Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wharton: Council Budget Cuts Won't Fix Pension Woes

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 11:43 AM

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said he stands by his original budget and that moves Tuesday by some Memphis City Council members to cut the budget “won’t yield the savings” needed to meet some major financial obligations.

Wharton
  • Wharton

Council members Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland said Tuesday they want to put $60 million this year into the city’s ailing pension plan, instead of the $35 million proposed by Wharton.

Flinn and Strickland proposed numerous cuts to the mayor’s budget Tuesday, the first day of budget hearings for the council. The proposed cuts to new positions, travel expenses, funds for training and conferences, and more. They said they wanted the money saved from each cut be sent straight to the pension fund.

But the plan won’t work, the mayor said in a Tuesday-evening news release.

“While we welcome council’s involvement in this effort, some council members are taking the approach of cutting line items from individual division budgets,” Wharton said. “Unfortunately, this approach will not yield the major savings needed to meet our pension and (other post-employment benefit) obligations. We are confident that our proposed budget is good, doable, avoids threats to public safety, and avoids a tax increase.”

Wharton encouraged council members to “take a fair and balanced approach” in their budget talks and “make decisions that have the least impact on core services, and positions us for a more stable financial future.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

U of M Receives $10,000 NCAA Grant For Student-Athlete Program

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 1:31 PM

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It's no guarantee that student-athletes will go to the pros after graduating from college.

For athletes at the University of Memphis who don't make it to the big leagues upon graduation, chances of securing a decent job may now be greater thanks to a $10,000 NCAA grant recently awarded to the school. The grant will be used to develop a career readiness program.

The U of M was one of six universities selected out of a pool of nearly 140 applicants to create a program that helps more of its student-athletes obtain employment once their college career is over. The grant is a part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) 2014 Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program.

Due to demanding schedules, student-athletes may be at a disadvantage in developing experiential learning opportunities, according to a U of M press release. Students are required to attend numerous practice and conditioning sessions, team meetings, and travel regularly to away games; all of these factors cause them to miss classes, limits their study time, and reduces their chances for securing internships.

With the grant, a U of M research team has created a four-stage program for student-athletes that includes entrepreneurship training, project-based learning, workplace readiness training, and a practicum with a community partner, according to the press release. The research team plans to develop and pilot the program this summer.

The $10,000 grant was awarded to a U of M collective comprised of Dr. Tim Ryan, associate professor of sport and leisure management in the Department of Health and Sport Sciences; Bob Baker, director of the Center for Athletic Academic Services; Kelly Penwell, director of the Experiential Learning Lab; and Dr. Richard Irwin, associate dean of the University College and overseer of the Experiential Learning Lab.

To measure effectiveness of the U of M’s program, participants’ career readiness will be measured before and after program participation, according to a U of M press release.

Aside from the U of M, researchers at The University of Michigan, Stanford University, Springfield College, Utah State, and Purdue University. Each entity will conduct a different form of research with their grants. Other aspects include the study of parental involvement in athletes’ collegiate careers, improving student-athlete mental health, athlete imagery, and support groups for injured athletes.

Grant recipients will present their research at the NCAA convention in Washington, D.C., in January 2015.

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Council Members Want Budget Cuts for Higher Pension Payments

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 1:28 PM

Some Memphis City Council members want to pay the city’s pension deficit quicker than the plan suggested by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and, in the first day of council budget talks, began to whittle down the mayor’s budget to make it happen.

The city is supposed to pay a set amount each year to ensure the retirement system is whole. Those payments skyrocketed when the recession took a $450 million bite out of the city’s pension fund. But the council didn’t make the higher payments. Instead they made the same payments they made before the recession. But thanks to a new state law, the council now has five years to begin making the full annual payments.

Wharton’s administration put forth a plan to ramp up payments over the next five years and would pay an additional $15 million this year for a total of $35 million.

