"I asked him not to sugarcoat anything," said Ford.
Comptroller Justin Wilson did as asked, writing that Memphis cannot indefinitely "kick the can down the road" or "things are only going to get worse" and if the council doesn't take charge "someone else may end up doing this." The budget due the end of this month "may well be Memphis's last clear chance to determine its own future." Translation: state takeover, like Detroit.
No sugarcoating there. That came a day later when Wilson and Mayor A C Wharton put a different spin on things. As reported Friday by The Commercial Appeal, they "emphasized they did not expect any drastic action of that sort will be required." Wilson said his office looked at several local governments, not just Memphis. Some clucking about FedEx Forum bonds, sloppy accounting, and an $11 million imbalance in a city health care fund. No big deal. Our city is strong, our future bright. Wharton plans to hire a consultant right away. Can, prepare to be kicked.
This is like being called to your boss's office expecting to be fired and getting scolded about your messy desk instead.
Anyone who believes that the root of Memphis's problem is the financing of FedEx Forum 12 years ago is crazy. It was less than two weeks ago that Wharton presented the council with extreme fixes ranging from laying off 3000 employees to raising property taxes 50 percent. Six city unions are threatening to go to court over the city's "moral obligation" to fund members' pay and benefits. Suburbs are ready to bolt from the unified school system. The tax base is declining. Memphis has the highest sales tax in the country and the highest property tax rate in the state.
Ford, a teacher at Central High School, said he has not had a day off since the school year ended for all the work on the budget. His priorities are "long-term issues" such as debt reduction, health care, and restoring funding cuts from libraries, community centers, code enforcement, parks, and road paving. Asked if he would vote to restore a 4.6 percent raise for city employees, he said "I believe we need to put our house in order first." Comptroller Wilson, he added, "did not see that as a long-term issue."
Jim Strickland, chairman of the council's Budget Committee, also detected the sharp change in tone between Wednesday's threatening letter and Friday's make-nice report. The reality, he said, "is somewhere in between."
"The refinancing that the mayor did in 2010 was a major part of the comptroller's first letter in May when he called it 'scoop-and-toss" refinancing," he said. "We have serious problems. As opposed to other cities the comptroller might be looking at, our tax is already highest in the state. If we raise taxes 50 cents we will add to our big problem of losing population and businesses."
The council could pass a budget when it meets on Tuesday, but Ford and Strickland agree that a stalemate is likely and additional sessions later this month will be needed.
Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris has changed his mind again. The new details are, why bother, check the daily and its puff piece. Something about an elevator. Or an inclinator. Or two of them. This is his baby. It will probably change a few more times. Remember the glass band all the way around when he came here for the big announcement and fish fry a couple years ago? Here's a less flattering piece from the national media.
All Memphis can do is wait and hope. And invest, if you're brave enough.
Thanks to Johnny Lessley at Duncan Williams for the bond info. You'll need a minimum of $5000 or more likely $100,000 to get in the game. These bonds are not widely traded. Mutual funds and insurance companies scooped up most of them in the initial offering. Some days they're available and some days they're not. It isn't like buying cheeseburgers at McDonald's except that a bad one can make you really sick.
There were three different bonds on this project, two of them taxable and one tax free, with different maturities as far out as 2030. A taxable 2030 will get you five percent interest if you can find one. A tax-free bond priced at $98.50 at issue, slightly below par, is $108 or $109 today. Not because Bass Pro's prospects or the future of downtown Memphis has changed, but because interest rates have fallen since 2011. The bonds are rated "A."
They're backed by Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) revenue. A TDZ is a legislative creation to build convention centers in Nashville and Memphis, since distorted for all kinds of purposes and places. The Bass Pro bonds are not revenue bonds or general obligation bonds, which would be backed by the taxing authority of the city of Memphis. The interest payments come from TDZ funds collected downtown. MLGW is a big contributor. Nothing says "tourism" like "utility company" does it?
Bass Pro doesn't start making payments until the super store opens. That will improve the debt service outlook because more state sales taxes will be rebated to the city.
