Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kelsey, Harris File Legislation to Regulate Future Water Policy in West Tennessee (UPDATED)

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 11:11 AM

UPDATE: (Bill would not directly affect already approved applications like proposed new TVA wells, though ongoing lawsuit from Sierra Club and Protect Our Aquifer might.)

Though currently approved projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority's plan for operating five wells to draw water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer won't be affected, a piece of legislation filed by two Shelby County legislators could substantially affect future water policy locally.

Senators Lee Harris (l), Brian Kelsey - JB
  • JB
  • Senators Lee Harris (l), Brian Kelsey

State Senators Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Lee Harris (D-Memphis) have filed a bill that would establish a Memphis Sand Aquifer Regional Development board with approval powers over any pumping of more than 10,000 gallons of water from the aquifer, source of the Memphis area's drinking water.

A TVA plan to drill into the aquifer via five new wells has been sanctioned by the Shelby County Water Quality Control Board but is still opposed by a group of environmentally minded citizens, who are concerned about possible leak-through contamination of the aquifer, among other issues.

The expressed purpose of the TVA drilling is to obtain some 3.5 million gallons of water daily from the aquifer to serve as coolant for the Authority's forthcoming natural-gas power plant. Though the bill presented by Kelsey and Harris will not offset the Shelby County Water Control Board's previous approval of that project, it was directly inspired by environmental concerns and would impose stringent new conditions for any future such proposals.

And a current lawsuit filed in Chancery Court by The Sierra Club and the Protect Our Aquifer nonprofit group challenges the Water Quality Board's action and offers a possible means of reversing TVA's license to pursue with its aquifer-drilling project.

As Ward Archer, founder of Protect Our Aquifer, explains in a memo to the Flyer:

"On February 1, 2017, Protect Our Aquifer, along with the Sierra Club, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in Shelby County Chancery Court seeking judicial review of the Shelby County Groundwater Quality Control Board's decision upholding the issuance of well permits to TVA to draw potable water directly from our Memphis Sand Aquifer.

"The case was assigned to Chancellor Jim Kyle. On February 9, 2017, Chancellor Kyle signed an order instructing the clerk of the court to issue the writ requiring the board to submit the record from the administrative proceeding to the court within thirty days.

"This is the first step in the appeal process."
The petition from Sierra Club and Protect Our Aquifer can be accessed here:
And here is the news release announcing the Kelsey/Harris bill:

(NASHVILLE), February 14, 2017 — State Senators Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Lee Harris (D-Memphis) have filed legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly setting up a Memphis Sands Aquifer Regional Development Board to protect water supplies in West Tennessee. Senate Bill 776 also requires board approval to pump more than 10,000 gallons of water from the aquifer to ensure its long-term viability.

It is sponsored by Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) and Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) in the House of Representatives.

“Clean drinking water is very important to our citizens and our future,” said Sen. Kelsey. “This legislation aims to ensure the aquifer remains a clean and reliable source for future generations.”

The action follows approval given to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to pump approximately 3.5 million gallons of aquifer water each day to cool its new power-generating plant in Southwest Memphis, a move which is deemed controversial by some scientists and environmentalists.

Under the bill, the board would have all of the powers, rights, and privileges necessary to manage, conserve, preserve, and protect the aquifer, and to increase the recharge of, and prevent the waste or pollution in, the aquifer. The nine-member board would be fairly comprised of the mayors of Shelby and two other West Tennessee counties overlying the aquifer. The governor would appoint the remaining members with two from the agricultural community, two from commerce, and two from the environmental/research community.

“This board would also help ensure that the flow of rain and water into the aquifer prevents pollution and waste,” Kelsey added. “I believe this legislation provides a well-balanced approach to ensure the aquifer is protected for many years to come.”

In addition, Senate Bill 886, sponsored by Harris and Kelsey, requires anyone planning to drill a well to give at least 14 days advance notice to the state commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation with the notice published on department’s website. Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis), Rep. Lollar and Rep. Halford are sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives.

Senator Harris said, “Everyone should know that our aquifer makes West Tennessee a very special place, as compared with other areas of the country. We need to work to preserve that asset. We know that there’s enough drinking water for today’s generation, but that’s not the worry. We want to make sure that the aquifer is preserved for future generations. That means we need to be careful with respect to the precedents we set today, since those precedents have a funny way to leading to negative consequences later. Because this aquifer is so special, we also want to do what we can to make sure that the public knows what’s happening with it and how it’s being utilized. When there are proposals to use that resource, we need to have a serious conversation with the public, and sometimes we need to be able to modify or even reject some of these uses.”

The water stored in the Memphis sand aquifer, which is also known as the Middle Claiborne, first fell as rain 332 BC. It covers 7,500 miles in portions of seven states, including 20 West Tennessee counties. Although aquifers are used for drinking water by more than 100 million Americans, Kelsey said the quality of the Memphis aquifer is unsurpassed.
The bill itself (SB0776/HB0816) may be seen here:


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Shelby Legislator Lovell Resigns

Allegedly engaged in “inappropriate touching [and] sexual contact with a woman last week....”

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 10:54 AM

Mark Lovell
  • Mark Lovell
The latest casualty resulting from newly tightened ethical rules in the Tennessee General Assembly is state Rep. Mark Lovell (R-Eads), who had held his District 95 seat in the state House of Representatives for little more than a month.

According to an online article by the Nashville Tennessean on Tuesday, Lovell has submitted a letter of resignation amid allegations that he had what the newspaper, quoting an unidentified Republican legislator as its source, termed “inappropriate touching [and] sexual contact with a woman last week ...”

Ironically, Lovell had resoundingly defeated former longtime House member Curry Todd (R-Collierville) in the GOP legislative primary last August, at least partly because of a variety of ethical transgressions charged against Todd, including most recently the vandalism of Lovell’s signs in the election campaign.

