The McLean Avenue bike lane has been in place now for about one year, so the city's engineering division is planning a May 14th meeting to ask citizens for feedback.
The section of bike lane between Poplar and Overton Park caused a stir among some residents of that area last year due to loss of on-street parking, so the city eventually allowed car parking in the bike lanes after 7 p.m. Some residents are apparently still complaining.
A Liveable Memphis email calling for bike lane supporters to make an appearance at the meeting are asking them to attend the meeting and give "positive feedback to the city for creating this essential bike corridor."
Although the most controversial area extends from Poplar to Overton Park, the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz will be on hand to discuss any concerns or support for the entire McLean corridor from Lamar to Hunter. The meeting will be held at Snowden Elementary School from 6 to 8 p.m.
To promote cycling in Memphis, the Saris Cycling Group and the City of Memphis Engineering Division are holding a bike corral contest. A bike corral converts the space of one on-street parking stall to parking space for 10 bikes. Corrals typically feature interesting or non-conventional designs. The contest is open to the public, and anyone can submit a photo and brief description of where they think a bike corral would be most beneficial to cyclists.
Nominations will be placed on the city’s Bike/Ped Facebook page, and the winner will be decided by how many “likes” each photo received. The city will then provide and install a bike corral for the business or organization that demonstrates the greatest need, location, and public support for additional bike parking.
So far, there are only two submissions on the Bike/Ped Facebook Page: the lot in front of the "I Love Memphis" mural on Cooper Avenue (the future location of Memphis Made Brewing Co.), and the lot in front of the newly constructed Beale Street Landing. Submissions can be made until May 10th, and three finalists will be announced on May 11th. The final winner of the bike corral competition will be announced May 17th on National Bike to Work Day. To submit a photo or for more information, call Kyle Wagenschutz at (901) 576-6710.
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."
The Crosstown Development Team, which is spearheading the redevelopment of the abandoned 1.5 million square foot Sears Crosstown building, presented their plan to transform the former Sears headquarters into a "vertical urban village" to the Memphis City Council's executive committee today.
The founding partners — ALSAC, the Church Health Center, Methodist Healthcare, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Gestalt Community Schools, Memphis Teacher Residency, and Crosstown Arts — will fill in 600,000 square feet of the building, and the rest will be a combination of residential property, retail, and arts.
The team has asked the city to help them fill in a $15 million funding gap for the $175 million project. Most of the redevelopment is being funded by private contributions, grants, and federal tax credits, but some help is needed from the city. The city's contribution will pay for blight removal on the site and demolition of some parts of building and parking garage. Robert Lipscomb, Memphis Housing and Community Development and MHA director, said the city plans to find alternative sources of funding that don't require dipping into the city's general fund.
"We have not committed to the $15 million. What we have committed to is helping find the $15 million," Lipscomb said.
Lipscomb proposed the introduction of a new city Center for Policy Change, Design, and Development (also called "The Studio") that would specialize in sourcing alternative funding for projects that approach city government for assistance. He said he'll begin meeting with city division directors to discuss Crosstown funding options next week.
Despite the questions concerning how the city will help pay for the project, Memphis City Council members seemed largely supportive.
"It's critical that we get in-fill development," said council member Shea Flinn. "We have to do what we have to do or this city will not survive. The fact that such five-star [founding] partners have stepped up for this project is nothing short of a miracle."
Construction is expected to begin at the Sears Crosstown building later this year with a projected move-in date of 2016.
Vince Higgins, Communications Director for the D.A.'s office, has confirmed the investigation is still underway and no determination has been made over whether criminal charges will be filed.
"The fatal shooting of Stephen Askew remains an open investigation and is under review by the D.A.'s Office," Higgins responded via email today.
Howard Manis, attorney for the Askew family, was especially surprised to receive the MPD's statement about the allegedly closed case, as his open records requests had been denied citing an ongoing investigation.
"I said, something's inconsistent here. Either you have an open investigation or you don't have an open investigation. It seems logical [that the case would not yet be closed] because we haven't even gotten the autopsy back yet," says Manis. "You don't close a homicide investigation without an autopsy."
