Monday, February 27, 2017

Downward Cat: Yoga With Kitties

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 11:10 AM

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“Lift your hips and press back into downward dog — I mean, downward cat,” instructs yoga teacher Adriene Holland, as the class of 15 or so students giggle and transition out of a plank pose to thrust their butts into the air.

Holland, who teaches regular yoga and hooping classes at Co-Motion Studio, worked as many cat puns and feline phrases into her two 30-minute yoga sessions at Saturday’s Yoga with Cats adoption event at Crosstown Arts. Hands became paws, and of course, she worked in a little cat/cow pose. As she led the class, several adoptable cats from Memphis Animal Services (MAS) slinked around the corners of the art gallery.

The event took place on the final day of Crosstown Arts’ We Need to Talk exhibition, which featured break-up art and artifacts from more than 40 local artists. Some of the artwork was humorous, but much of it — about broken marriages and broken hearts — had a bit of depressing feel. But with the combination of restorative yoga postures and free-roaming cats, everyone seemed to be in positive spirits.

“We’ve seen cat yoga in some other cities and thought it would be such a fun thing to bring to Memphis,” said Alexis Pugh, administrator of MAS. “We love that our sponsors, Crosstown Arts and Co-Motion Studio, are just as excited as we are to give our feline friends a chance to find forever homes.”
By the end of the event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., four of the 10 cats that MAS brought to the event had been adopted.

The hope was that the cats would be a little more participatory — maybe disrupting poses by laying on mats or curling up with students during the final corpse pose. In reality, the cats didn’t start to warm up to new people and a new environment until the end of Holland’s second class. Several chose to stay in their kennels, but volunteers from MAS stayed on the sidelines of class, coaxing a few of the more sociable kitties to get more involved. A few cats allowed students to hold them as they sat in seated postures. By the end of the second class, a black cat named Zepp tucked underneath one  student’s hips as she lay in a supine twist (back on the floor, knees bent, and lying to one side) (Former Flyer staffer Bianca Phillips the communications coordinator for Crosstown Arts.) . 
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Friday, February 24, 2017

Bike, Pedestrian Projects Win $2.2M in Grants

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 10:34 AM

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Bike and pedestrian projects will get a $2.2 million injection in Memphis as six grants were recently awarded to the city and the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA).

The projects will bring 400 bike racks along MATA bus lines, bike lockers at MATA park and ride facilities, pedsetrian-friendly updates to traffic signals, sidewalk repairs, signs at all intersections of the Shelby Farm Greenline, and more.

The Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (Memphis MPO) issued the federal Transportation Alternatives grants, which were announced late Thursday.

Those grants are:

• Kirby Parkway and Timber Trail Crossing upgrade ( $220,000)
An enhanced pedestrian crossing in front of Kirby High School with a refuge median, crossing signal, and new sidewalk.

• Shelby Farms Greenline Crossing enhancements ($425,250)
Installation of pedestrian crossing signals and signage at all intersections along the Greenline that currently lack signals of any kind.

• Christian Brothers University pedestrian access improvements ($750,000)
Modernization of the traffic signals and pedestrian crossings at Central Avenue and East Parkway as well as Early Maxwell Boulevard, repair to existing sidewalk along Central Ave. between East Parkway and Early Maxwell Boulevard, and re- location of bus shelters.

• Mullins Station Road pedestrian improvements ($106,600)
Planning and design work for sidewalk repair and infill on Mullins Station Rd. between Macon Road and the Shelby Farms Greenline.

• Crosstown Corridor Superstop enhancements ($500,000)
Replacement of existing bus shelters or placement of new ones, installation of new schedule and route signage and other amenities, and construction of widened sidewalks and improved crosswalks at targeted bus stops along the Route 42 corridor in Midtown.

• Bicycle access to transit ($150,000)
Installation of approximately 400 bike racks along targeted MATA bus routes, as well as bike lockers at MATA park and ride facilities.

