Thursday, April 29, 2004

CITY BEAT

Rejection of convention center settlement is latest setback for Herenton.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 29, 2004 at 4:00 AM

OFF HIS GAME The Grizzlies were 2-10 in April, Mike Miller couldn’t buy a basket in the first playoff game, and Pau Gasol couldn’t defend the pick-and-roll. Sometimes even pros mess up. So do political pros. Four months into his fourth term as mayor, Willie Herenton is acting like a political novice instead of the most experienced and popular political leader in recent Memphis history. For at least the sixth time this year, Herenton, who is tall enough to slam dunk, drove to the basket and got rejected instead. The Shelby County said no to a proposed $17.8 million settlement of a lawsuit against the City of Memphis and the Memphis Cook Convention Center Commission. County commissioners made it clear they were unhappy about both the generous terms of the settlement and the fact that they had to take the heat instead of Herenton and the Memphis City Council. How badly is Herenton off his game? Let’s review. He started off the year with a New Years Day speech that insulted City Council members on a day that should have been dedicated to good will and new beginnings. He followed that up with a list of nominees for city director jobs that was met with an unprecedented four rejections and two close calls. He nominated Finance Director Joseph Lee to lead Memphis Light Gas & Water, then was persuaded to withdraw the nomination. Then Herenton allowed Lee to again put his name in the hat for consideration by the MLGW search committee. After making the final cut, Lee withdrew once again -- his third change of heart in two months. In the midst of this mess, Herenton turned his attention to The Pyramid. First he said that in order to keep the University of Memphis Tigers at The Pyramid, the city would spring for $4.5 million worth of improvements to the building. Say what? replied city council members. Scratch that. Shifting directions, the mayor next proposed to subsidize the Tigers’ move to the FedEx Forum. He organized a news conference in the lobby of City Hall to announce that the Grizzlies and the university had come to an agreement. But the announcement was premature, and the participants -- who did not include the county mayor or council and commission chairmen Ð were clearly uncomfortable. One of them, University of Memphis President Shirley Raines, has publicly stated that she would not have called a news conference at that time if it had been up to her. The subsidy was rejected. Last week the Flyer reported that Herenton spoke three times with former U.S. Senator Jim Sasser about a settlement of the Clark Construction Group’s federal lawsuit against the city and convention center board. But board members had been under the impression that they were going to fight the lawsuit in court, with the blessing of the city and county mayors. When they learned of the surprise settlement proposal, some of them rebelled, led by the late Morris Fair. To make matters worse, the county commission got stuck with the duty of making a tough public vote on the settlement even though Clark’s lawsuit names the city of Memphis. (The convention center is one of a number of jointly funded operations.) Only three members -- Cleo Kirk, Michael Hooks, and Diedre Malone -- voted for it. After several substitute motions failed, effectively blocking all avenues of retreat, commissioners Tom Moss and Linda Rendtorff said the city should have been on the hot seat. Moss said commissioners were being made to “look like idiots,” and Rendtorff suggested in vain that the city (which accounts for about 70 percent of the population of Shelby County) pay 70 percent of the cost of any settlement. Uncharacteristically, Herenton declined to answer questions about his strategy because, according to his spokeswoman, “it’s in litigation.” The mayor needs to get back on his game because there is major unfinished business on the table. He says there won’t be a property tax increase this year, but city council members say that promise is premature when negotiations are still underway with police, firefighters, and other unions. After 12 budgets, Herenton knows that perfectly well, indicating the real purpose of his promise and his adversarial relationship with the council. Five months after announcing that Herman Morris would not be reappointed as MLGW president, the job is still being filled on an interim basis by James Netters, a minister. The search committee has narrowed the field to four candidates. One of them, MLGW vice president of operations Larry Thompson, is from the the very corporate culture the mayor blasted last year. Another, Gary Morsches, was fired two years ago from his job with Mirant Corp., an Atlanta-based energy supplier rocked by a financial crisis. The Grizzlies need key players but the leadership is solid. The city can’t say that.

Passing Off

Commissioners just say no, referring a $17.8 million settlement to court -- or to the city.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 29, 2004 at 4:00 AM

In the space of a week, sentiment on the Shelby County Commission shifted away from what had seemed to be a bare consensus in favor of a $17.8 million payoff to Clark Construction Group for convention center cost overruns.

