Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was far away from tense Congressional chambers filled with pointed criticisms Friday as her Memphis visit felt at times more like a pep rally.
The secretary’s event at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library was a push to get residents enrolled in a health insurance plan in the one-month-old Health Insurance Marketplace.
The new, government-run health insurance “store” is a product of the Affordable Care Act. The marketplace has been a source of intense scrutiny this week by Republicans who have pointed to the failures of healthcare.gov, the marketplace’s online home, as a systemic failure of the health care law overall.
Sebelius took full responsibility and apologized to the country for the site’s failures in testimony Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose members grilled her in sometimes-heated exchanges. The failures also account for a growing number of GOP leaders calling for Sebelius’ resignation.
But nearly 1,000 miles away from the halls of Congress, Sebelius was welcomed in Memphis to raucous applause, standing ovations, and local leaders calling her “our general” for health issues and a “warrior” for health care advocacy.
Sebelius first met with local stakeholders — politicians such as Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Congressman Steve Cohen, public health officials, pastors, and CEOs - in the library’s Memphis Room. She then addressed a standing-room-only crowd of locals who had come to either hear the secretary speak or to get help signing up for health insurance.
She apologized again Friday for the “frustrating” process for those trying and failing to get health care at healthcare.gov. She also gave a tongue-in-cheek apology for the 2008 University of Kansas win over the University of Memphis in the NCAA championship, which happened when Sebelius was governor of Kansas.
Officials constantly reminded the crowd and the media that the marketplace is one month into a six-month open enrollment period, which ends March 31st. Wharton noted that critics lambasted the launch of the Social Security program, which is now considered essential to many.
Cohen said Republicans are using the Affordable Care Act to undermine and politically damage President Barack Obama and that nearly 88,000 Memphians will be eligible for coverage through the marketplace.
Leaders of the various Memphis City Council committees will rotate each year if the full council approves a proposal from the ad hoc group of council members looking to change the rules and procedures of the city's legislative body.
"Some people believe they own a committee because they have chaired them for two or three years," Lowery said.
Councilman Bill Boyd countered that the years spent chairing a committee bring an expertise on a topic which "serves the whole council." But that expertise can be problematic, said Councilwoman Wanda Halbert, as some "start acting like members of the administration and not legislators."
The committee also approved a "fiscal consent" category for the council's agenda that will allow some routine spending items to pass more quickly through the council approval process.
The committee said it will also enforce the Thursday deadline for submitting agenda items for the following Tuesday's council meeting. Halbert said she is "uncomfortable" voting on items that she has not time to consider and said the rule is frequently broken by members of A C Wharton's administration.
The committee also discussed creating uniform procedures for limiting speaking times for council members and members of the public and discussed policies on council members leaving meetings early.
While neither meeting of the committee have yet produced the fireworks some expected, Halbert said she wanted the committee to deal with "the easy stuff" first.
"We have stuff coming that might be a little funny looking and a little sensitive," she said.
Projects to repair and maintain Memphis roads and bridges will soon get big cash injections if the Memphis City Council approves them during their meeting Tuesday night.
The council will consider:
- Accepting $5.3 million in state and federal funds to repair 14 bridges on Sam Cooper Boulevard.
- Accepting $11.6 million in funds to pave some Memphis roads.
- Accepting nearly $9 million in funds to improve traffic signals around the city.
A group may soon be formed to study the possible expansion of the Cook Convention Center.
The Memphis City Council will consider a joint resolution with the Shelby County Commission on Tuesday to “establish a Memphis Cook Convention Center Expansion Study Committee,” according to the council’s committee agenda published Wednesday afternoon.
Such a group would certainly not be the first formed in Memphis to discuss the future of the aging convention center. Then-Memphis-Mayor Willie Herenton formed a study group in 2008 to replace the Cook and similar proposals have come before the city council since then.
But the pressure to up the city’s convention game rose this year after the $585 million Music City Center opened in Nashville this summer. The enormous space is expected to compete nationally for meetings conferences and the like and will likely capture some of the Cook’s market share.
The Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau began managing the Cook Center two years ago. CVB president Kevin Kane told a council committee earlier this month that Memphis is, indeed, losing conventions and meetings to Nashville and that the Cook needs an upgrade and that city needs more hotel space.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be in Memphis Friday promoting the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.
The event is designed to help Memphis-area residents get enrolled in a health insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace, a product of the Affordable Care Act. The event will feature federally trained marketplace Navigators and other counselors to aid in the application process.
Sebelius’ trip to Memphis will come after she testifies Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the new healthcare law and especially the problems that have plagued the rollout of healthcare.gov, the online home of the insurance marketplaces.
National GOP leaders have harshly criticized Sebelius on the rollout and have called for a Government Accounting Office investigation of some of her fundraising efforts supporting the ACA.
Friday’s event runs from 1 p.m. — 4 p.m. at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library at 3030 Poplar.
New parking meters should be showing up around Downtown Memphis and the Medical District by the end of November .
The digital meters will cost the city more than $1.7 million but are expected to pay for themselves, according to city engineer John Cameron, who predicted the meters will generate $892,000 in new fees annually.
The new metering program will replace nearly 1,200 analog meters, which only accept coins. The new meters will accept coins and credit and debit cards.
Most of the meters will be set up to handle multiple parking spaces by the block. A driver will park in a space, walk to the meter, pay it, take the receipt issued by the machine and place it on their vehicle's dashboard so police can easily see if the car is parked illegally or not.
However, some individual meters will also be installed for single parking spaces.
Two National Guardsmen, Maj. William J. Crawford and Sgt. Maj. Ricky R. McKenzie, were transported to the Regional Medical Center of Memphis with non-life threatening injuries following an afternoon shooting at the National Guard Armory across the street from the Millington Naval base. One person was shot in the leg, the other in the foot. The shots were fired from a small handgun, according to Major Max Haston, Adjutant General of the Tennessee National Guard.
The suspect, a National Guardsman who has been described by some reports as an African-American man in his 30s, was taken into custody by the Millington Police Department. The suspect has not yet named.
The shots were not technically fired on the Naval base since the Armory is located across the street.
The shooting is being investigated by the local authorities, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
After the shooting, the Naval base was locked down for a short time as a precaution. That lockdown has been lifted.
"We were hoping it was just a drill when we first got the call," said Millington police chief Rita Stanback at the press conference.
At a press conference at 5 p.m., Haston said the shooting victims are National Guard recruiters with about 15 years of service or more. Haston wouldn't comment on a motive except to say, "We were going through administrative policies with this individual."
The Lyft program is driven by a mobile app that allows you to find drivers in your area and order a ride from them. You’ll know a Lyft car when you see one as the cars all sport the company’s signature pink mustache on their grills.
The San Francisco-based start up ran an ad looking for drivers in Memphis on Facebook recently but the expansion isn’t a sure thing.
“We are currently testing ads in 20 cities where Lyft is not operating but that we are interested in exploring,” company spokesman Page Thelen said. “While Memphis would be a great city for Lyft, we have not made any plans to launch there at this time.”
Lyft drivers are vetted and approved by the company but aren’t commercially licensed, which makes Lyft different from some rideshare companies. The drivers are just regular people with cars who sign up to give rides for a suggested donation instead of a fee, a difference that allows drivers to get around having a commercial license.
Should the company bring its service to Memphis, riders can expect a friendly fist bump from drivers and to be able to pick their own music and charge their phones or other electronics during the ride.
Tuesday morning, a pilot, respiratory therapist, and nurse lost their lives in a helicopter crash. They were en route to assist a patient more than an hour away in Bolivar.
Two of the victims were staff members of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. The other was a Hospital Wing pilot.
The crash victims have been identified as nurse Carrie Barlow, 43; respiratory therapist Denise Adams, 43; and pilot Charles Smith, 47 (a retired member of the Memphis Police Department's aviation unit).
The three passengers died after their medical helicopter crashed in Fayette County near Somerville. The crash occurred before 7 a.m. The reason for the crash is still unknown.
