Friday, May 30, 2014

Attorneys and Advocates Aim to Reform Public Defense System

Posted By on Fri, May 30, 2014 at 1:27 PM

Jonathan Rapping speaks to the crowd.
  • Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender Facebook page
  • Jonathan Rapping speaks to the crowd at Local.

Over sliders and beer, advocates and attorneys met together upstairs at the Local Gastropub in Overton Square to talk about how to improve public defense.

Gideon’s Promise, the group behind the event, is an organization for public defense reform, and they are working with attorneys to create a “community of public defenders,” according to organizers.

At the free “Burgers and Brews” event Thursday evening, attendees gathered to hear Jonathan Rapping, president and founder of the organization, speak, as well as those from the Shelby County Public Defender's Office.

Gideon’s Promise aims to fix the system from the ground up by training new public defenders and offering a three-year program for public defenders who have worked three years or less.

According to Rapping, there are three challenges that public defenders face.

“The most obvious one is funding,” Rapping said. “There aren’t enough lawyers. There aren’t enough resources. There’s a structural problem, where in many public defender systems, the judges appoint the chief public defender and the judge [wants to] move cases as opposed to necessarily making sure poor people get justice. They have pressures to move cases. You might have funders who have something to do with the appointments of the public defenders, and they want to make sure it’s done cheaply.”

Rapping got his start as a public defender in well-resourced Washington, D.C., where he said defendants who could not afford a lawyer were still provided the same justice as others who could. That story changed when he moved from D.C. to Georgia and then throughout the South.

“I really started to see these systems where really passionate, young public defenders would go in for the right reasons and have that passion beaten out of them,” Rapping said. “They would either quit or resign to the status quo. This organization really developed to be a program that not only provides training but provides support and inspiration to these lawyers so they don’t lose their idealism.”

The issue of whether or not public defense is actually working does not only affect those who commit crimes, he said.

“There are people in the criminal justice system who didn’t commit a crime and we don’t know until the end of a fair process whether or not the person [did],” Rapping said. “We know more than 300 people have been exonerated using DNA. We have no idea how many [innocent] people are in the criminal justice system when they have no forensic evidence.”

In 2007, 964 public defender offices received six million cases where the defendant could not afford to pay, according to the Department of Justice’s most recent available data. According to Gideon’s Promise, this means the quality of the defense goes down.

“We have to help people understand that this goes against our fundamental values,” Rapping said. “Citizens certainly need to become educated about what’s happening in the criminal justice system. I think, once aware of it, people are just moved to act.”

Rapping also believes this is a nonpartisan issue.

“If your concern is economics, whether you’re conservative or liberal, you should like [Gideon’s Promise]. If you’re a patriot, if you believe in our Constitution and ideals, if you believe that individuals should be protected against a government, which is not checked can become tyrannical,” he said. “If you believe that, this is an issue for you. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, we all understand justice is an important value.”

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New Pedestrian Pathways Planned for Overton Park

Posted By on Fri, May 30, 2014 at 10:25 AM

A better entrance and paved path will be added to the Poplar and Cooper intersection in Overton Park.
  • A better entrance and paved path will be added to the Poplar and Cooper intersection in Overton Park.

It's not uncommon to see cyclists risking their lives in heavy Poplar Avenue traffic to access Overton Park since, currently, there is no paved pathway along the south side of the park.

But that will change by late 2015 or early 2016. Plans for a paved pathway that would encircle most of the park were on display last night at one of two Overton Park Conservancy meetings to address the need for improved walkways and park entrances.

Ritchie Smith & Associates presented plans to install a five to eight foot walkway that would begin at Tucker and Poplar, head east down Poplar, and wrap around the Old Forest along East Parkway. The pathway would veer into the Old Forest near the new bike gate, and it would connect with the paved forest loop. But near the East Parkway/North Parkway corner, pedestrians would have the option of continuing on the existing loop or taking a new path that hugs the edge of North Parkway and heads west. Currently, there are no sidewalks along North Parkway through the park, but a well-worn foot path in the dirt proves that many runners and walkers use that route anyway.

Also planned is a new paved path circling the greensward. It would connect with the path around Rainbow Lake and extend out around the greensward in a loop. At the meeting last night, architect Ritchie Smith told those attending that when the zoo parking situation is resolved, the greensward "can be one of the first improvements" they'll make.

