City/County News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Luttrell Did Not Proclaim "Jefferson Davis Day"

Posted By on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Confederate heritage groups gathered in Memphis Park Saturday to re-dedicate the statue of Jefferson Davis.
  • Toby Sells
  • Confederate heritage groups gathered in Memphis Park Saturday to re-dedicate the statue of Jefferson Davis.

It turns out Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell did not proclaim this past Saturday to be “Jefferson Davis Day,” not personally anyway.

Confederate heritage groups gathered in Memphis Park Saturday to re-dedicate the statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. During the event, a member of one of the groups read a proclamation from Luttrell’s office declaring Saturday, Oct. 18 as “Jefferson Davis Day in Shelby County.”

Steve Shular, the public affairs officer for Shelby County, said the language for the proclamation was sent to the mayor’s office by one of the heritage groups. It was drafted into an official proclamation by a member of the mayor’s staff. That staffer used a stamp of Luttrell’s signature to officially “sign” the proclamation.

“So, the mayor was totally unaware that there had been a proclamation for Jefferson Davis Day,” Shular said. “Anytime something like this occurs, it gives us pause to think and to reexamine how we do business, to ensure that we’re doing it the right and proper way. We want to ensure everything we’re doing from the mayor’s office is going to help and encourage groups in the community and certainly not do anything that might divide them.”

To that end, Shular said the mayor’s office will tighten its checks and balance system on proclamations “to ensure whatever the mayor is proclaiming is in keeping with good taste and also is a legitimate way to better the community. Certainly any issue that might be offensive to people, the mayor certainly would not be behind that.”

The proclamation from Lutrell’s office that was read Saturday said Davis “established an example of greatness for future generations through his leadership and public service.” It also called Davis a “great leader who played such a integral role in Americans, state and local history.”

Shular said the mayor’s office receives “literally hundreds” of requests for proclamations each week for birthdays, anniversaries, and other events in the community. The signature stamp is used, he said, to “speed along the process” and meet the deadlines of those asking for proclamations.

“In this instance, that proclamation did not get to the mayor for him to look at it personally,” Shular said. “Again, it gives us an opportunity to reexamine how we do business and we’ll certainly do better.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sam Cooper Boulevard To Close for the Next Two Weekends

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Westbound weekend traffic along Sam Cooper will be detoured this weekend and next as the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) installs steel girders over an existing traffic lane. The work is part of the overall construction project for the I-40/I-240 interchange improvement project.

Sam Cooper will be closed from Saturday, October 25th at 5:00 a.m. through Sunday, October 26th, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. and again from Saturday, November 1st at 5:00 a.m. through Sunday, November 2nd, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.

During both weekends, westbound Sam Cooper Boulevard will be closed. Traffic taking Sam Cooper Boulevard westbound into the city will be detoured along westbound I-40 to the Covington Pike interchange and then back along eastbound I-40 to exit 12B, where traffic will rejoin Sam Cooper Boulevard. Westbound I-40 traffic will be encouraged to use SR 385 as an alternate route. Detour maps and information will be provided on the TDOT web site.

Sam Cooper detour map
  • Sam Cooper detour map

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Memphis Court Clerk Employee Indicted on Embezzlement Charges

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 at 10:55 AM

An employee of the Memphis City Court Clerk’s office was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on a charge of embezzling money from customers paying traffic tickets.

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The indictment alleges that Tammy Brooks Carpenter, 41, of Memphis, embezzled about $24,000 from 188 tickets from December 2012 to December 2013.

Her duties at the clerk’s office included accepting payments from customers paying motor vehicle citations. According to the indictment, Carpenter would accept the payments and enter the information into the Electronic Ticket Information System, which created a record of the payment. She would then void the payment, enter a smaller amount into the system, and keep the remaining funds for her personal use.

Carpenter mainly targeted Hispanic customers, according to the indictment. Of the 188 tickets she voided, 183 of them had a Hispanic surname.

