City Reporter 

City Reporter

Rumble On the River

Tyson/Lewis match is set for The Pyramid.

By Rebekah Gleaves and John Branston

It's official. On June 8th, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson will fight in Memphis at The Pyramid.

In a press conference late Tuesday morning, Mayor Willie Herenton said, "The world will be looking at Memphis. Let us show the world that Memphis is a good place to come for wholesome entertainment." Herenton also said that he "didn't want to be nickel and dimed about the amount the city will invest on this."

To that, Pyramid manager Alan Freeman added that he and fight officials had negotiated "a fair rental rate" for the venue but would not say what that amount was. Freeman also said that as of Tuesday morning The Pyramid still did not have a signed contract for the event, pending completion of "a few loose ends." The Pyramid's Web site, he said, has been getting about 70,000 hits an hour.

A source in Tunica, meanwhile, told the Flyer that the casino center's role was hammered out Monday in a three-hour meeting at Horseshoe Casino.

The source said Lewis representative Gary Shaw had been negotiating "with one person and one person only in Memphis, and that was Mayor Herenton." The promoters said the fight will be broadcast in 10 languages and should be the largest-grossing bout ever.

The casinos want the fight to be headlined "Memphis/Tunica," and the fighters would each hold one public workout in Tunica. The fighters on the undercard would also work out in Tunica. Promoters are talking about two separate weigh-ins, playing on the theme that "they're so bad, they can't weigh in together," the source said.

Lewis has been talking to Sam's Town about a headquarters, while Tyson's headquarters location is up in the air. Gold Strike showed interest but did not make a commitment, sources said. Fitzgeralds casino has also shown interest in Tyson.

The casinos also made a bid for an expected onslaught of 300-1,500 media representatives. Tunica County officials agreed to furnish security outside the casinos as needed.

"Tunica is blocking approximately 1,200 rooms to turn over to Gary Shaw, the promoter," says Webster Franklin, head of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau. Franklin speculates that not only will hotel rooms in Tunica and Memphis sell out for the event, but surrounding areas will be full, too. "I don't think you'll be able to get a room in Jackson, Tennessee," he says.

The fight announcement came early Monday evening after several weeks of courting and speculation, during which a number of cities were named as possible hosts. In the past week, Washington, D.C., emerged as the favored site. Late last week it looked as if Memphis might be out entirely when First Tennessee Bank, which had issued a letter of credit for the financing, backed out of the deal.

It was widely reported that First Tennessee vacated due to moral issues related to Mike Tyson's criminal background and recent public behavior. However, a First Tennessee representative tells the Flyer that the bank never said anything of the sort.

"We don't comment on any of our customers or potential customers. We never said that there was a moral reason for us not participating," says Walter Dawson, corporate communications specialist for First Tennessee.

Other sources tell the Flyer that First Tennessee backed out after board members expressed discomfort with Tyson's prior convictions for rape and assault.

In the press conference Tuesday, Herenton addressed complaints that hosting the fight would reflect badly on Memphis, considering Tyson's background. "People who want to say that need to read the Bible," he said. "We should not judge. God judges all of us. It is not in my job description to regulate the morality of sports figures here."

Herenton also called First Tennessee "a great corporate citizen" and said that the bank's decision to withdraw from the deal was a "corporate decision -- one which I respect."

Greg Lowry, director of sales and marketing for The Pyramid, said on Monday afternoon that representatives from Showtime and HBO toured The Pyramid to determine the best camera angles and media spots. A couple of hours later, the fight was made official.

Joe Cooper, who has been promoting the fight in Memphis, said that he received calls from rapper Snoop Dogg and actor Jack Nicholson, who wanted to purchase tickets for the event, and that boxing great Muhammad Ali and his wife, Lonnie, have already accepted an invitation to sit ringside.

John Oros, senior vice president of convention development for the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 out-of-towners will fill Memphis and Tunica's combined 27,000 rooms and that a minimum of $10 million will be spent by visitors.

Herenton said a task force including police, airport officials, MATA officials, the CVB, The Pyramid, and government representatives will start working on security and logistics with the goal of providing "a wholesome experience for all of our visitors from around the globe."


A Matter Of Dignity

Firing of nurse upheld at Saint Francis.

By Mary Cashiola

A nurse who refused to completely undress for a random drug test in late 2000 was fired legally, a binding arbitrator said last month.