"We think people would love a path around the greensward, because we know more and more people are using the park for walking and jogging," said Overton Park Conservancy director Tina Sullivan. "A loop around the greensward would provide more space and more greenery for people to see as they walk around."

Improved access points are also planned for several park entrances. Currently, pedestrians and cyclists entering the park from Cooper and Poplar are greeted with a standard MATA bus stop and green space. But a new stone balustrade and some benches will mark that entrance, and a small paved "gathering area" will be added. It will connect with the new paved perimeter path.

"Maybe we can add a new bus shelter to replace that standard MATA shelter with its unsightly advertisements," Smith said.

A pedestrian path is planned the Tucker and Poplar entrance as well since, right now, park users must compete with cars and enter the park through the roadway. Better crosswalks will be added at Poplar and East Parkway, and steps or a ramp will lead park users up the hill into the park. At East Parkway and North Parkway, a 10-foot shared use path will connect with the existing Old Forest loop. And a better crossing is planned for pedestrians entering the park from Rhodes College across North Parkway.

"We already have funding for the Poplar/Cooper connection, so we'll see movement on that early next year," Sullivan said. "The perimeter trail will be done in late 2015 or early 2016, and we have funding for that as well."

The Overton Park Conservancy is hosting another public meeting on Saturday, May 31st at 10 a.m. in the Playhouse on the Square Cafe.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pension Reform Law Signed by Gov. Haslam

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 12:15 PM

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The mayor and Memphis City Council now have six years to begin paying the full, annually required contributions to its pension program.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a new law Wednesday that mandates all local government entities in the state to make those full annual payments “to protect the financial stability of local government and to protect workers’ pensions.”

The Public Employee Defined Benefit Financial Security Act of 2014 gives a six-year ramp-up period for local governments like Memphis that have not been making the full, annual payments. If the governments fail to make the required contributions after that six-year period, the state can withhold money it provides to them and then use that money to make the pension payments.

“For those few that don’t pay 100 percent, this law will move them toward a more sustainable financial future,” said Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), the law’s sponsor in the Tennessee General Assembly. “When local governments hire employees and promise them pensions, those promises need to be kept. This law will reduce the likelihood that local government pension plans will run out of money at some point in the future and help protect taxpayers from the costly burdens of potential default."

A news release Wednesday carried favorable opinions of the new law from creditors like Citigroup and bond rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s.

“This legislation is something all states should consider,” Charles E.F. Millard, managing director and head of pension relations for Citigroup said in the news release. “The health of public pensions depends upon their investment returns and plan structures, of course. But the key determinant of the health of our public plans is whether the public employer makes its full annual contribution. If everyone did this, public pensions would be far healthier than they are today.”

The law allows each government entity to choose the actuaries that will determine what those annual payments should be. So far, three actuaries have examined the Memphis pension fund. All three found different numbers on the size of the hole in the system and, thus, different numbers on the annual payments needed to plug that gap.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said last week that two of the actuary firms agreed the gap is $551 million and that the annual payments should be $78 million.

Wharton’s new budget proposes to ramp up to the full payment over five years with an additional $15 million going to the fund next year - for a total of $35 million. The payments would get higher and higher each additional year after that until the city is paying the fully required payment, or $78 million to the fund each and every year. Some Memphis City Council members want to ramp up to the full payments in two years.

The new law also comes with a provision that will allow some governments to work with the Tennessee Department of the Treasury if they “experience severe hardships” and can’t make the full pension payments after six years.

“Tennessee has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best financially managed states in the nation,” Tennessee State Treasurer David Lillard said in a statement. “This landmark legislation continues that proud tradition by applying a common sense approach to local government pension funding.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Riverside Drive Gets A Road Diet, Bike and Pedestrian Lane

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 1:52 PM

Proposed Riverside plan between Beale and Georgia.
  • Jeff Speck & Associates
  • Proposed Riverside plan between Beale and Georgia.

Riverside Drive will remain closed two weeks after Memphis in May festivities conclude to implement a pilot project on the road between Beale and Georgia that will reduce vehicle traffic there and increase bike and pedestrian traffic.

That section of Riverside will be reduced from four lanes of vehicle traffic to two. The additional space will be "devoted to bicycle and pedestrian activities," according to a news release, "to make the riverfront safer, more active, and accessible."