Lovell's letter of resignation, addressed to House Speaker Beth Harwell, may be accessed here:
And a statrement from the former legislator follow here:

“Earlier today I submitted a letter of resignation to The Speaker of the House, Honorable Beth Harwell, to resign my seat serving the 95th House District in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

"This was a tremendously difficult decision. I can only hope everyone who placed their trust in me to represent them in the State Legislature including all my constituents, neighbors, family and friends can accept my sincerest apology for having to resign at this time.

"Over the past few months, it has become evident to me that I was not fulfilling the promise I made to myself and my family to continue to be available to my family needs both physically and mentally. While I am extremely disappointed that at this time I do not feel I have the capacity to serve my constituents and represent them to the best of my abilities while also giving my family the attention they deserve, I must choose to focus on my family and myself at this time.

"Again, I am extremely grateful for all of the trust the great people in my district have placed in me and I apologize greatly for not being able to fulfill my campaign promises to them.

"Regarding any sexual harassment allegations, I stand by my statement that no improprieties happened and the allegations are completely false.

"So that I may begin focusing on my family, any further inquiries need to be directed to Valerie Morris, my communications representative.” – Mark Lovell

Cohen Gets New Committee Assignment: Ethics

Democratic House Leader Pelosi makes the appointment.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 9:38 AM

Rep. Steve Cohen
  • Rep. Steve Cohen

In a political season in which ethics issues may come to predominate, 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen has been named to the House Committee on Ethics. Here's the news release from Rep. Cohen's office:

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today was appointed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and approved by the House Democratic Caucus to serve on the House Committee on Ethics. In 2008, then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi referred to Congressman Cohen as the “conscience of the freshman class.”

“The Ethics Committee is critical to maintaining the dignity of the People’s House,” Leader Pelosi said. “With his leadership, integrity, and courage, Congressman Steve Cohen will be a strong addition to the Ethics Committee. As a Member of the Judiciary Committee with many years of dedicated service representing Tennessee, Congressman Cohen knows the high standards hard-working Americans have for their elected officials. Congressman Cohen will be a strong advocate for ensuring every Member of Congress honors this sacred trust.”

“I am proud to be appointed by Leader Pelosi to serve on the House Ethics Committee,” said Congressman Cohen. “One of the most important reasons I came to Congress in 2007 was to fight against the culture of corruption in Washington. I strongly advocated for and voted for the strongest ethics and lobbying reforms since the Watergate era and for the creation of the nonpartisan, independent Office of Congressional Ethics that Republicans sought to dismantle earlier this year. Throughout my legislative career, I have been aware that elected officials must be, like Caesar’s wife, ‘above suspicion’ as the public trust is most sacred. During my time in the Tennessee State Senate, I was the only Senator to twice receive the Common Cause Bird Dog Award for ‘dedication to honesty and integrity in government.’ I welcome the opportunity to serve on the Ethics Committee during a time when the trust and integrity of our government is being tested.”

Friday, February 10, 2017

Five Prospects for Open Federal Judgeships

Consolidation of Repbublican power in Washington is likely to end gridlock and allow Trump appointees to be confirmed by Senate. Prospects for two open federal judgeships in Western District include Wiseman, Norris, Parker, Vaden, and Skrmetti.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 2:07 PM

Possible appointees to local federal judgeships are (l o r): Lang Wiseman, Mark Norris, Tommy Parker, Stephen Vaden, and Jonathan Skrmetti.
  • Possible appointees to local federal judgeships are (l o r): Lang Wiseman, Mark Norris, Tommy Parker, Stephen Vaden, and Jonathan Skrmetti.

The ascension to the Presidency of Republican Donald Trump, coupled with the continuing GOP domination of the U.S. Senate, has loosened the gridlock that had stymied the confirmation to federal judgeships of several Obama appointees, including Ed Stanton III, the now departing U.S. Attorney for Tennessee’s Western District.

And, conversely, the new synchronization of the political climate in Washington opens the way to the appointment two new federal judges in the Western District and the likelihood of their Senate confirmation.
The names of five lawyers have predominated in discussions of potential Trump appointee for the two district judgeships — one created in 2015 when Judge Hardy Mays took senior status and another, to be vacated next month, when Judge Daniel Breen takes senior status, as well.

Those attorneys, as cited in the new issue of the Tennessee Journal, are:

● Lang Wiseman, partner in the Memphis law firm of Wiseman Bray. A former basketball star at the University of Tennessee, Wiseman is also a former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party. Wiseman received his law degree from Harvard and clerked for 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Wellford.

● State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), a partner in the Adams and Reese law firm. Norris, who recently announced his intent to run for Governor, says he is “honored” to be mentioned for the seat.

● Tommy Parker, a litigator with Baker Donelson. He is a graduate of the Vanderbilt University law school and is a former president of the Memphis Bar Association.

● Stephen Vaden, a Union City resident and graduate of the Yale law school. Vaden has practiced law in Washington, D.C. in recent years and is reportedly under consideration for the post of general counsel at the Department of Agricuture.

● Jonathan Skrmetti, a litigator with the Butler Snow firm and president of the Memphis Federalist Society. He holds bachelor’s degrees from George Washington and Oxford Universities and earned his law degree at Harvard, where he was editor of the schools’ Journal of Law & Public Policy.

Sessions and Trump Made Their Alliance in Millington Last Year

The Liberty Bowl’s Steve Ehrhart had a key role in setting up a crucial get-together between the president-to-be and his ultimate choice for Attorney General.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 12:17 PM

Sessions endorsing Trump in Alabama, a day after their get-together in Millington on February 27, 2016
  • Sessions endorsing Trump in Alabama, a day after their get-together in Millington on February 27, 2016

Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Senator from Alabama who was narrowly confirmed this week as President Trump’s choice for U.S. Attorney General after weeks of controversy, made his basic connection with the President-to-be when candidate Trump held one of his monster rallies in the Memphis suburb of Millington on February 27 of last year.

