Wednesday, June 18, 2008

FBI Informant Cooper Gets Six Months for Money-Laundering

Posted By on Wed, Jun 18, 2008 at 4:00 AM

"The judge told me what I'll have to do, and I'll just have to do it," Joe Cooper said stoically on Wednesday after being sentenced by U.S. Judge Daniel Breen in federal court to six months' prison time for money laundering. After serving his time, Cooper is scheduled for yet another six-month period for house arrest, which would be concurrent with two years of probation.

Cooper was extended a six-month delay before reporting for incarceration, ostensibly to allow him time to make provisions for his ailing wife Betsy. There is speculation, too, that the long-time political player, a cooperating witness in two recent federal prosecutions, may be called upon to testify in further cases.

Cooper was arrested in August 2006 by FBI agents after a sting established that, while working as a car salesman at Bud Davis Cadillac, he had arranged proxy sales to known drug dealers. After agreeing to plead guilty, he then cooperated with federal authorities in yet another sting, in which he delivered payoffs furnished by the FBI to two city councilmen in return for their votes on zoning projects.

One councilman netted in that sting, called Operation Main Street Sweeper, was Rickey Peete, who pleaded guilty after resigning his seat and is now serving a 51-month prison term. The other councilman, Edmund Ford Sr., completed the full four-year term for his seat, which was won in last year's election by his son Edmond Ford Jr., and was acquitted in a trial last month.

The mixed results did not prevent the government from recommending what prosecutor Tom Colthurst described as a "six-level reduction" in the federal sentencing guidelines for Cooper, whose cooperation in the Main Street Sweeper cases was regarded as "timely, supportive, and extensive."

Colthurst said he could not recommend outright probation, however, since the money-laundering scheme Cooper was involved in had resemblances to the illegal nominee loans for which he was convicted in a late '70's federal prosecution that effectively terminated what had been a thriving political career. At the time Cooper was a member of the Shelby County Court, precursor to the present Shelby County Commission.

Cooper, who was represented in court by attorney Kemper Durand, acknowledged mistakes and expressed remorse,. He said he hoped his subsequent cooperation with the government would help set matters right.

Elaborating on that theme in remarks to reporters afterward, Cooper said, "When you make a stupid mistake...you have to right it." Asked whether he thought his case and the other recent ones might have a positive effect, Cooper said, "Absolutely.....People who were thinking about being bad have to think about something else. People who thought they were bullet-proof will have to check their bullet-proof vests."

Public corruption, he said, "will be either shut down or slowed down because of this."

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Dave Disses Da Griz

Posted By on Wed, Jun 18, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Hey, we love David Letterman, and we even loved it when the Celtics won the NBA title. So how does ol' Dave come off talking such trash about our beloved Memphis Grizzlies?

So are we just going to sit there and take it? Or growl back? Leave a comment and/or take our poll:

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who Let the Dogs Out? The Helena Mayor

Posted By on Tue, Jun 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Well, here's a novel way to deal with over-crowded animal shelters. Just put the dogs out in the handy nearby national forest.

From the Helena (Arkansas) Daily World: Mayor James Valley of Helena-West Helena says he has no problem with dogs or other animals. He just believes that strays in his east Arkansas town are better off in nearby national forest than the local animal shelter.

The city's animal shelter was so run down a regional humane society worker cut the locks last winter and released all the dogs, the mayor said. The city then moved the operation to a temporary fenced-in area outdoors at the city sanitation department.

Still, people complained that the animals were not properly cared for at the temporary quarters, so the mayor decided the dogs would be better off fending for themselves in the St. Francis National Forest.

Valley said the city street director released about 10 dogs into the forest Wednesday after the animals were fed and watered. About three dogs were kept to be put down by a veterinarian, he said. "They are better off free," the mayor said Thursday in a telephone interview ...

Read the rest of the story at the Daily World website.

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All's Well that Ends (sort of) Well for MCS

Posted By on Tue, Jun 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Members of the Memphis City Council and Memphis school board hugged each other Tuesday and said a schools funding "crisis" has been averted for a year, but it is not clear exactly how and by whose math.

After Monday's dire warning by Mayor Willie Herenton of a possible $450 million state funding cut for MCS, Tuesday's developments, vague as they were, promised better things.

Before the start of the regularly scheduled city council meeting, councilmen Bill Morrison and Harold Collins, joined by several school board members, came to the podium and announced, "We will work this thing out and have a positive resolution in the near future."

Collins said there would be no property tax increase for city residents. In fact, the tax rate will fall from $3.43 to $3.25. MCS will be "fully funded," Collins said, even though the council is sticking by its decision to cut the city school payment from $93 million to about $22 million this year.