Strickland
  • Strickland
But council members Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland said Tuesday they want to pay a total of $60 million to the pension fund this year. Strickland said Wharton’s proposal to ramp up the payments would make the problem bigger over time.

“It’s going to be really hard and a we have some really difficult choices ahead of us,” Flinns said in a budget hearing Tuesday. “The reality is, if we drag this out, the public is going to see a much larger debt and a much larger tax increase.”

Flinn
  • Flinn

Tuesday’s hearings were the first opportunity for council members to weigh in on Wharton’s budget, which he presented to them three weeks ago. As the hearings began, Flinn and Strickland quickly started cutting the budget and funneling the savings to the city’s pensions payments.

The two proposed cutting new positions, travel budgets, funds for seminars and conferences, catering, and more. The budget committee approved many of those cuts, which wouldn’t become reality until the full council votes on the overall budget in late June.

Wharton has suggested changes to the city’s health care benefits, which would yield savings of about $30 million. His plan would put $15 million of those savings to the pension fund. The other $15 million would go to a reserve fund that could be used by the council to pay for emergency public safety items in the next year. Flinn and Strickland said they want at least $10 million of the proposed reserved public safety fund to go to the pension fund.

They brought their ideas to the council hearings not in writing but in spoken amendments that warranted immediate votes by council rules. This confused council member Wanda Halbert who said she wanted the information in writing.

“I haven’t talked to any of you and I haven’t talked to the administration about (these ideas),” Halbert said. “I’m not a finance guru or a legal expert so to sit at this table and have these things going on….You are asking us to vote on things that haven’t come to us yet. I’m not comfortable with that. It’s not fair.”

Flinn and Strickland said they’d continue to propose the small cuts to every division’s budget during the months-long budget process. Or, they said they’d be willing to negotiate with Wharton on a more wholesale plan to increase the pension payments.

"This is not kicking the can down the road," Flinn said. "This is grabbing the bull by the horns."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Untapped Event Has Huge Turnout On Opening Weekend

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 4:53 PM

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Last Friday night, after the South Main Art Trolley Tour, the bar inside the Tennessee Brewery Untapped event was about four rows deep with patrons trying to get a drink. On Saturday night, they even ran out of beer.

Kerry Hayes, one of event's organizers and the director of public relations at Doug Carpenter & Associates, said the six-week, pop-up beer garden, which had its grand opening Thursday and ran until Sunday, had "higher-than-expected crowds all weekend long."

Hayes said the event's sponsors reported meeting people from as far away as New York City, Massachusetts, and even Germany at Untapped this weekend.

"What was really pleasing was the diversity of visitors — black/white, young/old, suburban/urban, little kids, senior citizens, etc. It was a terrific representation of our whole community coming together to invest in good times," Hayes said.

Tennessee Brewery Untapped will re-open on Thursday, May 1st at 11 a.m. and run until 9 p.m. that night. Weekend hours are Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sundays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

"This weekend, we're looking forward to four days of sunny, cooler-than-normal temperatures, full beer taps, and more fun," Hayes said.

To read more about Untapped, check out this week's cover story.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

MPD Collecting Unwanted Prescription Drugs At Kroger

Posted By on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Before locals enter their community Kroger to shop this Saturday, they'll have the opportunity to dispose of expired or unwanted prescription drugs from their medicine cabinets in bins outside the establishment.

As part of the 8th annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, Memphis Police Department and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials will be present at four different Kroger locations with bins for people to safely and anonymously dispose unwanted, unused prescription drugs this Saturday (April 26th).

The take-back, which heightens the prevention of possible pill abuse and inappropriate distribution, will last from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The four Kroger branches that MPD and DEA officials will be on site at are 3444 Plaza Ave, 3860 Austin Peay Highway, 676 Germantown Parkway, and 7942 Winchester Road. People can also dispose prescription drugs at Emmanuel United Methodist (2404 Kirby Road).

