Thursday, April 30, 2009

Things That Make You Say Hmmm

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2009 at 10:10 AM

This is what I used to call "nothing to do with anything," but here is a list of things that have me completely fascinated: credit card skimmers, hobbits, etc.

And yes, every time I make a list, I have to mention Moxie over at Listwork.

More after the jump.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Indictment Includes Ware

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 3:29 PM

City Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware is mentioned several times in an indictment against eight Shelby County Clerk's Office employees for alleged bribery.

The Grand Jury indicted Janice Garrett, Millicent Rogers, Patricia Reid, Rita Jones, Anita Porter, Seprice Crews, Julia Marshall, and Darlene McKee.

"The Grand Jury indicted Garrett for three counts of bribery of a public servant. According to the indictment, Garrett allegedly accepted money from Angelica Tajedaugh on January 11, 2008, and January 15, 2008; and from Barbara Swearengen-Holt on April 29, 2008," reads a release from Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons.

Before Ware's most-recent marriage, she was known as Swearengen Holt.


In all, she is mentioned in three separate incidents. Ware has not been indicted, though Gibbons did note that "Bribery of a public servant is a serious charge, and before this ongoing investigation is complete, others could be indicted."

For more, please see The Buzz.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When It Comes to Money

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2009 at 1:18 PM

Spring is a time for love, a time for rebirth and, when it comes to government, a time for budgeting.

The city's budget hearings began last night with finance and debt service and continue tonight with Human Resources at 5:15 p.m. and police services at 6:30 p.m.

Rounding out the rest of the week is executive, fire, public works, and the sewer fund.

Budget hearings will continue through the middle of May and then the wrap-up will be held the last week of May.

In light of that, I thought I'd post this graph from the City of Memphis' Comprehensive Annual Financial Report Year Ended June 30, 2006.


As you can see (if you click on it), property taxes made up just less than 30 percent of the general fund revenues in 1996. In 2006, that number was more than 10 percent higher.

Here's what the report says: "The chart shows that Memphis' Current Property Taxes and Local Sales Tax maintained rough parity as the two largest single revenue sources through fiscal year 2000. Since then, there has been a growing dependence on the property tax as both Local Sales Tax and State Shared Taxes have trended downwards as a percentage of total revenues."

(Just an aside: At the time, the average sales price of a home in Memphis was $164,300.)

What I'm trying to say, in my oh-so-round-about way, is that this is YOUR money. And right now, the City Council is deciding what to spend it on.

Interested in the full schedule of budget hearings, click here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Flora & Forks

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 10:31 AM

Just a fancier way of saying odds and ends ...

Planting starts at the Shelby Farms Community Gardens; the U of M's pilot organic garden program is looking for volunteers for Thursday morning; and last night's Project Green Fork dinner.

Continue reading »

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 3:24 PM

Recently, students at the University of Memphis had what I think is a really excellent idea: Why not create an arts-based neighborhood revitalization project in the Soulsville area?

Taking inspiration from similar programs in Chattanooga and Paducah, Kentucky, the program would give musicians mortgage assistance for moving into the neighborhood around the Stax Museum.

After surveying about 300 musicians, the student also thought about what other amenities the neighborhood would need to be a successful musicians' enclave: rehearsal and studio space, a health-care center, and lodging for visiting musicians.

I wrote my column about it this week ... you can find that here.

And here is also a little video.

Memphis in Modification

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 11:03 AM

Memphis in May has been moving into Tom Lee Park all week.


(More photos after the jump.)

Continue reading »

Schools and Sex

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 10:35 AM

A teacher's assistant at Melrose High School recently was charged with sexual battery for allegedly fondled a 15-year-old female student in the computer lab.

This comes just days after the school's assistant principal was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, after an 18-year-old student filmed two other students, both minors, engaging in a sex act.

Which might make one wonder: What is going on at Melrose? And the area's schools?

In 2005, the University of Memphis' Center for Research on Women, in conjunction with the Memphis Area Women's Council and the university's women's and gender studies program, held several monthly meetings where they asked girls 13 to 17 to identify key issues they wanted to change.

Sexual harassment in schools was the predominant issue.

Yesterday, CROW released Nowhere to Hide, a survey of nearly 600 local middle and high school aged girls and boys. Of those, more than 90 percent of the students in the study reported being sexually harassed at least once while in their current school.

The study concluded hat sexual harassment is pervasive in Memphis-area middle and high schools, and that schools are not conducive to students' reporting harassment when it occurs.

It didn't matter much if it was a public or private school.

Girls were more likely to be sexually harassed by student, and approximately one-quarter of the students reported "some experience with sexual harassment from an adult."