According to a statement released by Le Bonheur, around 6:20 a.m., they received reports that they had not received regular contact from a Hospital Wing helicopter flying to pick up a patient in Bolivar.
The statement said it was later confirmed that the helicopter was down in Fayette County. The local sheriff’s department, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified and a preliminary investigation is underway.
According to Le Bonheur, the hospital makes 400 flights each year to transport sick and critically injured children for medical care within a 150-mile radius.
The young patient that the medical helicopter was flying to was transported to Le Bonheur by ambulance.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton issued an executive order Monday morning outlining a plan to eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits in Memphis “as soon as is possible.”
Memphis police will immediately inventory all backlogged rape kits and establish a plan to have them tested. No “case will be considered ‘cold’,” according to the order. Evidence collected from the tests will be used to in the prosecution of the crimes to the fullest extent of the law.
Going forward, MPD will have policies and procedures to process all new rape kits and set up performance indicators to measure the program’s compliance and success, the order says. In three months, the police director will begin to give monthly reports on the program to the mayor and to the city council’s public safety committee.
“Appropriate processes and procedures in the handling of this evidence help preserve the rights of victims, support the prosecution of criminals, and promote justice for all,” Wharton said in a Monday statement. “We have to get this right.”
Memphis police will work with the District Attorney General’s office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to eliminate the current backlog. Wharton’s order further directs MPD to process all new rape kits immediately.
“The purpose of this order is to ensure that this does not happen again, that these cases are being actively investigated, and that we identify and employ best practices for dealing with sexual assaults in the future,” Wharton said.
Larry Cox, president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, announced that he will leave his post on January 2nd.
Cox had previously announced that he'd retire in July of next year, and he will remain in an advisory position until then. But Cox, who has worked for the airport authority for 41 years, is stepping down a little earlier than originally planned. Scott Brockman, the airport authority's chief operating officer, will take over Cox's role as president after Cox steps down. In August, the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority confirmed Brockman to succeed Cox.
“This is the logical culmination of years of succession planning. My departure will allow for a smooth transition for Scott Brockman into the CEO role, and will ensure that the airport authority continues to move forward in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” Cox said.
In the case of McDonald’s developing a new location on the Highland Strip, members of the Memphis City Council said the fast-food company will have to compromise with neighbors in the University District in order for it to be built.
At the October 15th city council meeting, the company responsible for the project, SR Consulting, requested the hearing to be moved to December 17th. Cindy Reaves, the president of the firm, said an alternate plan needed to be developed.
David Wade, an attorney representative for university area residents, tried to convince the council to go forward with the hearing, rather than postpone.
“I’ve been shown the basic design changes that are being composed,” Wade said. “The design that is going to be recommended does not address the basic objection that all of these people in this university area have.”
The major concern of residents is the proposed loop-around drive-thru that does not comply with the University District Overlay, an official set of standards that regulates all construction in the area.
Council members Shea Flinn, Wanda Halbert, and Harold Collins voiced in favor of the delay.
Collins suggested giving McDonald’s the benefit of the doubt to come up with a new plan that satisfies the community, while Halbert expressed her disappointment and told the company to “seriously listen” to the University District residents.
Flinn was reminded of an earlier dispute with a corporate company.
“I’m gonna speak in favor of the delay for one simple reason — and it’s located on Union and Cooper,” Flinn said. “That’s the CVS that’s sitting there. At the time when we considered that, there was discussion about the delay. The opposition for [the delay] was very against [it], so instead of getting the best possible compromise, we ended up with something that I consider less good.”
The council passed the delay in a 9-4 vote, approving the hearing for December 17th.
Memphis City Council chairman Edmund Ford Jr. will form a committee to look into the rules that govern the city council to iron out a few problems Ford said he will no longer tolerate.
Ford said Tuesday he'd take volunteers from the city council for the three-member committee. The group will propose new rules on voting procedures and enforcing the decorum of city council members.
Some council members have made a habit of directing the council staff to record their votes after the gavel has fallen on the final vote count, Ford said. He would not disclose the identities of the council members.