“This initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue,” a MPD press release stated. “Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse. Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet. In addition, Americans are now advised that their usual methods for disposing of unused medicines—flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash—both pose potential safety and health hazards.”

Last October, Americans turned in 324 tons (over 647,000 pounds) of prescription drugs at over 4,114 sites operated by the DEA and its thousands of state and local law enforcement partners, according to the MPD. When those results are combined with what was collected in its seven previous Take Back events, DEA and its partners have taken in over 3.4 million pounds—more than 1,700 tons—of pills.

MPD spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said illegal prescription drug distribution is prevalent locally. She said the prescription drugs collected Saturday will be weighed and transported to a burn facility out of state and destroyed.

Earlier this month, more than three dozen people involved in a prescription drug-ring were indicted during “Operation Whitehaven Dilaudid Family.” The ring was responsible for illegally distributing large amounts of Dilaudid and other prescription pills throughout the area.

More than 20 of the individuals indicted are facing state drug charges. Another 15 defendants are facing federal drug charges. Charges carry penalties of up to 25 years in prison without parole.

“Many of the 23 defendants indicted on state drug charges are family members whose drug-trafficking operation has been in business for more than 15 years,” Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich said in a press release.

Law enforcement seized 10 vehicles, $53,807 in cash, 111 Dilaudid pills and 154 grams of powder cocaine during the undercover operation.

The MPD’s Organized Crime Unit, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Marshal’s Service executed “Operation Whitehaven Dilaudid Family” collectively.

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Obama Cabinet Members To Visit Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 11:22 AM

U.S. DOt Secretary Anthony Foxx on a Tuesday stop for the bus tour that rolls into Memphis Friday.
  • U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx on a bus tour stop Tuesday.

Members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet will be in Memphis Friday for a tour to inspect federal investments made here through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Donovan
  • Donovan
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will begin their tour at 10 a.m. Friday to see:

• the Harahan Bridge
• the Aerotropolis FedEx facility
• the Broad Avenue business corridor
• the Legends Park West affordable housing development

McCarthy
  • McCarthy

The three departments have invested more than $130 million in Memphis since Obama established the Partnership for Sustainable Communities in 2009. The program’s goal was to make investments in communities to improve housing, transportation, protect the environment, and build stronger regional economies.

The federal officials will be joined by Memphis Mayor A C. Wharton, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, and Delta Regional Authority Co-chair Chris Masingill.

FDA Wants E-Cigarette Oversight

Posted By on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 10:41 AM

E-cigarettes could get the same government oversight as traditional cigarettes after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced Thursday it wants to extend its authority over them and a variety of other tobacco products.

The new rule wold widen the FDA’s regulations to cover products that are currently unregulated. The rule would include electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, hookah tobacco, and dissovlables.

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The FDA proposal comes at a time when e-cigarette sales are exploding in Memphis, as we reported in March. Stores specializing in the products have sprung up all over the area. If it passed, the new rule would certainly have an impact on them.

The FDA currently regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco.

“This proposed rule is the latest step in our efforts to make the next generation tobacco-free,” Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

Products that would fall under the new rule would have to:
• Register with the FDA
• Report ingredients
• Market new tobacco products only after FDA review
• Make product claims only with FDA approval
• Not be available for free samples
• Meet identification restrictions to prevent underage sales
• Require health warnings
• Not be available in vending machines where minors are present

“Tobacco remains the leading cause of death and disease in this country. This is an important moment for consumer protection and a significant proposal that if finalized as written would bring FDA oversight to many new tobacco products,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg. “Science-based product regulation is a powerful form of consumer protection that can help reduce the public health burden of tobacco use on the American public, including youth.”

Public comment will be open on the new rule for 75 days after the rule is formally released Friday. Read the proposed rule here: FDA_new_tobacco_rules.pdf

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

SCS Superintendent Requests That Board Adopt New Academic Goals

Posted By on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Dorsey Hopson
  • Dorsey Hopson

Tonight at the Shelby County Schools (SCS) board work session, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson will propose that the school board commit to a goal of having 80 percent of the 2013-14 school year’s first-graders ready for college and careers by the time they graduate in 2025. The goal is part of a strategic plan SCS hopes to have completed by December 1st.