“As today’s arrest makes clear, we will not tolerate corrupt public officials, and will do everything in our power to hold them accountable,” said Edward L. Stanton III, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

If convicted, Carpenter faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

This investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Memphis Police Department, and the Tarnished Badge Task Force.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pension Reform Now in Focus at Memphis City Hall

Posted By on Tue, Oct 21, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Memphis finance director Brian Collins explains the administrations pension proposal to the Memphis City Council.
  • Memphis finance director Brian Collins explains the administration's pension proposal to the Memphis City Council.


The Memphis City Council waded into pension reform Tuesday with a long discussion and some new proposals.

The current pension plan is what’s called a defined benefit plan. That means city employees are guaranteed to get the same amount of money upon retirement for the rest of their lives. That plan puts the investment risk on city taxpayers because no matter how the market reacts to the investments that back the plans, the benefits stay the same.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton proposed a defined contribution plan earlier this year. In those types of plans, the entire investment risk is put on the employee. The proposal would have worked much like a 401(k) plan common in the private sector.

Wharton dropped that proposal last week in favor of a new hybrid plan. That plan would put some of the retirement contributions into a market-based plan and some of the contributions into a 401(k)-stye plan.

This new hybrid plan would save the city between $5 million and $10 million annually, according to the city finance director Brian Collins.

Inclusion into any new plan seemed to be the prevailing issue on the minds of council members Tuesday.

The new Wharton plan would allow current retirees or those vested in the current plan (who have been contributing to it for at least 10 years) to remain in the plan. New employees and unvested employees would be moved to the new pension plan.

Council member Myron Lowery floated an amendment well before Tuesday’s meeting that would allow all current employees to remain the city’s current retirement plan. Only new employees would have to go into the new plan, according to the amendment.

Some council members wanted to see how changing that part of the plan would affect the final financial figures. Others, like council members Wanda Halbert and Janis Fullilove, wanted to make the new plan mandatory only for new employees.

Finance director Collins said allowing all current employees to stay on the current plan would cost about $5 million.

Council member Joe Brown said he wanted to leave the current pension plan in place.

Pension reform became an issue at Memphis City Hall when a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers said the hole in the pension system was more than $700 million. The city stopped paying paying what it should to the system during the recession. These lower payments made the hole even bigger.

The issue came to a head when the state passed a new law this year mandating municipalities to pay the full amount of the required payment. The law goes into effect in five years.

The pension gap has shrunk since the first PwC report. It’t now at about $551 million. But filling that gap will take “several decades,” according to Collins. That means the city will have to divert millions of dollars into the fund each year, money that could be used for parks, police, paving, and more.

Rape Kit Backlog Update by the Numbers

Posted By on Tue, Oct 21, 2014 at 10:33 AM

In the last month, the Memphis Police Department [MPD] has discovered 14 more untested rape kits, which brings the total of all untested kits found here to 12,374.

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MPD major Don Crowe updated Memphis City Council members Tuesday on the overall project to test the current backlog of untested kits.

Crowe said MPD continues to comply with Mayor A C Wharton’s executive order on the kits, which includes working with the cross-functional team overseeing the process.

The department received a donation from a private citizen to help fund the testing project, he said. The department also continues to apply for grants to help fund the process.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will help as they have received a $2.4 million grant to assist cities with backlogs. MPD received a $300,000 grant to test kits from the federal National Institutes of Justice.

Also, MPD will send 30 kits to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Finally, a local fund has been established at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis to help MPD test more kits.

