Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Back at 2012

Some predictions were on target, some missed by a mile.

Posted By on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 at 5:47 PM

Instead of predicting what will happen in Memphis in 2013, I’m cleaning out, wrapping up, and looking back at some personal hits and misses in 2012.

First, the misses. I missed by a mile on the sales tax increase referendum, which I said “has a real chance this year.” It lost 69-31 after it went from Memphis-only to countywide, but would have lost anyway.

I jumped on the Big East bandwagon in February. “Better late than never,” I reasoned. Maybe not, as the conference crumbles.

I thought and still think “able and willing” John Aitken, who is under contract until February 2015, would be a good choice for superintendent of the Unified School System, but the school board launched a search instead. And I praised board members for getting along even if they could not reach agreement on big decisions, singling out Martavius Jones and David Pickler, “who set the tone for frank but civil discussion.” A couple of weeks later, Jones submitted a resolution calling for the immediate resignation of Pickler “for failure to publicly disclose an apparent conflict of interest.”

A year ago, I wrote that “the city of Memphis is not going to get out of a court-ordered $57 million payment to Memphis City Schools.” Maybe not, but delay is a viable strategy, and MCS is still waiting for full payment of the old debt.

On the biggest story of the year, I wrote that “it could be that Judge Hardy Mays knows exactly what the legislature was up to but thinks it unwise to overrule the wishes of 85 percent of suburbanites” on municipal school systems. He left the ’burbs some wiggle room but he delivered a stinging rebuke.

I called the sexual orientation anti-discrimination ordinance “a media attention grabber” and “a solution in search of a problem.” The Memphis City Council passed it without much fuss.

As for bike lanes, I said, “If you had told me 10 or 20 years ago that Memphis would reinvent itself as a bicycle town I’d have thought you were touched.” A few days ago, The New York Times ran a story about Memphis headlined “Sprawling Memphis Aims to Be a Friendlier Place for Cyclists.” Sometimes national attention is its own reward.

I thought the powers that be in Big Medicine would listen to transplant surgeon James Eason and Methodist University Hospital and help Memphis become a national center of excellence on liver and kidney transplants with “bragging rights” over Nashville and Vanderbilt for a change. No sale. Their pleas were rebuffed again this month, and their Transplant Institute is in jeopardy.

The predictions I got right were, honestly, pretty easy.

“Trouble’s coming,” I said about the appointed-not-elected Transition Planning Commission when it unveiled its plan last summer to unify the city and county school system. It still is.

The most obvious miscalculation was the recommendation to close 21 schools. Four or five is more like it. The lame-duck 23-member school board is built to fail because it will shrink to seven members this September.

Despite various public and private efforts, blight remains a huge problem for Memphis. “Blight gets a nice seat at the table and just sits there,” and so it will be in 2013.

The suburbs easily passed referendums on partially funding their dream of municipal school systems even though the issues of legality and cost of buildings are unresolved.

The concerts at the Levitt Shell are great, but free music comes with a price, and closing a venue such as the Hi-Tone Café is part of the price.

Facebook is no fad, but the privacy concerns are real and the price of the initial public stock offering was way too high. Not buying it was indeed “priceless.”

When the city and county gave tax incentives to lure Electrolux and Mitsubishi Electric, it was only a matter of time before current corporate residents such as too-big-to-lose International Paper made their own value proposition and got more tax breaks.

The local tax structure based on Tourism Development Zones (TDZ) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) didn’t go off the rails in 2012, but it got the scrutiny and resistance it deserves, as downtowners said “not so fast” to a grand scheme called Heritage Trail.

Finally, really big deals take a really long time. It has been 1,630 days since construction began on Beale Street Landing and 1,530 days since Bass Pro Shops signed a development agreement for the Pyramid. Both projects are supposed to open in 2013.

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