The intermediary was Memphian Steve Ehrhart, president of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl annual post-season classic. Ehrhart was a longtime friend of Trump’s and a close colleague during the early 1980s, when Trump owned the New Jersey Generals of the USFL professional football league and Ehrhart was president of the Memphis Showboats. Both were members of the league's executive committee and collaborators on key matters.

Sessions had met Trump briefly some years ago, when the New York billionaire testified before a Senate committee on a routine matter, and the Alabama Senator had already attended at least one Trump rally. But the two had never sat down and got fully acquainted until the evening of that campaign rally in Millington.

Ehrhart, who will say only that “it became possible for me to facilitate a meeting” between the Senator and the presidential candidate, was prominently in attendance at the Millington rally, and Sessions was at a nearby location, waiting for the introduction to be arranged. When the rally ended, Ehrhart brought Sessions on
  • Memphis Magazine
  • Steve Ehrhart
board the private jumbo jet that Trump campaigned in, and Trump and Sessions had what turned out to be a meeting of the minds.

When Trump resumed campaigning the next day, on February 28, 2016, he had Sessions with him, and, with Super Tuesday’s presidential primaries just around the corner, the Senator made big news when he stepped aboard Trump’s platform at a rally at Madison, Alabama, and became the first, and, for a long time, the only Senator make a formal endorsement of the New Yorker.

At the time, Sessions’ endorsement of Trump was regarded as a major triumph for Trump and a major blow to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who had become Trump’s major foe in the GOP primaries and who had counted on Sessions’ endorsement himself.

County Commissioner Terry Roland, who had been the major local force in setting up the Trump rally in Millington, said this week that he had long been aware of Ehrhart’s role in facilitating Sessions’ get-together with Trump.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ryder Leaves Post as RNC General Counsel

Memphis lawyer will head National Republican Lawyers Association, turn RNC duties over to Arkansas GOP chair Doyle Webb.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 10:08 PM

Ryder (r), with RNC successor Webb in Memphis on Thursday. - JB
  • JB
  • Ryder (r), with RNC successor Webb in Memphis on Thursday.
 After serving as RNC general counsel from 2013 on, Memphis lawyer John Ryder has left that position, yielding it to Arkansas Republican Party chairman Doyle Webb, who appeared with Ryder at a Thursday luncheon of the Economics Club at the Memphis Hilton.

Ryder now becomes chairman of the National Republican Lawyers Association,which awarded him its "Republican Lawyer of the Year" in 2016. Before become RNC general counsel, Ryder had served in a pivotal role as the chair of the RNC's national redistricting effort after the 2010 census, providing strategic guidance for a reapportionment formula that has maximized Republican electoral opportunities nationwide — particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 A member of the Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh law firm, Ryder has also served as chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, among other GOP posts, and has logged a total of 16 years as Republican National Committeeman from Tennessee.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Game on: City Gets a Deannexation Plan Of Its Own to Mull Over

Under pressure from Nashville, task force gets consultants' report on a strategy for "rightsizing Memphis;" decision due in April, unless legislature acts first.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 9:15 PM

City CAO Doug McGowen lays out the deannexation report to the city/county task force. - JB
  • JB
  • City CAO Doug McGowen lays out the deannexation report to the city/county task force.

The Strategic Footprint Review Task Force, the ad hoc city/county task force created last year to explore formulas whereby the City of Memphis might de-annex specific areas, met Thursday afternoon at City Hall to receive a consultant’s report from Caissa Public Strategies with recommendations on how to go about that process

As Memphis Mayor Jim Stickland had indicated it would when he hinted at the outlines of the report to Shelby County legislators in Nashville on Wednesday, the report identified specific communities —six in all — that conformed to some or all of three benchmarks that argued for de-annexation. As laid out by Memphis CAO Doug McOwen in a brief presentation to the 11 task force members (and a roomful of other interested parties) in the City Council’s fifth-floor conference room, the guiding principles were (1) the relative population density of an area; (2) the pluses and minuses of providing city services to the area; and (3) the extent to which residents of an area were clamoring to be de-annexed.

The six areas singled out in the consultant’s report were: a relatively uninhabited “river bottoms” area in the city’s southwest corner; a sparsely populated section of Frayser; a similar area in Raleigh; the Southwind/Windyke area in the southeastern part of the county; a ribbon of land in the Eads area between Highway 64 ands Gray’s Creek; the area north of Walnut Grove between Forest Hill Road and Rocky Point Road; and south Cordova.

Density figures because a stated goal of the city is to concentrate service demands for efficiency’s sake in areas where population is relatively large in relation to geographical spread. In 1960, as the report notes, the city’s density-per-square-mile was 3,371; by 2016, it was considerably more diffuse, with an average of 1,902 persons per square mile, a decrease in density of 56 percent.

The expenses of providing services (fire, police, sewers, etc.) to a given area vis-à-vis the tax revenues generated by that area is another index.

And the degree of residents’ professed reluctance to be taxpaying citizens of Memphis is a factor that speaks for itself. The clamor for separation has been expressed most unmistakably in the Southwind/Windyke and South Cordova areas, where annexation has been relatively recent.

The consultants’ report, wherein all the relevant factors are considered in depth, can be accessed here: Strategic-Footprint-Review-Task-Force2217_1_.pdf
With the consultants’ report in hand, the city/county task force will deliberate on what to do about it and is scheduled, at some point in April, to make its recommendations to the City Council. The Council will then have the opportunity to vote up or down on some version of the de-annexation plan.

Pressure from Nashville

There is an urgency to the process. The consultants’ report declares that “rightsizing our city is the right thing to do” and makes the case that judicious de-annexation “is important to the health of our city” and a means whereby the city’s vitality could in fact be focused and regenerated. But the primary reason why the city is seeking to come up with a de-annexation plan lies not in such abstract and high-sounding motives but in the simple fact of self-defense..

Though the virtues of de-annexing this or that area had been discussed by Council members and city officials over the years, the issue is being forced by imminent and serious pressure from elsewhere in the state.