The MPD’s monthly reports to council about the sexual assault backlog usually comes down the numbers. Tuesday’s report was no different. Here are the most recent figures on the Memphis rape kit backlog:

• 12,374 total rape kits discovered
• 6,722 not yet tested
• Nearly 5,000 of those kits collected before DNA testing existed
• 2,495 now being tested, majority at a private lab
• 222 investigations initiated based on testing
• 90 remain active
• 132 investigations have been closed
• 20 individuals identified as being previously convicted
• 34 indictments issued
• 14 of those are suspects based on hits in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index [CODIS] System
• 20 suspects remain as John Doe, not identified
• 18 cases closed because either victim or suspect have died
• 21 cases closed because victims have been contacted but did not want to participate in a further investigation
• 27 cases not caught before the statute of limitations expired
• 3 cases investigated did not meet the statute definitions of a crime

Friday, October 17, 2014

Infant Mortality Hits a Record Low

Posted By on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Infant mortality is at a record low in Shelby County, according to the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD).

The infant mortality rate is the frequency of babies dying before their first birthday. The rate in Shelby County has long been the highest in the country. It’s been a vexing sore spot, drawing comparisons to Third World countries. The problem here was even the subject of a 2008 documentary called “Babyland.”

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New data shows the infant mortality rate here is now the lowest in the last 100 years. The health department said Friday the rate had dropped to 9.2 deaths per live 1,000 live births. In Shelby County, infant deaths are primarily associated with babies born prematurely, according to the health department.

In 2003, the infant mortality rate in Shelby County was 14.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. The target infant mortality rate set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 6 deaths per 1,000 live births.

“The improvement we are seeing is the result of the strategic community wide, multi-layered approach, a commitment of resources and implementing evidence-based approaches,” said Yvonne Madlock, director of the SCHD. “While the African-American infant mortality rate of 12.4 per 1,000 live births is the lowest on record in Shelby County, we continue to see a disproportionate amount of infant deaths in that community in comparison to other groups which means we still have work to do.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top Spenders: Shelby County Sheriff's Office, MPD Spend Most from Seized Assets

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 3:45 PM

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  • The Washington Post

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) and the Memphis Police Department (MPD) are the two biggest spenders of money from seized assets in the state, according to new figures from The Washington Post.

Since 2008, Tennessee law enforcement agencies have spent about $37.5 million from cash or property seized under federal civil forfeiture laws, according to the report.

The newspaper said police agencies don’t give a lot of details on how they spend the money from seized assets. They most often categorize this kind of spending as “other.”

The SCSO tops Tennessee’s list with more than $5.3 million spent in proceeds from assets police suspected were linked to crime. More than $2 million of that was spent in the “other” category, the report says. The office spent more than $1.6 million of the money on electronic surveillance and more than $1.4 million on building improvements.

Since 2008, MPD has spent more than $4.7 million that it got through seized assets. The department spent 40 percent of that money — about $1.9 million — on salaries and overtime. It spent about $1.3 million on communications and computers and about $1.2 million in the “other” category.

Rounding out the top five on the Tennessee list are the Metro Nashville Police Department ($3.8 million), the Tennessee Department of Safety ($3 million), and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ($2.1 million).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Shelby County Inmate Will Be Honored For Saving Life

Posted By on Mon, Oct 13, 2014 at 4:01 PM

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Tyteaddis Johnson, who is currently serving time at the Shelby County Corrections Center for aggravated burglary, left a work detail to rescue a woman from her vehicle after it flipped over in a car crash.

Now Johnson will be honored in a ceremony Tuesday morning (Oct. 14th) at 10 a.m., at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office/Shelby County Corrections Center Training Academy (993 Dovecrest) in classroom #6.

Johnson was assign to a grass-cutting crew near Memphis International Airport on July 21st when he witnessed a car crash at Brooks and Airways. A car turning west onto Brooks from Airways hit a car driven by Margaret Dobbs, and then Dobbs' car struck another vehicle and flipped over, trapping her upside down. Johnson ran to the scene, cut Dobbs' seatbelt with lawn shears, and pulled the woman from her car. Then he kept her calm as they waited for an ambulance.