Interim superintendent Dan Ward, one of scores of school system employees who came to City Hall for the council meeting, said the school system would dip into its reserves for $38 million, leaving a balance of $55 million. Additional "savings" will result from the school system officially recognizing that its enrollment has declined to 113,000 students, down from widely reported but never verified enrollment figures of 118,000 and 120,000 in the last five years or so.

The enrollment decline is significant because state funds are awarded on a per-pupil basis. School board member Jeff Warren said declining enrollment enables a city to legally cut its funding. Warren says the city council cut money from schools so members could claim to be tax cutters even though taxes for non-school public services went up. By the same token, school board members can say they fought fiercely against funding reductions even though the net result appears likely to be a funding reduction.

Both sides said their attorneys are continuing to work on the funding issue. How much posturing and face-saving are involved in dodging the "crisis" is not clear. A $450 million state funding cut, which is nearly half the operating budget, would have practically shut down the school system. A cut of $50 million, or roughly five-percent, would be in line with what other city and county divisions are undergoing.

What is known is that Memphis homeowners will get a property tax decrease on their city tax bill for at least one year. New superintendent Kriner Cash will have to deal with Herenton, who more or less stood by his low assessment of Cash as the survivor of a flawed search process. And the elected school board will remain in place despite Herenton's call for an appointed board and a referendum on that issue.

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Council Hears New Memphis City Pool Regulations

Posted By on Tue, Jun 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In response to the two drowning deaths that occurred the first day the city pools were open, City Council members heard about new pool regulations during Tuesday's parks committee meeting.

The new regulations include a way for lifeguards to easily identify which swimmers are allowed to be in the deep end and mandate that someone over 18 years old accompanies children 12 and under and shorter than 4 feet tall to the pool.

"They aren't required to have a parent with them. It's an adult, 18 and older," said parks director Cindy Buchanan. "It doesn't have to be their parent or guardian, but it needs to be someone responsible."

Several council members worried that requiring children to be accompanied by an adult would effectively discourage people from using city pools.

Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware wanted to know if the adult had to accompany the child to the pool or in the water.

"You ask me to take my child, that's one thing. You ask me to take them to the pool, get undressed, and get in the water with them, that's another thing," Ware said.

She added, "I understand you're trying to avoid disaster, but some of this I think was done to discourage people from either going to or sending their children to the pool."

Buchanan said those with younger children should consider being in the water with their kids.

"If they're three-, four- or five-years-old, and they're in the pool and you're on the deck, you're not really supervising," she said. "Our lifeguards are trained in life saving; they're not trained in babysitting."

Under the new regulations, swimmers will also have to pass a test before they can go into the deep end.

-- Mary Cashiola

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Elkington's Jackson, Mississippi, Project on Shaky Ground

Posted By on Sun, Jun 15, 2008 at 4:00 AM

From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: A Memphis developer with a polished sales pitch and a hit-or-miss record. A city government often at war with itself. A historic street known as much now for crime as its heritage.

Almost from the start, the marriage between Jackson and Memphis-based Performa Real Estate Entertainment to redevelop Farish Street into an entertainment mecca was built on shaky ground. Now, in a questionable renewal of their vows, Performa and the city are set to begin life together anew ... Read the rest of the story.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Get "Out" This Weekend in Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Jun 13, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Since 1980, the Memphis gay community has been hoisting the rainbow flag during its annual gay pride march. This year, you should join them. Not gay? Not a problem. Mid-South Pride's activities are open to everyone, no matter what your sexual orientation.

Though events have been going on all week, the highlights of gay pride week in Memphis take place this weekend. Friday, meet author Nancy D. Polikoff, author of Beyond (Straight or Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law, at Holy Trinity Church during a book-signing and reception.

Saturday, head to Cooper-Young for the annual Mid-South Pride Parade, complete with a 100-foot rainbow flag and plenty of colorful floats. The parade kicks off at 4 p.m. in front of First Congregational Church and ends at Peabody Park.

The party doesn't end with the parade though. Stick around Peabody Park for the Pride Festival, featuring performances by Ari Gold and Rachel Panay (the newly-crowned Miss Gay Heart of America). There will also be plenty of food, vendors, and information booths. The festival runs from noon to 8 p.m.

Finally, close out the week with the QBliss Pride 2008 Closing Party at iSpectrum (600 Marshall) featuring another performance by Ari Gold. The party begins at 10 p.m. Saturday night.

For more on Mid-South Pride events, go here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Delta and FedEx CEOs Upbeat About Memphis Hub

Posted By on Thu, Jun 12, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Aerotropolis lives.