Could Bass Pro Pyramid become another AutoZone Park, where the bond holders took what is called "a haircut" and didn't get the payments they expected? Possible, but those bonds were backed by luxury suite revenue projections which turned out to be way too optimistic. That said, Bass Pro was supposed to be open late this year, so we're talking about several million in lost sales taxes if this store is the retail monster it is touted to be. And Bass Pro, we have often been reminded, is just one part of the overall redevelopment of the Pinch District and Convention Center. Nothing is happening there, and nothing is likely to happen for at least another year in light of this week's announcement.
So show your love and buy yourself a bond or two. If you can put your treasure in the promises of Johnny Morris and Robert Lipscomb and the retailing future of downtown Memphis for the next 17 years you've got a stronger stomach than I do.
The best car show I've ever seen rolled through Memphis Tuesday and hundreds of cool cars were parked on Beale Street from end to end. It was Hot Rod Magazine's 2013 Power Tour, which started in Arlington, Texas enroute to Memphis, Birmingham, Chattanooga, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Beale Street was packed. Somebody's been doing something besides hanging out at Club 152.
A few personal favorites:
Landrieu was guest of honor at an event called "A Summons to Memphis" sponsored by our sister publication Memphis magazine. He said lots of nice things about Memphis and suggested that mayors and cities try to do things that two-thirds or 66 percent of "the people" will support, writing off the other 33 percent as hardcore opposed.
He contrasted the idea of trying to achieve a majority of "50 percent plus one" ("which doesn't work because somebody can flip that one") with "governing on the 66 percent model," in that "Something that works for almost everybody is always better than something that works for half the people, plus one."
Coincidentally, Landrieu, who comes from a political family, was elected in 2010 with 67 percent of the vote.
Wharton was guest of honor at an event that could have been called "A Summons to The Reckoning" with a mostly cranky Budget Committee of the City Council. Coincidentally, Wharton was elected in 2011 with 65 percent of the vote. Close enough to make him, like Landrieu, a certified 66-percenter.
But if you want to be hailed as a great guy mayor with a bright future, it is not a bad idea to travel to another city where you can smile, compliment, tell jokes, and speak in platitudes. I have no doubt A C Wharton would get a standing ovation as luncheon speaker next week anywhere in New Orleans.
The 66-percent doctrine is brilliant in its simplicity. And if it is not taken too literally, it makes some sense, particularly when a city is on its heels from a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or reveling in euphoria over the success of its favorite professional sports team as New Orleans was with the Saints in 2010.
But it breaks down when you apply it to specific ideas and things and have to put a price on them, as Wharton did Thursday when he floated a 50-percent property tax increase and 3,250 city employee layoffs as the extremes of the spend-cut continuum.
The City Council's Budget Committee met with Mayor A C Wharton Thursday in a dress rehearsal for Super Tuesday. Wharton and CAO George Little presented four for-illustration-purposes-only scenarios ranging from a property tax rate of the current $3.11 per $100 of assessed value with 3,250 layoffs to a scare-the-pants-off-you $4.83 with no layoffs and hefty payments for future debt service and pension obligations. In between were the mayor's favored $3.36 rate with no layoffs and $3.11 with 1,420 layoffs.
The final rate is likely to be something north of $3.36 and south of $4 when the council gets through hacking away at it. The council and administration have been engaging in a dance of "who will make the tough cuts." Councilman Kemp Conrad, a budget hawk from way back who has said for years that the council and administration are "kicking the can down the road" to ruin, called the $4.83 rate — which he does not support — an "honest budget" because it owns up to long-term obligations as well as wish-list budgets from various city divisions. From the administration side, Little presented, in the finest of fine print, a list of 21 possible cuts and savings.
"This is the package," he said when pressed by members about whether the administration is willing to take ownership of them.
The items in the package include such goodies as elimination of medical benefits for the dependents of retirees, a defined contribution retirement plan instead of a defined benefit plan for city employees, reductions in paid leave, elimination of the proposed 4.6 pay increase for city employees, and a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments in employee benefits.