“The projects address locations called out as priorities by the city’s Pedestrian and School Safety Action Plan,” says Nicholas Oyler, the city’s Bikeway and Pedestrian Program Manager. “Some of these are even demonstration projects recommended by the plan to illustrate how design improvements can make the street safer for everyone, but especially for those on foot.”

Oyler said the city averages 30 pedestrian-related fatalities each year. Grants like these and the improvements they bring will help to “reduce and eventually eliminate these mostly avoidable deaths.”

The Transportation Alternatives program is a federal source of grants restricted for use on infrastructure projects that address pedestrian or bicycle connectivity or access to public transportation by walking or biking. Vehicles like buses or trolleys are not eligible for the program.

MATA and the city will provide 20 percent matches to each grant.

“We select the recipients based on various criteria, including benefits to safety, connectivity, environmental sustainability, and economic vitality, as well as input from our active transportation advisory committee consisting mostly of citizen representatives,” said Zylavian Watley, Transportation Planner at the Memphis MPO. “I believe that the demand for these lucrative grants demonstrates the increasing desire by our communities to have safer conditions for walking and biking.”

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New Beer and Liquor License at Memphis Airport Means You Can Get Crunk at Your Gate

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 7:12 PM

PROVIDED BY THE MEMPHIS AND SHELBY COUNTY AIRPORT AUTHORITY
  • Provided by the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority
If you've ever had the urge to start drinking while waiting for your flight at the Memphis International Airport, then you're in luck.

Starting March 1, the airport's new beer and liquor license will allow travelers to purchase alcoholic beverages from bars and restaurants within the airport and take them to-go for consumption in the concourse. The beverages will be poured into cups from the bar or restaurant of purchase that will identify what drink it is and where it was purchased.

You still cannot walk through security with your own booze, but you can load up at the gate before the flight home to be with your family during the holidays. Whether or not you are allowed to carry your adult beverage on the plane is individual to each airline policy.

The Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority president and CEO, Scott Brockman, said the agency is "pleased to be able to offer our customers this added convenience while they wait for their flight".

Over 4 million passed through MEM last year, the first year numbers have passed the 4 million mark since 2013, the last year the airport served as a hub for Delta.



Start Seeing Trolleys (But Not Ride Them)

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 4:37 PM

MATA employees describe some of the work they've been doing to restore Memphis' vintage trolleys over the last two years. - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • MATA employees describe some of the work they've been doing to restore Memphis' vintage trolleys over the last two years.

Expect to see trolleys back out on their rail lines soon but don’t expect to be able to ride one for more than a year.

Officials with the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) announced Thursday that they expect to have all the physical work needed to bring trolleys back to Memphis in about 12 months. However, the trolleys’ return to service will depend on a certification of MATA’s trolley safety plan by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) and there's no firm date on that decision.

“We’re proud to say we’re making a lot of progress,” said MATA inerim chief executive officer, Gary Rosenfield on Thursday. “In the coming days and weeks, we’ll see a lot more activity out in the field as we prepare to restart the trolley system in the next few months.”

Rosenfield said trolleys will be out on the rails for testing, electrical service will be restored to the catenary lines (the overhead wires that powers the trolleys), and the repair of the pavers along the rails on Main Street.

MATA official invited members of the media to a special board meeting Thursday at its Main Street facility, informally known as the “trolley barn.” Crews there are overhauling the Memphis trolley fleet, which includes cars that are more than 100 years old.

The Main Street line will be the first to get those big, lumbering, vintage, one-of-a-kind trolleys back when MATA gets the green light from the FTA. Six cars (four service cars and two spares) will roll on that line, which runs from the Pinch District to South Main.

All of the work to get the trolleys back on the rails has cost about $9.6 million so far, according to Rosenfield. That work has continued over two years since two trolleys caught fire in 2013 and 2014.

Those fires have been blamed, generally, on a rail system that was deeply neglected for a long time. MATA’s interim trolley director, Timothy Borchers, said his team investigated the precise cause of the fires and, on Thursday, said the devices meant to keep the trolleys safe all failed.