The MPD's February 15th press release also stated that the officers, who had been suspended pending an investigation, had been approved to return to duty while an internal investigation would be carried out.
"It begs the question, who, if anybody, told the police that the District Attorney wasn't prosecuting?" says Manis. "And what in the world are they doing announcing that as support for putting these officers back on the force if there's an investigation of these officers still pending?"
On January 17th, Officers Aufdenkamp and Dyess found Askew asleep in his car, with his legally owned handgun next to him. When the officers approached the vehicle, they allege Askew pointed his gun at them, and the officers then shot and killed Askew with their duty weapons.
On January 30th, we reported that Aufdenkamp's personnel file revealed a history of aggression that led the MPD to submit him to the department's Early Intervention Program in 2012.
"If the Memphis Police Department has a policy that we can reinstate these guys before the District Attorney's office has cleared them and before they've cleared an internal investigation, then that's scary as a citizen, knowing that's the policy of our police department," Manis says.
The Memphis Police Department could not be reached for comment.
The city of Memphis has officially approved a demonstration by the Loyal White Knights, better known as the Ku Klux Klan, to be held on March 30th.
City officials and police director Toney Armstrong have been discussing the issue for days, and the permit was finally approved after Armstrong gave the okay to proceed.
“Based on director Armstrong’s decision, the permits office took appropriate steps earlier today to issue the permit and contact the applicant,” said city attorney Herman Morris. “We have known from the beginning that denying this application would result in a legal fight on constitutionality that would be long, divisive, expensive, and that would unnecessarily prolong the decision. We have all, however, been very attune to director Armstrong’s review given the critical role the Memphis Police Department will play in a proposed demonstration.”
The KKK submitted their application to demonstrate following the Memphis City Council's decision to change the name of Forrest Park and other city parks named with Confederate themes.
"My primary focus is the safety of the public and all involved,” Armstrong said. “It will be in all of our best interest to have a demonstration where we are able to work with this group in setting the do’s and don’ts. Right now, my team has a strategy that will ensure everyone’s safety. What we absolutely do not want is some unplanned, spontaneous demonstration where my team has not been involved in planning and set-up.”
Representatives from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) hosted a public meeting at the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) Crump Station Monday evening to gather comments and concerns as it considers whether or not to reaccredit the department. MPD is seeking reaccreditation for another three years. It was last accredited in 2010.
Outside the station, a small group of protesters from the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation held signs protesting recent MPD-involved shooting deaths, such as the deaths of 24-year-old Steven Askew and 67-year-old Donald Moore, both killed this year by officers who claimed guns were pointed at them by the victims.
The federation submitted its public comment in the form of an eight-page emailed letter that includes a section titled "Body Count," which details 13 deaths that occurred either through shootings by officers or while suspects were being held in police care. They are asking CALEA to deny MPD's reaccreditation citing "several incidents of deadly force against people of color, unprofessional conduct, and corruption within the Memphis Police Department," according to a press release from the group.
Since those comments were submitted before the meeting, federation members did not speak at the public forum. They did offer comments to media outside the station.
"We're just asking for democracy and fairness," said Rochelle Carraway, addressing the issue of whether or not the MPD should receive reaccreditation. "If you don't have to kill, don't. It's gotten out of hand."
Lorenzo Ervin agreed: "We just want [CALEA] to be as thorough as possible. We don't want the [the MPD] to be legitimized by them."
Inside the meeting, some public comments echoed those of the protesters outside. Robert Gurley said he'd like to see a little more professionalism within the department, and Kenneth Van Buren, who often organizes direct actions against what he sees as injustices in city government, said he has asked the Justice Department to send a task force to Memphis to investigate the MPD.
"I've tried to talk to the [police] director, and my calls have gone unanswered," Van Buren said. He said he's unhappy about recent shootings. He also believes the MPD is guilty of evidence tampering, and he wants all officers to have to submit to regular random drug screenings.
But the majority of comments made inside the meeting were overwhelmingly positive. Dwight Montgomery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, did mention that "on one end of the scale, you have a small group of police officers who have acted inappropriately," referring to officers involved in recent shooting deaths. But he praised the department as a whole for dealing with what he called "major crime problems happening every weekend in certain neighborhoods."
