reginald Tate of Memphis passed on voting. The bill was only two votes shy of passing, so had Ford and Tate (or another of the many senators who passed on voting for this) taken a stand, the bill would have passed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tennessee Senator Quotes Abraham Lincoln In His Support of Cockfighting

Posted By on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Frank Niceley
  • Frank Niceley

The Animal Fighting Enforcement Act, SB285, was put up for a vote this morning in the Tennessee Senate, but it was rolled over until next week.

In discussions about the bill, which strengthens penalties for spectators at animal fights, Senator Frank Niceley of Knox County, a long-time opponent of punishing cockfighters, said the following: "I'm gonna vote against this bill, and I'm gonna tell you why ... it's out of respect for Abraham Lincoln, the founder of the Republican party, who was fighting cocks on the White House lawn when he was accosted by an irate woman. He said, 'Ma'am, as long as the good lord allows civilized men created in his own image to fight wars and kill each other while the civilized world stands by and watches, it's not my place to deny the lowly chicken the same opportunity.' "

The Tennessee Humane Political Action Committe sent Niceley's remarks around in their email newsletter today.

It would seem though, according to Thomas F. Schwartz, curator of the Henry Horner Lincoln Collection, that Niceley's information on Lincoln is incorrect. Schwartz sent a letter to the Humane Society of the United States that says, according to his research, Lincoln was never involved in cockfighting, and in fact, was a lover of animals. In Lincoln's autobiography, he wrote that he gave up hunting after shooting a turkey, and he was the first president to pardon a turkey on Thanksgiving.

But Niceley knows people who attend cockfights, and he has previously stated that he doesn't think cockfighters are "bothering anybody." In 2011, he was quoted as saying: "They pay their taxes. They're not bothering anybody ... It's been going on for centuries; I don't know what the big deal is. ... They buy food, they stay in hotels, they buy gas."

The Tennessee Humane PAC is also focusing on the state's "ag-gag" bill, which would protect animal agriculture facilities from activists attempting to document animal abuse.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Scenes from the Anti-KKK Rallies

Posted By on Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 5:47 PM

Rain couldn't stop two events promoting equality and friendship this past weekend, as people from all over the Mid-South headed to Tiger Lane for the Heart of Memphis Festival and the People's Conference on Race and Equality, both events billed as alternatives to the KKK rally happening downtown at the same time.

In the Pipkin Building, a make-shift green lawn was spread out on the concrete floor for the Mayor's Easter Egg Roll, while the Memphis United organization used the Creative Arts Building as a forum to spread messages of equality and worker's rights. Most attendees visited both festivals, venturing outside only to switch venues or grab a snack from one of 14 food trucks on location.

Memphians working on a banner promoting equality.
  • Memphians working on a banner promoting equality.

The Equality banner up close. Many participants painted messages of tolerance and peace while other
  • The equality banner up close. Many participants painted messages promoting love and peace.

One of the many booths set up inside the Creative Arts Building.
  • One of the many booths set up inside the People's Conference on Race and Equality.

Paintings on display at the People's Conference on Race and Equality
  • Paintings on display at the People's Conference on Race and Equality.

More booths at the Peoples Conference for Race and Equality.
  • More booths at the People's Conference for Race and Equality.

In the Plipkin Building, children dance with Easter-themed characters while local band the Mason Jar Fireflies performs.
  • In the Pipkin Building, children danced with Easter-themed characters while local band The Mason Jar Fireflies performed.

More children dancing on the makeshift lawn in the Plipkin Building. The Easter Egg Roll was moved inside due to inclement weather.
  • More children dancing on the makeshift lawn in the Pipkin Building. The Easter Egg Roll was moved inside due to inclement weather.

Mayor AC Wharton getting ready to address the crowd before the Easter Egg Roll.
  • Mayor AC Wharton getting ready to address the crowd before the Easter Egg Roll.

Armored Truck Magic Trick Goes Off Without a Hitch

Posted By on Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Magician Rob Lake successfully made an armored truck appear out of thin air on a stage in front of the FedExForum Friday night. The performance was sponsored by Caesars Entertainment as part of its Millionaire Makers promotion.

Every week in April and for an unspecified number of weeks in the future, Harrah's Tunica, Tunica Roadhouse, and Horseshoe Casino will be giving away $1 million to a lucky Total Rewards player. For more information on the contest, read this post.

Photographer Larry Kuzniewski caught Lake's magic trick on camera.

Here's the stage before Lake made the truck appear:

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And here's an "after" shot:

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