Not surprisingly, the study concluded that sexual harassment had a negative impact on students' mental health, body image, self-esteem, and school participation.

"Although researchers have recently begun to investigate sexual harassment as an antecedent of sexual violence, we propose that studies be broadened to include sexual harassment as an antecedent of early and/or risky sexual behavior."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sister Cities

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 4:03 PM

Well, I've been trying to post something else ALLLL day, but it seems like I'm having technical difficulties.

So. Moving on ...

NPR's Steve Inskeep is in Detroit this week as part of a series called "Remaking Michigan, Retooling Detroit." The series is looking at how the state is seeking to replace the jobs lost in the automobile industry.

This morning, in Morning Edition's last look at business, Inskeep talked to Richard Florida, author of Who's Your City? and The Rise of the Creative Class.

Florida suggested that instead of using funding for auto firms and companies that are going to create "low-skill dead end jobs," spending that money on business start-ups.

"'I think the great tragedy of Detroit has been this tragedy of separated, segregated city and region. A largely African-American core surrounded by a largely white and to some degree immigrant suburban periphery,' he says. 'And when I look at Detroit, I see a tremendous legacy and reservoir of urban energy.'

Florida believes this can overcome the crime, troubled schools and, most importantly, help bring jobs. Especially if the region as a whole comes together."

That doesn't sound familiar at all, does it?

BONUS: Memphis Flyer stories about Florida and his work can be found here, here, and here.

UPDATE: Today's NYT's has a related story that I know at least one of my friends will like: an idea to save Flint, Michigan, by razing whole blocks and even neighborhoods of the city, condensing the population into a more manageable area.

The city is laying off firefighters and police officers and closing schools, and the story says Flint could save $100,00 a year trash collection alone. On many streets, the weekly garbage pick-up only finds one bag of trash.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mr. Smith Goes To Council

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 2:32 PM

Two hours before they were scheduled to hear from the mayor this afternoon about the upcoming year's budget, City Council members heard about the economy from another source — FedEx founder Fred Smith.

Smith was invited to the council's executive committee meeting to talk about the city, the economy, and the future.

“I think the economy has begun to bounce along the bottom,” he said. “I don’t see it materially going south like we’ve seen in the last several quarters.”

Smith said he hopes the economy will rebound in the fall with the beginning of an inventory replenishment cycle.

He also told the council there were four categories he thought local government needed to focus on: public safety, education, government efficiency, and economic development.

He called public safety the most essential, followed by education.

“The public school system in Memphis is like a lot of legacy businesses,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of physical [properties] that may have been appropriate in the past, but it probably needs an attempt at right sizing it.”

Council members asked Smith for his advice on a number of issues, including consolidation, police residency requirements, and revenue sources.

As leader of one of the world’s largest companies, with a number of different divisions, Smith said he wasn’t sure it was a good thing to consolidate local government.

“There’s a lot of overlap between our city and county governments,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think all the systems need to be put together. In business, you can centralize massive inefficiencies. You get too far from your customers or your constituents and that can work against you.”

He also told council members that FedEx once considered putting residency restrictions in place for its pilots, but decided against it. At the time, the company had a goal to employ the most minority and female pilots of any carrier — a goal Smith noted they met — but with residency restrictions, they "degraded the pilot applicant pool."

"We just decided it would be counter productive to put those restrictions in place," he said.

In a mini macro-economics lesson, or what he called "hard-headed economics here," Smith told the council that he thought the way to increase the city's tax revenue wasn't to increase the tax rate or impose an income tax, but to make the city more attractive to private industry.

"I don't think Memphis needs more taxation," Smith said. "I think Memphis needs more economic activity."

Wage War

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 11:20 AM

Memphis finance director Roland McElrath told the City Council's budget committee this morning that the living wage ordinance, passed in 2006, was "not a large impact" on the city budget.

The city's living wage ordinance stipulated that all city contractors must pay their employees a living wage, at least $10 an hour plus health benefits. Since that time, the ordinance has been amended to include an annual living wage report.

The city's finance division looked at contracts from several service areas both before and after the living wage ordinance went into effect. In security contracts, for example, the cost went up $253,000, or about 17 percent.

"We attribute that bulk of that increase to the living wage," McElrath said. "We concluded that there is some impact, but it's not a large impact. If you compare $253,000 to the total operating budget, it's a very small number."

In some categories, such as legal services, the city did not see any impact with the ordinance, because those employees already made more than $10 an hour.

McElrath said they had not studied the impact of the ordinance on workers, but at least one council member thought it made a difference.