“The street car was running, but all of the protection devices weren’t working,” Borchers said. “Typically on a street car running on a street, it uses about 60 amps of power. The protection devices were set to trip when they hit about 100 (amps) to 120 (amps), and then it blows off. They weren’t working. The substation pumped nearly 4,000 amps into each of those cars and turned them into fireballs.”

MATA officials said to watch for trolley activity on the rails by late spring or early summer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'I Am A Man Plaza' Coming for 50th Anniversary of MLK Death

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 10:45 AM

This site next to Clayborn Temple will be the site of "I Am A Man Plaza." - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • This site next to Clayborn Temple will be the site of "I Am A Man Plaza."

The UrbanArt Commission (UAC) and the city of Memphis want to build “I Am A Man Plaza” with a dedicated arts installation adjacent to Clayborn Temple to be finished for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The two organizations issued a call for artists to design and build the art installation that will go with the plaza, which is billed “as a point of reflection” that will “invite all people to a peaceful, interactive, and educational experience that supports the advancement of equity, justice and positive social change.” The space will also be one for “peaceful protest and positive change,” according to city documents.

The project comes with a $700,000 budget: $139,100 for design and $560,900 for fabrication.

The plaza will be a focal point of a city-wide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and the death of King here in April 1968.

“UAC and (the city of Memphis) rigorously pursue excellence in equity and inclusion,” reads a news release on the project issued Wednesday morning. “To this end, applications from ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and women are encouraged. As well, it is expected that the selected artist work with minority and female artists, contractors, and/or subcontractors in the project development.”

The committee to select the artist for the job want a public art piece that will:

• Acknowledge the historical significance of Memphis, the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s strike and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly involving the phrase “I Am A Man”

• Provide visitors with the ability to interact with the art through tactile or technological elements or other methods

• Create an experience that residents and tourists will want to revisit

• Create a space for peaceful protest and positive change

• Inspire future generations to stand up for social justice and positive change




Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 10:42 AM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

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Slideshow
Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1)
Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1) Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1) Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1) Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1) Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1) Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1) Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1) Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1)

Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 23-March 1)

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

By Susan Ellis

Click to View 10 slides


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Memphians Stage First Public Rebuke of MPD's List

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 7:42 PM

Brandon Taylor steps on a provided scale to be weighed-in, a gesture meant to poke fun at MPD's gathered intel for those listed as requiring poilce escort when entering City Hall. - MICAELA WATTS
  • Micaela Watts
  • Brandon Taylor steps on a provided scale to be weighed-in, a gesture meant to poke fun at MPD's gathered intel for those listed as requiring poilce escort when entering City Hall.

"A" is for activist.

At least, that was one of the ideas tossed around among a crowd of 60 people gathered outside of Memphis' city hall. 

The crowd was there to collectively voice their dissent against the recently released list of more than 80 names deemed worthy of a taxpayer-funded police escort when on the City Hall premises.

Those gathered in front of City Hall let their discontent be known through pinning scarlet letters to shirts, a direct literary mockery of being branded as dangerous enough to require police escort in a municipal building.

Adding to the arsenal of creative clap backs, a scale jokingly referred to as the "scale of justice" was set out for voluntary weigh-ins, an additional poignant hat-tip towards the intel gathered by the Memphis Police Department and added to names appeaing on the list, along with a lister's height and race.

Most of those who gathered outside of City Hall were not actually on the MPD's watchlist, but showed up in support on those that were, particularly those that have been publicly known for their involvement in past political protests.

"What are they watching?", asked Shiloh Good, "Are they combing our Facebook posts? Following us home from protests? What?"

Good was not on the list, but like many attending Good was there to show support and solidarity with those listed.

The day's action is the latest in a series of responses to the list, which was compiled by MPD, signed off on by Memphis mayor Jim Strickland, and released following an open records request by The Commercial Appeal.

In the time since it was made public, Strickland has claimed that many of the names on his list were compiled for an authorization of agency — a protective order that Strickland filed following a staged "die-in" on his front lawn in which protestors were reportedly peeking in through the windows of Strickland's private home.

Strickland ascertains that he signed off on many of the names appearing on the list under the notion that it was part of the AOA order, and that MPD is ultimately responsible for its creation.