“The pilot project helps the public envision how Riverside Drive could be re-purposed for greater enjoyment by bicyclist and pedestrians," said city engineer John Cameron. "It also gives technical experts a chance to evaluate traffic impacts on Riverside Drive and the Downtown street network as the ultimate configuration of Riverside Drive is determined.”

The new Riverside configuration will remain for the next 12 to 18 months. City officials will study the space in that time to see if the street could be reconfigured permanently from Georgia Avenue to the Pyramid.

Details of the plan for Riverside were not immediately available. But officials said the project is a step toward one of the recommendations in a 2013 report from land-use consultant Jeff Speck, which said:

"Riverside Drive, which is annually narrowed and closed with little negative impact on the Downtown, should be converted from a four-lane speedway to a two-lane 'complete street,' including parallel parking and a protected bicycle track along the Mississippi River. This change can be accomplished through a mere re-striping, with no curbs reconstructed. Canopy trees should be added where they are lacking and can be planted at limited cost."

Victory Bicycle Studio to Add New Location

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Changes are ahead for Victory Bicycle Studio, including a second location, after the Broad Avenue bicycle shop was purchased by co-founder Clark Butcher.

victory_front_of_shop.jpg
  • Victory Bicycle Studio

Victory opened nearly four years ago and was started by Butcher, a competitive bicycle racer and coach, and veteran bicycle mechanic Robert Taylor. Butcher said he finalized the purchase of Taylor’s interest in the business nearly two weeks ago in a deal that was “as amicable as they come.”

Butcher is now finalizing plans to open a second Victory store. The new location will be called Victory Bike Shop and will focus on bikes with lower prices than those at Victory Bicycle Studio.

“(Victory Bike Shop) will be more family-style shopping,” Butcher said. “(Victory Bicycle Studio) will be more for bike enthusiasts and the other shop will still have the very crisp and refined look but it will be for everybody.”

Butcher said he’s considering two locations for the new bike shop, one on Broad Avenue close to the existing Victory store and another in an undisclosed part of Midtown.

Butcher will also soon launch a new website for Victory, which will put the store’s hand-picked inventory online. Also, Butcher is working on a plan to launch a consulting firm catering to bicycle shops.

“My big thing is focusing on the future,” Butcher said, “and I’m ready to hit the gas.”

Friday, May 23, 2014

Greensward Parking Will Go On, But Only for Memorial Day Weekend

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 3:24 PM

Parking on the Overton Park Greensward will be allowed this holiday weekend, according to Citizens to Protect Overton Park [CPOP].

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The group won a victory for the park last week when city officials agreed that parking on the grassy area by Rainbow Lake and the new playground should be banned.

But the group and members of Get Off Our Lawn [GOOL], which protested on the Greensward for the past few weekends, were told Friday morning that the area would likely be needed to handle what is expected to be a large crowd for Memorial Day weekend. The news came during a meeting with city administration officials, representatives of the Overton Park Conservancy, and the Memphis Zoo.

But the citizens groups were told the Greensward would be used only as a last resort.

“While CPOP, as representatives of GOOL, neither agreed to nor endorsed this arrangement, we respect the concerns of the other parties involved and were able to negotiate some conditions that fully support our campaign goals,” said CPOP president Jessica Buttermore.

Zoo officials told CPOP they will endorse the shuttle service that will begin this weekend from the Overton Square garage and the zoo. Also, the zoo agreed to not use the Greensward for parking for the four weekends after this weekend. Finally, the zoo officials told CPOP said they’d help find and implement a permanent solution to the parking problem by the end of the year.

“While we're disappointed that the direct agreement that we secured with the city last week is not being fully honored we were able to get the zoo at the table and this is a big step forward,” Buttermore said. “We're inching closer to our campaign goals and we assure you that we won't stop until the Greensward is guaranteed car-free.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Comptroller: Brighton Mayor Used Public Employees for Private Work

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 11:32 AM

The mayor of Brighton, Tenn., in nearby Tipton County, used city employees to help build a house for his son, according to an investigation by the Tennessee State Comptroller’s office.

Mayor Jeff Scott
  • Mayor Jeff Scott
Mayor Jeff Scott sent two public works employees to the property owned by his son, Hunter Scott. At first, the employees thought they were sent to locate a water main on the property, according to the Comptroller. Then they were ordered to remove tree stumps, do some landscaping work, and prepare and pour the house’s foundation.