By the time the commission got around to voting on the much-deferred matter at its meeting Monday, at least four votes had turned around -- one or two of them in the course of a spirited debate on the matter -- and Clark had suffered a stinging rebuff. The final tally was three ayes, two passes, and eight fairly resounding nos.

What happened?

One reason, clearly, was an increased media focus on the proposal -- including the Flyer's cover story last week and attention given the matter in The Commercial Appeal and on television news reports. Another, related factor was the dawning realization by commissioners that they were being asked to take the first hits on a controversy that, at least arguably, had more to do with another jurisdiction -- that of city government.

Four of the no-voters on Monday -- Republicans Tom Moss, Joyce Avery, and Linda Rendtorff and Democrat Joe Ford -- had done complete turnarounds since last week. The most striking was reversal was that of Rendtorff, who began a statement Monday in support of the position of Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County mayor A C Wharton that the proposed settlement was in order.

But even as she professed to accept the mayors' reasoning -- including Wharton's stated concerns about litigation costs and risk to the county's bond rating from a lingering "contingent liability" -- Rendtorff pointed out that, technically, the contract was between Clark on one hand and the city and the convention center board on the other.

She also obliquely noted that the prime mover in the effort to settle with Clark was Herenton, who has pointedly declined so far either to make public his reasons for supporting the settlement or to submit the issue to the City Council. (Although it was Clark attorney Karl Schledwitz's impression that Herenton has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the company.) Again this week, as he has previously, Herenton declined to be interviewed on the subject.

Rendtorff, commenting on a proposal from Julian Bolton that a limited set-aside be established for an ultimate agreement ("Let's give Mayor Herenton something to work with," he said), then floated a novel solution -- that the city, in accordance with its contracting priority, should fund 70 percent of any settlement, leaving the county responsible for only the remaining 30 percent.

Moss, who made two unsuccessful attempts to get the issue deferred until the commission's meeting of May 17th, agreed with Rendtorff that "we [county government] shouldn't keep sticking our neck out on these things" and that the city should bear more of the burden for the convention center affair, both financially and PR-wise.

More than most, Moss felt the underlying tug-of-war. As a homebuilder himself, he is tuned in to the concerns of the development community, including the subcontractors who have been squeezed by the reluctance of Clark to pay them, and he remains convinced that some sort of settlement is in order.

But Moss is also a representative of District 4, an outlying suburban area whose generally conservative constituents are loath to spend out of the public treasury unless they get something tangible for it -- like the new Arlington school, subject of intense controversy on the commission all last year.

Avery, another District 4 commissioner, had clearly heard from her constituents during the week leading up to Monday's meeting. She also was made privy to findings of the Pearson Management Group, an advisory company hired by the city, which, as her colleague Bruce Thompson noted Monday, had advised against further payments to Clark. "I just have too many concerns, and I've learned too much that I wasn't aware of," she said after the meeting.

The commission's apparent consensus in favor of litigation owed much to the unanimity, crossing political boundaries, among the body's lawyers -- Walter Bailey, David Lillard, and Bolton -- that a settlement at this point, sans depositions and further legal discovery, was premature. And telling, too, was the appearance before the commission of Lance Fair, who reminded commissioners of the determined opposition to the agreement by his late father, former commissioner and convention center board chairman Morris Fair.

But the real determinant Monday was clearly a sense that the city -- and Mayor Herenton, in particular -- should go first. And go public.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

POLITICS: Passing Off

Commissioners just say No, referring a Clark settlement to court-- or to the city.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2004 at 4:00 AM