MPD director Michael Rallings has declined, as since has since the list's release, to explain any criteria that would warrant an individual's name being added.


TDOT Hosts PG-Rated Highway Safety Message Contest

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 3:38 PM

TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
  • Tennessee Department of Transportation

If you do any interstate traveling in and out of Memphis, you've likely noticed our state is #blessed with more flavorful public transportation warnings than other states.

And if you've wondered who the lucky government employee is that gets paid to write cheeky highway safety sentiments, that question has been, at least, partially answered. The mystery author is actually, at times, found among the good people of Tennessee.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is sponsoring a "Safety Message Contest", and you can vote on the final selections here. The winner of the safety message popularity contest will see their best efforts and punchy safety messages displayed across Tennessee.

Last year's winner was, "Turn signals, the original instant messaging."

This year, submissions have taken a turn for the racier. Personal favorites at The Memphis Flyer include:
  • Do your duty — seatbelt your booty!
  • Nice headlights! Turn yours on — during rain or fog.
  • Speeding can lead to...skid marks.
  • Be kind — don't ride — my behind.

    Voters have until Tuesday, March 7, at 4:30 to make their selection. Please do not vote while driving.





Intriguing Details Emerge In Wide-Ranging Beale Street Debate

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 12:32 PM

Beale Street
  • Beale Street
Plenty of intrigue pushed the Memphis City Council’s discussion on Beale Street Tuesday (a deathbed settlement agreement, a lawyer disbarred, a deadly nightclub stampede in Chicago) but no concrete action was taken on the entertainment district’s future.

Tuesday’s meeting was the third time the council’s Economic Development, Tourism, and Technology committee hosted a discussion on Beale Street. Suggestions of racism spurred those talks as some council members believe 21 Beale, an African-American-led company, was denied a contract to manage the street last year.

The Beale Street Tourist Development Authority (BSTDA) was established by the previous council to find a permanent manager for the street. The BSTDA requested proposals from companies in two separate rounds of negotiations. In the meantime, former Mayor A C Wharton chose the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) to manage the street on an interim basis in 2013.

21 Beale was the last company standing at the end of each of those rounds of negotiations but the BSTDA decided to deny them the contract and, instead, allow the DMC to continue to manage the street. This move has rankled some city council members who believe that the company was held to unfair expectations and was passed over simply because its principals are black.

Race has been at the heart of all of the tourism committee’s discussions about Beale Street. Tuesday’s talks were no different, though the conversation went deep and into some unexpected territory.

The deathbed agreement (that wasn’t?)

Lucille Catron told council members that the Beale Street Development Corp. (BSDC) still holds the master lease of the street (and, therefore, the right to manage it) from the city.

Her husband, Randle Catron, the former executive director of the Beale Street Development Corp., signed a settlement agreement with the city (which ceded control of the street back to the city) on his deathbed in February 2015, according to council member Martavius Jones.

But Catron said she hired a forensic handwriting examiner and proved that the signature on that agreement was not her husband’s. Not only that, Catron said, her husband was in an ambulance, on the way to the Intensive Care Unit, in septic shock, intubated, with an “infection to the bone,” and “he didn’t know he was in this world.”

She pleaded with council members to help her argue her case that the BSDC does, indeed, still hold the street’s master lease, which is “worth millions of dollars,” according to a post on the BSDC Facebook page. Council members listened to Catron but did not promise aid.

Swearengen on defense

Next, council member Jamita Swearengen hoped to get more color on just why the BSTDA voted against giving the contract to 21 Beale. She said board member Jamal Whitlow, an African American who made the motion against giving the contract to 21 Beale, agreed to attend Tuesday’s council meeting but he did not show.

Instead, Swearengen delved deep into the motivations and the vote behind denying them the contract. Casey Shannon, legal counsel for the BSTDA, said the company lacked experience managing an entertainment district and that there were some “red flags” about the company’s leaders.

Though he said he’d rather not detail those red flags, Swearengen pushed Shannon on the issue. He said one principal in the company, though he didn’t name him, was disbarred after misappropriating $150,000 of client funds. Another principal, was a part owner of a Chicago nightclub in which 21 people died in a stampede.