Memphis found itself basically compelled to provide a formula for annexation during the 2016 session of the General Assembly when a bill, introduced by rural legislators from elsewhere in the state, was about to be rushed through to passage. That bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson), would have allowed a relatively easy means to de-annexation for residents of any area annexed by a city since 1998 (the year in which the legislature redefined annexation procedures).

All that the Carter-Watson bill required for a given area to be de-annexed was a petition signed by a tenth of the area’s population, followed by a majority vote in a referendum.

The potential consequences of such a procedure were reckoned by city officials to be potentially ruinous, with a possible population loss of some 120,000 citizens and revenue losses, in property tax and local-option sales tax proceeds, of as much as $78 million annually. Strickland and other Memphis officials, assisted by the Chamber of Commerce and by allies in other affected Tennessee cities organized a hasty defense and were able to head off the Carter-Watson bill on the implicit promise to generate an alternative plan.

The Strategic Footprint Review Task Force was the result, and the repercussions for the city of the course suggested in the just-issued consultants’ report were far milder and arguably positive. The report states of the recommended plan, “It shrinks by 8 percent the area served by city government, immediately increasing service levels for the new, more dense municipal service area,” and it contends, apropos the current anxieties about an undersized police force, “Shrinking area patrolled by the MPD is the equivalent of adding officers to the force.”

By way of further minimizing the costs of its recommended course, the report says, “It shrinks city population by only 1.2 percent, and annual operating revenue by 1.1 percent.”

Potential problems

There are obstacles, perils, and unknown quantities associated with carrying out the plan, however. Even assuming that the task force should endorse the report in full and that the Council would respond in kind, there are no guarantees against the prospect of rival, more draconian plans in this year’s legislative session.

The premise of the city’s offering its own deannexation procedures is that it could thereby head off more drastic measures like the Carter-Watson sort, and, during their visit to Nashville this week, Strickland and his team members made an effort to touch base with the sponsors of that 2016 bill.

Perhaps a gentlemen’s agreement keeping harsher measures at bay can indeed be achieved, but the April deadline for resolving the Memphis plan in-house is close to the normal adjournment date for the General Assembly, and, in a legislature still dominated by rural elements with little love for the slick ways of cities, it could prove difficult to suppress impatient partisans of more punitive de-annexation remedies.

Also, even amid the expressions of Kumbaya after the unveiling of the consultants’ report at City Hall on Thursday afternoon — with Councilman Bill Morrison, who chaired the meeting, endorsing the report and County Commissioner Terry Roland calling it “awesome…a giant step forward” — there were misgivings.

City Council member Patrice Robinson appraised the presentation of the report as “great” but saw it as incomplete and, pending elaboration of several particulars (including evidence that services for the residual Memphis core would indeed be enhanced) cast a symbolic ‘nay’ vote in what seemed otherwise a tide of acclamation by the task force. Just as such inner-city legislators at state Representative Joe Towns have expressed reluctance to diminish the city’s “brand” by even minimal de-annexations, so might there be a strong undercurrent of resistance when the full Council comes to render its judgment.

And there is sure to be serious debate about projected annual revenue losses of roughly $6 million from the surrender of South Cordova and Windyke alone. As it happens, there were rumors going around Thursday that representatives of those two hotbeds of de-annexation sentiment were headed to Nashville next week to lobby for stronger and more immediate de-annexation than is called for in the provisional Memphis plan.

Still, Memphis has now made a decisive move of sorts in a game that will soon be played in earnest – on chessboards in both Memphis and Nashville — and one that will have real and enduring consequences.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Strickland Gives Hints of De-Annexation Plan to Uneasy Legislators

Mayor meets with delegation in Nashville on eve of Thursday’s task force presentation in Memphis.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 11:53 PM

Mayor Jim Strickland previews possible de-annexation plan for Shelby County legislators, as state Rep. Ron Lollar, delegation chair, listens. - JB
  • JB
  • Mayor Jim Strickland previews possible de-annexation plan for Shelby County legislators, as state Rep. Ron Lollar, delegation chair, listens.

NASHVILLE — On Wednesday, one day before the scheduled unveiling in Memphis of a tentative de-annexation plan, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland addressed a luncheon of the Shelby County legislative delegation and gave its members, several of them openly apprehensive, some hints about what might be in the package.

Pending Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the city-county Strategic Footprint Review Task Force, the city-county body formed last year to examine de-annexation perspectives, Strickland kept the specifics to himself but suggested some of the plan’s contours.

After lengthy examination of the issue with the aid of consultants, Strickland said, the task force had settled on three main factors in determining which areas were most suitable for de-annexation from the city’s point of view: (1) “density,” with relatively unpopulated areas considered most eligible; (2) the degree of difficulty in providing services to a given area; and (3) the extent to which a neighborhood’s residents had been “longstanding” in their wish to be de-annexed.

The Mayor suggested that there were “six or seven areas” that matched up with those criteria to one degree or another. He said that the areas where the “loudest” demands for de-annexation had come from were Southwind and South Cordova, the city’s most recently annexed areas.

There were 340 square miles within the city limits of Memphis as currently constituted, said Strickland, with comparable figures for Boston and Chicago being 22 square miles and 210, respectively. Judicious trimming from de-annexation could “in the long run” be beneficial to Memphis, he argued, though he acknowledged that “there would be a short-term financial hit.”

Prompted by a question from state Representative Larry Miller, an inner-city Democrat and a member of the task force, Strickland agreed that any de-annexation legislation acceptable to Memphis should honor the principle of “local option” and be sponsored from within the county delegation and that hostile measures proposed by legislators outside Shelby County should be resisted.

As was well remembered by everyone at the meeting, which was held at the Tennessee Tower building near the Capitol, the de-annexation question had seemingly come out of nowhere a year ago, in the form of a sweeping measure co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson).

The 2016 bill would have established a relatively low threshold for the de-annexation of any urban area annexed since 1998, the year of Public Law 1101, which had redefined annexation procedures in Tennessee. De-annexation would have been allowed upon the presentation of a petition signed by a tenth of an area’s population, followed by passage of a referendum by a simple majority.