PASSING OFF In the space of a week, sentiment on the Shelby County Commission shifted away from what had seemed to be a bare consensus in favor of a $17.8 million payoff to Clark Construction Group for Convention Center cost overruns. By the time the commission got around to voting on the much-deferred matter at its meeting Monday, at least four votes had turned around -- one or two of them in the course of a spirited debate on the matter -- and Clark had suffered a stinging rebuff. The final tally was three Ayes, two passes, and eight fairly resounding Nos. What happened? One reason, clearly, was an increased media focus -- including the Flyer‘s cover story last week and attention given the matter in The Commercial Appeal and on television news reports. Another, related factor was the dawning realization by commissioners that they were being asked to take the first hits on a public controversy that, at least arguably, had more to do with another jurisdiction -- that of city government. Four of the No-voters on Monday -- Republicans Tom Moss, Joyce Avery, and Linda Rendtorff; and Democrat Joe Ford -- had done complete turnarounds since last week. The most striking reversal was that of Rendtorff, who began a statement Monday in support of the position of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton that the proposed settlement was in order. But even as she professed to accept the mayors’ reasoning -- including Wharton’s stated concerns about litigation costs and risk to the county’s bond rating from a lingering “contingent liability” -- Rendtorff pointed out that, technically, the contract was between Clark on one hand and the city and the Convention Center board on the other. She also obliquely noted that the prime mover in the effort to settle with Clark was Herenton, who has pointedly declined so far either to make public his reasons for supporting the settlement or to submit the issue to the city council -- although it was Clark attorney Karl Schledwitz‘s impression that Herenton has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the company. Again this week, as he has previously, Herenton declined to be interviewed on the subject. Rendtorff, commenting on a proposal from Julian Bolton that a limited set-aside be established for an ultimate agreement (“Let’s give Mayor Herenton something to work with,” he said) then floated a novel solution -- that the city, in accordance with its contrtacting priority, should fund 70 percent of any settlement, leaving the county responsible for only the remaining 30 percent.. Moss, who made two unsuccessful attempts to get the issue deferred until the Commission’s meeting of May17th, agreed with Rendtorff that “we [county government] shouldn’t keep sticking our neck out on these things” and that the city should bear more of the burden for the Convention Center affair, both financially and P.R.-wise. More than most, Moss felt the underlying tug-of-war. As a homebuilder himself, he is tuned in to the concerns of the development community, including the subcontractors who have been squeezed by the refusal of Clark to pay them until a settlement is reached, and he remains convinced that some sort of settlement is in order. (One prominent sub-contractor, Willie Nelson, was an attendee Monday and kept up a sotto voce running commentary about the proceedings. When Michael Less, head of the county’s private legal team, estimated total litigation and discovery costs would be no more than $3 million, “and that’s generous,” Nelson commented , sardonically and audibly, “That’s generous, all right!”) But Moss is also a representative of District 4, an outlying suburban area whose generally conservative constituents are loath to spend out of the public treasury unless they get something tangible for it -- like the new Arlington school, subject of intense controversy on the commission all last year. Avery, another District 4 commissioner, had clearly heard from her constituents during the week leading up to Monday’s meeting. She also was made privy to findings of the Pearson Management Group, an advisory company hired by the city, which, as her colleague Bruce Thompson noted Monday, had advised against further payments to Clark. “I just have too many concerns, and I’ve learned too much that I wasn’t aware of,” she said after the meeting. The commission’s apparent consensus in favor of litigation owed much to the unanimity, crossing political boundaries, among the body’s lawyers -- Walter Bailey, David Lillard, and Bolton -- that a settlement at this point, sans depositions and further legal discovery, was premature. And telling, too, was the appearance before the commission of Lance Fair, who reminded commissioners of the determined opposition to the agreement by his late father, former Commissioner and Convention Center board chairman Morris Fair. But the real determinant Monday was clearly a sense that the city -- and Mayor Herenton, in particular -- should go first. And go public.

Friday, April 23, 2004

"Doing One Job"

Candidate Roscoe Dixon says he'll leave the state Senate if elected General Sessions clerk.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 23, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Here and There on the on the campaign trail:

"I'm not stupid. The people made their wishes known, and I have responded." So said state senator Roscoe Dixon two weekends ago, appearing at a forum alongside incumbent General Sessions clerk Chris Turner, the Republican whom Democrat Dixon is challenging this year.

Dixon's "response" was on the issue of whether he would opt to remain in the Senate if victorious. He won't, he said emphatically at the forum, held by the Dutch Treat Luncheon group at the Piccadilly Restaurant in East Memphis. Dixon thereby reversed his position of four years ago during a previous challenge to Turner when, as he now concedes, he "waffled" on the issue.

"The people want you to do one job and do it right," Dixon now says, and he makes that change of mind known at every campaign opportunity.

The exchange between Dixon and Turner was civil and, for the most part, routine -- with Turner citing what he said were cost-cutting efficiencies he has effected in office and Dixon proposing innovations like that of a downtown night court like Nashville's.