The chief executive of Delta Airlines says the Memphis airport hub should prosper under the merger of Delta and Northwest Airlines, although high fuel prices are here to stay and will cut the volume of business.

Aerotropolis is the name for a massive long-range development around Memphis International Airport including FedEx, passenger airlines, and other businesses. The Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce is betting heavily that Memphis has a bright future as America's low-cost, hassle-free airport in an era of airline mergers and expensive fuel bills.

Delta CEO Richard Anderson told chamber members Thursday that the Memphis hub "will continue to be an important part of the combined network" after the merger is completed later this year. It's expected to take 18 months to fully implement.

"The strength of a network puts Memphis and the communities we serve in a much better position," he said, adding that the combination of the two formerly bankrupt carriers is "about addition, not subtraction."

Meeting with reporters after his speech, Anderson said that if there are cuts in the number of airline employees and flights out of Memphis it would be "not as a result of the merger."

He said "the issue of fuel is a separate cause" of lower passenger traffic that will likely reduce employment and flight count because flying is not as affordable as it used to be.

Anderson said he expects the merged airline, which will simply be called Delta, to keep all of its current Northwest and Delta hubs including smaller ones such as Memphis and Cincinnati. In general, there will be fewer flights to leisure markets such as Orlando and Las Vegas and small markets in states such as Texas that are served by regional carriers, Anderson said. He said post-merger Delta wants to increase international business to 50 percent from the current 40 percent. He said a new Boeing 787 airplane is "a game changer" on the passenger side that represents "a quantum leap" in technology that bodes well for Memphis and international service.

Anderson also spiked a rumor that airlines will start charging passengers by weight in the wake of surcharges for extra luggage.

"We're not going to weigh passengers," he said.

He said Delta's decision to drop its contract with Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines does not mean Northwest will do the same.

"The relationship between Pinnacle and Northwest is very important," he said.

Pinnacle CEO Phil Trenary was in the audience but did not question Anderson. In a brief comment after the meeting, Trenary said he hopes to keep Pinnacle operating at the same level it is now.

Anderson was introduced by David Bronczek, CEO of FedEx Express, who was equally upbeat. He said Delta-Northwest will be "the biggest, most powerful airline in the world" and the Memphis airport is "the best of the best."

One factor in favor of Memphis is weather, which Anderson said is the hardest thing about running an airline. He said he himself was delayed Wednesday by a thunderstorm in Atlanta.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bright Ideas for Memphis: College Radio

Posted on Wed, Jun 11, 2008 at 4:00 AM

For the Flyer's "Bright Ideas" issue, we asked nine Memphians this question: If you were given carte blanche to make whatever changes in Memphis you thought were needed, what would you do?

First up is local blogger and Internet radio host Rachel Hurley, who has a thought or two on college radio.

"WUMR 91.7 FM is the radio station run by the University of Memphis. At present, it has an all-jazz format. I may be going out on a limb here, but I have doubts that the station is very popular among the school's students.

"If I had the power, I would change WUMR to a station with a more eclectic format. I would keep some of the programming but would update the majority of it to music genres more popular with the school's student demographic.

I've been told time and time again that the lack of a college radio station with any kind of finger on the pulse of the local or national independent music scene hinders us, not only in bringing acts to the area (college radio playlists are often used to forecast the popularity of musicians before they book their tour), but it leaves the entire region to be influenced only by the bland, uninspiring, over-programmed corporate radio that crowds our dials now. Shouldn't we expect a little bit more from our university station?

"This city screams to the world at every opportunity that we are the 'birthplace of rock-and-roll' and 'home of the blues,' but it rarely works toward instilling the pride that should come along with that into its own citizens.

"Maybe our student population is a good place to start. Every time I come across a Daily Helmsman (the U of M's student newspaper), I see 18 stories about the Tigers, but rarely do I see three words written about any type of music going on in Memphis. The median age of the people I come into contact with at local rock shows is 30. The 18- to 24-year-olds who should be filling these shows seem to be uninformed about the great venues and local talent that flood this city.

"There was a study released not too long ago that revealed three major growth markets in Memphis. One was distribution, another was biotech, and the last was music.

"A well-programmed, well-connected station run by students with a passion for our homegrown music could have an exponential effect. When it comes to the business of music in our fair city, Memphis needs to go back to school. "

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chick-fil-A and Memphis Heritage Looking at Compromise

Cumberland Presbyterian building's facade to be retained?

Posted By on Tue, Jun 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The following is a press release the Flyer received today from Memphis Heritage:

Memphis Heritage has had two successful meetings with representatives from Chick-fil-A over the past several weeks to discuss plans for the Union Avenue site.