The employees used a city-owned backhoe, dump truck, trailer and two other vehicles. Mayor Jeff Scott oversaw their work during most of the three days they were on the construction site, according to the Comptroller.

Jeff Scott instructed the employees to leave the hours off of their city time cards. Instead, he told them they’d be paid by the project’s private contractor.

The contractor, a friend of the mayor’s, paid the public works employees and reimbursed the city $200 for the use of the backhoe. The contractor told investigators he did not have a contracting license and was only helping the Scotts.

Investigators in the Comptroller’s office recommended Brighton’s board of mayor and aldermen calculate the city’s cost for the project and seek reimbursement from the mayor, his son, and the contractor.

“It is unacceptable for officials to use public resources for the exclusive benefit of private individuals,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said in a statement. “People pay taxes and fees with the expectation that money will be fairly distributed to provide services to all citizens, not just a select few who happen to know somebody at city hall. I commend our investigators for their fine work in bringing these issues to light.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Greensward Parking Out, Free Shuttle In at Zoo, Overton Park This Weekend

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Yesterday’s public war of words between Memphis Zoo leaders and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton overshadowed one important point - maybe even the main point - in the Greensward parking drama: no zoo parking will be allowed on the Overton Park lawn this weekend.

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Free shuttle service from the new Overton Square garage and the main zoo entrance will begin Saturday morning. It’s a trial run, a five-week program to test if shuttle service can actually help alleviate parking woes around the zoo and Overton Park. More importantly, perhaps, the program will test whether or not people will actually use the shuttle.

The shuttle’s first pick up Saturday will be at 10 a.m. at the corner of Monroe and Florence. It will run straight to the zoo entrance first and then make stops at Brooks Museum of Art, and then the Overton Park golf clubhouse before returning to the garage. Shuttles will run every 10-15 minutes and end around 5:15 p.m. Parking in the Overton Square garage is free until 6 p.m.

The shuttle will run Saturdays and Sundays until June 22. In that time, no parking will be allowed on the Overton Park Greensward, the large grassy field that surrounds the park’s Rainbow Lake and new playground.

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The conservancy is now looking for volunteers to staff the shuttles as greeters or to assist park visitors at stops. Learn more here.
Find more information about the new, free shuttle here.
All of this is according to the Overton Park Conservancy that said the program was a collaboration with the city as an alternative to overflow parking on the Greensward. But more needs to be done, according to the conservancy.

“The conservancy plans to continue to work with the zoo and the city on long-term solutions,” according to a conservancy statement. “In the meantime, the shuttle is intended to keep the park accessible to its visitors while reducing congestion on the park roads. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the renaissance of Midtown as a whole, where improvements to Overton Square coincide with the conservancy’s investment in Overton Park’s amenities and maintenance.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

UPDATE: Memphis Zoo Apologizes to Mayor for 'Personal Attack'

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 4:31 PM

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Memphis Zoo president Chuck Brady said he apologized to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton for what was perceived as a "personal attack" on the mayor in a press release issued earlier today.

The earlier statement discussed ongoing parking problems at the zoo and proposals from zoo officials on how to fix them. The statement claimed Wharton's suggestions to fix the problem would "lead to the demise of the zoo as we know it" and that his "decision to join with the protestors’ mission" would see "thousands" turned away from the zoo and Overton Park.

"The press release addressed proposed solutions to the parking issue, and it has been brought to our attention that the tone of the document was perceived as a personal attack on the mayor," Brady said in an afternoon statement. "This was never the intention of the zoo. The press release assertion that the mayor misled citizens was incorrect, and we apologize for that."

In a statement issued after Brady's apology, Wharton said he was glad the zoo president apologized and that the "tone of the press release was disrespectful and inappropriate."

"In spite of the personal attack, I will keep the overall best interest of the city foremost and continue to work with zoo officials and supporters to find a satisfactory solution to the parking challenges,” Wharton said.

Memphis Zoo Strikes Back on Parking Proposals

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Get Off Our Lawn protestors block the gravel drive to the Greensward at Overton Park.
  • Get Off Our Lawn
  • Get Off Our Lawn protestors block the gravel drive to the Greensward at Overton Park.

The Memphis Zoo responded Tuesday to parking proposals from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton saying, if implemented, “it will lead to the demise of the zoo as we know it.”