Swearengen went on the defensive, wondering if the men were treated fairly. She pointed to the fact that incidents have occurred at 152 Beale, a club partly owned by Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane, though he remains in his job.

“So you are going to hold these individuals…and not knowing all the ramifications of those assumed accounts….,” Swearengen began. “[There] still seems to be some sort of disparity still exists because they are African-Americans because this person [Kane], is still in public service.”

Throughout he comments on the subject, Swearengen refused to use Kane’s name. When asked who she was referencing, specifically, Swearengen stammered and said, finally, “I think we all know.”

Swearengen then cast doubt on the vote that denied the contract to 21 Beale. She asked how many people voted to deny them the contract, how many of them were black, and if the board even had a necessary quorum to hold a vote at all.

Shannon told Swearengen five voted against it, two of those votes were cast by black members (Whitlow and Nathaniel Jones), and that — at the time — seven members were enough for a quorum because some vacancies on the board had not yet been filled.

The nightclub stampede

Somewhere during the meandering discussion about the board vote, Dwain Kyles, a principal with 21 Beale addressed the committee to clear the air on several points.

“It has been suggested that we are injecting racism into this process, and that could’t be further form the truth,” Kyles said. “But we have been treated unfairly and, I swear to you, I can’t help but think that none of that would’ve happened had we not been African American.”

He said he was, indeed, a part owner of a Chicago club where 21 people died in 2003 and that fact had been disclosed at the very beginning of negotiations with the BSTDA. He said he had rented the club that night to a man (whom he found out later was a Drug Enforcement Agency informant).

Two women got into a fight, Kyles said, and people fled for the door. But police had closed and barricaded the doors because there was gunfire outside the club, Kyles said he was told. Visitors were bottlenecked on the stairs and 21 people died.

Kyles and his business partner, Calvin Hollins Jr., were each charged with 63 counts of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to do 500 hours of community service in a deal worked out with city attorneys, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune. Kyles told council members Tuesday that he served his hours.

“It’s done,” Kyles said. “It’s over.”

However, he said the area around his club, E2, was gentrifying and that the DEA agent he rented the club to on that night in 2003, “it was his job to set us up to go out of business.” He said city officials “trumped up a bunch of charges” on him, in an effort to deflect the liability of the stampede — which Kyles said Tuesday was about $100 million — from the city and pin them on he and his business partner.

21 Beale’s disbarred lawyer

Kelvin Willis, another 21 Beale principal, said he did, indeed, lose his law license in 1989 because he took money from a trust account and used it for personal reasons.

“I was going through a divorce at the time and I had personal issues and I made a mistake,” Willis told council members.

He said he has since “rehabilitated” himself, is a successful real estate mortgage broker and “I have a high trust in my church and am generally well thought of in the community.”

“Like I said, [his disbarment] was 28 years ago,” Willis said. “I have paid that price and I wish I could turn back the hands of time but I can’t.”

The disappointed publisher

Bernal Smith, the publisher of The New Tri-State Defender, noted that Beale Street was once an “epicenter of commerce and entertainment power” but that there are few black business on the street today. The Defender is located on Beale and that “we have been encouraged to vacate our space” on the street.

Smith said that original black culture and history on Beale has been “appropriated and exploited to the economic benefit of everyone except African Americans.”

“Beale Street has evolved to where a handful of white, well-heeled (business leaders) are driving the future and the strength of their economic kingdom and keeping things in place to maintain their kingdom,” Smith said.

He said black-owned businesses sometime lack business experience, capital, and access to capital. However, Beale Street could become an incubator for these business, though. The only group with the power to do that, he said, is the city council.

The real power on Beale?

It seemed the mechanism Smith was referring to that’s keeping white businesses powerful on Beale was the Beale Street Merchants Association (BSMA). But Ken Taylor, the executive director of the group and an African American, said the group is open to any business owner on the street.

Taylor said there are 25 potential members of the association. Though, four members don’t have a vote now because they are behind on their association dues.