The potential consequences to Memphis could have been enormous, with a possible population reduction of some 120,000 citizens and potential revenue losses, in property tax and local-option sales tax proceeds, of as much as $78 million annually. A massive resistance effort was quickly organized involving city and Chamber of Commerce officials, whose combined effort managed to get the bill referred back to committee and ultimately stalled, with the understanding, however, that the issue would be revisited this year.

That fact was what had brought Strickland and a contingent of other representatives of the city to Nashville this week. The Mayor said Wednesday that special counsel Alan Crone and city lobbyist Jay Bucy had met with Carter about the de-annexation matter, while he himself had scheduled a meeting with Watson.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who also met with the Shelby County legislative delegation, said he supported the city’s efforts to come up with an acceptable plan and that any de-annexation affecting Memphis would have an impact upon county government also, particularly with regard to the Sheriff’s Department.

Various legislators representing the county’s urban core gave vent to misgivings about the effects of de-annexation legislation. Memphis Democrat Joe Towns at one point expressed concern about damage to the Memphis “brand” and wondered about the possible open-ended nature of a de-annexation formula. “Where does it stop?” he asked, suggesting that, once such a process started, there would be “no end in sight.”

Noting that an acceptable de-annexation formula would take time to develop, Strickland sought to be reassuring. “Give us a few weeks, and we’ll show you how this will benefit Memphis. We’ll be better off trying to satisfy the inner city rather than all 340 square miles.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Memphis Immigration Lawyers Fear the Worst, Look to Congress for Relief

But both Barry Frager and Greg Siskind fear that the legislative establishment is buffaloed by an unconventional President’s ban on travel involving 7 majority-Muslim nations.

Posted By on Sun, Jan 29, 2017 at 9:36 PM

Greg Siskind (l); Barry Frager
  • Greg Siskind (l); Barry Frager
President Trump’s executive order creating new immigration bans has not left Memphis unscathed. Among the affected are the proprietors of two local law firms specializing in immigration matters, although both see their clientele as being the true victims, not themselves.

“These are harsh actions by the Trump administration, and they are already affecting a lot of people, by their tone as much as by their action,” said Barry Frager of the Frager Law firm. “People will fear leaving the U.S. on trips, uncertain as to whether they can get back. All this is increasing fear in the immigrant community as a whole, especially among the Muslim community.

Muslims constitute maybe 15 percent of his firm’s trade, said Frager. And he estimated that the effects of his practice would be a “wash,” given the balance between some emergency work that will come his way and the expected reduction in calls for the routine assistance that his firm provides — visas, green cards, and general compliance with a host of normal immigration requirements.

“Clearly, people will respond when they are afraid,” Frager said. “But under the Trump administration we do not expect a friendly environment where we’ll be able to help more people. I’m concerned that well be able to help less people be successful in matters affecting their status.”

Greg Siskind of Siskind Susser, another firm specializing in immigration matters, expressed similar thoughts. In the short term, “it’s not impacting us financially,” Siskind said of the Trump ban, which, for a projected 90-day period, has put a stop, regardless of visa category, to normal travel of non-citizens back and forth between the U.S. and seven Middle Eastern nations — Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Suden, Libya, and Syria.

The Trump ban also includes an absolute 120-day halt to admission to the United States of refugees fleeing the consequences of the civil war in Syria.

Siskind estimates that his Muslim clientele constitutes “from 15 to 25 percent” of his firm’s total.

Amid impassioned protests at several American airport locations, a federal judge in Massachusetts on Saturday night ordered a stay in enforcement of the Trump ban that had the effect of freeing up several hundred non-citizens who had been blocked on their re-arrival in America from trips to several of the seven affected nations.

But that accomplished only partial relief, noted Siskind. “For every person who was stuck in the airport here, there are probably 100 people abroad who can’t get back in.” That included “dual nationals,” people with passports from Canada as well as from one of the affected nations. “We do a lot of work for doctors, and a lot of them are from Iran or Syria,” said Siskind. He estimated that “from 5 to 7 of the top 10” physicians’ cases that his firm handles involve immigrants from Syria.

Like Frager, Siskind is dubious about the constitutionality of Trump’s actions, which both lawyers saw as targeted at Muslims, despite pro forma denials from the administration. On the basis of such additional news as was available on Sunday, Siskind did express a hope that immigrants from the seven affected nations who already possess green cards might find the barriers to their travel relaxed.

Both Frager and Siskind held their optimism in check, however, pending further developments. Both were hopeful that legal actions from the A.C.L.U and other opponents of the ban could accomplish some relief, but both saw Senator Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s Attorney General-designate, as the animating source of the President’s action, and both feared the worst on that account.

Both lawyers were also dubious about Congress’ ability to affect the outcome.

Said Frager: “My feeling is that the establishment portions of both the Democratic and Republican parties don’t quite know what to do right now with Donald Trump’s Presidency. I believe that the establishment doesn’t agree with the Trump administration but doesn’t know what to do about it.”

Siskind has similar sentiments — with a pointed edge to them. “I’d like to see what Congress will do, but they, and the normal agencies of government, seem to be sidelined, including our two Senators,” he said on Sunday. “I know where [9th District Congressman Steve] Cohen stands.” (The Memphis Democrat is vehemently opposed to Trump’s action.} “I’d like to see where [Republican 8th District] Congressman [David] Kustoff stands. They’ll be judged for a lot of years on what they do in the next week or two.

“If Congress just stands by and lets this happen, it’s a bad sign for what we’re going to see for the next couple of years.”

For the record, Senator Lamar Alexander issued this statement later on Sunday:

"This vetting proposal itself needed more vetting. More scrutiny of those traveling from war-torn countries to the United States is wise. But this broad and confusing order seems to ban legal, permanent residents with ‘green cards,’ and might turn away Iraqis, for example, who were translators and helped save lives of Americans troops and who could be killed if they stay in Iraq. And while not explicitly a religious test, it comes close to one which is inconsistent with our American character.”

