City Reporter 

City Reporter

Council Delays Vote For New Animal Shelter

The city's canines won't be getting a new dog house; at least, not yet.

Release of part of the $7.6 million scheduled to be allocated over the next three years for a new Memphis animal shelter has been delayed until at least 2004.

Led by city council member Barbara Swearengen Holt, the city budget committee voted 6-3 to delay $1 million in funding for land acquisition and engineering for the proposed shelter. The other $6.6 million was not scheduled in the budget for the next fiscal year.

The Memphis Animal Shelter, located on Tchulahoma Road, was the subject of an April cover story in the Flyer. In it, mishandling of the animals, overcrowding, and administrative mix-ups were listed as some of the shelter's primary problems.

According to a study done by the National Animal Control Association last year, however, relieving overcrowding and increasing training for staff members would solve many of the shelter's problems. The shelter takes in more than 16,000 animals a year --more than 1,300 a month; animals are held for a three-day waiting period before being euthanized.

Donnie Mitchell, director of public service for the city of Memphis, urged the council to approve the funding now so that it doesn't cost more in the future. Recently in Knoxville, the city had to build a $1 million temporary shelter to house animals while another, more costly shelter was being constructed.

"We don't own the land at the airport. They've already told us they're going to call our number any time," said Mitchell. A national trend to hold strays five days instead of three before euthanasia would also exacerbate overcrowding.

Holt said that she'd rather spend the money on things like curbs and gutters for annexed Raleigh.

But members of Responsible Pet Owners of Tennessee, at the meeting to hear about the shelter's funding, disagreed.

"A life is a life is a life," said a woman who would only give her name as M. Brodsky. "We need a new shelter. Every time I go to the shelter now, my blood pressure rises."

Pat VanderSchaaf and John Vergos, two of the three members who voted against the delay, both cited the city's mandated responsibility of animal control.

"Assume another project is inserted instead. We're still going to have the same problem," Vergos said. "It's not going to go away."

-- Mary Cashiola

Memphis Earns General Excellence Award

Memphis editor James Roper (left) accepts award from University of Missouri professor Steve Weinberg.
Memphis magazine was the recipient of a Silver Award for General Excellence at the 16th Annual Editorial and Design Awards, held May 7th in Minneapolis during the annual conference of the City and Regional Magazine Association.

Professional journalists, designers, and photographers from magazines around the country, along with faculty from the University of Missouri, judged the more than 880 entries submitted for this year's contest. The awards recognize excellence in design, writing, feature stories, photography, and special issues.

Other general excellence winners included D magazine, Columbus Monthly, Indianapolis Monthly, Texas Monthly, Boston magazine, and Atlanta magazine.

"We're very pleased to be in such good company," says Kenneth Neill, CEO of Contemporary Media, Inc., publisher of Memphis magazine and The Memphis Flyer. "It's always nice when all our hard work is recognized by our peers in the magazine industry."

MLGW Rejects Would-Be Benefactors

Responding to a story in last week's Flyer, two Memphis men say they tried to pay the Memphis Light, Gas and Water bill for Mamie Parker, a struggling single mother. When they called MLGW, though, both men say that they were not allowed to pay Parker's bill.

One of the men, Thomas Acree, says that when he called, an MLGW representative told him that the story published in the Flyer last week about Parker's dilemma was not true and that Parker's bill had already been paid in full. Acree also says that the representative told him that the reason Parker's bill was so high was because she has a poor payment history and not because of the winter gas crisis, as last week's story stated. According to Acree, the representative also told him personal information about both Parker and her sister.

"I hope they wouldn't tell someone that kind of information about me," says Acree.

The other man, Frank Barczak, says that on each of the two times he called about Parker, MLGW representatives hung up on him.

Mamie Parker is a mother of two severely asthmatic children who rely on a breathing machine. Parker, who is also caring for her mentally handicapped adult sister, says that the utility has vowed to turn off her power if her entire bill is not paid in full. If her power is turned off, the children's breathing machine will not function.

The bill, which is currently more than $400, is a hold-over from this winter's natural gas crisis and MLGW's billing which, as the Flyer reported on April 12th, was 25 percent over the national average. In her job as a custodian at Rozelle Elementary School, Parker makes $300 every two weeks. She says she has asked the utility numerous times to be included in the much-heralded SmartPay program, which divides steep bills into smaller monthly payments. Each time, she says, she has been turned down without explanation. Parker also says she has asked to have a separate line in her house to power the breathing machine and has been denied this as well.

Barczak told the Flyer that when he called MLGW's general information line he was transferred several times and when he said that he wanted to pay Parker's bill, he was disconnected. He then called a second time, only to have this experience repeated.

Mark Heuberger, MLGW's chief communications officer, did not accept or return multiple calls from the Flyer. MLGW president Herman Morris also did not accept or return several calls. As a result, the paper has been unable to learn why Parker has not been allowed to participate in SmartPay and why the two benefactors were rejected.

Both men say that they are still interested in helping Parker pay her bill and hope the utility will allow them to do so.

-- Rebekah Gleaves

Former Bodyguard Now Heads Ex-Felon Program

Whoever said crime doesn't pay never worked for the city of Memphis.

After serving five months in prison and five months under house arrest, former mayoral bodyguard Yalanda McFadgon was hired last July as a workforce development specialist for the city's newly created youth opportunity program, a job which paid $34,940 a year. Since then McFadgon has changed jobs twice and now heads Mayor Willie Herenton's Second Chance Ex-Felon Program, which finds employment for former convicts in the public and private sectors.

McFadgon has received two substantial raises since July, seeing her pay jump more than $14,000. Now making $49,000 annually, McFadgon is being paid $9,100 more than when she resigned from civil service in September 1998 to serve her prison sentence.