Swearengen asked Taylor how many members of the association were black. He said he didn’t know but would have the answer Tuesday. Swearengen didn’t like the answer, shooting back to Taylor, “You know many members there are and how many are in arrears, but you don’t know how many are black?”

In closing

Council member, and tourism committee board chairman, Jones ended the meeting by briefly summarizing the reasons 21 Beale was passed over for the contract. He also noted that the DMC had no experience managing an entertainment district either but have done it for three years now.

But he, then, shifted into un-trod territory, telling council members that he got a front-row seat to the inner-working of the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) and was surprised. He said that board gives away tax breaks to companies who won’t necessarily give jobs to Memphians or Shelby Countians.

“We are ceding control of this most precious resource — taxpayer money — and we don’t have a handle, largely, on some of this stuff,” Jones said.

In that vein, Jones said he has asked EDGE officials for a council refresher course. He also hinted at the possibility of reeling control of EDGE back to the council, the same course of action he’s promised for the BSTDA.

Questions Remain About City Hall "Blacklist"

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 9:28 AM


Memphis Police Department director Michael Rallings said that "peace and safety" are the motivating factors behind keeping a list if individuals who must be escorted inside Memphis City Hall, and he noted that some names on the list may be there erroneously.

Rallings took to YouTube Monday evening to address a broad range of questions that have arisen since the existence of a so-called blacklist that emerged late last week. The list includes disgruntled former employees of the city but also political activists, including members of Black Lives Matter, Greensward protestors, and more.

"There could be several reasons why one may require an escort at city hall," Rallings said in the YouTube statement. "For example, disgruntled, terminated employees, individuals who may pose a security concern, individuals who may have endorsed potential statements of unlawful behavior, and those individual who are named on an authorization of agency."

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland requested the authorization of agency list of several people who staged a "die in" at his home last year. Those people must stay off of his property and must be escorted inside city hall.

However, Rallings said some on that part of the escort list may be there in error. The list is "being constantly reviewed and evaluated" Rallings said and, pending that review, some of those names may be removed for the list.

A group of citizens have organized an action at city hall Tuesday evening called "Weigh in At City Hall" to question leaders about the list, claiming city officials won't say who gets selected for the list.

"It is outrageous that peaceful people are being targeted for their progressive political beliefs," said the Facebook invitation to the event. "You can show solidarity with the A-List by 'weighing in' in front of city hall this Tuesday between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to get your very own scarlet letter A and draw your own mugshot."

Meetings of the Memphis City Council began Tuesday morning. The council's full meeting won't get started until 3:30 p.m. So the "Weigh In" event won't get started until the meeting is either underway or close to ending.
YOUTUBE
  • YouTube


Friday, February 17, 2017

New Laws Could Open Some Government Records, Close Others

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 1:33 PM

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State lawmakers have filed a raft of bills for this legislative session aimed at changing public access to public records, everything from the details of economic development projects to footage captured from police-worn body cameras.

Officials with the nonpartisan Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) listed a couple of dozen bills this week that they will be watching this session from about 75 bills that have been filed overall that pertain to open records. If the bills are passed, they will have concrete impacts in Memphis.

Here’s a selection of those bills from TCOG:

Economic development records

HB 947/SB 1179 – Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin), Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald)

Makes confidential county and municipal records related to economic development. Part of this bill would make confidential any county or city economic development contracts, agreements and related records until after a contract is entered into.

The other part of the bill allows a county or municipality to keep any documents confidential after a contract is signed for a period of five years if chief executive officer of the county or city determines that “a document or information is of such a sensitive nature that its disclosure or release would seriously harm the ability of the county (or municipality) to compete for or execute agreements or contracts for economic or community development.”

Certain information would never become public, including trade secrets received, maintained or produced by the county or municipality, or any company records containing marketing information or capital plans that the company wishes to remain confidential.

Public records requests

HB 58/SB 464 – Rep. Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville)

Requires records custodians to accept requests through all official modes of communication, including in person, telephone, fax, email or other electronic means.

