City Reporter 

City Reporter

Firearm Fund-raising?

Administrator is accused of selling guns on county property.

By Janel Davis

County administrator Melvin Booth is being investigated for selling guns to fellow employees while on county property. If the allegations are true, his actions could be in direct violation of the county's ethics policy.

In a letter received Monday by the Flyer from a county employee, Booth's actions as administrator of Support Services were questioned. "We were told that employees of Shelby County government must get permission to sell fund-raising on county property and/or county time. This includes Girl Scout cookies, candy, wrapping paper, [and] Boy Scout popcorn ... yet Mr. Booth brought guns to work to sell to county employees on county time. This is a violation of the mayor's ethics policy as explained to us. It is also a violation of the Shelby County handbook," said the letter.

When questioned by the Flyer, Booth responded to the allegations and letter by saying "as long as it's not done on county time." When asked specifically whether he sold firearms to employees, Booth declined to respond, instead referring questions to county spokesperson Susan Adler Thorp.

Thorp issued a statement saying, "We are aware of the allegation and we're checking into the accuracy of it and whether any action will be taken if necessary." She said that county officials had been aware of the allegations for about a day, learning about the incidents through a phone call. Chief administrative officer John Fowlkes and county attorney Brian Kuhn are responsible for the investigation.

According to the Code of Ethical Conduct for Shelby County employees, initiated by county mayor A C Wharton in May of this year, a section on "Misuse of Position" and "Fund-raising in a Personal Capacity," or soliciting funds or selling items, states, "An employee may engage in fund-raising in his or her personal capacity provided he or she does not engage in fund-raising activities on county property."

Booth's office at 584 Adams Avenue in the Support Services building would be considered county property.

Thorp declined to comment on a possible violation of the ethics code, citing the ongoing investigation. Booth has been contacted regarding the investigation and, at present, remains in his administrative position.

The code goes on to say that personal fund-raising activities are allowed as long as the employee does not "engage in any action that would otherwise violate state law, or the terms of this code." State law requires a person selling firearms to be registered with the federal government and conduct and complete a background check and transaction forms with the purchaser and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Booth was appointed to his position in 2000, replacing former administrator Sam McCraw, who was fired for his involvement with county contracts. The Support Services department is responsible for in-house county printing and maintenance of county buildings.

The Price of Power

MLGW customers will soon see higher bills.

By Bianca Phillips

Memphis Light, Gas and Water customers can expect to see an increase on next month's utility bill since the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) approved a 7.4 percent wholesale residential rate increase.

The increase, which was approved by the TVA's board of directors in late August, will fund the installation of clean-air control equipment in its coal plants. Since MLGW is under contract with TVA, the utility was required to pass the charges on to customers by October 1st.

According to Mark Heuberger, public relations officer for MLGW, typical customers in Shelby County will see a $4.89 increase on their monthly bill. He says the average bill is about $137.39.

Along with approval of a residential rate increase came a 2 percent decrease in rates for large manufacturing customers.

"The reason they're getting a decrease is to attract more large industry customers to the valley," said Michelle Chang, a spokesperson for TVA. "Right now, their electricity prices are much higher than other smaller companies in the same region."

The TVA increase will affect most of the state, as well as portions of Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. MLGW is the largest distributor of power in the TVA region.

The Blotter

Weird crimes from the local police files.

™ Trick or Treat ... and Trick Again: On October 4th, a man reported the theft of a 100-pound pumpkin from his yard on Kings Cross. Then, while the man "was giving his report to MPD, [the] suspect drove back in a pickup truck and stole the remaining two smaller pumpkins from the display."

™ Were they Armani? Early in the month, a man in the Southeast Precinct told police he had noticed that some of his clothes (about $700 worth) were missing from his bedroom. Although "he thinks somebody might have come into his apartment and stolen his clothes," he hadn't noticed any open or broken windows or any damage to the door.

™ I really wanted the zebra! On October 1st, the victim was at Oil City on N. Watkins when he was called over to a "small trailer with stuffed animals all around it." He was offered a chance to throw balls at a board and get points depending on where the balls land. The first two tries were free, then he had to pay $1 for the next try. The turns began to cost more, all the way up to $300 a throw. "Complainant stated he was out $2,300 of cash when he left and called police. The prize to win was all the stuffed animals displayed."

™ Can you hear me now? A woman on Marshall told police on September 30th that she had given a male suspect $463 to help her obtain a home. The suspect moved without trying to contact the victim, so she called "his cell and he acted as if he could not hear her [phone problems], to get her off the phone. No other information is available at this time."

Inmate Infections

Staph could be causing problems at county corrections center.

By Mary Cashiola

Kevin Williams would rather just put the last six months behind him and never think of them again. But his conscience won't let him.

"I solely want to stop the staph problem," he said. "It wouldn't be right not to act."

After Williams was arrested on a DUI charge and incarcerated at 201 Poplar and later the Adult Offenders Center (AOC), he developed three extremely painful sores on his body. They began with a whitehead pimple that would swell to the size of a marble within a day or two. The sores developed a hard center and oozed for several weeks until they healed.

"It leaves behind a major crater in your skin," said Williams. "You wouldn't believe the scarring; it looks like you got shot."

Williams said he got the first sore while at 201 Poplar, then developed the others after he was transferred to the county's minimum-security AOC. Earlier this summer, jail officials confirmed an outbreak of staph bacterium MRSA -- a germ resistant to many types of antibiotics -- among inmates. But Williams said many of the men in the system are being told by corrections medical personnel that the sores are simply spider bites.

"Literally, half the men there have it or have had it and they're being told it's a spider bite," said Williams. "It's just insane."

Jacqueline Boone's son, James, has been incarcerated since July 2000. She said since that time, he's told her about boils as well as several spider bites. "I came to visit one time and he was having a hard time sitting and being comfortable because of the boils," she said.

Staph can live harmlessly on surfaces, but when the skin is punctured or broken for any reason, bacteria can enter the wound. Staph infections can cause boils, abscesses, and in some cases can be fatal to children and the elderly. They can be spread by physical contact.

"They passed out a brochure when I first went to jail," said Williams. "It spoke specifically about staph and how to recognize the sores. Sure enough, one popped up." At the AOC's medical facility, a large yellow sign on the wall describes what a staph infection looks like.

"There was one guy with eight on his body at one time. He was in excruciating pain," said Williams. "They had not given him any antibiotics until after I told him what it was, and then he went back and asked for them."

County spokesperson Susan Adler Thorp said the corrections facility has had spiders this summer because it's been so wet, but she was not aware of a large staph problem. She did say the county is actively and aggressively spraying for spiders.

According to Jennifer Ward, an epidemiologist with the Shelby County Health Department, the jail wouldn't necessarily know if it had a problem. In Tennessee, staph infections do not have to be reported and the health department could not give statistics for infections in the county corrections facilities.

"It's a common phenomenon all over the country in certain types of facilities. Jails are one of them," said Ward. Others are hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. "It's happening nationwide. It's difficult to measure what's normal, but we do know we're seeing high numbers."

Ward says the sores could be confused with spider bites, but a culture must be taken to determine what they are. "They don't always have to be treated with antibiotics. Most will heal on their own after the lesion is drained," she said. "Some of them do require antibiotics, but that's up to the individual physician."

Williams said inmates who don't question the spider bite diagnosis are not being tested for staph or given antibiotics.

"They're not writing anything down. They're not taking the appropriate measures to treat it. If it's not recorded, there's no proof it ever existed," said Williams. "All these guys think it's a spider bite so it keeps spreading."

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