Memphian Christopher Edwards agreed: "The police officers who serve us have taken on the responsibility of a job that very few men and women would agree to take. We need to be objective when looking at them."
"I am most grateful and thankful that these people come to work everyday," said commenter Jennifer Bush. "There have been isolated incidents and tragedies, but these could have happened in many other places."
Public comments are still being accepted by email, phone, and snail mail. Direct comments to CALEA at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (703) 352-4225, or mail a letter to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, 13575 Healthcote Blvd., Suite 320, Gainesville, VA 20155.
The Memphis City Council's parks committee voted to revisit councilman Myron Lowery's proposal to rename Forrest Park in honor of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells in two weeks, following a heated exchange between councilwoman Janis Fullilove and councilman Bill Boyd.
Boyd, chairman of the parks committee, began the meeting by extolling the "virtues" of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the namesake of the controversial city park, after first giving a disclaimer about his interest in the Civil War.
"I'm not a Civil War buff. As far as I'm concerned, the South lost. It's like when the [University of Memphis] Tigers lose, I don't read the paper," Boyd said.
Boyd talked about Forrest's history as a businessman and proclaimed that, with Forrest's long history of winning war battles, "he must have been a great general." Then Boyd went on to tell the council that Forrest "promoted progress for black people in this country after the war." He claimed that Forrest did not found the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) but rather was elected its leader later on. Boyd also claimed that the KKK was "more of a social club" in its early days and didn't start doing "bad and horrific things" until it reorganized around the time of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement.
Boyd's statements were peppered with audible scoffs and an exclamation of "Lord, have mercy" from Fullilove. At one point, Boyd looked at the councilwoman and said, "Keep making faces like you do, Ms. Fullilove," to which she responded, "Oh, I will."
After Boyd's history lesson on Forrest, he allowed Lee Millar of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to speak about the city's removal of a granite "Forrest Park" sign that his club raised more than $10,000 to have made and installed at the park's Union Avenue entrance. When Miller mentioned that the city had removed the marker, Fullilove clapped loudly. Miller then asked Fullilove to "hold it down."
Miller had copies of emails from former city parks director Cindy Buchanan that he believed showed proof that the city had approved the marker. But Maura Black Sullivan, deputy CAO for the city, told council members, "I know those emails look like it was approved, but it was not approved by the administration."
Sullivan told Miller he would have to gain approval from the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) under their sign ordinance, but Miller contended that the DMC only approves business signs, not signs for city parks. That issue will also be revisited in two weeks.
Boyd then adjourned the meeting, but Fullilove had apparently been trying to let Boyd know that she wanted to speak.
"Oh, you just ignored me!" Fullilove exclaimed.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Boyd said, opening the floor to Fullilove.
"I appreciate how you shared your personal opinion on how great Forrest was to black people," Fullilove said as she addressed Boyd. "But those are lies."
Boyd asked Fullilove to share her opinion with him in writing. "Oh, I will," Fullilove said.
Memphis Animal Services director James Rogers announced the lowest December euthanasia rate the shelter has experienced in years at the quarterly public meeting of the Memphis Animal Services Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday night.
There was a 59 percent kill rate for December 2012, up from percentages in the 70s and 80s over the past several years. In all of 2012, 8,859 animals were euthanized at the shelter versus numbers in the 11,000s in 2011 and 2010 and more than 13,000 animals in 2009.
Rodgers told meeting attendees about a new trap/neuter/release program for stray cats that is being run out of the shelter. Project Community Cat was launched in October with funding from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Since its launch, 88 feral cats have been spayed or neutered and released back into the city.
Rodgers said he was dedicated to improving staffing levels per shift. He said he'd hired a groomer and a new shelter supervisor.
But despite showing some improvements, board members and members of the public pointed out areas in need of work. Dr. Stephen Tower, the board chair, mentioned that, since GPS had been installed in animal control officers' vehicles several months ago, the data was showing "a lot of room for improvement." There was some talk of having animal control dispatchers be retrained by the people who train county 911 dispatchers.
