Flyer InteractiveCity Reporter

Judge Drops Discrimination Charge Against City Schools

A U.S. magistrate judge recently threw out a discrimination charge brought against the Memphis City Schools by a former Hamilton High School coach.

Judge James H. Allen granted the schools’ request for summary judgment in August. He wrote that the schools gave “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for his termination: inefficiency and incompetency as a teacher.” He also indicated that the plaintiff, Larry Wright, who is white, didn’t provide sufficient evidence to convince the court that he was a casualty of racial discrimination.

However, Wright’s lawyer, Randall Tolley, says the former coach and teacher is trying to get the discrimination charge reinstated. In support of his motion for partial reconsideration, he has attached numerous affidavits and other documents to support his discrimination charge.

Wright’s evaluations are compared to evaluations of some black teachers and coaches who received worse scores, as well as letters documenting poor behavior exhibited by some black teachers and coaches who remain in the system. These alleged offenses include slapping children, violating the rules governing corporal punishment, falsifying records, and verbal and sexual harassment.

The only white head football coach in Hamilton’s history, Wright allegedly violated purchasing procedures when he incurred unnecessary expenses for maintaining football helmets, carried out poor recruitment efforts, and led the team through a losing season, according to the schools.

He was reassigned in 1993 to Corry Junior High School, where he was not allowed to teach, before being fired.

Ernest Kelly, who represents the city schools, has said Wright has an “extremely checkered” employment record and a history of conflict within the school system.

– Jacqueline Marino


City Settles Another Hog-tie Case

The City of Memphis recently settled a lawsuit brought by a woman who alleged that her son died as a result of being hog-tied by Memphis Police officers.

The lawsuit was settled with Jo Marie Boyd for $200,000. Attorneys for Boyd did not specify in their complaint how much money they were seeking. The settlement amount, however, is relatively low compared to other recent lawsuits alleging excessive use of force by police.

Boyd alleged that police officers were negligent on the night of January 1, 1994, when they responded to a domestic disturbance involving her son Reginald. She alleges that Reginald was hog-tied, or put in a restraint in which his hands and legs were tied behind his back, then tied together. She also alleges that her son was pepper-sprayed after he was hog-tied, and that he lapsed into an unconscious state even as police tried to book him into the jail. Reginald Boyd was then taken to the Regional Medical Center and pronounced dead.

The autopsy report, however, showed that Reginald Boyd had high levels of cocaine in his system, suggesting that the plaintiff’s case was not particularly strong.

The Memphis Police Department banned the practice of hog-tying after this and several other incidents resulted in the deaths of the people being restrained.

– Phil Campbell


Emergency Shelter to Open for People With HIV/AIDS

An emergency shelter for people with HIV and AIDS will open during the week of October 5th at 1076 Peabody.

Alma Prather-Sledge, director of housing operations for the Whitehaven/Southwest Mental Health Center, says her agency became aware of the need for emergency HIV/AIDS housing after some HIV-positive clients reported discrimination at area homeless shelters.

“We found out that a lot of shelters discriminate against HIV-positive people,” she says. “They’ve not been accepting them.”

The shelter, called Peabody House, will house up to eight men and women. They can stay for up to 60 days. While there, Family Services of the Mid-South will help them find permanent housing.

Most of the funding, about $164,000, is coming from a federal grant, Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA). Additional money is being provided by the city of Memphis and the mental-health center.

– Jacqueline Marino


Our Mystic City

Memphis is a city of grace, desolation, old cotton money, and music, according to American Heritage magazine, which has named our city the Great American Place of 1998 in its October issue.

The article explores the city’s musical, cultural, and social history, and includes first-person narratives from Shelby Foote and B.B. King. Author Thomas Childers attributes his affinity for Memphis to many things, including the mystical feel of the place.

“There lingers about this old river city an unsettling and irresistible air of mystery, of haunted memories, of ghosts lurking always just beyond view,” he writes.


Ad Hoc Billboard Committee Stirs Controversy

by Phil Campbell

One council member was appointed to the ad hoc committee but never came. Another council member was never appointed but came anyway and tried to vote. A third council member was there, but denies casting a critical vote, as his chairman says he did.

The city council’s ad hoc committee on billboards was formed to clean up the rules on billboard usage, or to determine how the existing ordinances can be better enforced. For several months it debated just those merits. Council chair Joe Ford says the ad hoc committee has changed as many as 20 different items in the billboard ordinance. “We’ve done a lot of good work in this committee,” he says.

Then, last week, the committee voted for something baffling – to essentially increase the number of billboards in Memphis, perhaps by the thousands.

Currently, billboards are classified as having a “principal land use,” which means that they cannot share the same space on a parcel of land as a building.

That may change if the committee has its way. The committee decided to change the rules on billboards from “principal-use” to “accessory-use.” They could then share the same space as existing buildings, vastly increasing the number of places where they could be placed.