As many of you know, Memphis Heritage was allowed to visit the entire building with four local architects to review the possibility of CFA adaptively reusing the building as their restaurant.

After the visit, our architects realized this would not be possible based on the construction of the building; so we have been looking at ways to save the components of the building. A plan has been suggested to save the tower and the facade along Union Avenue with the restaurant behind this area. While this plan does not save the entire building, we feel this is the best alternative to losing the entire structure.

Representatives from Cumberland Presbyterian told Memphis Heritage they would demolish the building if the CFA deal fell through so they would no longer have to deal with the preservation issue. They would then be selling just the land parcel.

CFA went to work to develop new drawings with this concept in mind. As of last Friday, June 6, we have had meetings with CFA and the Office of Planning and Development and have great hopes that this new plan will move forward.

CFA would have an outside eating area behind the facade with plans for the new structure to be compatible with the existing building. Their plan would be to use salvaged bricks from the back part of the building to use in retaining walls, etc. The willingness of CFA to come up with an alternative for this site shows their interest in working with the local community and developing a compromise that will work. After finally getting to work with the CFA staff we have found them to be tremendously supportive of our preservation and community interests.

We will keep you posted on any new information when it is available. Once again thank you all for your tremendous support. Without your emails and phone calls none of this would have been possible.

"Thanks for helping us give our past a future!"

June West

Executive Director

Memphis Heritage

School Board Hires Miami's Cash -- Maybe

Posted on Tue, Jun 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Dr. Kriner Cash, who showed confidence and enthusiasm for Memphis City Schools in a series of meetings last week, was offered the job of superintendent on Tuesday.

The Memphis school board voted 9-0 on a motion to offer the job to Cash, who is chief of accountability for Miami/Dade County Public Schools. He was previously a superintendent in Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

The board met for 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon and voted on a motion by school board member Dr. Jeff Warren. If Cash chose not to accept, the job would be offered to the other finalist, Dr. Nicholas Gledich of Orlando, Fla.

Board member Martavius Jones, head of the board's search committee, said he was most impressed by favorable comments about Cash by principals in MCS.

"He seems to be able to inspire those people who see children on a day-to-day basis," one principal told Jones.

The job is expected to pay about $260,000 a year. Cash makes $188,000 in Miami, a district more than three times the size of MCS. If he accepts, he will start in Memphis on July 1st. In interviews last week with board members, Cash said Memphis was his top choice although he is also a finalist in Cincinnati.

Cash said he would spend three or four months studying data about Memphis before making major decisions. One of his early tasks will be reaching some sort of working relationship with Mayor Willie Herenton, who was interested in the superintendent's job and who has proposed a reform package himself.

"Tomorrow is the dawn of a new era for Memphis City Schools," said Jones.

--John Branston

Subsequent to the vote in Cash's favor, eight members of the board (member Kenneth Whalum Jr. had meanwhile left) put in a conference call to Cash in Miami to make their offer official.

During their phone conversation, the mood of the board members was almost giddy, and Cash himself seemed excited and enthusiastic about taking the job. He appeared to accept it provisionally but declined to rule out his previously planned Wednesday trip to Cincinnati when asked about it by members of the gathered Memphis media.

In the course of some adroit verbal footwork, Cash said that, pending the completion of negotiations with the Memphis board, "I may very well go to Cincinnati."

Warren, who professed himself equally pleased with both finalists, said later he thought it was "98 percent certain" that Cash would end up taking the job but regarded Gledich as an acceptable alternative. (Warren said Mayor Willie Herenton's prospects for being offered the job were negligible even if both remaining candidates ended up opting out.)

Dr.Cash had been made fully aware of the tenuous current financial situation of MCS, especially after last week's vote by the city council to withhold nearly $70 million of requested funding. But he professed equanimity on the subject of money for the schools.

"I know where to get it," he said confidently, drawing laughter and something close to cheers from the approving board.

When the subject changed to the matter of completing negotiations and following through on his Cincinnati trip, Cash indicated that one of the variables involved was money.

"Well, you know where to get it," said Warren, playing on Cash's earlier remark and getting ironically tinged laughs of his own.

--Jackson Baker

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Flyer Writers Win Four Awards at National Alt-Weekly Convention

Posted By on Sun, Jun 8, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis Flyer writers won four awards at the annual national convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in Philadelphia Saturday.

Senior Editor John Branston won third place in "Best Column," and second place in "Media Reporting" for his stories on "Monetizing Content at The Commercial Appeal."

Staff writer Chris Davis won second place in "Investigative Reporting" for his series of articles on Memphis Networx.