"Incidents of this type are very rare. Inmates are to always remain at their posts on work crews. However, Mr. Johnson realized Ms. Dobbs was injured and quickly went to her aid,” said Bill Gupton, Director of the Shelby County Corrections Center.

Dobbs will join Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Director Gupton, and other corrections center staff to honor Johnson in the ceremony on Tuesday.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shelby County Health Department Tests Ability to Mass Vaccinate

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 1:34 PM

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The Shelby County Health Department will be dispensing free flu shots this Saturday, October 11th at Hickory Ridge Mall as part of their "Point of Dispensing" exercise.

The annual exercise tests the health department's ability to mass vaccinate the public in a short period of time. According to a press release about the event, "exercises like these are very timely given the recent increase of infectious diseases across the country."

If a real pandemic were to break out, a Point of Dispensing event would be organized to quickly distribute vaccines, injections, or antibiotics. To increase the realism of the exercise this Saturday, flu shots will be dispensed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or while supplies last.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wharton Decision Sparks Council Storm

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 4:10 PM

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The words “key members of the Memphis City Council” set off a storm during a council committee meeting Tuesday that had some council members questioning the legitimacy of a decision by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and accused him of playing favorites with certain council members.

The mayor announced on Friday a move to allow the working spouses of city employees to remain on the city’s health insurance plan through 2015. Working spouses were cut from the health plan if they could get insurance through their employer.

It was part of a controversial series of changes to the city’s health plan. The controversy over benefits began when the council approved Wharton’s budget in June. The council moved to reverse some of their decisions in a vote last month.

That vote apparently included leaving the “spousal carveout,” as it is called in Memphis City Hall parlance, intact.

But a Friday news release from Wharton’s office announced he’d reversed that decision. The release said allowing the 1,200 spouses to remain in the plan would cost the city $7 million but that the city would recuperate some of the funds by charging the spouses $100 to remain on the plan. That’s up from $50 last year.

But Wharton’s release said the move was “endorsed by key member of the Memphis City Council.” Some council members came to Tuesday’s meeting wanting to know who those “key" members were and why they were not contacted on the matter.

The discussion was opened by council member Janis Fullilove who prefaced her query saying she hoped it was “not out of line.”

“I was embarrassed and livid,” Fullilove began, noting she was not contacted by the administration on the matter. “How do you have ‘key members’ when there are 13 on the council?”

City chief administrative officer George Little explained that the administration held talks with council members Jim Strickland, the council chairman, and Shea Flinn, the chairman of the council’s personnel committee. Little said the two “seemed to be the appropriate individuals as far as consulting on the language.”

As for as making the change at all, Little said the administration had the authority to make the change without express permission of the council. That’s because the council had approved the funding and the rights to make plan design changes overall. The move came as an executive action.

Council member Lee Harris said that he has come to believe the action was likely above board but that it smacks of illegitimacy.”

The original plan design changes were meant to save millions of dollars for the city to put toward the huge hole in the city’s pension fund. The changes were set to save $23 million this year.

The savings will still be there, Little said, as the city has now offered employees and retirees more cost-saving choices for their health care needs, like a new free clinic for them.

“Well, first, (the administration) says we have to get your permission to do this,” Harris said. “Then, later, they say we don’t need you at all. We can call two people and call it a day.”

Harris asked Little if the mayor was now firm on his changes to the health plan and Little said he was.

But the discussion opened an old wound for some council members.

Wanda Halbert has frequently made claims that certain council members and certain areas of Memphis get preferential treatment over others. She’s long claimed (and brought up numerous times about variety of topics) that the Overton Square parking garage and the drainage basin for Lick Creek built under it, were built because the structure is in Midtown and the project was pushed by Strickland and Flinn.

When she brought up the project again on Tuesday, Flinn gave a fiery retort.