This morning (Tuesday, April 22nd), Bradley Leon, chief innovation officer for SCS, met with members of the media to discuss several of the goals that have been established for the plan.

Leon said other key goals are raising the district graduation rate to 90 percent and assuring that 100 percent of the kids who graduate in 2025 enroll in post-secondary education, such as an university or trade school.

"This year’s first-graders, we’re committing that 80 percent of them will be college- or career-ready by the time they graduate in 2025," Leon said. "When you have a goal that’s longer term in nature, there can be an expression created that maybe you’re putting off the day of accountability. Because those first-graders are in our system, we’re going to have aggressive goals along the way for every child throughout the system. We’re going to have some ambitious goals for third-grade reading, seventh-grade math, for those kids and all the kids in our system. That will tie into performance measures and accountability that the district will have for itself."

Leon said currently, “only about five percent” of SCS students are college-ready. He said although the district doesn’t assess career-readiness yet, if measures used by other communities are applied to determine whether or not students are workforce-ready, there are about 25 percent of SCS students who are ready for a career.

The 2025 plan is primarily targeting the current school year’s first-graders but will encompass all grades. The plan will create concrete pathways for as many SCS students as possible to graduate college- and career-ready.

Leon said the district cannot accomplish the goals set forth in the plan single-handedly and will be seeking assistance from internal and external community stakeholders to leverage all possible resources to help improve the outcomes of SCS students.

Leon said there would be community meetings held on May 13th and May 15th for Memphians to learn more about the plan's goals and to provide input on how they think SCS could achieve its goals.

Achieving the goals set forth in the plan is anticipated to benefit the community by helping reduce unemployment, increase civic engagement, lower crime, among several other positive effects.

Superintendent Hopson will propose that the school board adopts the goals during its board meeting tonight. The meeting will take place in the school board’s COE auditorium (2597 Avery). It starts at 5:30 p.m.

Leon said he’s unsure if the board will vote on the proposition tonight. He said tonight will only involve Hopson proposing a goal. He said they hope to have a strategic planning process completed and ready to implement by December 1st.

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Memphis Funnier Than Nashville

Posted By on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 11:16 AM

Memphis is funnier than Miami. Memphis is less funny than Philadelphia. But Memphis is definitely the funniest city in Tennessee.

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The results come from a new study that looks at surveys, tweets, the concentration of comedy clubs, and more to find the funniest cities in America. Journalist Joel Warner teamed up with Peter McGraw, a scientist at University of Colorado Boulder [UCB], for the study, which is part of a new book called “The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny.”

McGraw runs UCB’s Humor Research Lab (or HuRL), which developed the Humor Algorithm (or HA) to rank the funniest cities in the country. The algorithm considers:
• Number of visits to comedy websites
• Number of comedy clubs per square mile in each city
• Number of famous comedians born in each city
• Number of comedy radio stations in each city
• Number of famous funny tweeters in each city
• Ratings by traveling comedians of audiences in each city
• Number of humor-related web searches in each city

Memphis ranked 26th overall, right in between Indianapolis at 25th and Baltimore at 27th. Nashville and Davidson County ranked 35th in between Dallas and Albuquerque.

The funniest city in America is Chicago, according to the study. The city is home to the world famous Second City comedy theatre, which has been the training ground for top comics from John Belushi and Bill Murray to Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.

Atlanta ranked 3rd on the list and was the only Southern city to rank in the top 10. The study said the city leans heavily on racially-charged humor. But the region’s diversity also makes plenty of room for the redneck jokes of Jeff Foxworthy to the “gritty, urban humor” of Katt Williams, the study says.