Music and Film Editor Chris Herrington won second place for "Music Criticism."

Ask Vance: Goat Testicles and Erectile Disfunction!

Posted on Sun, Jun 8, 2008 at 4:00 AM

I wonder what it is about Memphis that makes our city such a magnet for colorful characters. One of the most intriguing gentlemen in American history wasn't born here, but he dwelled here for several years and today lies buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.

His name was Dr. John R. Brinkley, and he gained fame around the world as the "Goat Gland Doctor." He's also the subject of an amazing book by Pope Brock called Charlatan, subtitled "America's Most Dangerous Huckster, The Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam."

Born in Kansas in 1888, Brinkley earned various medical degrees from quack establishments and set up practice in the little town of Milford, Kansas. One day a farmer visited him to complain about a condition that today we might call erectile disfunction. The good doctor wanted to sell him some worthless potions, but the farmer was skeptical. Looking out the window towards a nearby farmyard, he said, "Too bad I don't have billy-goat nuts."

That was the "Eureka" moment for Dr. Brinkley. A few days later, he put the farmer under the knife and inserted a pair of freshly "harvested" goat testicles into the man's scrotum. Nine months later, the farmer's wife gave birth to their first child. The boy's name: Billy. Like the goat.

Accounts of this miracle -- a 15-minute operation that could restore lost youth -- spread far and wide. Not just by word of mouth, either. Brinkley flooded the mails with self-promotional brochures, and then, in those pre-television days, constructed the most powerful radio station in America.

Read more at Vance Lauderdale's "Ask Vance" Blog.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sisterhood Showcase This Weekend

Posted on Wed, Jun 4, 2008 at 4:00 AM

"Come on," says Tina Birchett. Birchett, publisher of the local African-American women's magazine Grace, is issuing an invitation to this weekend's Sisterhood Showcase at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. This huge, annual two-day event draws more than 25,000 participants and features fashion shows, cooking demos, live music, health screenings, and more. Among the celebrity guests appearing this year are Chef G. Garvin of TV One's Turn Up the Heat, gospel star Yolanda Adams, and bestselling author Kimberia Lawson Roby.

Birchett, who works on the event year-round, recently took a break to talk about the showcase.

Flyer: What's the history of the showcase?

Birchett: I started it 13 years ago because I thought there was a need for women who wanted to empower their lives, especially in financial areas and their health.

Who would you say is your audience? Middle-class working women?

It's just basically people in Memphis. People don't realize that 35 percent of the audience is men, and it reaches all age groups.

What is the goal of the showcase?

Every year, if there's just one person who takes a diabetes screening, for example, and finds out they're diabetic and gets some help, then that one person made it all worth it. If there's one person who says I'm going to start saving, then it's all worth it. If one person leaves walking a little bit taller, that's my reward.

Beyond helping people, what’s your favorite part of the show?

Everybody knows that when the "Men Who Define Fine Fashion Show" is on, do not call me, ring me, buzz me. I take off my walkie-talkie and take a ringside seat at the end of the walkway.

"Sisterhood Showcase," Saturday, June 7th, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday, June 8th, noon-6:30 p.m. at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. For more information, go to sisterhoodshowcase.com

--by Susan Ellis

Residency Requirement Fee for Memphis Police Moving Forward

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2008 at 4:00 AM

It looks like Harold Collins' residency proposal for Memphis police officers is moving forward.

In executive committee today, the proposed resolution to allow police officers to live outside Memphis -- but charge them $1,200 for the privilege of doing so -- passed in a close 7-6 vote, meaning it will go before the full council at its June 17th meeting.

In what he called a compromise -- more here -- Collins suggested charging officers who live outside the city the average property tax bill. But several veteran council members said they would not support any measure that allowed officers to live outside the city limits.

"The purpose of people living in the city goes beyond whether or not they pay property taxes," said Barbara Swearengen Ware. "I don't want you to work for the city and have the Mississippi attitude that you go home at night ... and don't have to worry about folk in Memphis except for the eight hours you're at work."

Ware, Janis Fullilove, Wanda Halbert, Edmund Ford Jr., Joe Brown, and Myron Lowery voted against the proposal.

Public safety committee chair Reid Hedgepeth has asked council members for ways to increase the number of police officers in Memphis for several months now.

"We've had 2,000 officers for three or four years. We've reduced the college requirement and we're still hovering around 2,000," he said. "Are we worried about people coming up here and protecting our citizens? ... They're willing to come up here and risk their lives and we're going to tell them we don't want them?"

Collins, Hedgepeth, Shea Flinn, Bill Boyd, Bill Morrison, Jim Strickland, and Scott McCormick voted for the proposal.

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