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Randy Boyd, John Calipari, and the Tennessee Governor’s Race

Departing state Commissioner of Economic Development, widely considered a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, charms Memphis Chamber audience at Kentucky coach’s expense.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 12:13 PM

Commissioner Randy Boyd at Chamber luncheon - JB
  • JB
  • Commissioner Randy Boyd at Chamber luncheon
Randy Boyd, the soon-to-be former state Commissioner of Economic and Community Development, is widely considered a likely Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2018, and, speaking to a breakfast of the Greater Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce's small business council on Wednesday, he unveiled what could be a telling secret weapon in his campaign.

In the course of extolling teamwork as the means whereby Tennessee could out-distance other, more resource-rich states in economic growth, Boyd, a Knoxvillian, broke off from a recitation of relevant statistics to exclaim, “How about that Kentucky loss last night!” He referred to the UT basketball team’s Tuesday night 82-80 upset in Knoxville of coach John Calipari’s #4-rated Kentucky Wildcats. And when the Chamber audience responded appreciatively, Boyd said, “I guess we share an antipathy to Calipari.”

(The Kentucky coach, formerly idolized in Memphis for his successful reign as coach of the University of Memphis Tigers, became highly unpopular here after he abruptly decamped for Lexington in 2009, taking his highly prized recruit class with him and leaving the Tigers in the lurch for an NCAA rules violation during his tenure.)

When an interviewer suggested, after the speech, that an anti-Calipari platform would go over well with Memphis voters, Boyd replied, “I think it will go well in Knoxville, too.”

The Commissioner, who will depart his state government post on February 1 to resume the chairmanship of the Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corp., was moderately coy about his gubernatorial announcement plans: “Sometime in February I’ll decide what I’ll do next. When I get back to Knoxville with my home and my dog and my wife, we’ll see what the world looks like from that perspective.”

Boyd, who in 2013 was named special adviser on higher education to Governor Bill Haslam, was named to his Commissioner’s post in January 2015 and has been praised by the Governor for being the major force behind such educational innovations as Tennessee Promise, which offsets the cost of attending community college and Drive to 55, an initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans holding post-secondary degrees or diplomas.

He is also credited with statistical leaps forward in industrial growth and job creation, subjects which were the major focus of his remarks in Memphis.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Luttrell Weighs in for Governor's Proposed Gas-Tax Increase

County Mayor cites "critical need" for overhauling county infrastructure.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 9:43 PM

Luttrell pitching the Commission on Monday - JB
  • JB
  • Luttrell pitching the Commission on Monday

Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam  proposed a 7 per cent increase in the state gasoline tax to enable work on a backlog of $10 billion worth of infrastructure pr ojects that he and Commissioner John Schroer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation deem long overdue but undone for lack of funding.

Haslam and Schroer had been touring the state and actively campaigning for these infrastructure projects for at least two years, localizing their appeal as circumstances called for, hinting (and sometimes saying outright) that a substantial gas-tax increase was necessary, and hoping thereby to arouse a groundswell of interest, or at least acquiescence in the state at large.

Along with new fees on electric vehicles and rental cars, the proposed tax increase would pay for an overhaul plan to which the Governor has given the distinctively Haslamian name of "The IMPROVE Act." (The capitalized initials stand for " Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy,.")

The IMPROVE Act calls for the gasoline-tax increase to be accompanied by — and to some extent, offset by — reducing the state sales tax on groceries by a further half percent, by $113 million in cuts to the state's business taxes, and by cuts to the Hall Income Tax.

Haslam's announcement last week was made in the presence of an assortment of mayors and other officials from localities around the state, and he picked up what could be an important endorsement of The IMPROVE Act Monday from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who appeared before the regular meeting of the Shelby County Commission to state his support.

Citing what he said was a “critical need” for infrastructure improvements in Shelby County, Luttrell said that the Governor's proposal called for more than $9 million to be spent in Shelby County and in the county's several municipalities. He told the Commissioners that the tax increase and the parallel tax reductions proposed by Haslam would roughly balance.

"There will be some opposition to it in the General Assembly," the Mayor cautioned. (Indeed, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, for one,  has in the fairly recent been publicly dubious about a gasoline-tax increase.) Luttrell said that "representatives from Nashville" would be coming to Memphis shortly "to make the case for the cuts and for what projects should be prioritized."

(County CAO Harvey Kennedy suggested after the meeting that in the process of considering the measure individual legislators would likely have their own pet projects to argue for.)

Terming his statement to the Commission a "heads up," Luttrell said he would be coming back to the Commission seeking "a more formal resolution for support," once the proposed measure was cast in its final form.

The Governor and TDOT have prepared an itemized list of more than 200 proposed infrastructure projects across the state's 95 counties The two pages of the Governor's backlog report reproduced below contain a list of Shelby County projects that Haslam and Commissioner Schroer deem ready for consummation under  "Improve Tennessee," should the legislature enact the requested 9 percent increase in the state gasoline tax.

  • JB

Saturday, January 21, 2017

One Eye on The Memphis Women's March, January 21, 2017

Posted By on Sat, Jan 21, 2017 at 1:10 PM


Among the thousands who turned out on Saturday for the Memphis Women's March was my daughter Rose Baker, who took some shots of the event, starting at the D'Army Bailey Courthouse and ending at the National Civil Rights Museum.

The pictures speak for themselves, though a special word should be said for the final picture in the accompanying slideshow, in which Rose found a way to involve in the event most of her immediate family (most of the Memphis portion of it, anyhow) — including her late mother, my late wife Linda Baker. Just see.

This was American history and the American political process at work, and I couldn't be prouder of the artist. Below are her notes on the event:

"Since the election results rolled in announcing Donald Trump as our new president, I've heard many people say they are scared of what the future holds for minority groups in the United States. Today at the Women's March in downtown Memphis, over 3,000 people gathered to show that we the people are greater than fear.