Wharton said last week he no longer wants the zoo to use the Greensward at Overton Park as an overflow parking area. He also suggested other parking options for zoo visitors.

Zoo officials countered those suggestions with proposals of their own, including running two, high-capacity trams through the Old Forest. Also, they proposed building a new parking lot on the site of the city's maintenance facility, which has been a suggested site for the Eggleston Center for Photography.

Wharton’s statement last week was prompted by a group of protestors, known collectively as Get Off Our Lawn, that want Greensward parking banned outright. Group members have blocked some parking in the Greensward space used by the zoo by simply sitting in the area over the past few Saturdays and Sundays.

“Due to Mayor A C Wharton’s decision to join with the protestors’ mission, thousands of visitors have already been turned away from the zoo and excluded from Overton Park, a trend that will worsen with time,” said a statement from the Memphis Zoo on Tuesday.

Zoo officials said blocking Greensward parking will cut the zoo’s parking capacity by 33 percent, “which will lead to 80,000 people, mostly city residents, being turned away from Overton Park each year.”

Wharton delivered three alternatives to using the Greensward for parking last week. The zoo responded to each one in its statement Tuesday.

Wharton proposed a short-term, trial shuttle that would run from the new Overton Park garage to the zoo. The zoo statement said Tuesday it “has no choice but to remove its sponsorship” of the shuttle because it would take too long to move the visitors back and forth.

“We cannot support something that is going to be such a disservice to our guests,” said Memphis Zoo president Chuck Brady. “The [Overton Park Conservancy] claims the service will provide access to the zoo to the 2,000 guests who currently use the zoo’s overflow parking on busy days, and that just isn’t true. Guests would be frustrated at having to park so far away and being forced to wait hours for small shuttles that could not accommodate the volume of people it would need to service.”

Wharton proposed free, temporary parking at the city’s maintenance facility on East Parkway. Visitors would park, walk through the park, and enter at the Teton Trek entrance. The walk would be a 1.2-mile round trip, according to the zoo officials.

“The city is asking that children, elderly or disabled, zoo members and out-of-town guests walk this distance to the zoo,” the zoo statement read.

Wharton also proposed, a four-level, 400-space parking garage estimated to cost $5 million. Zoo officials said the garage “would not be remotely sufficient” for the amount of visitors that come on busy days. The zoo would need at least a 600-space garage. Also, to build a garage would mean moving zoo maintenance facilities. Together, the project comes to a total of $12 million, according to zoo officials.

“These are not viable alternatives,” the statement said. “We are restricting park access for tens of thousands of citizens because of the complaints of a few.”

The zoo officials countered Wharton's suggestions with proposals of their own. They said they could use the East Parkway lot but, instead of having guests walk through the forest, they want to shuttle them on two high-capacity trams on the paved roadways inside it.

“State regulations do not prohibit such activity and it would give the citizens from all around the city the chance to enjoy the park land their taxes support,” according to the zoo.

The zoo also proposed demolishing the city’s maintenance compound on East Parkway (if they were given the land by the city) and making a 200-space parking lot there. This could make way for a future garage on the site.

“The mayor seems to have chosen to give away that part of the East Parkway compound to a new photography museum, instead of accommodating visitors to the city’s existing number one attraction,” the zoo statement said.

With these together, zoo officials said they could “comply with the demand of this small group of protestors” and completely cut Greensward parking by the end of the year “but not sooner.”

The zoo summed up its statement, thusly:

“As it currently stands, the city is depriving 80,000 visitors and citizens the ability to visit one of the country’s premier zoos. Those 80,000 visitors who typically use the greensward will be turned away. Based on the alternatives presented, we have no choice but to assume that the mayor and the Overton Park Conservancy do not wish to see visitors from outside the surrounding neighborhood have access to Overton Park which should not be the purpose of this community park.”



“The limitations being placed on parking will be a constant deterrent to everyone other than its surrounding neighbors," zoo president Brady said. "The city isn’t solving the problem. It’s avoiding it."

Monday, May 19, 2014

Memphis Animal Services Enforces Policy Banning Photographs of Certain Animals

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2014 at 12:35 PM

These puppies were photographed by Memphis Pets Alive last Tuesday.
  • These puppies were photographed by Memphis Pets Alive last Tuesday. They have since been euthanized.