Cutting 3,250 jobs would eliminate nearly half of the city's workforce, impose extreme cuts in every type of city services,, restore the 4.6 percent pay cut for employees who don't lose their jobs, and cut the property tax rate from Wharton's recommended $3.36 to $3.11. At least some of the increase is due to a decline in the aggregate property valuation in Memphis. When that goes down, the tax rate has to go up to compensate.
Boosting the property tax rate to $4.83 (on top of the Shelby County rate of a proposed $4.32) would give Memphis a sky-high combined rate that would make the most dedicated Memphians think seriously about leaving town. The "upside" would be no layoffs of employees, no cuts in services, restoration of the 4.6 percent pay cut, and payment of about $170 million to future debt service and reserves, pensions, and post-employment benefits.
The bargaining begins , or ends, Tuesday. The state comptroller has served notice that Memphis may not balance its budget via smoke and mirrors, also known as pushing around debt.
"I don't think we will have a budget on Tuesday," said Councilman Shea Flinn.
(Tyler Springs is a 2013 graduate of Rhodes College with a degree in English. He wrote this post on the Tennessee Bicycle Summit at Rhodes last week.)
With the second annual Tennessee Bike Summit being held this past week at Rhodes, it is clear that bikes matter in the Bluff City, and that is becoming more and more true for the school and its surrounding population in particular. Anthony Siracusa, a 2009 graduate who started Revolutions Community Bike Shop and earned a prestigious Watson Fellowship to study bike cultures around the world, is happy to see the cause advancing around his alma mater’s Midtown campus.
“The McLean Avenue bike lane will take you from this area all the way to Cooper-Young, a primary entertainment district, and [within a year] the North Parkway bike lanes will be able to take you from the college all the way downtown,” he said. “I think [Rhodes] should take very seriously the investment that the city is making, and also make a subsequent investment here on campus, both in terms of [bike] education, and pushing students to get out and use that new infrastructure.”
Though he has commuted to Rhodes by bike for years (first as a student, now as an administrator), Siracusa believes that the framework for a widespread proliferation of pedal-power is just now being realized.
“They’re going to build a connector trail from the main circuit of Rhodes and Overton Park to East Parkway that will carry riders across East Parkway with timed signal into the new protected bike lanes on Broad Ave and to then, the Shelby Farms Greenline,” he said. “That should be boasted about to incoming students as a major asset. You literally walk out your front door, have access to one of the oldest growth forests in an urban area in the country, and then you access the only two way cycle track in the country to a seven-mile Shelby Farms Greenline that leads you to the largest urban park in America. That’s pretty sweet.”
An obstacle to a more bike-friendly mindset, however, might be the notion that people at a residential college contained on barely one hundred acres don’t need anything more than their feet to get around. With 70% of students currently living on the Rhodes campus—where most academic buildings are just a five-minute walk from residence halls—some would probably say that bikes actually aren’t needed in greater numbers. For a kid with daily access to the campus rec center and a weekly meal-plan that can cover all meals, the incentive to buy (and maintain) a bicycle might seem limited. Still, Siracusa says that more bikes could simplify some prominent campus issues.
“You can solve a number of problems [by encouraging biking], one of the big ones being having too many cars here on campus,” Siracusa said, referring to the parking lots that are becoming increasingly crowded as the school grows its student body from 1,800 to more than 2,000. “But you’ve got to have a commitment from the college to getting folks out on bikes and safely using that infrastructure.”
At the moment, Rhodes does operate a bike maintenance and rental shop on campus for Rhodes students and faculty, but it may take some time yet for the college to embrace a role as a biking base for Midtown. But, the wheels are turning.
Vernon McGarity, a Memphian who was one of the last living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge, died last week. He was 91 years old.
"Extraordinary bravery", "extreme devotion to duty", "intrepid leader of men", and "gallant soldier" are some of the phrases in Mr. McGarity's citation.
Funeral services were held Saturday, two days before Memorial Day. At the time of his death, Mr. McGarity was one of 80 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest decoration for valor. There are now only ten living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II.
"He never asked to be a hero but he handled it well," said the brief obituary notice. Mr. McGarity was eulogized by his son, Ray McGarity, as a humble man who never tried to capitalize on his honors although he knew Tennessee politicians from Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb to Governor Ned McWherter.