"We gathered as one at the D'Army Bailey Courthouse in a sea of signs showcasing the wide variety of causes that brought all of us — people of all kinds — to march together today. Images of uteri on posterboard demanded reproductive rights for women, and Princess Leia signs affirmed that a woman's place is in the resistance.

"Photos of black lives lost to violence, signs written in Spanish encouraging equality through education, and a poster of a woman wearing an American Flag hijab reminded us that we must all work together to provide for the safety, well-being, and equality of all people everywhere.

"Our numbers and voices grew as we marched through downtown. Tourists who came to Memphis expecting Elvis souvenirs and Beale Street beers instead found camaraderie and community as together we proclaimed, 'Black lives matter!'

"Downtown residents looked out from their windows and encouraged us while employees of local businesses along our route joined our chants of 'No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here!' Together we cheered for equal rights for all, for acceptance, for love over hate, and -- because this is Memphis -- we cheered for the smell of BBQ as we passed the Rendezvous.

"We finished today's walk at the National Civil Rights Museum, but our march does not end there. We must continue to show up and march for what we believe in every day. We must participate in local elections and tell our elected representatives what we the people deserve and demand. Together we are strong and we are greater than fear. Together we can make change.

"Remember what we chanted together today:  'This is what democracy looks like.'"

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cohen Won't Attend Trump Inauguration

Makes announcement at MLK commemoration at Mason Temple, tells Flyer that President-elect's insulting tweets about civil rights icon John Lewis were "the straw that broke the camel's back."

Posted By on Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 11:53 AM

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen
  • U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen

Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen joined civil rights icon John Lewis (D-GA) and what may turn out to be a substantial number of other political figures in announcing Monday that he will not attend the Friday inauguration of Donald Trump as President.

Cohen, who has represented the 9th District since his first election in 2006, made the announcement Monday morning at Mason Temple of God in Christ during a commemorative celebration of the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King on MLK Day.

Telling the Flyer that a series of insulting tweets from Trump about Lewis became “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Cohen praised the Georgia congressman as someone who had “risked his life” for human rights. Trump’s tweets had come in the wake of the Lewis’ own statement that he would not be at the inauguration.

The Congressman said Trump’s attack on Rep. Lewis were particularly egregious “coming on the eve of the Martin Luther King weekend.”

Cohen said he had already been distressed by “an accumulation of distressing remarks, actions, and appointments” on Trump’s part, including “his questioning President Obama’s birth for years, the racist, misogynistic statements he made during the campaign, his inability to tell the truth, and his mocking of a disabled person,” as well as the President-elect’s attacks on Senator John McCain and actress Meryl Streep.

“This is a president who does not act presidential,” Cohen said, adding that, as a history buff, he regretted having to miss so signal an event as an inauguration ceremony.

Cohen said further had he had attended confidential briefings about Trump’s compromised behavior and circumstances and that “there’s more to it than Russia.”

Cohen had made his disregard for Trump clear in recent days, comparing him to deceased formerr Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.

In an interview with CNN last week, Cohen said, “The last two people I remember in this Western Hemisphere who were soclose to Russia were (businessman) Armand Hammer, who loved oil and money, and Fidel Castro, who loved to talk for long periods of time, hated disloyalty and dissent and eliminated it, and was very much an egocentric individual."

And, in an issues meeting with constituents, the Congressman had warned about the prospect of a new "Dark Ages" under Trump.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Briefs from the Political Week

Rallings downplays homicide numbers; Commission prepares legislative package, includes medical marijuana, not in agreement yet on MLGW issue; Cohen gets new leadership post in Congress

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 11:48 AM

*Speaking to a pacled audience at the University Club for a Rotary Club of Memphis luncheon on Tuesday, MPD director Michael Rallings insisted that the city’s official homicide totals of 228 for 2016 are misleading, because Memphis’ homicide numbers account for "every single homicide," which includes justifiable homicides, negligent homicides and sometimes an old homicide wrapped in the number, leaving the city with a more accurate figure of 194.” Rallings said the average homicide figure in recent years has been 153.

* At its Monday meeting, the Shelby County Commission prepared a package of legislative desiderata to present to the General Assembly, including support for medical marijuana and division of the state's movie and film incentives equally between the state’s four largest cities. Amid city/county disagreement on the matter, the Commission is still grappling with a resolution seeking support from the state for expanding the MLGW board to include county representatives or, alternatively, to allow county residents to contract with another energy vendor.

* From a brand-new press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen:

"Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) was appointed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to serve on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. The Steering and Policy Committee sets the Democratic policy agenda and nominates Democratic Members for committee assignments. In 2008, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to Congressman Cohen as the “conscience of the freshman class.”

Congressman Cohen is the first Congressman from the Ninth District of Tennessee to serve on the committee since Harold Ford, Sr. served from 1988-1990 and the first Tennessean to serve on the committee since John Tanner served from 1996-2004."

Cohen was teasing a forthcoming "leadership" appointment at his annual "issues" meeting with constituents on Monday. That was the one at which he foresaw the United States entering into a new "Dark Ages" because of the Trump/GOP ascendancy in Washington.

*Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke will be having a "Beers wth Berke" fundraiser in Memphis on January 31 at levels of $50 and $100 a head. Some observers think Berke has a doujble purpose, to help fund his ongoing mayoral race and to scout out support for a later gubernatorial race.

In The Age Of Trump, Remember The Killian Documents

For media consumers, the lesson is, be suspicious of everything, especially if it confirms your biases.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 9:10 AM


As news organizations and the public struggle to come to grips with salacious new information about Donald Trump contained in a 35-page dossier released this wee by Buzzfeed, it’s a good time to think back to the 2004 campaign between John Kerry and George W. Bush.

Early in that year, The Memphis Flyer’s Jackson Baker broke a story alleging that then-President George W. Bush had, back in the 1970s, taken unauthorized leave of an Alabama Air National Guard unit that he had sought a transfer to from his regular Texas Guard unit in order to spend time working on a political campaign.

