Saturday, August 28, 2010

Counting Kids at MCS

Posted By on Sat, Aug 28, 2010 at 7:08 PM

Remember the tardy bell? When you were a few seconds late for class, or a few minutes late for school?

Well, in Memphis there's a different definition of tardy. Apparently, according to Memphis City Schools officials, tens of thousands of students are tardy by a few weeks. They don't start coming to class under well after Labor Day.

Their presence is crucial this year. For the first time in memory, the Memphis City Council, which has to fund the schools, is taking a hard look at enrollment in MCS. The early estimates have ranged from 92,000 to 120,000. In other words, as many as 28,000 students could be "tardy." If they are, instead, not really there at all, it's a difference of about $300 million in state and local funding, at the going rate of $10,300 per student.

Watch for the biggest, most intensive round-up of school kids ever in the month of September. The survival of several underenrolled schools could be at stake.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Bad Month for Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 12:28 PM

There is never a good time for a tax increase in Memphis, but getting it out there at the start of the consolidation campaign is a bad break for Rebuild Government.

Memphis property owners are on the hook for $57 million for Memphis City Schools. The last bit of wiggle room was removed this week when the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. The only issue now is whether the money will be paid in a lump sum or installments.

Shelby County residents outside of Memphis, whose votes will be counted separately in the November 2nd election, aren't liable for the $57 million payment. The city and county school systems are separate, and would remain separate under the proposed new charter. But the sight of the Memphis City Council and the Memphis City Schools Board of Education fighting over funding — and city taxpayers getting a tax increase — will only harden the opposition and raise the threat level among county residents.

A few other recent developments will hurt the Rebuild Government cause:

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bridges McRae Pleads Guilty in Police Brutality Case

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 3:15 PM

Duanna Johnson
  • Duanna Johnson
Bridges McRae, a former Memphis Police officer, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to a felony civil rights charge of using excessive force against Duanna Johnson while booking her into the Shelby County Jail.

McRae was tried in federal court in April but the jury was unable to reach a verdict. The case attracted widespread attention because of a videotape that showed McRae beating Johnson, a transgendered woman, in the corrections center.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Drug Store War: The CVS Aftermath

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 12:30 PM

A couple of thoughts on the City Council meeting and the 10-2 vote on CVS Pharmacy that allows the Union Avenue United Methodist Church to be demolished and the drug store to be built.

First, a big turnout, with the council chamber roughly two thirds full. Lots of supporters of CVS with their "Jobs" stickers and lots of preservation supporters with their own stickers. It's only a drug store, some might say (including me), but this issue touched people in a way that got them involved and passionate enough to come to a long meeting.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

WKNO Adding More Local Weekday Programs

Posted By on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 2:01 PM

WKNO/Channel 10, the local public television station, is going to look more local in September, with some familiar names and faces from Memphis media.

The package of five half-hour programs is called 'KNO Tonite and will air Monday through Friday at 6:30 p.m. starting September 6th. Two of the shows are new ones, with two more new shows on business and weekend happenings scheduled to begin in January.

The September lineup: Mondays will be "Southern Routes" hosted by Bonnie Kourvelas. She visits offbeat places and people in the Mid-South, including a regular segment, "Ask Vance," with Memphis magazine's Vance Lauderdale. Tuesdays will feature Commercial Appeal sports columnist Geoff Calkins and guests. Wednesday's feature is "A Conversation With" guests including authors Hampton Sides and Rebecca Skloot. Local documentaries will air on Thursdays. Friday's offering is "Behind the Headlines," hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of the Memphis Daily News.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Queen of Disco, Kings of Bull Riding

Posted By on Sun, Aug 22, 2010 at 12:12 PM

You can't say there's nothing to do in Memphis on the weekends.

Last night's options included Donna Summer at the Botanic Gardens and professional bull riding at FedEx Forum.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Trends: Just Wondering

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 2:05 PM

As I catch up on national newspapers after a couple days off this week, I am just wondering . . .

American Apparel, a publicly owned company, warns that it might not be able to remain in business because of poor sales and lots of debt. The warning came from none other than the CEO, Dov Charney. Flyer readers may be familiar with American Apparel from the provacative ads on the back page of the newspaper.

Just wondering how another retailer, privately-held Bass Pro Shops, is doing year over year in same store, same market comparisons and when and if it will cross the Rubicon on moving into The Pyramid.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Bike Trails and Skate Parks

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM

In a column this week, I asked bicycle advocate Anthony Siracusa and skate park advocate Aaron Shafer if there was a “tipping point” in their efforts. Due to deadlines and space constraints, I wasn’t able to use much of their responses.

Here are more of their comments, along with some comments from Sarah Newstok of Livable Memphis who was also briefly quoted in the column.

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The Other "N-Word" and Consolidation

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 9:48 AM

I don't like the N Word. Not that one, and not the other one. The other one is "naysayer."

At the hot and sweaty Metro Charter Commission pep rally Wednesday afternoon on the mall, speaker Beverly Robertson said naysayers will always say it can't be done.

Two things, one general, one personal.

Generally speaking, the naysayers may well be right. It will be an uphill battle to convince residents of Shelby County outside of Memphis that this is good medicine.