Friday, April 18, 2014

James Lee House Is Open For Business

Posted By on Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 11:08 AM

James Lee House
  • James Lee House

After years of laying dormant, the historic James Lee House in Victorian Village is open for business as a bed and breakfast.

The home at the corner of Adams and Orleans was purchased from the city by José and Jennifer Velázquez for $1 in 2012, and since then, the couple has invested about $2 million in restoring the home to be used as an upscale bed and breakfast.

There are five suites inside the bed and breakfast, one on the first floor and four on the second floor. José and Jennifer Velázquez reside on the third floor.

The James Lee House was built in 1848 as a two-story brick farmhouse, but additions were added on over the years to create the mansion it is today. The home is named for riverboat captain James Lee, who bought the home in 1890. Later, the home served as the Memphis Academy of Art (now Memphis College of Art), and it operated there until 1959.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Overton Square Residents Could Get Special Parking Permits, Zones

Posted By on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 3:21 PM

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Residents around Overton Square may soon get a special parking permit that would allow them to park in public spaces designated just for them.

Memphis City Council members Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn will host a meeting Thursday with Overton Square business owners and residents to discuss the permits. Strickland said the meeting is a culmination of months of meetings with those who work and live around Overton Square.

“At all times of day and in the evenings, residents are surrounded with people,” Strickland said. “Some residents only have access to their (house) through an alley and they’ll be blocked, sometimes it’s in their yards. It’s just a free-for-all.”

Strickland said he’s received complaints about parking from neighbors in the area and said that “everyone admits (Monroe) has been hit worse than anyplace.”

If residents and businesses agree to the idea Thursday, Strickland and Flinn would draft a city law creating special parking permits for residents around Overton Square. The law would also create special residential zones for some now-public, on-street parking spaces. The permits would allow residents and possibly their guests to park in the special zones.

All of it would be a test case, Strickland said, and be for a limited time and for a limited area. The whole thing — the permits and special parking zones — would have to be approved by the full council.

But the permits and zones are just part of an overall solution for the area, Strickland said. He said he also wants to install more crosswalks in the area, better lighting close to the Hatiloo Theater, and better signage to drive Square visitors to the new parking garage.

High Cotton, Neely's Get Loans for Renovations

Posted By on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 12:19 PM

High Cottons proposed taproom.
  • High Cotton Brewing
  • High Cotton's proposed taproom.

The Center City Development Corp. (CCDC) approved loans to High Cotton Brewing and Neely’s Bar-B-Que to help them develop projects in the area of Memphis between the Medical District and Downtown. It will also begin work on a project to clean up some railway underpasses Downtown.

• High Cotton got a $50,000 loan for a $112,000 project that will add a tap and tasting room and an outdoor patio to the brewery, and will improve the building’s façade with new lights and signs.

Brice Timmons, a co-owner of the Memphis craft brewery, predicted a June opening of the tasting room, which can be accessed by customers to buy pints of beer for on-site consumption, growlers, and other brewery merchandise.

• Neely’s Bar-B-Que will return to its original location at 670 Jefferson with the help of a $49,000 loan from the CCDC to renovate the building. The restaurant will be leased and operated by Tony Neely, who last operated a Neely’s Bar-B-Que location in Nashville that was recently closed.

The location was most recently the home of Monsieur Demarcus French Crepêrie, which is moving to a Midtown location.

Neely predicted a June opening for the restaurant. Neely was a frequent guest on “Down Home with the Neely’s,” the Food Network show hosted by his brother and sister-in-law, Patrick and Gina Neely.

The loan will not be given until back taxes are paid on the property.

“It’s good to be back home,” Tony Neely said after the loan was approved during Wednesday’s CCDC meeting.

• Planning will begin soon on a project that would clean up and illuminate three railroad underpasses around the south end of South Main Street.

The CCDC approved an $80,000 budget for the project to begin the planning stages with the understanding that its staff would return to the board with more details before the clean-up work actually begins.