This information was an open secret among the former Alabama Air Guard members that Baker used as his sources. Indeed, several of them had heard of the forthcoming transfer to their unit of Bush, son of the prominent political figure and future President George H.W. Bush, and a Guard pilot whose well-deserved reputation as a hell-raiser had traveled far and wide in Guard circles.

These pilots had actively awaited his coming. But, three of them told Baker categorically and for the record, Lt. George W. Bush had never turned up at any point for the entire year of his supposed assignment to their
Guard base. Meanwhile, there was no dearth of Bush-sightings during the ongoing (and ultimately losing) U.S. Senate campaign, elsewhere in Alabama, of Bush-family friend Winton “Red” Blount.

Though rumors of Bush’s year-long no-show at the Alabama air base had been floating about the Internet, Baker’s Flyer story first put the concept, and the concrete first-person evidence for it, firmly into the public record, and thus set the stage for the remarkable series of events that followed.

As the 2004 campaign ground on, neither Bush nor Kerry was able to gain a clear advantage. Then, in September, Democrats got a gift: CBS TV’s 60 Minutes 2 obtained letters from Texas Air Guard commander Col. Jerry B. Killian that seemingly provided further documentary evidence of the allegations against Bush.

Democrats trumpeted the new evidence, presented by Dan Rather himself, as proof that the Commander-In-Chief was unfit for office. But within days, the story began to unravel. Commenters on internet message boards attached to conservative blogs Little Green Footballs and Powerline quickly produced convincing evidence that the Killian Documents were forgeries.

For weeks, the internet and news media were consumed with discussions of the minutiae of the command structure of 1970’s air units and the capabilities of vintage typewriters. Eventually, CBS acknowledged that the Killian Document were likely forged. Dan Rather lost his job, and George W. Bush was reelected.

After the election, not much thought was given to the provenance of the Killian Documents or what effect they had on the course of history. The source of the apparent forgery was never uncovered. But who would produce a forgery like this, and why? And how did semi-anonymous internet commenters know exactly where to look for proof of a forgery when experts CBS hired thought they were authentic?

Surely,Republicans argued, the forgery was done by political opponents of President Bush to discredit him during a tight election. But there was another interpretation of the story. What if the Killian Documents were forged by someone in the Bush campaign — a couple of famous (or infamous) Dirty Tricksters come to mind — and selectively leaked to Rather’s producers at 60 Minutes?

Then, when Rather took the bait, the debunking information was leaked to Bush’s supporters, who amplified it across their numerous media channels., eventually discrediting the campaign’s most hostile media source on television. Regardless, the reveal of the Killian Documents was to shift public debate away from Bush’s character — and the first-evidence evidence of his dereliction from Alabama Air Guard pilots — and onto the truth or untruth of the documents themselves

The publication by Buzzfeed of the new intelligence dossier filled with shocking accusations about Donald Trump’s financial ties to Russia and the possibility that Putin’s intelligence agency the FSB has sexually explicit blackmail material on the Republican has thrown the country into an uproar. But there are enough parallels to the Killian Documents incident to raise red flags for the news consumer and publisher alike.

First, the Killian documents and the Trump dossier both told Democrats and other critics exactly what they wanted to hear at a time when they were most desperate to hear it. Accusations that Trump paid Russian prostitutes to pee on the bed President Obama had once slept in were like catnip to Democrats and the left. Left-leaning social media has been a golden shower of pee jokes for going on 48 hours now.

Second, claims that the dossier was forged popped up on the anonymous message board 4chan within hours of Buzzfeed’s publication. Third, as the story gets bogged down in minutiae and side avenues, the central topic of discussion—is Trump fatally compromised by Russian intelligence?—is being pushed aside in favor of profiles of Christopher Steele, the MI6 agent who allegedly compiled the dossier, amid speculation about the authenticity of the most malicious claims.

The dossier had been passed around to major media outlets for months, all of whom — perhaps having learned the lessons of the Killian Documents — decided not to publish before the issue of authenticity could be verified. After the existence of the dossier was mentioned in a footnote to the CIA/FBI/NSA briefing to Obama, Trump, and Congress on Russian interference in the election, CNN reported on the existence of the docs and Buzzfeed jumped at the chance for a scoop, thus opening the media floodgates.

If the dossier is indeed a black propaganda operation designed to take the heat off Trump, it’s well designed, as were the Killian “letters.” Col. Killian’s son described the contents and form of the apparently forged letters from his father as askillful mixture of truth and fiction.

Associating the really important information about Trump — that, inadvertently or otherwise, he’s a possible Russian intelligence asset about to assume the office of the Presidency — with false information appealing to the preconceptions of his political opponents could have the net effect of neutralizing the issue of potential treasonous behavior with his supporters and the media at large.

Even more dangerously, sewing doubt as to the authenticity of the mainstream news outlets reporting on the story opens up new lines of attack for the Trump team. Already, the President-elect has used the story to accuse CNN of being “fake news”, a term originally coined to describe amateur propaganda designed as Facebook clickbait

Strategic uses of forgeries is nothing new to the world’s intelligence agencies. The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion was a widely circulated fake manuscript produced by Tsarist Russia’s secret police to justify the prosecution of Jews at the turn of the 20th century, for example. In 2002, the Niger Uranium documents were proved to be forgeries designed to help push the US into invading Iraq.

Yet the media and the left remain in deep denial about the nature of CIA and KGB-derived gambits they are facing. The 2015 film Truth, based on an account by Dan Rather’s producer Marla Mapes, showed that the victims of the Killian scam still believe the letters to be authentic.

This article may sound like a paranoid liberal conspiracy theory, but this whole election cycle has exceeded the wildest dreams of even the most crazed of the tin-foil-hat brigade. The Killian Documents gambit is just one arrow in the quiver of the sophisticated and unscrupulous media operators who seek to control the national conversation in these dangerous times. For media consumers, the lesson is, be suspicious of everything, especially if it confirms your biases.

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