Board member Jeanne Chancellor said the shelter clinic needed to get up to speed. The vet clinic in the new animal shelter building is equipped with five spay and neuter tables that aren't all being utilized, and the X-ray machine does not work. Suggestions were made to have the city attorney's office look into problems with the X-Ray machine, and Chancellor suggested the shelter do a better job of getting out into the community and offering spay and neuter services. The spay and neuter area of the clinic was originally intended to be open-to-the-public for spay and neuter services.
Cindy Sanders, a shelter reform advocate who observes weekly court proceedings for those charged with animal cruelty and other animal-related violations, suggested the shelter should look into getting some use out of those spay and neuter tables by altering the animals of those charged with violation of the city's spay and neuter ordinance. Sanders and fellow reform advocate Jackie Johns have been raising money to have those pets spayed and neutered for some time, but they have been working with the local humane society for that service.
Chancellor also asked Rodgers to rethink a shelter policy that prevents vets from performing spay and neuter surgeries on heartworm positive dogs. Currently, pet owners must pay an extra $200 fee to re-claim their pet from the shelter if it is heartworm positive and unaltered. That fee, Chancellor said, prevents some people from being able to get their pets back. The procedure is riskier for heartworm positive dogs, and the decision not to alter heartworm positive dogs at the shelter began after a Rottweiler with heartworms died during the procedure. Rodgers said he would look into the possibility of making that change.
The Memphis Shelby Crime Commission recently sent a letter to City Hall asking Mayor A C Wharton's administration to restore funding to the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush data-driven policing program. But a handful of Memphis City Council members say they were never made aware of any cuts to the MPD's budget for Blue Crush.
This morning, the Memphis City Council called on MPD director Toney Armstrong to explain the current state of Blue Crush and whether or not funding cuts had affected use of the successful crime-fighting program.
Armstrong said Blue Crush has remained strong, despite previous comments Armstrong made to media outlets over the past few days. But Armstrong did admit that Blue Crush wasn't being funded with traditional methods.
Armstrong said budget cuts have forced him trade comp time in lieu of payments for officers who work on Blue Crush details. The funds that could have been used to pay for Blue Crush had to be spent on necessary upgrades to equipment and fingerprinting technology and mandatory hepatitis shots for employees, Armstrong said.
"Yes, I have the funds in my budget [for Blue Crush] but there were other unfunded obligations we had to meet," Armstrong told the council.
Memphis City Councilman Jim Strickland blamed the Wharton administration for denying the MPD a $2.3 million request for overtime pay for Blue Crush detail.
The police division had requested $245 million for its overall budget, which would have included the money for Blue Crush overtime pay. But the department was given $238 million instead. Strickland accused Wharton of "dismantling" Blue Crush, citing a document from the city's Zero Based Budgeting Committee that specifically says $2.3 million was cut from "overtime for Blue Crush" for the 2013 budget. Also, a December 2012 email from MPD deputy police chief Jim Harvey specifically stated that the "Blue Crush overtime budget was cut from all precincts."
Strickland's data also clearly showed a reduction in Blue Crush details from 2010 to 2012. There were 824 details from July to December 2010, 257 details from the same months in 2011, and 336 details from July to December 2012.
But city CAO George Little, representing the Wharton administration, argued that Blue Crush is not a line item, implying that Armstrong makes the decisions on how to use his budget to fund that program. The council has requested more information from Armstrong, and they will discuss the matter again in a few weeks.
Blue Crush was launched in 2006 by former MPD director Larry Godwin. It utilizes crime data to determine hotspots where police are deployed.
A website with updates on the city's plan for revamping the airport area is now online. Memphisaeroplan.com provides an overview of the aerotropolis plan, which is now being billed as Memphis Airport City.
The plan is currently being developed with input from community leaders and business owners in the study area, and it's funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city of Memphis Division of Planning and Development through grants. The plan will focus on market strategy, land use, and urban design, as well as opportunities for new housing and businesses in the area.
The public can get a better idea of the scope of the plan with graphics, maps, and aerial photographs of the site area, all available on the new website.
“We are still gathering public input,” said Chad Bowman, Aerotropolis Project Manager. “So if anyone is interested in learning more about the project or providing input through their group or organization, please feel free to contact me, and I will make myself available.”