Speaking personally, any decent reporter, as a professional, has to be something of a naysayer. "Check it out" is one of the first laws of journalism, and the facts and prior experience sometimes weigh on the side of skepticism. There are too many examples in Memphis to mention. "Yeasayers" are often paid proponents. That is the case of Rebuild Government and some other charter boosters, although not the charter commission members themselves. They served selflessly and well. In their private hearts, I suspect many of them have some doubts.

Anyone who lives in the city of Memphis, owns a home, holds a job, pays taxes, raises a family, and sends their kids to public schools is not a naysayer. End of discussion.

Some first impressions on the pep rally: First, proponents should beware of taking the high moral ground. Sounding righteous will not help their cause. This is a complicated issue, and the 2014 start date made it more complicated. If Memphis is in as bad shape as Mayor A C Wharton and the other lawyers suing Wells Fargo over predatory lending say it is, the bottom will fall out of city finances before 2014 and consolidation won't do any good if thousands of people walk away from their mortgages.

Second, get over this touchiness about using the word "consolidation." It was the first word in Section 1.02 of the first draft of the proposed charter but was struck from the final draft, and commission member Richard Smith went to great pains Wednesday to explain, unsuccessfully by my lights, why this is not consolidation. The word may be toxic, but this is consolidation. Calling it anything else is corporate-speak, like saying a fired executive resigned to spend more time with his family.

Third, the charter by itself eliminates precisely two jobs — one mayor and one clerk.

Fourth, city and county government, independently, can do all the things regarding ethics and efficiency that a consolidated government could do. We have the tax structures, the government debt, and the government employment numbers we have now because somebody put them there. The trick will be to explain how consolidating will make it better.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grenade! Major Change in Proposed Charter

Posted By on Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 2:06 PM

The Memphis and Shelby County Charter Commission made a major change in the proposed consolidation charter Monday. The commission pushed back the implementation two years, from September of 2012 to 2014.

The change will be moot if voters in Memphis or Shelby County reject the charter in separate referendums on November 2nd.

I'm not sure whether the 15-member commission choked, had second thoughts, studied the election returns, or heeded the warnings of attorney John Ryder that a legal challenge was all but certain unless the "start date" was pushed back. It was the commission's 30th and final meeting. About two hours after the start date was changed, the commission approved the proposed 48-page charter by a 14-1 vote, with Millington Mayor Richard Hodges casting the lone "no" vote.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

White Flight and Memphis Democrats

Posted By on Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 2:52 PM

The Democratic Party in Memphis is worried about white flight reaching a tipping point.

In the short term, it could cost their man, Joe Ford, the Shelby County mayor's job if whites vote for Steve Cohen for Congress and Republican Mark Luttrell for mayor. Plus a half dozen down-ballot offices that Republicans won by a whisker last time around in county-wide races.

In the not-so long run, it could isolate Memphis from the rest of Tennessee if the Democratic Party in Memphis and Shelby County is perceived to be the black party in a heavily black city with a nearly all-black public school system in a majority black county.

In the 1970s, Memphis saw massive white flight from public schools, which now have only about 7,000 white students. After that came white flight from neighborhoods and the relocation of churches and businesses and professional offices to the suburbs. Could the Democratic Party be next?

That's not the case yet, as a small gathering of white Democrats demonstrated Wednesday at a press conference in Forrest Park downtown. The group included political strategist David Upton, former assessor Rita Clark, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, Central Gardens neighborhood leader Patty Marsh, activist Scott Banbury, and former Sierra Club of Tennessee president Don Richardson.

They were all there to say nice things about Ford. He is progressive. He is a friend of the environment. He listens. He is a gentleman. He helped put The Med on sound(er) footing. He had a few financial problems but who hasn't? He lives outside of Memphis in Shelby County but won't promote suburban sprawl.

The broader message was this: If you are a white person and thinking of fleeing the Democratic Party because there aren't going to be any white people in it, don't. There are still white Democrats in Memphis and they can align with black Democrats to win elections and advance Democratic principles.

Which raises the question, what are Democratic principles? Bring home the troops? National health care? Support unions? Support Obama? Oppose the Tea Party? Mock Palin? Tax the rich? Read The New York Times? Watch Olbermann and not Fox?

I don't know. I think it is easier for college-educated people to find more in common with each other, regardless of political affiliation, than for the Democrats to unite people who went to Rhodes College or the University of Tennessee and people who dropped out of Booker T. Washington High School and grew up in the projects or in Mexico.

In Memphis, I think there are principles that defy the labels Democrat or Republican. Call it the Middle Party. These are some of them.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The "Clang and Grime" of Slot Machines

Posted By on Tue, Aug 3, 2010 at 1:13 PM

When it comes to inventions that influenced Memphis and Mississippi, the slot machine is up there with the cotton gin and the electric guitar.

A new report from the American Gaming Association claims to "demystify" slots and their impact in the United States.

"Slot manufacturers need to build devices for a society with a decreasing attention span" and an increasing appetite for electronic entertainment, the report says. In recent years, "customers have gravitated towards low-denomination machines that offer multiple small bets on a single play" and to nickel and penny slots.

Independently produced reports from the Mississippi Gaming Commission confirm the popularity of so-called "low-volatility games" with low bets and more opportunities for the customer to win, even though the payouts are smaller. "High-volatility games" including slots that take $5 to $100 per play have bigger jackpots but fewer winning combinations, fewer bells and whistles, and take less time to exhaust the customer's cash.

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