Before resigning, McFadgon was head of Mayor Willie Herenton's Dignitary Protection Program, a bodyguard program established to protect the mayor.

She was convicted in federal court in March 1999 on three felony counts of concealing drug-dealing proceeds, interfering with a federal search, and conspiring to interfere. McFadgon had hidden money for her former boyfriend, drug dealer Calvin "Six-Nine" McKinley, and then attempted to have her 16-year-old niece hide the money for her in a high school locker.

Prior to entering the Dignitary Protection Program, McFadgon worked in several divisions of the Memphis Police Department. She began working in the City Hall bureau in January 1995 and moved to the mayor's office bureau in November 1995.

While working in the mayor's office, McFadgon saw her pay increase more than $9,000, including a $9,204 raise when she began working with the Dignitary Protection Program. She later received two pay deductions totaling $3,889 then got another raise of $1,897.

In June of last year, Mayor Herenton appeared before the Memphis City Council to promote the Second Chance Ex-Felon Program. As part of his presentation he distributed a booklet which contained three letters from persons who had varying criminal records and were then seeking employment. Among these was a letter from McFadgon.

The city of Memphis Records Office confirmed that the other two letter writers had not been hired by the city.

McFadgon could not be reached for this story and Mayor Herenton declined comment. -- Rebekah Gleaves

Boardwalk Allows Access To Wolf River Floodplain

Perched safely above the delicate Wolf River floodplain swamp, students from St. George's Day School spotted a water moccasin glide by on a recent field trip to the William C. Clark Preserve.

The class was one of the first groups to experience a new boardwalk in Rossville, Tennessee, which allows visitors up-close access to a rare and remote ecosystem.

"Getting into an area like the Clark Preserve is difficult any time of year and that's where the boardwalk comes in," says Scott Davis, state director of the Nature Conservancy of Tennessee. "Wetlands are such special places and this is a safe way for everyone to enjoy it."

From the 1,800-foot boardwalk, visitors can also see river otter, bobcat, coyote, giant woodpeckers, ducks, and owls along the river, says Naomi Van Tol of the Wolf River Conservancy. Built by the Nature Conservancy, the boardwalk was constructed without the use of heavy equipment, which would have meant the loss of hundreds of trees and changed the water flow.

The boardwalk, located about a half hour east of Memphis, allows visitors to experience the upper Wolf River, which Van Tol says has been spared from channelization or significant pollution. The river is not so clean closer to home. From Germantown Parkway to the Mississippi River, because of residual pollution, fish caught in the Wolf River are not safe to eat, she says. -- Andrew Wilkins

School Board Seeks More Info On Testing

With protests against high-stakes testing continuing around the country, the Memphis City Schools board voted last week to see if there was another way.

The board unanimously passed a resolution asking Superintendent Johnnie Watson to get information on a holistic accountability system that would look at all aspects of the school district, not just test scores.

The resolution, proposed by Commissioners Sara Lewis and Wanda Halbert, stresses the fact that test scores highlight students' deficiencies but fail to address how to fix the problems.

"We can't just look at test scores. We can't let test scores alone dictate what we'll do," said Lynette Tabor, president of the Memphis Education Association. "A well-rounded education is much more than just test scores."

The national trend in education seems to be a centralization of power at the state level. As such, high-stakes testing, using one standardized test to determine any number of criteria affecting students, is gaining popularity. Proponents say that, like any other industry, the business of education needs numerical indicators. Opponents say that high-stakes testing discriminates against low-income, urban, and minority students and often results in schools teaching to the test -- focusing only on the skills and information needed to pass the exams.

But one common aspect of the testing is its do-or-die mentality. Students in Louisiana are required to pass the LEAP test in 4th and 8th grades. Students who fail must be held back by state mandate. If they fail the test a second time, the 4th-grade students are allowed to advance to the 5th grade, while second-year 8th-graders must either re-enroll in 8th grade for the third time or enter a vocational program.

In California, a state reward program gives a bonus to all the employees of schools that show improvement on the state's Stanford 9 test.

In Tennessee, high school students have to pass the TCAP in order to graduate, but beginning in the fall of 2001, high school freshmen will have to pass Gateway Exams in algebra, English, and biology.

The Memphis resolution asks that the superintendent's finding be presented to the board before the next school year begins.

"We want everybody accountable: the teachers, the parents, the community," said Halbert. "You can't expect students to be accountable if the teachers aren't, and you can't expect the teachers to be if the principals aren't, and you can't expect the principals to be unless the district is." -- Mary Cashiola

Last Place On Earth Club To Close

Last Place on Earth, the music club at 345 Madison Avenue that has served as one of the city's prime venues for metal, punk, and indie rock shows, will close at the end of May, according to owner Chris Walker.

Walker opened the club in October 1999 after previously operating the similarly booked Barristers from 1994 to 1997. "I'm tired," he says. "It's a lot of responsibility and I have another job [video production at The Pyramid]. Last year we were breaking even and even making money. But lately I've been losing money."

The club took a hit with a rash of band cancellations over the past few months and lost money recently on what Walker describes as a poorly attended but otherwise well-done metal festival. The losses from that event put the club in a financial hole just as a large deposit was due for a Bad Brains reunion show scheduled for June 15th. The Bad Brains show has been cancelled.

"I don't feel bad about it," Walker says. "We got to do some really cool things." He cites a post-Pyramid concert last fall with Sonic Youth and Eddie Vedder, a one-year birthday party with indie band Modest Mouse, and various Grifters shows as among the club's biggest.

Last Place on Earth's current soundman, Stephen Shoemaker, is negotiating to buy the club, so there is a possibility that it will reopen under new ownership.

-- Chris Herrington

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