Mr. McGarity was born near Savannah, Tennessee and joined the Army on his 21st birthday. He shipped overseas in 1944 and in December of that year he and his squad of ten men were ordered to "hold out at all costs" against the German counter-offensive. They continued to do that for two days, as Mr. McGarity rescued comrades, routed German machine-gun nests, destroyed tanks, and risked his life to gather a hidden stash of ammunition. They fought, literally, to the last bullet before Mr. McGarity was captured. He spent six months in a prisoner-of-war camp before being liberated.
Mr. McGarity served in the Tennessee National Guard for 28 years and worked with veterans for many years in Memphis and Jackson, Tennesse. The Harrison McGarity Bridge over the Tennessee River in Savannah is named for him.
Ray McGarity is well known to Memphis tennis players as "Big Ray," a gentle giant who was an excellent player, teacher, and undoubtedly the biggest and strongest man ever to play the game at such a high level in his tournament days. He could probably drive a ball right through you, cartoon-like, were it not for his sportsmanship and soft-spoken disposition.
"Daddy was quiet and strong," he said in his eulogy. "A father's love never dies, nor does a family and son's love for him."
"I'd rather have that blue ribbon with the Medal of Honor on it than be President of the United States," Truman told him.
Here is the citation from the Medal of Honor Society's website:
He was painfully wounded in an artillery barrage that preceded the powerful counteroffensive launched by the Germans near Krinkelt, Belgium, on the morning of 16 December 1944. He made his way to an aid station, received treatment, and then refused to be evacuated, choosing to return to his hard-pressed men instead.
The fury of the enemy's great Western Front offensive swirled about the position held by T/Sgt. McGarity's small force, but so tenaciously did these men fight on orders to stand firm at all costs that they could not be dislodged despite murderous enemy fire and the breakdown of their communications. During the day the heroic squad leader rescued one of his friends who had been wounded in a forward position, and throughout the night he exhorted his comrades to repulse the enemy's attempts at infiltration.
When morning came and the Germans attacked with tanks and infantry, he braved heavy fire to run to an advantageous position where he immobilized the enemy's lead tank with a round from a rocket launcher. Fire from his squad drove the attacking infantrymen back, and three supporting tanks withdrew. He rescued, under heavy fire, another wounded American, and then directed devastating fire on a light cannon which had been brought up by the hostile troops to clear resistance from the area. When ammunition began to run low, T/Sgt. McGarity, remembering an old ammunition hole about 100 yards distant in the general direction of the enemy, braved a concentration of hostile fire to replenish his unit's supply.
By circuitous route the enemy managed to emplace a machinegun to the rear and flank of the squad's position, cutting off the only escape route. Unhesitatingly, the gallant soldier took it upon himself to destroy this menace single-handedly. He left cover, and while under steady fire from the enemy, killed or wounded all the hostile gunners with deadly accurate rifle fire and prevented all attempts to reman the gun. Only when the squad's last round had been fired was the enemy able to advance and capture the intrepid leader and his men.
The extraordinary bravery and extreme devotion to duty of T/Sgt. McGarity supported a remarkable delaying action which provided the time necessary for assembling reserves and forming a line against which the German striking power was shattered.
The man, Danny Carter, also apologized to Potter for the exchange earlier in the day. Carter was in court over allegations regarding his property when Potter addressed him casually as "hoss" and Carter objected. He was threatened with jail and ordered to sit down and his case was pushed to the end of the daily docket.
Court employees said the apologies came later in the day. One observer described it as "friendly" and said both men "sort of were hat-in-hand."
Club 152 on Beale Street reopened Friday at noon (technically 1 p.m. because the order came just after noon) after a settlement was reached in Environmental Court. Third time was the charm, as the case had been reset twice this week while Judge Larry Potter met with attorneys. The club was closed a week ago as a public nuisance due to drug sales.
"This resolution must be abided by," said Potter. "Deviation from this will incur the wrath of the court."
Ted Hansom, representing Club 152, and Katie Ratton from the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office, both said it was their common interest to try to get drugs off of Beale Street.