“I find it personally offensive that the idea that I am walking around and the administration is throwing information at me. That’s not the case at all, not on Overton Square and not on the spousal carveout” Flinn said. “I bust my ass at this job and go out of my way, on nights and weekends, collecting information and I schedule meetings with (the Wharton administration). This idea that there are favorite nations, it’s not the truth and I wish it would stop.”

Fullilove took the opportunity tell Flinn that she thinks he has had “privilege all of your life” and that she was not mad at him about that. But she said she thought Flinn does have special privileges with the administration and she does not.

“Have I been dissed by this administration? Yes, I have,” Fullilove said. “I called the mayor four times and has he responded? Nope. It’s obvious that he doesn’t care about what I want to talk about. And people ask me why I criticize him like I do.”

In another action, the council pushed a final vote on pension reform to sometime after their next meeting on October 21.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Biking on the Rise in Memphis

Posted By on Mon, Oct 6, 2014 at 3:00 PM

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The new State of Bicycling report finds that bike use has increased along with bike infrastructure in Memphis and bike use and bike lanes could double in the next two years.

The report looks back to 2010 when they city pledged to build more bike lanes. Since then, more than 70 miles of bike lanes, shared paths, and shared lanes have been dedicated here, an increase of 114 percent, according to the report. As of 2013, Memphis had more than 133 miles of such paths.

Existing bicycle facilities in Memphis.
  • Existing bicycle facilities in Memphis.

“With an understanding of projects planned for the next three years, Memphis is expected to once again double the miles of bicycle-specific infrastructure within its limits by 2016,” the report says.
More than 270 miles of bike paths are projected to exist by 2016, according to the report.

The report also looks back to 2008 and 2010, both years that Bicycling magazine called Memphis the “worst” city for cycling. Then in 2012, the magazine name Memphis the “most improved city for cycling.”

Kyle Wagenshutz, the city’s bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, said the biking scene in Memphis has changed “dramatically” since he hired by the city in 2010.

“What once was a unique experience for thrill-seekers and avid competitors has become a commonplace occurrence throughout the city,” Wagenshutz said. “It’s not unusual now to see whole families riding bicycles together on their way to the local park, restaurant, or school. Each day, more people are taking advantage of the growing network of infrastructure dedicated for use by persons using bicycles and the results are fantastic.”

Bicycle usage has doubled here since 2010, the report says, pointing to U.S. Census data. “By comparison, Memphis has surpassed levels of bicycling use found throughout Tennessee, but is still about half the average bicycle use experienced in the United States,” it says.

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But there is more to do:
“This data suggests that while the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy holds true in Memphis—that as the city increases the opportunities to travel by bicycle using dedicated bicycle lanes and paths more people will choose to ride a bicycle — this approach alone is not sufficient to reach or surpass national levels of bicycle usage.
“To achieve these levels, additional interventions like educational programs, encouragement activities, and enforcement campaigns must accompany new infrastructure in order to encourage more residents to choose bicycling for the first time.”

As for safety, the report says bicycle accidents has declined in Memphis since 2008, that is, the average number of accidents per person riding a bicycle. Bicycling fatalities have held at one or two per year, the report says.

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Expect to see more green paint on the Memphis roads as the city plans to stripe more than 22 miles of Green Lanes between now and 2016. These lanes are protected from motor vehicles by curbs, planters, posts, or parked cars.

Sometimes called cycle tracks or protected bike lanes, Green Lanes are literally painted green and alerts both motorists and bicyclists of the likelihood of crossing one another at certain intersections.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Report: Trolley Fires Caused by Faulty Equipment, Poor Management

Posted By on Fri, Sep 26, 2014 at 4:21 PM

MATA president Ron Garrison answers questions at a news conference Friday.
  • Toby Sells
  • MATA president Ron Garrison answers questions at a news conference Friday.

Faulty equipment caused two trolley fires in November and April, according to a study of the events released Friday by the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), but the problems that led to those fires were deep-seated in the organization.