For more than a year, volunteers with Memphis Pets Alive have photographed every animal in the public viewing areas at Memphis Animal Services (MAS) each Tuesday evening. But last week, volunteer Dani Rutherford was asked to skip over the dogs in the shelter’s “healthy hold” area.

The healthy hold area is where potentially adoptable animals that have been at MAS for less than 72 hours are held. When a stray or owner-surrendered animal comes into the shelter, it is put under a 72-hour review. After 72 hours, if the animal isn’t claimed by an owner, MAS’ staff decides whether or not it will have a chance at adoption or be euthanized.

Since Memphis Pets Alive, a volunteer-run group that tries to market animals at MAS by posting pictures of the animals on Facebook, was formed last year, the technician who escorted the group around the shelter let them photograph those animals under the 72-hour hold.

But now MAS administrator James Rogers claims the group has been violating a policy that bans photographs of animals in the healthy hold area. Rogers was not available for interviews, but he posted a statement about the policy on the city website.

“Sharing photos of animals housed at MAS prematurely may create an unintentional reality of misleading a potential adopter into thinking that an animal is available when the pet may belong to another pet owner,” reads the statement. “MAS views the emotional trauma of such an unfortunate misunderstanding too great a risk and therefore asks rescuers and MAS partners, such as Memphis Pets Alive, to allow the 72-hour holding period to expire before taking and sharing photos of those animals.”

But Linda Baxter, president of Memphis Pets Alive, said they weren’t marketing the pets from the healthy hold area as being up for adoption but rather letting people know the animals are there. In fact, she said there have been cases when people who had lost their pets found them at the shelter through photos posted to the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

“Our Facebook page clearly states that these animals are located at Memphis Animal Services. We do not say they are up for adoption,” Baxter said. “This is just a method of getting these photos out there in the community for people to see them so that, at the end of 72 hours, if the owner hasn’t claimed them, rescue networking can already be done.”

For the animals that may be euthanized at the end of the 72 hours, those few extra days of networking can be crucial.

And according to statistics from Save Our Shelter, a group aiming to reform MAS, the instances of owners reclaiming their pets from the 72-hour hold aren’t very high anyway. In March 2014, MAS took in 879 animals, and only 47 were reclaimed by their owners.

Baxter said, unless the policy is changed, her group will honor it, but rather than photographing animals once a week, they will try to send a volunteer every day to take pictures of animals as they’re released from the 72-hour hold. If those animals are to be euthanized, however, there won’t be much time to market them to adopters before it’s too late.

“This [policy] is going to directly lead to the death of animals,” said Cindy Sanders, co-founder of Community Action for Animals, another shelter reform group. “Mr. Rogers is always saying he is going to make MAS a world-class shelter. This is so counter-productive to being a world-class anything.”

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Minority Leaders Say "No Room" for Bigotry in Memphis After Brooks' Comments

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 12:41 PM

Commissioner Henri Brooks
  • Shelby County Government
  • Commissioner Henri Brooks

In a joint press conference Thursday morning at First Baptist Church on Broad Avenue, community leaders from Latino Memphis and the Memphis branch of the NCAAP agreed that Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks’ recent comments about Hispanics should lead to an economic conversation rather than a racial one.

During a Shelby County Commission meeting on Monday, Brooks said Hispanics “asked to come” to the United States.

Pablo Pereya, who is Hispanic, was at the meeting where commissioners were discussing whether or not a local roofing company was discriminating against African-Americans because all 25 of its roofers are Hispanic. Though he was there for a different reason, Pereya spoke to the commissioners about the issue but became frustrated.

“I see you guys smirking and laughing like I’m not a minority,” Pereya told commissioners. “I know what it’s like to be a minority. I grew up in Memphis, and you being a Hispanic in Memphis is definitely the minority of a minority.”

Brooks responded, pointing to Pereya.

“You asked to come here,” Brooks said. “You asked to come here. We did not. And when we got here, our condition was so egregious, so barbaric. Don’t ever let that come out of your mouth again because, you know what, that hurts your case. Don’t compare the two. They’re not comparable.”

Mauricio Calvo, the executive director of Latino Memphis, and Rev. Keith Norman, president of the NAACP Memphis branch, spoke about moving forward with the “new” Memphis.

“The new Memphis is a table of brotherhood in my imagination, where all people are equitable and race doesn’t play such a prominent matter,” Norman said. “There’s always concerns and issues and we recognize that — we aren’t blind. We don’t live in a colorblind society. But to take it to this level is regressive.”