Reaction by critics has been swift. “I absolutely had no idea coming out of the ad hoc committee that the [billboard] industry would recommend the elimination of the principal-use concept,” says council member John Bobango. “That’s just outright atrocious.”

Bobango could himself be criticized for being named to the committee but only attending a few meetings. He says he stopped going after he became frustrated with reform efforts. Better to wait until the committee has some specific recommendations and go from there, he says.

Council member John Vergos, who also serves on the committee, is warning that the accessory-use rule would spur a 50 percent increase in the number of billboards in the city. New billboards would sprout “like dandelions in the field,” he says. Eller Media, which owns most of the billboards in Memphis, has roughly 2,000 billboards in the region – including Arkansas, Mississippi, and Shelby County.

Besides Ford, Vergos, and Bobango, the ad hoc committee includes Rickey Peete and Barbara Swearengen Holt. Joe Brown has consistently showed up at the meetings, even trying to add his say in voice votes, though Ford says he has ignored Brown’s votes.

The committee also has two industry representatives with voting power: Todd Powers of Eller Media and Jerry Peck, formerly the partner of William B. Tanner of Tanner-Peck, a now-defunct billboard company. Sharon Fidler and Pat Merrill vote for citizen interests on the committee.

Critics charge that the committee quickly got bogged down trying to appease the industry representatives, specifically Peck. At the meetings, Peck rails against Eller for operating an unfair monopoly. Eller Media came to Memphis after buying Universal Billboard, which had previously bought Tanner-Peck.

The accessory-use amendment was a stealth motion proposed by Peck, shortly before the meeting was adjourned.

“It wasn’t anything that was planned or said or anything. It was just a motion that was put on the floor,” Ford says. He says he would have liked to have held the proposal, but some council members pressed forward.

Ford says the vote was 3-2 in favor of the amendment. Holt, Peck and Peete voted in favor, with Fidler and Powers voting against. Vergos, Merrill, and Bobango missed the meeting. Ford says he abstained.

Upset by the vote, Powers grabbed his jacket and promptly left the room.

Holt and Peck couldn’t be reached for comment, and Peete contradicts Ford on how he voted.

“I didn’t vote on any of that,” he says, adding, “How could you tell I voted for it when it was a voice vote? And it doesn’t really matter whether I did or not, it still has to be debated.”

The proposed amendment will surely receive far greater scrutiny in coming weeks.


PHOTO BY MICHAEL FINGER

PediCabs

What new mode of public transportation is shaded, people-powered, has three wheels, and takes all major credit cards? Don’t worry – if we hadn’t seen it ourselves, we’d be stumped too. On Friday, 25 brand spankin’ new PediCabs took to the downtown streets. They look funny, but they just might work. For short distances off the trolley’s beaten track, the PediCab is the only practical alternative to walking – the only thing Memphians like less than public transportation.

Fly on the Wall

Fly on the Wall

Willing The Inevitable

Anyone who’s ever tried to drive past 201 Poplar knows that it’s pandemonium, with a constant flow of jaywalkers crossing from the parking lots on the north of Poplar to the Criminal Justice Center on the south side of the street.

“There are probably more people crossing the street there than anywhere else in the city of Memphis,” observes city engineer John Conroy. “They use probably 200 yards of that as a crosswalk.”

So, what’s the solution? Enforcement? There are certainly enough peace officers in the vicinity. Naw, just declare it a crosswalk, as the city recently did by installing a pair of pedestrian crossing signs outside of 201.

Are the new signs simply a case of making a virtue of necessity?

“Pretty much,” says Conroy.

Hold The Sugar

After losing to Minnesota 41-14 last Saturday, U of M head coach Rip Scherer admitted that the loss puzzled him. “I don’t understand it,” he told reporters. “It baffles me.”

On Sunday, Patrick Reusse, a sports columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had this advice for Scherer: “Don’t spend too much time wracking your brain, coach. There’s an easy explanation: You’re Memphis. Your football program stinks.”

Half and Half

President Clinton’s political problems seem to be affecting his concept of time. In a recent press release, he announced the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. But, unlike African Americans, who celebrate their heritage during the entire month of February, Hispanics have only been given 31 consecutive days, from September 15 to October 15.

Local Hispanics, asked for their reaction to this odd decision, say that the celebratory “month” might work in their favor, since they are trying to take every opportunity they can to remind Shelby Countians of their growing influence.

“Maybe it’s good. That way, we’ll be visible for at least two months,” says Gabriel O’Meara, a Brazilian and an official in the recently formed Hispanic Business Association.

Mannequin Watch

Last week, we reported on the travels and travails of Martha nee Stella, Maxwell’s missing mannequin. She has not yet made it back to the restaurant, but a source close to the heist tells us that she will ultimately return, just as soon as she’s finished with her busy fall social calendar.

“She’s got a big Halloween,” we’re told. “[And] she’s got a birthday or two she’ll be a guest at.”


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