MATA invited the American Public Transportation Authority (APTA) to Memphis after April’s fire to get their take on the fires but also the organization that keeps them running. APTA’s report arrived back here in August and painted a picture of an unorganized system that paid little attention to staff training, maintenance records, standard procedures, or safety planning.

Trolley No. 452 in flames last year on the I-240 overpass.
  • Trolley No. 452 in flames last year on the I-240 overpass.
That report said, specifically, that both trolley fires began in a fault in the propulsion system, which produced a current overload. From there, a faulty line breaker failed to protect the controller. That resulted in a “flashover,” setting the trolley cars on fire.

MATA’s new leader, president Ron Garrison, said Friday the report is a “good reset” for MATA’s trolley program, and that he aims to make safety the first priority in bringing the trolleys back online.

The next step in bringing the program back, he said, is to have even more assessment of the cars by even more experts. Garrison said he wants to bring in three teams that specialize in rail safety, trolley cars, and trolley maintenance. He hopes those teams will be in Memphis by October 6.

Pending the findings of the three teams, Garrison said he could possibly reveal a plan for the trolleys future here by late October.

“What I don’t want to do is get into false starts and false hopes,” Garrison said. “I want to be sure that we can do what we say we are going to do.”

So far, the MATA team has selected the top seven trolleys in their system of 17 trolleys that could partially restore trolley service. Garrison said the Main Street line would be the first to see renewed service.

“These vehicles, unlike many across the country, they are vintage trolleys and we put many, many, many more miles and many more hours on them than anywhere in America,” Garrision said at a Friday news conference. “So, to keep these trolleys in service was a big, big task. We took them offline while we had a look at this report. This is an opportunity o reset. We are taking the appropriate steps to get them back in
the community as soon as possible.”

Firefighters extinguish trolley No. 553 in June.
  • Firefighters extinguish trolley No. 553 in June.

The two trolleys that caught fire were made in Melbourne, Australia in the 1920s and refurbished by MATA contractors between 1997 and 2002, the ATPA report said. The cars did not meet the group’s standards for vintage trolley equipment, the report said.

The APTA report looked at staffing levels, training, maintenance, emergency management, parts inventory, and more.

Here are some major findings from the report:

• There does not appear to be a trained trainer with suitable accreditation for training operators and maintainers.
• We found several maintenance tasks that could only be performed by one person on staff.
• Scant truing record showing who received truing on what equipment.
• A large quantity of worn out parts, such as motors, compressors, trucks, and controllers, were found in various states of disrepair.
• Numerous “defect cards” were found for both cars in the months before their fires.
• There are little or no records on repairs done to the cars.
• There is a lack of available maintenance manuals.
• On some cars inspected, we found the brake systems to be worn out.
• No dedicated safety person for the trolley system.
• In the area marked for storage of heavy trolley items such as motors, compressors, etc., there appeared to be no order to the storage method, no tags on equipment, and no record of an inventory.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Trolley Report Up for Public Inspection

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 1:49 PM

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On Friday, the Memphis Area Transit Authority will publish the full details of the report on the health and safety of the city’s trolleys.

Ron Garrison, the new MATA president, said the disclosure of the report comes after he had discussions about the trolleys Thursday with the Federal Transit Authority and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

MATA suspended trolley service back in June after two trolleys caught fire in six months. Green MATA buses have replaced the trolleys since then.

The organization commissioned the report from the American Public Transportation Association. The report was received here in August. It was one step in getting the trolleys back online.

Garrison told members of the Downtown Memphis Commission Thursday that MATA is aiming to get a nationally known rail safety team to Memphis early next month to begin an independent review of the cars and the system.

“We’ve done that ourselves but this is the next stage and we want to take it a step further,” Garrison said.

Once that review is complete, he said, “we can say this is what the plans looks like, what the roll out looks like.