"The club has taken steps in assuring the prevention and abatement of any nuisance activity that was alleged to have existed at Club 152. Managers of Club 152 drug tested each and every potential employee of the club and are complying with the current mandatory background check requirement," says the order. "Respondents have been very cooperative and efficient in complying."
The club acknowledged the allegations and will submit to court supervision and monitoring for one year. They will fire all employees involved in illegal activity and ban them from the premises. Hansom said 106 employees had been tested. He said at least two and possibly more employees face criminal charges.
Club 152, which markets its upper floors as "upscale freakism," will pay $4,000 to the West Tennessee Judicial Drug Task Force. Most important to the club owners, however, is that the club will reopen for what is expected to be one of the biggest weekends of the year.
I was covering the "public nuisance" hearing for Club 152 on Beale Street, which was postponed until Friday. Meanwhile, Judge Larry Potter called a couple of other cases.
Some quick background. My use of the word "cases" may be a little misleading. If you appear in Potter's court you are accused of creating some sort of public nuisance from blight to noise to running a rowdy nightclub. Most people are there because of their property, and they represent themselves before the judge and a public prosecutor.
A man named Danny Carter was called. He was a short, bearded, stocky guy in bermuda shorts and a shirt who looked like he didn't take any crap. He was there about his allegedly blighted property. He objected to Potter's description of the property and offered the comment that he was tired of taking pictures of nearby properties that looked worse. He said he did not have the money to fix his property up. That's when things got strange.
Potter, in the midst of some fairly unsympathetic comments, called Carter "hoss." Seconds later, Carter firmly but respectfully took exception to being called "horse" which is not the same as "hoss" but maybe close enough. He told Potter that he "disrespected me." Potter paused for several seconds, apparently deciding how to respond. Then he proceeded to lecture Carter about disrespecting the court, and called him "hoss" again. Carter did not give any ground and spoke up again, drawing a warning from Potter that "there is a place for you." A marshal cautioned Carter to keep his mouth shut. Suddenly three of us reporters in the front row were taking notes. Back to his seat in the courtroom he went. I do not know how his case came out but I would be surprised if it went well for Carter.
Now a little context: In the previous case, Potter was nice as pie, complimenting a man on cleaning up his property in exemplary fashion. So impressed was the judge that he asked the man to offer lessons to the court in a future appearance. And in the case that followed Carter, Potter was back to old school and called the man in front of him "sir." Potter has a good reputation and by his account often works until 6 p.m. But in hundreds of trials and court appearances I have covered, I have never heard a person in the dock addressed as anything but sir, ma'am, Miss, Mrs., or Mr., and that goes for rogues in prison clothes and bluebloods.
I thought an apology to Carter was in order, along the lines of, "sorry about that, won't happen again, now about your case." "Hoss" is sort of like Bub, My Man, Bro, or Fella. It is not insulting or racial but it struck me as overly familiar and distracting. Carter's response, for all I know, could have been influenced by free-wheeling television courtroom shows like Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. Or a bad experience with a horse. Whatever, a reminder from the judge that decorum is the order of the day would have been proper.
A judge is a god. Gods must be treated carefully. They're entitled to be human and have bad days. But the rest of us have rights too, and one guy chose to exercise them in his own way. I hope I would have as much sand in the same circumstances and would like to hear what courtroom regulars, witnesses, jurors, judges, lawyers, and defendants think. And my house and yard are squeaky clean, by the way.
The report says the population of Memphis grew from 647,612 in 2010 to 655,155 in July, 2012. The population of Shelby County increased from 928,792 to 940,764 during the same period.
"It appears we are seeing a leveling off of movement from the city as we approach the merger of the school systems," said Maura Black Sullivan, assistant chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis.
She said annexations did not account for the increase. The Southwind residential annexation takes place this year, and the South Cordova annexation came after July of 2012.
The news is cold comfort. Both Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell say the taxable property base is down and the property tax rate will have to rise to yield the same amount of money as last year. The schools merger takes place this year, and there could be a Big Churn when the suburbs start their own systems.