If a custodian requires that a request for copies be made on a form developed by the office of open records counsel, then the records custodian shall provide such form in the “most expeditious means possible” when the form is requested.

Officer-involved shootings


HB 277/SB 1039 — Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis), Sen. Lee Harris (D-Memphis)

Requires Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's (TBI) “investigative record” to become public after completion of an investigation by the TBI into an officer-involved shooting death.

Access to bill modifications

HB 1074/SB 320 – Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville), Sen. Lee Harris (D-Memphis)

Authorizes the public to access the legislation dashboard used by lawmakers in the General Assembly in the same manner as lawmakers do so they can see amendments to bills.

Voting records of lawmakers

HB 1186
/SB 322 – Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville), Rep. Lee Harris (D-Memphis)

Requires the joint Legislative Services Committee to publish on the General Assembly website the floor voting record of each member following the conclusion of each annual or extraordinary session of the General Assembly.

Meetings to raise taxes
HB 974/SB 909 - Rep. Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville)

Requires any property tax increase to be passed by two-thirds majority of the local legislative body at two consecutive, regularly scheduled meetings. Authorizes referendum on the question if tax increase is not approved by two-thirds vote.


HB 1363/SB 1373 – Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville), Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville)

Requires members of the General Assembly to disclose travel expenses paid by certain national organizations within 10 business days of returning from the trip.

Public participation

HB 406
/SB 548 – Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooletwah), Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) – Enacts the Public Participation Protection Act — anti-SLAPP bill.

This bill is intended to protect those who speak out in public on matters of public concern from lawsuits by those targeted by that speech.

Similar laws are now enacted in about 29 states and the District of Columbia, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a proponent of the bill.

The Society for Professional Journalists, also a proponent of the law, said developers and other commercial entities are usually the plaintiffs in these lawsuits, known as SLAPP suits and they most often claim they’ve been libeled, or that the speech interfered with a contract.

More Tennessee Students Are Turning to Online Fundraising for Help With Tuition

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 1:21 PM

college-graduates.jpg
GoFundMe, the DIY online fundraising platform, says that Tennessee students collected $1.3 million in tuition and education-related donations on their website last year for higher education.

Today, the fundraising giant officially launched their college fundraising hub on their website that will offer guidelinees for students seeking to fundraise all or some of their college tuition. It also serves to match potential donors with students.

According to the Institute for College Access and Debt, 60 percent of Tennessee students graduate from a public or non-profit university with student loan debt averaging more than $26,000 per student.

That's a four percent increase in student debt amounts from 2015 for some of Tennessee's largest universities, including the University of Memphis.

According to GoFundMe's national data, 130,000 individual campaigns have raised $60 million in tuition and other education-related expenses from more than 850,000 donors in the last three years alone.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

#adaywithoutimmigrants in Memphis; Not Quantifiable, But Noticeable

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 5:33 PM

Businesses and organizations across the United States locked their doors as part of the #daywithoutimmigrants protest, a wide-spread clap-back to the consistent, yet, statistically unfounded insistence of President Donald Trump's campaign and administration's talking points that blame economic woes on undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.

In Memphis, the effects of the protest were visible on Summer Avenue. Multiple establishments including La Michoacana and La Guadalapana were closed outside of posted hours. Though there was no clear explanation on any of the Summer Avenue businesses, the implication was clear to many Memphians across social media.
Posted on El Mercadito de Memphis' Facebook page. "Today we will be closed and united!"
  • Posted on El Mercadito de Memphis' Facebook page. "Today we will be closed and united!"

Latino Memphis, a social services organization dedicated to connecting both documented and undocumented Spanish-speaking immigrants to resources imperative to livelihood in the Mid-South, said they kept their doors open today, but only for the sake of those they serve.

"At this time, we need to be pulling together, not only from a humane perspective, but from a economic perspective," said Mauricio Calvo, the executive director of Latino Memphis.

Calvo notes that there are more than 100,000 Spanish-speaking individuals in Memphis. In Calvo's view, today's protest was "not meant to harm anyone", but noted that actions of civil defiance do add up, even if incrementally.