Both leaders say they want to look toward the future.

“In our perspective, in the new Memphis we’re trying to build, there is absolutely no room for intolerance and bigotry from anybody. I encourage voters to look closely at the upcoming election for that particular candidate or any candidate,” Calvo said during the press conference.

Norman also said the discussion needs to serve a higher purpose.

“We don’t want to concentrate on the sound bytes being played in the news. We need to talk about making sure that our contracting process has proper oversight, people are being awarded contracts based on merit and that the same standards apply federally, state, and locally,” Norman said. “A fair living wage ought to be included in this conversation to make sure that we’re not pitting groups against one another surrounding a low wage. Oftentimes what’s driving this engine is who will bid for the lowest dollar and that low dollar can be below what we consider to be a living wage.”

As to whether or not Brooks should resign, Norman said he believed the voters would ultimately decide, and Calvo agreed.

“Our community, quite frankly, cannot afford these types of things. We need to be working together to lift up the entire community,” Calvo said to reporters. “We have way too many poor people in Memphis — black, white, Latino, and any other community. We have to make sure our time in the county commission is spent being productive.”

Calvo said Latino Memphis and the NCAAP are trying to push past Brooks’ comments in response.

“How we handle this speaks to our character. We’re moving forward because we don’t want to address [those comments]. We have bigger and better things to address,” he said. “If you have two races fighting against each other for a dollar, what kind of dollar is that?”

Business interests are also at play here, Calvo added: “At the end of the day, we want to attract people to do more business in Shelby County. The people who are already in Shelby County need to have confidence that their elected officials are going to be representing all people in a professional manner. There’s a challenge and an opportunity here.”

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Man Indicted On Animal Cruelty Charges For Allegedly Setting Dog On Fire

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2014 at 4:49 PM

Brian Gillum
  • Brian Gillum

Whitehaven resident Brian Gillum faces up to six years in prison for allegedly setting his girlfriend’s miniature Doberman Pinscher on fire.

The occurrence took place on September 5th, 2012 in the 4000 block of Webbway, according to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office.

After Gillum, 31, and his girlfriend got into an argument over his car keys, he allegedly picked up her 2-year-old miniature Doberman Pinscher, Bentley, and walked outside onto the patio where he doused the dog with lighter fluid and set it on fire.

The dog sustained extensive burns on its legs, hindquarters, face and eyes. It had to be euthanized.

Gillum has been indicted on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals. The charge is a felony and carries a punishment of up to six years in prison.

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Frontier Airlines Offers $15 Flights Today Only

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2014 at 12:37 PM

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Citing positive passenger response to the Memphis/Denver flights Frontier Airlines brought to Memphis International Airport in March, the low-cost carrier has added four new weekly flights between Memphis and Washington Dulles Airport in Washington D.C.

Those flights will begin on September 8th. To celebrate, the airline is hosting a 12-hour, today-only sale with flights to any of the new cities Frontier is flying to for $15 each way. The tickets must be purchased by 10:59 p.m. on May 13th, and they're good for flights through November 19th of this year. Frontier will also be offering introductory rates as low as $39 through May 17th.

Tickets may be purchased on Frontier's website.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Dead Man’s Testimony Leads to Home Invasion Conviction

Posted By on Mon, May 12, 2014 at 3:48 PM

Ramone Hunter
  • Ramone Hunter

Thanks to a recorded testimony from his now-deceased victim, Memphian Ramone Hunter is facing more than a decade in prison for aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.

On Nov. 9, 2012, Hunter, 28, invaded the home of Jerry Wolfe, Jr., who lived in the 1100 block of Central. In February 2013, Wolfe testified in a preliminary hearing that Hunter, who he knew as “Rome," forced his way at gunpoint into his apartment with another man. Wolfe was pistol-whipped and robbed of a cell phone and $65, according to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office.

Wolfe described Hunter as the setup man in the holdup. The second assailant was never identified or captured.

Last December, before the case could be prosecuted, Wolfe died of causes unrelated to the crime. He was 48 years old. However, his recorded testimony from the February 2013 hearing was played for the Criminal Court jury last week. After hearing the testimony, the jury convicted Hunter of home invasion robbery and burglary.

Hunter faces eight to 12 years in prison for aggravated robbery and three to six years for aggravated burglary. He will be sentenced May 19th.

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