When asked if the trolleys would come back at all, Garrison said,

“That is my ultimate goal. Number one, I love trolleys. I rode them all the time when I was a kid in St. Louis. Another thing is, trolleys are one of the instruments that helped the vendors bring life back to Downtown. So, (bringing the trolleys back) is ultimately my goal but we have to do it safe. So, yeah. Oh, yeah. Also, we’ll be working with our funding partners to see if we can do it in the future in an even bigger way.”

An update on trolley service from MATA on Wednesday said the initial focus on “on five
trolleys for in-depth inspection, repair, and certification to get back in service is now expanded to as many as seven trolleys.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Critic Says South Main Art Doesn't Reflect City's Diversity

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 12:43 PM

Strictly Moral at Adler Apartments
  • Downtown Memphis Commission
  • "Strictly Moral" at Adler Apartments

Not everyone was pleased with the pieces picked for the upcoming public art show called Mosaic that will be installed this week in the South Main District.

The pieces were unveiled to members of the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Center City Development Corp. (CCDC) last week. The CCDC funded the project with a $50,000 grant and requests for proposals from artists went out in April.

Leslie Gower, the commission’s vice president of marketing and communications, told board members the requests yielded 65 responses, all from local artists. She gave brief descriptions of each project and showed them during the CCDC meeting last week. She agreed to release only one of the images (above) to the media last week saying the sketches were incomplete.

Here are some of the descriptions:

• “Wind Scribbles” - Nearly 3,000 stainless steel disks that will move in the wind. (Front and Butler)

• “Strictly Moral” - Lighted window installation of canned goods stacked in the window of the Adler Apartments to look like an ice cream cone. (Main and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.)

• “Jay” - Mural on the side of Chapman Furniture depicts Memphis rocker Jay Reatard. (Main and Vance)

• Mixed medium mural depicting South Main’s railroad history.

• Mural depicting the history of South Main. Mural changes as you walk by it.

• Mural depicting “I Am a Man” protestors. (400 S. Main)

• Playable street piano, a baby grand, installed on a loading dock. (409 S. Main)

• Tall, metal flower, nearly 11 feet tall. (Main and Talbot)

Jones
  • Jones
CCDC board member Melvin Jones called the collection “neat,” and “nice,” and “cute” but said it “does not represent the diversity of Memphis” and said those running the Mosaic project could have tried harder to find African American artists for the project.

“Memphis is a town of 65 percent African Americans and this being Downtown...,” said Jones, CEO of the Black Business Directory. “When people don’t see themselves when they walk down the streets they can then assume that this is not for me. South Main is for the rich, white kids. I know that is not everybody’s intent but people have to see themselves. We have to be much more intentional about finding (African American artists).”

Gower said she did reach out to many African American artists and an African American artist was a member of the Mosaic selection committee. She said timing was an issue for some artists as some were working on other projects but “honestly, we didn’t get a lot of input from the African American community for one reason or another.”

Jones said he knew a couple of African American artists in Memphis that could have helped get the word out.

“So many times — because people don’t know the community — the try is different from if it was someone who knew the community and their try…because there’s tons of African American artists across the city.”

Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris said he agreed with Jones on the need for diversity in the art but that “we did try.”

“We had difficulty. And you’d think, oh, we’re giving away free money, and artists would have been all over this,” Morris said during the meeting last week. “Well, we had artists that agreed to do it or didn’t respond or couldn’t follow through and then we had to go to another…it was a lot of work to recruit the artists that we got. We did make an intentional effort to reach out to everyone in the community and we will continue to do that.”

The Mosaic pieces are slated to remain up in the South Main District for at least one year.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Versus Mode: Boyd vs. Williams

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 11:49 AM

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Fights at Memphis City Hall are usually group efforts, factions taking sides of one issue or another.

But sometimes — sometimes — two individuals step from the scrum and face each other in single combat.

Such was the case Tuesday. Michael Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association, was arguing the case to restore city employee health care benefits. During his second trip to the public podium, he claimed he had some information that proved public officials have profited from decisions made by the Memphis City Council.