There were additional reports of large numbers of students absent from schools with significant Latino populations, but those have yet to be confirmed by Shelby County Schools.

It's unclear to what extent today's #adaywithoutimmigrants protests impacted Memphis outside of Summer Avenue, but as many immigrants are undocumented — many employers who profit from undocumented workers would be unable to offer any quantification.

ArtsMemphis Combats Funding Threats

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 11:22 AM

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ArtsMemphis is combatting threats to federal arts funding with postcards, information, fun, and beer.

The nonprofit arts agency will host a Presidents’ Day (Monday, Feb. 20) event called #ArtMatters at Memphis Made Brewing to help Memphians show their support for the arts and to urge their lawmakers to stop cuts to federal arts programs.

President Donald Trump has targeted the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) , and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for funding cuts. ArtsMemphis is hoping its event will facilitate communication between Congress — which holds the strings of the federal purse — and art-loving Midsoutherners.

"Legislators on Capitol Hill will begin working on the federal budget this spring,” said ays ArtsMemphis executive director Elizabeth Rouse. “Receiving a swarm of constituent mail can greatly impact the way a legislator votes on a particular issue. Our postcard campaign will be a powerful advocacy tool in the fight to keep arts support in the national budget.

"ArtsMemphis will provide the information that supports our position and how this issue affects Memphis. Members of the public will be asked to send their message to Congress though postcards, calls, and videos but we need your help."

Federal arts funding has ripple effects throughout Tennessee, according to ArtsMemphis. According to their figures, the NEA granted $1.3 million to Tennessee programs in 2016. “For every $1 that the NEA invests in our communities, an additional $9 in state, local, and private funding follows,” ArttsMemphis said in a news release.

The event is free and open to the public and runs from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. At Memphis Made Brewing at 768 Cooper.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

North Memphis Selected for $1 Million Equitable Development Grant

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 1:56 PM

The Pinch District, an unofficial entrance into North Memphis, is due for a development spike ahead of the St.Jude expansion. The area will be one of the development hotspots that Memphis Partners will be monitoring. - MICAELA WATTS
  • Micaela Watts
  • The Pinch District, an unofficial entrance into North Memphis, is due for a development spike ahead of the St.Jude expansion. The area will be one of the development hotspots that Memphis Partners will be monitoring.

Memphis was selected as one of six cities to receive a $1 million grant from the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), with additional access to an estimated $90 million in foundation-backed capital.

The grant, awarded to the Memphis Partners for Resilient Communities, will specifically target the greater area of North Memphis, which has endured multiple rounds of disinvestment for decades now; whether in the form of industrial job loss or declining public transit that, in turn, restricts access to jobs, healthcare, and fresh foods.

Memphis Partners, an initiative comprised of North Memphis representatives, formed for the competitive application process, has stated their goals for the SPARCC funding and capital access include:

Institutionalize policies and practices that incorporate diverse racial perspectives into community planning and development projects

Promote investment patterns and strategies that result in equitable development outcomes for neighborhoods and their residents

Improve health outcomes for residents by enhancing connectivity to healthy food, health services, access to green space and trails, and quality affordable housing

Improve climate resilience of neighborhoods and the region through targeted home weatherization, repair, and improvement efforts

"In the past, policy and programmatic decisions about how to invest in the places we live, work, and play have all too often led to a deeper poverty and risk for people of color and low-income communities," said Melinda Pollack, a national partner with SPARCC.

The timing of the SPARCC initiative comes just ahead of major development projects surrounding North Memphis communities, including the massive mixed-use Crosstown Concourse, set to open in 2017, the anticipated $1 billion in new developments from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and in the Pinch District, which is slated to receive $40 million in infrastructure improvements under the City of Memphis' North Gateway Project.

SPARCC's grant and leadership support will help to ensure that equitable practice and policies accompany these major projects, so that all residents of economically depressed areas bordering major development will benefit as well.

The other cities to receive a SPARCC grant are Denver, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

For grant-related purposes, North Memphis is defined as the area bordered on the north and the west by the Wolf River, North Graham on the east, and North Parkway/ Summer Avenue on the south.















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