But a gain is a gain. Discount it all you want. Explain it away if you will. Knock yourself out. They're not downplaying the numbers in Nashville. To see how one newspaper handled the report of the growth in Middle Tennessee, see this story from The Tennessean.
Some other numbers from around Tennessee and DeSoto County, Mississippi:
Davidson County (Nashville), 628,021 to 648,295. Nashville is the 25th largest city in the U.S.
Southaven passed with the 50,000 mark. It's population is 50,374.
Fayette County, east of Shelby County, 38,413 to 38,659.
Rutherford County (Murfreesboro), 263,779 to 274,454.
Williamson County (Franklin and Brentwood south of Nashville), 184,063 to 192,911.
As a public relations campaign and a public policy priority, bikes have made it. Broad acceptance is another matter. Advocates hope to get beyond paint on the pavement, and the summit is a start.
Beloved by a small number of hardcores who commute by bike and supported in the abstract by Memphians who prefer to drive their cars as a practical matter, bike lanes began appearing on city streets such as North Parkway and Madison Avenue a couple of years ago. The city's Çomplete Streets program put bike lanes (not counting shared lanes for cars and bikes) on 51 miles of city streets.
On Wednesday, Mayor A C Wharton announced that 15 miles of protected "green lanes" will be added in the next two years at undetermined locations. The Green Lane Project is working with six U.S. cities (Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC) to get green lanes on the ground. Green lanes are protected from cars and sidewalks by barriers and buffers and sometimes marked in green paint.
Also announced this week was a $350,000 project to connect Overton Park to Broad Street.
"No longer will we take it for granted that streets are only for those who want to get in their two-ton vehicle and chug up and down the street," said Wharton. He said people who say they would bike if only it were safer will have no excuse when the projects are finished.
Memphis is among several cities experimenting with various bicycle proposals. Mayor Michael Bloomberg made them a key part of his legislative program in New York City, as The New York Times noted recently.
A blog post on the Green Lane Project website last week featured Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. and examined whether biking has grown beyond the white middle-class community.
Speakers at the summit include Kyle Wagenschutz from the City of Memphis; City of Memphis CAO George Little, a frequent bike commuter; Jessica Wilson from the Tennessee Department of Transportation; Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists; Greg Maxted for the Harahan Bridge Project; Hal Mabry from The Peddler Bike Shop; and long-distance rider and Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop founder Anthony Siracusa.
The club was shut down last Thursday as a "public nuisance" by District Attorney General Amy Weirich and West Tennessee Drug Task Force agents.
Les Smith of Fox13 News and I ran into attorney Ted Hansom in the lobby of 201 Poplar and talked to him briefly. Hansom said he is representing club owners Charlie Ryan, Kevin Kane, and Bud Chittom. Based on an undercover investigation, the complaint makes allegations of drug use and sales by at least four unnamed employees, and cites a long record of "violence and crime at and around the location on Beale Street."
Hansom said that as of Monday morning there had been no arrests.
"This is like closing Macy's two weeks before Christmas," said Hansom. "Memphis In May and the barbecue contest weekend are big times for all the employees who work there."
Hansom said the owners "tried to be proactive" and contacted former district attorney Bill Gibbons three years ago to do something about drugs on Beale Street. Kane said in an interview last week that the effort went nowhere. He questioned the timing of the club closing during the barbecue contest and a week before the Memphis Grizzlies next home game in the Playoffs.
"The club has been under investigation since last November," Hansom said. "What occurred in the last two weeks that didn't occur two months ago, or what was happening that they couldn't have waited until June 1st?"
The complaint says the club "constitutes a nuisance as well as a clear and present danger to the patrons of the club, the patrons of Beale Street, and this community at large."
It was closed Thursday in a dramatic show of force, with media notified in advance and club patrons ushered out of the club and on to the street. Hansom said the owners face a hard choice.
"If they call the police then the DA says look how many police reports there are. And if they don't call the police . . ." His thought trailed off and he shrugged and turned up his hands.
That's how the Unified Shelby County School Board played it. And nobody knows better than the 23 members how much was left on the table. This was an 11th-hour budget of necessity, cobbled together under pressure and the eye of a court-appointed special master.