Council member Bill Boyd didn’t cotton to that notion and invited Williams back to the podium for some questions. Here’s the play by play:

Boyd: Mr. Williams, do you mind returning to the microphone?

Williams: Yes, sir.

Boyd: You ought to be used to it by now.

Williams: I am.

Boyd: Well, I’m really concerned about your statement on your last trip there (to the microphone).

Williams: And I’m concerned.

Boyd: “Some people who have profited by,” I’ve forgotten how you put it, “some decisions made…” Were you talking about people on the council or the (A C Wharton) administration or what?

Williams: I am concerned.

Boyd: About people on the city council, is that what you…

Williams: I definitely have documentation and proof that there have been individuals who have gained from possible positions in this city, yes.

Boyd: I would think as a policeman and a law enforcement person, that you would bring that to the proper authorities.

Williams: It has already been addressed, sir.

Boyd: Sir?

Williams: It has already been addressed.

Boyd: You have given it to the proper authorities in writing?

Williams: Well, it has already been addressed.

Boyd: Well, see now you’re sounding like the administration.

(Crowd laughs and claps.)

Williams: Now, I’m not sounding like the administration. I pointed it out to the council and just like councilman (Myron) Lowery had said, well, you can request an audit if you like. I would think that all of the inconsistencies that have been pointed out during this process, someone on the council would have requested an independent audit.

(Crowd cheers and claps.)

Williams: I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to put it back in my lap once again but that’s not going to work. It has been addressed.

Boyd: I never put anything back in your lap. But you didn’t even answer my question.

Williams: Yes, I did.

Boyd: You deflected that and I want a direct answer. Here you are making accusations about someone or some group and I’m asking you once again: Are you addressing that, accusing someone on this city council, that works on this council now?

Williams: I’m saying that…

(Indistinct chatter from the crowd to Williams.)

Williams: It’s under investigation. That’s good. I like that.

Boyd: So, you refuse to answer my question?

Williams: Well, I’m not going to point out any individual because I’m not going to make an accusation.

Boyd: I’m trying to find out where the source is. Is it on this council?

Williams: You know what? You can go to the computer and Google it and find sources yourself!

Boyd: The people that profited are on this council?

Williams: You can find it for yourself, sir! Just like I did. It’s public record. It is public record. It’s been pointed out by individuals, not just by me!

Boyd: You sound like Mr. Hawkins (Bill Hawkins, assistant business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1288) of the LG&W…

Williams: No, I sound like Michael Williams of the Memphis Police Association.

(Crowd cheers, applauds, and whistles.)

Williams: Yeah. Can I leave now? Is that O.K.?

Boyd: Sure, I can see you’re not going to answer my questions.

Williams: No, I’m not under an inquisition. Thank you.

Boyd: Then why are you making public statements you can’t answer?

(Crowd murmurs indistinctly.)

Boyd: Under investigation by who?

(Voices from the crowd yell at Boyd.)

Boyd: I’m not worried about one cotton-picking thing because you can look at my house; you can look at my bank account…

(Council chairman Jim Strickland pounds his gavel.)

Strickland: Mr. Boyd. Mr. Boyd.

Boyd: You can see the way I live and have lived.

Strickland: Mr. Boyd.

Boyd: I’m not one of those who has profited by anything up here.

Strickland: Mr. Boyd. Mr. Boyd!

Boyd: In fact, I would like…

Strickland: Mr. Boyd, I don’t think it’s proper to engage in a group discussion.

Boyd: I would like to get to the root of it because I don’t want this council or this city, including all the employees, be accused of anything out in a public venue like this without any proof and I’d like to see the proof and I’d like to get to the bottom of it myself. Mr. Williams, maybe you can, if you don’t want to do it publicly, privately talk to me and I would be glad to help on that. And I welcome an audit, too. Thank you.

Strickland: Thank you.

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