The plan is to clean and illuminate three underpasses on Main, Carolina, and Florida streets. Memphis developer Henry Turley told the CCDC board that the conditions of the underpasses now are “shameful” and “awful,” and they need to be attractive gateways to Downtown Memphis.

The CCDC would work with The Henry Turley Co. to improve the underpasses.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No New Taxes, Pension Reform Keys to Wharton's New Budget

Posted By on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 4:52 PM

No new taxes were proposed in Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s budget for the next fiscal year, which he delivered to the Memphis City Council Tuesday, and it put a focus on reforming the city’s pension system and healthcare plan for retirees.

Wharton posted this image to Facebook hours before his budget address Tuesday. It shows that the largest portion of the citys budget is for personnell.
  • Wharton posted this image to Facebook hours before his budget address Tuesday. It shows that the largest portion of the city's budget is for personnel.

Wharton’s budget:
• Holds the Memphis property tax rate at $3.40 per $100 of assessed value.
• Totals $596 million, $18 million less than the current budget.
• Moves the current pension plan from a defined benefit plan to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. Doing so will generate savings and reduce the city's financial risk, Wharton said.
• Increases next year’s payment into the pension fund by $15 million for a total of $35 million. The increase would be paid for with savings in healthcare benefits and cuts in city government.
• Establishes a special reserve fund of $15 million for public safety if the council decides more money is needed for police and fire next year.
• Increases the Memphis Area Transit Authority budget by $1.5 million.
• Invests $23 million in a plan to demolish the Raleigh Springs Mall and redevelop the property into a community center, police precinct, and library branch. The project includes additional bays that could be leased for retail and other businesses.

The mayor’s budget proposal kicked off what will be nearly two months of discussion on the city’s budget by Wharton’s administration and the city council. The talks yield a final budget approved by the city council. those talks will likely end around the end of June before the city’s new fiscal year begins in July.

Wharton told council members Tuesday “I’ve done my best” to balance the city’s wants and needs with its available resources and said doing so is the “most difficult task we face as elected officials.”

Friday, April 11, 2014

No Weapons Found During East High School Lockdown (Update)

Posted By on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 1:25 PM

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The Memphis Police Department's public information office has released a statement that says no weapons or armed suspects were discovered during its search of East High School earlier today.

The school was placed on lockdown after a student safety tip alleged there were armed men inside the school. MPD officers conducted a perimeter search at the school before ceasing the lockdown and allowing classes to resume. However, concerned parents were allowed to pick up their children, which several dozen did.

Several parents outside of the school said the incident stemmed from an occurrence yesterday (April 10th) involving a student(s) and an outside individual(s) who was allegedly armed. That person(s) allegedly returned to the school looking for the same student(s). Parents alleged that the incident is gang-related. However, the MPD's press statement doesn't confirm that the issue is connected with gang activity.

Check out the MPD's press release below.

On Friday, April 11, 2014, at approximately 9:35 pm, officers responded to an armed party call at East High School, 3206 Poplar Avenue.

Upon arriving on the scene, officers were advised that the school was on lock-down and there were possibly several armed males inside of the school. A perimeter was established and a search within the school for the possible armed suspects began by utilizing MPD patrol officers, MPD’s Canine Unit, Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies, and Shelby County School Security.

The preliminary investigation revealed that a student at East High School reported to a school security officer that another student/s was armed and inside the school. Officers were further advised that this reporting may have stemmed from an altercation that occurred yesterday. On Wednesday, April 10, 2014, an Aggravated Assault was reported to have occurred on the sidewalk near the school. The altercation involved several individuals, both students and non-students. During the altercation, one of the suspects was reportedly armed with a hand gun. It has not been determined that the individual who was armed was a student at East High School, but the reporting student from today’s alert had received information that someone connected with this investigation was armed in the school.

After conducting a search of the school, officers found no armed suspects. Officers also confirmed with the reporting student that the potential suspects were not physically seen, but he/she was only reporting what they had been told by other students.