"I feel good about the living wage ordinance and I'm glad we passed it," said Barbara Swearengen Ware. "People deserve a living wage. ... I think we've done the right thing and we need to continue to do the right thing."

The Tennessee legislature is currently considering a prevailing wage bill that would prohibit local governments from setting wages higher than the minimum wage.

It has passed the state senate and goes before a house sub-committee this afternoon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Red in the Place

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2009 at 11:30 AM

South Main is painting the town — its part of it, at least — red.

In the coming weeks, the South Main Association will install 10 large red panels in a vacant lot across the Central Station.

"The site has some environmental issues," says Lorie Chapman, chair of the group's neighborhood improvement committee. "We hope to eventually have it developed, but until then, this is a neighborhood beautification project."

The panels, following the lead of Anthony Lee's "Modern Hieroglyphs" project on the Central Station wall, will be several shades of red.

"The symbols start a darker red and then fade to orange, and we liked how he did that," Chapman says. "We thought we could do something to complement that."

The panels will also use music lyrics that reference Memphis or, because of the proximity of Central Station, trains.

In collaboration with UrbanArt, high school students and community volunteers will be working on the panels at a downtown warehouse this weekend and should install them next weekend.

"We want to do more simple community-based art projects," Chapman says. "We hope to eventually hire artists to do murals and more permanent projects once we build capacity through these types of projects."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Door Dash Deadline — Today!

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 11:05 AM

Memphis Heritage executive director June West has been floored by the response to the group's first Adapt A Door design challenge.

She expected they would have maybe 15 or 20 architects and interior designers sign up, but more than 70 groups or families have already registered. The participants will recreate the old doors into whatever they want, and the results will be auctioned off in August.

"We have about 150 doors. We salvage a lot of good, solid wood doors," West says. "We thought these would last us for three years."

What she calls the more spectacular doors, salvaged out of older buildings, generally sell at Memphis Heritage's semi-annual auction.

"I think some people are doing it so their kids can paint on a door. They might be starting a bad trend around their house," she says.

The Door Dash is Saturday, April 25th, at the old marine hospital near the National Ornamental Museum. Door-dashers will first have a 30-minute window to look at all the doors and, because of the large number of participants, be allowed into the building in groups to choose their door.

Deadline to sign up for the door design challenge is today at 4 p.m. and can be done by calling Memphis Heritage at 901.272.2727. The $25 registration fee also includes two tickets to the silent auction in August.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

United We Planned

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 2:44 PM

My friends over at the Coalition for Livable Communities wanted me to mention their upcoming Pizza with the Planners event on April 23rd.

The latest in a series of conversations with city and county planners, this Pizza with the Planners will talk about the new Unified Development Code, currently under consideration.

I think it's pretty important. Here's an excerpt from one of my recent columns on the subject:

"When Harbor Town — one of Memphis' most celebrated neighborhoods — was being constructed, it was technically illegal. Still is, actually.

Continue reading »

In the Junkyard

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 11:02 AM

Last week, I had the pleasure of hanging out with artist Lisa Williamson at the old Marine Hospital's maintenance building.

The site is the future home of Junkyard Memphis, a museum inspired by St. Louis' City Museum.

The article is out on stands today, or if you want to see the site, located near the National Ornamental Metal Museum, as well as some pictures of Williamson's inspiration, you can watch the accompanying video.

And, yes, if you were at the Flyer's 2008 Best Of party, you might recognize the building.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Test Drive a Scion, Drink Coffee, Support UrbanArt

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2009 at 11:57 AM

Morning, sleepy heads. I would have mentioned this earlier, but I was unfortunately delayed by a blockwide power outage here at beautiful sunny 460 Tennessee Street. Phones were down, people were cussing, and those brave souls venturing into out already cavernous restrooms had to use their cell phones to illuminate the way.

At any rate, the point is that today and tomorrow, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (and yes, I know it is already after 11 today. Like I said: Power outage.) you can stop by Otherlands on Cooper and test drive a Toyota Scion. For doing so, you will receive a free $15 gift card, "with the option of donating a portion towards producing UrbanArt's series of community murals this summer."

I think I may have mentioned recently about UrbanArt director John Weeden's war on ugly landscapes and his feelings about the transformative power of murals.

I completely agree. There's one mural I always notice when I'm in Fort Worth. It's really simple — just a zipper across the building, unzipping to reveal blue sky and a feather — but it's in the middle of ugly buildings and surface parking lots, and it completely transforms the nature of the block.

Apparently the building used to house a Dickies factory. Whenever I see it, it just makes me laugh and I think that goes a long way in diminishing any ugliness around it.
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