A lone dog was the only occupant at home when a fire broke out on Morgan Tree Lane this morning, but the Shelby County Fire Department managed to rescue the pet in the nick of time.
Around 11 a.m., a Shelby County Sheriff's Deputy reported a house fire after he spotted the blaze while on patrol. The Shelby County Fire Department sent multiple fire trucks to the location, and the Memphis and Germantown Fire Departments also sent aid.
A Shelby County firefighter spotted a dog inside the home and managed to pull the dog out. The family pet was given oxygen and is reported to be doing well now.
It took firefighters 26 minutes to put out the flames, but a cause has yet to be determined.
At 8:30 a.m., the Memphis Police Department received an anonymous tip that someone was planning to blow up the Criminal Justice Center at 201 Poplar, the Federal Building at 167 N. Main, and the main US Post Office at 555 S. Third.
The US Post Office and the Federal Building were evacuated while the locations, including 201 Poplar, were searched. No bombs have been located, according to the latest information from the Memphis Police Department.
The Memphis Area Transit Authority evacuated all trolleys at 9 a.m. Spokesperson Alison Burton said trolley service resumed around 11:30 a.m.
The Memphis City Council's public works and transportation committee passed a resolution this morning to establish a hotline where citizens can report blight and problems with rental properties.
The resolution is sponsored by councilman Edmund Ford Jr., who told council members the new hotline would incorporate reserve city code enforcement officers to address the citizens' reported concerns.
"We can't be the eyes of the entire city because of how big the city is," Ford said.
But public works director Dwan Gilliom told the council he was concerned about rolling out a full-blown call center for blight reports when the planned 311 information line could handle those calls. The 311 line is already taking public works and sanitation-related calls, and it will launch for all citizen calls in January.
"It's difficult enough to keep up with the calls we already have coming in," Gilliom said.
On Monday, we reported that a MATA bus to Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis was no longer letting passengers off in front of the Southland building and was instead dropping passengers off on a nearby frontage road off Interstate 40. The accompanying video shot by members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union shows passengers navigating the unpaved side of a frontage road and traveling up an exit ramp to get to Southland Park.
As to why MATA was no longer allowed to drop off riders on Southland property, Troy Keeping, manager at Southland Park Gaming and Racing, responded that Southland Park asked the city of West Memphis to relocate the bus stop because of safety issues the bus stop was causing in the Southland parking lot.
"We had a couple of potential almost accidents and there were too many people waiting for the bus in high traffic lanes where the bus stop was located," says Keeping. "So we asked them to relocate it off of our property because of safety issues."
Alison Burton of MATA says she had also heard complaints of MATA bus riders panhandling on Southland property, and that was perhaps another reason Southland asked the bus to be rerouted.
Burton also says the reroute to an I-40 frontage road was not determined by MATA, but by the city of West Memphis planning division.
"MATA has been under contract with the city of West Memphis since June of 1999 to provide service for mobility within [the West Memphis] community," Burton says. "Routing, schedules, all of those things are determined by the city of West Memphis."
Since the video was taken, Ford of West Memphis has asked the city of West Memphis to have MATA cease dropping passengers off on the frontage road in front of their dealership. The stop has now moved further up the road, closer to Southland Park. But the stop will likely change again Burton says, as MATA and the city of West Memphis are in conversation about rerouting the Southland bus in a way that will be safest for passengers.
"This decision [to remove the bus stop] is one that Southland is welcome to make," says Burton. "It was not received well by some of the people who ride over there, but the people who live in West Memphis didn't complain. From what I understand, [the city of West Memphis] didn't get a lot of complaints from their constituents, and the service was developed for tourism, to get people [in West Memphis] to come over to Memphis."
The Southland route, according to Burton, was originally intended to be a free shuttle, paid for by the city of West Memphis, for West Memphians to get to Memphis. In recent years, however, Burton says the free shuttle had actually worked in the opposite direction, with Memphians using the bus to get to West Memphis more than the other way around. As such, the city of West Memphis decided to shift the bus from a free service to a paid service in February of this year.