Although this incident ended as a “false alarm”, it is important that parents and students know the urgency of reporting armed parties within our school systems. Parents should stress the importance to their children as it relates to immediately reporting any suspicious, criminal or life threatening activities that may occur in or around school property. The students’ and faculty’s safety is the utmost importance. The Memphis Police Department will continue to work with Shelby County Schools, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, and Shelby County School Security to ensure the safety of every student and faculty member.

The investigation into the incident (Report#1404005516ME) that occurred yesterday is ongoing. No charges have been filed.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

MLGW Leads Ranking of Top 50 Utilities Using Social Media

Posted By on Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 4:00 PM

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Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW)
not only manages the city's utilities, they also ensure customers receive feedback online.

And they’ve been recognized as the number one utility company that does just that. In March, research and consulting firm Northeast Group, LLC conducted a week-long study surveying the top 50 utility companies in the country regarding their social media efforts. Based off of their findings, MLGW ranked number one among the utility companies in the nation that assisted customers on a timely basis through social media. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) ranked second and Dominion Virginia Power ranked third.

Ben Gardner, president of Northeast Group, said the firm conducted a content analysis of the various social media postings and mobile app offerings of the top 50 utilities, and through that were able to score each of the utilities together and rank them in order.

“For Twitter hostings, it would be things like how responsive were the utilities? How quickly did they respond to customer requests?” Gardner said. “Another thing was the quality of the content. Were the utilities posting energy-saving tips and safety tips of value to customers? How high was the value of the content they were posting? Each utility was scored on those criteria.”

The survey took place over one week in March. During that week, Gardner said MLGW posted 77 tweets and the median response time of how quickly they got back to customers was five minutes. LADWP came in second place with 134 tweets and a median response time of about 34 minutes. Dominion was third place with 62 tweets and a median response time of about 18 minutes, according to Gardner.

“We’re extremely honored to be recognized,” said Richard Thompson, senior communications specialist for MLGW. “We’ve been recognized by our peers before but to be recognized again by an independent study for the Top 50 utilities, we’re really honored, and most importantly, we thank our customers and our followers on Facebook and Twitter for believing in us, following us, and interacting with us. We take great pride in those relationships that we’ve established.”

Thompson said MLGW was one of the initial utilities to utilize social media back in 2008. However, it was 2009 when MLGW established a variety of social media channels and its staff began to communicate with customers via Internet significantly.

“We had a major storm in June 2009. It knocked out power for a lot of customers over several days. That really helped integrate our social media to our communications efforts,” Thompson said. “That was really the first time that we live-tweeted or did some continuous tweeting about the outage situation. Customers really appreciated the fact that it felt like we were there during their outages and they could communicate with us and get ready information about their outages. The fact that our customers fill like they can reach out to us and communicate with us when they need to, it just opens up another avenue for us to serve customers.”

Prior to the storm in 2009, which left more than 140,000 customers without power, MLGW had only 220 followers. The following week, after power had been completely restored, MLGW’s Twitter following increased to over 1,500 followers.

Northeast Group’s survey also ranked the top utilities in the country for mobile apps. MLGW ranked third on this list. San Diego Gas and Electric took the number one slot and Con Edison in New York was selected second in the category.

This portion of the survey was based on the type of functionality that the mobile app boasted. If the app offered energy saving tips, allowed customers to pay bills, and provided utility related information such as reporting outages and receiving estimated times of restoration, conservation tips, and a mobile-friendly outage map.

"In general, utilities have some room for improvement in their customer engagement," Gardner said with regard to what influenced the survey. "We think that social media and mobile app are very effective channels for utilities to better communicate with their customers."

Thompson said several thousand people have downloaded MLGW's free mobile app, which can be accessed by both iPhones and Androids. MLGW has nearly 12,000 Twitter followers, 8,000 Facebook likes, an award-winning blog and website, and pages on Pinterest, Youtube, and Flicker.

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