Nobody expects the unified school system, the budget, or the board to look the same a year from now. Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson will probably be gone. A majority of the board members will be gone. The suburbs will probably bolt, taking with them perhaps 30,000 of the estimated 2013-2014 enrollment of 138,629 and tens of millions of dollars of funding. School closings were largely sidestepped. The former MCS has ten high schools where the enrollment is projected to be 550 or less next year. The lowest projected enrollment at a former Shelby County high school next year is 1,300.
What if the MCS board members who voted to surrender the charter had tried to save the unified system, suburbs included, instead of hunkering down, nitpicking the superintendent search process, and criticizing the transition report? What if John Aitken had been offered the job of superintendent six months ago? What if Judge Hardy Mays had appointed a special master a year ago instead of waiting so long? What if some of the suburban board members had said "we should give this a shot"?
It doesn't matter now. Stalemate was not an option. The board deserves two cheers for coming up with a proposed $1.18 billion budget, implementing a version of the 172-point transition plan, doing a ton of homework, attending hundreds of hours of meetings late into the night, and taking public criticism from all sides. And they did it for pennies compared to the six-figure pay packages for corporate directors for rubberstamping the policies of the CEO with zero scrutiny.
At Thursday's session, which featured a new seating chart, there seemed to be genuine affection as well as mutual respect among members who barely knew each other a year ago. That counts for something. As Hopson said, they did as well as they could.
The head of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau owns Club 152 along with Charlie Ryan and Bud Chittom. State drug agents and local prosectors closed it after getting an injunction in, of all places, Environmental Court, signed by Judge Larry Potter. The alleged nuisance includes fights, drug sales and other criminal activity reported to police since 2012 and observed by an undercover officer and an informant over the last five months.
"The law-abiding businesses and patrons of Beale Street deserve better than what Club 152 has allowed to happen, said Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich. A court appearance is scheduled for Monday. The "manager and owners" are ordered to appear.
Kane, father of three young children, said he coaches Weirich's child in youth sports. He said he and his partners bought the club and the real estate in 2009 "as a pure real estate play" because it is next door to Blues City Cafe, which they also own. They bought it with Rusty Hyneman but bought him out after a year.
"I"m one of the owners but I don't run the place. We didn't know drug sales were going on for six months," Kane said. "We fire people every week trying to get rid of bad employees. I'm outraged, and I want Beale Street to be a positive, safe environment for everyone."
He thinks the unnamed security employees selling drugs in the complaint are four part-timers out of 150 employees.
"We're not sure it was a manager" as alleged Weirich's petition, which says the atmosphere at Club 152 is "quite dangerous with busy crowds both in the club itself and on Beale Street at the heart of the Memphis entertainment district." Beale Street is getting unusual attention and television exposure this month due to Memphis In May and the Grizzlies run in the NBA playoffs. But the rowdy reputation of Club 152 precedes that, as Weirich's petition documents.
Club 152 is ranked Number 71 in Nightclub and Bar's "Top 100" for 2013.
The investigation went to considerable pains to document the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, and Percocet at the club, probably in part because of the high-profile location and ownership. Kane admitted it would be nearly impossible for a club manager not to recognize the smell if not the sight of employees and patrons openly smoking marijuana, as the complaint alleges. He and Chittom said that three years ago they went to then attorney general Bill Gibbons and said "we've got a problem" with drugs on Beale Street but nothing came of it.
Kane said he visits the club maybe five times a year, but not at 3 a.m. He described it as tourists on the first floor, urban on the second floor, and VIPs, big-spenders, and athletes on the third floor. The age limit for admission is 21.
"It draws a diverse crowd," he said. "It is not some rogue, dark, seedy terrible environment. We'll deal with it."
He predicted it will reopen within the month.
Monday's hearing should be interesting. Drug use and sales among bar and nightclub employees are not considered unusual by people who have worked in the business. Owners and managers are supposed to deal with it. Weirich says Club 152 crossed a line. The owners are nobody's fools. The Grizzlies will be playing at home next week. It's Beale Street. Enough said.