Also, Ford said he will seek new rules to rein in the sometimes-acrid criticism by some council members, particularly criticisms directed at members of Mayor A C Wharton's administration. Again, Ford refused to "name drop" the offending council members during Tuesday's executive session.
Council member Joe Brown said he was "in the dark" about the events that led to Ford's decision to look for rule changes but reminded him that he (Brown) was elected "by 73,000 votes" and that council members have "no bosses."
Ford said he hopes to have the committee members selected within the week.
At a meeting of the Memphis City Council's Memphis Light, Gas, and Water Committee this morning, members passed a resolution that will allow any Shelby County resident to opt out of receiving a smart meter at no cost.
In a previous meeting, council members and MLGW executive staff debated about whether or not there was a fee associated with opting out of smart meters, which will provide more detailed information on energy consumption than conventional meters. Councilwoman Janis Fullilove emphasized that she had received hundreds of calls from people expressing their desire to opt out of receiving a smart meter. Fullilove said some citizens informed her that when they contacted MLGW's Customer Customer Care Center about opting out, they were told that there would be a fee associated with having their meters removed.
During the meeting, MLGW President Jerry Collins expressed that there never has been a fee associated with opting out of receiving a smart meter. If customers wish to opt out, Collins said they should call 544-MLGW. A form will be sent to those customers, and they must fill it out and send it back to MLGW to finalize their request.
MLGW’s smart meters have been creating controversy since they've been introduced. Some citizens have expressed worries about the meters potentially invading their privacy, creating a fire hazard, and possibly increasing utility bills.
In August, the city council approved a $10 million contract for MLGW to install 60,000 smart meters between December of this year and June 2014. There will be individual smart meters for electricity, gas, and water. MLGW anticipates installing meters in all Memphis and Shelby County residences and businesses by 2020.
The Shelby County Land Use Control Board voted Thursday morning to approve the planned redevelopment of the abandoned Sears Crosstown building into a "vertical urban village" that will be home to the Church Health Center, Gestalt Community Schools, Methodist Healthcare, and other medical, office, retail, and residential uses.
"I welcome this change for those of us who live in Midtown and use that post office [on Autumn] and have to look at that huge empty garage," said Land Use Control Board member Margaret Pritchard, referring to the parking garage in the Sears lot.
The Office of Planning and Development (OPD) had recommended the Land Use Control Board approve the project but with a few conditions. The plans for the redeveloped Crosstown project include opening up Claybrook to make it a through street. Currently, Claybrook dead ends on either side of the Crosstown building, but the redevelopment plans call for opening up the street. The north side of Claybrook would then be used as a drop-off point for Church Health Center patients.
"We think that's a relatively busy intersection [at North Parkway and Claybrook], and we think there are opportunities in other areas of the site to achieve what the applicant wants to do," said OPD principal planner Gregory Love.
But Cindy Reaves of SR Consulting, who represented the Crosstown developers, told the Land Use Control Board members that the access point on Claybrook was critical for Church Health Center's medical facility. She assured the board that there would be no big truck traffic, just vehicles of Church Health Center patients. The main entry point for other uses of the Crosstown building will be at Autumn near Cleveland and Watkins.
"Sears cut off the neighborhood when that building was built. We want to reconnect the neighborhood back into the development," said Tony Bologna of Bologna Consultants, also representing the Crosstown developers.
Donna Palmer, a Crosstown resident who lives on Forrest, spoke in favor of the board allowing developers to make Claybrook a through street.
"I'm the most affected neighbor for the Claybrook entrance, and I support this," Palmer said.
There were no opponents for the Claybrook access or the project as a whole. In the end, the board approved the project and voted to allow Claybrook access pending the outcome of a traffic study by the city engineer's office.
If all goes according to plan, construction on the project will begin in early 2014, and tenants of the building hope to move in by 2016. That timeline is contingent on Memphis Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb locating $15 million in public funds to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements. The total project cost is estimated to be $175 million, with the majority of that money coming from the building's founding partners — Church Health Center, Methodist Healthcare, Gestalt Community Schools, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, ALSAC, Memphis Teacher Residency, Rhodes College, and Crosstown Arts.