Registered nurse Mike Swift was fired from Saint Francis Hospital for refusing to take a drug test. But, as Swift told the Flyer in January 2001, he had no problem with the drug test. He just didn't want to bare all in front of an employee-health nurse.

"I'm as clean as you get. I'm kind of a health nut after 16 years of seeing pancreatic cancer from alcohol, lung cancer from smoking, hepatitis C from doing drugs," Swift said at the time.

The Supreme Court concluded in 1989 that a drug test constitutes a search and as such can be deemed "unreasonable" and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Swift, who agreed with an employer's right to drug-test employees as long as it was done in a fair and dignified manner, felt that the naked drug test constituted such a violation.

But Swift signed a waiver when he started working at Saint Francis agreeing to binding arbitration on all employment-related disputes.

"That was Saint Francis' ace in the hole," he says. "After my lawyer had filed a lawsuit in court, they came back with this waiver. I didn't realize I had signed a waiver. I had no knowledge of it, but it had my signature on it.

"All employees sign it when they start. When you're looking for a job, you don't even think about it. They put it in front of you and you sign it. It's a condition for employment."

After several hours of testimony, the arbitrator determined that the hospital had not done anything illegal by firing Swift because the hospital's actions did not constitute a violation of Tennessee law where private employers are concerned.

"By refusing to strip naked, I refused to let them strip me of my dignity and self-respect. To me, that was, and remains, a much more important issue than working at that particular hospital," says Swift, who now works at Methodist Central.

Officials at Saint Francis did not return phone calls from the Flyer.


A Dog's Life

Employee sues animal shelter over thwarted adoption.

By Mary Cashiola

Carolyn Lynch says she learned a lot from dogs in her past 11 years as an animal-control officer, even when to fight her employer.

"I'm notorious for finding things and then fighting for them, but you have to push me to that point," says Lynch. "If [dogs] are backed into a corner, they either retreat and give up or they come back at you."

Lynch filed a lawsuit against the Memphis Animal Shelter earlier this month for the possession of one dog with an approximate value of $50. The animal, which was impounded by the shelter on February 28th and adopted by Lynch on March 6th, was given back to the original owner on March 8th.

"I just want the dog," says Lynch, who's been working for the city for four years. "I legally paid for it. I followed all the policies. Shelter employees have to wait an extra 24 hours before they can adopt an animal. I followed that. I followed all the rules."

When stray dogs are picked up by the shelter, the policy is to give the owner three days to come claim the dog. After the three days are up, the animal is available for adoption by the public. Shelter employees must wait an extra day to give the public the first opportunity to adopt the animal.

After adopting the dog and paying the fee, Lynch left the animal at the shelter to be neutered; it was during that time that the original owner came back to claim the dog. Lynch says during the days following the adoption no one would tell her exactly when the dog would be ready to take home. It wasn't until March 11th that a supervisor told her the dog had been released to its original owner two days after she had adopted it and that it was unwritten shelter policy to do so.

"I also want the policy in writing," she says. "[The supervisor] was bragging that he's done this to the public all the time ... apparently the public doesn't know any better."

"If they do this to the public, it will only discourage them from coming back and getting another dog. Adopting an animal should be made as easy as possible. And if you'll do this to your own employees," says Lynch, "what are you doing to the public?"

Donnie Mitchell, the city's director of public services and neighborhoods, reached by phone on Monday, saw things a little differently.

"If a citizen has an animal that is rightfully theirs," he says, "I would prefer to give the animal back to its original owner, rather than an employee, unless it has been proven that the home was an abusive situation and I will have to deal with the consequences of that."

Both the city and Lynch seem to agree on the basic facts, but there seems to be some discrepancy over whether Lynch received a refund for her abated adoption. Lynch says her check was cashed the same day the dog was given back to its original owner. Shelter records obtained Monday have the word "void" handwritten next to Lynch's $37 adoption fee and $8 rabies shot.

"No, I haven't gotten my money back," says Lynch. "They haven't even offered."

Upon learning of the discrepancy, Mitchell said the money would be refunded if it had not already been.

Shelter records say it was the second impoundment from the original owner's address. He paid $179 in fees to retrieve the dog.

The case is set to go to General Sessions Court April 22nd.


News Tips? Got news for the Flyer?

Call us at 575-9405. E-mail us at brucev@memphisflyer.com.

Or write us at P.O. Box 1738, Memphis, TN 38101.

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