• Something of an odd couple at a weekend event were Turner and incumbent Shelby County assessor Rita Clark, a Democrat. Both were attendees at Shelby County trustee Bob Patterson's annual barbecue at Kirby Farms and spent much of their time there in conversation with each other.

Though this was merely an instance of two local-government colleagues maintaining cordial relations, the presence at the affair of Clark, who is opposed by Republican Harold Sterling, also underscored her determination to practice an outreach to GOP voters similar to that which she accomplished with black Democratic voters during her successful primary campaign against county commissioner Michael Hooks.

Both Patterson's annual outing and Kirby Farms itself are traditional venues for Shelby County Republicans.

• The GOP primary contest for state representative in District 83, the seat being vacated by longtime incumbent Joe Kent, promises to be something of a free-for-all. The favorite -- via good financing and name recognition gained in a previous race against Kent -- is probably Chuck Bates, but four other Republican candidates possess respectable credentials of one sort or another, and all four -- Pat Collins, Brian Kelsey, Charles McDonald, and Stan Peppenhorst -- showed up for the Patterson barbecue.

Kelsey and White will be returning to Kirby Farms -- this and next Thursday night, respectively -- for campaign affairs of their own.

Though District 83 is regarded as a safe Republican district, there is a Democratic candidate as well, Julian Prewitt. Both major parties this year made decisions at the state-committee level to offer opposition wherever possible, even in districts where success seemed highly problematic.

• An arguable case of the latter involves the challenge in District 89 of Republican Jim Jamieson to Democratic incumbent Beverly Marrero -- though, arguably and ironically, Jamieson may possess more name identification on the strength of two prior races than does Marrero, who beat Jeff Sullivan in a special election primary last December that was notable as much for its scant turnout as for a disproportionate bitterness.

Jamieson, who ran previously against longtime incumbent Carol Chumney, now a city council member, is counting on potential fallout among Democrats from last year's contest. He balances conservative economic positions with moderate social ones -- a mix that is potentially saleable in this Midtown district.

But Marrero, a protÇgÇ of state senator Steve Cohen and a longtime activist in her own right, has made new party connections and solidified existing ones since last year's race. Moreover, she inherits a tradition of female representation that began with Chumney's predecessor, Pam Gaia. And the district is definitely inclined toward Democrats.

He wishes (And Best Wishes)

At last month's Gridiron Show at the Al Chymia Shrine Temple on Shelby Oaks, city councilman Brent Taylor made an unscheduled appearance onstage during a skit. He hung a pair of boxing gloves around the neck of the actor playing Mayor Willie Herenton, then draped a pillowcase over the face of the actress playing council mate Carol Chumney and escorted her offstage.

It remains to be seen how completely life imitates art, but for what it's worth, when Taylor showed up late for an appearance by His Honor during a council committee meeting this week, he apologized thusly: "Sorry, Mayor, I thought you said meet you outside." Yeah, you remember!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

POLITICS: 'Doing One Job'

Candidate Dixon says he'll leave the state Senate if elected General Sessions clerk.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2004 at 4:00 AM

ÔDOING ONE JOB’ Here and There on the Campaign Trail: “I’m not stupid. The people made their wishes known, and I have responded.” So said state Senator Roscoe Dixon two weekends ago, appearing at a forum alongside incumbent General Sessions clerk Chris Turner, the Republican whom Democrat Dixon is challenging this year. Dixon’s “response” was on the issue of whether he would opt to remain in the Senate if victorious. He won’t, he said emphatically at the forum, held by the Dutch Treat Luncheon group at the Piccadilly Restaurant in East Memphis. Dixon thereby reversed his position of four years during a previous challenge to Turner when, as he now concedes, he “waffled” on the issue. “The people want you to do one job and do it right,” Dixon now says, and he makes that change of mind known at every campaign opportunity. The exchange between Dixon and Turner was civil and, for the most part, routine -- with Turner citing what he said were cost-cutting efficiencies he has effected in office, and Turner proposing innovations like that of a downtown night court like Nashville’s. n Something of an odd couple at a weekend event were Turner and incumbent Shelby County Assessor Rita Clark, a Democrat. Both were attendees at Shelby County Trustee Bob Patterson‘s annual Bar-B-Q at Kirby Farms and spend much of their time there in conversation with each other. Though this was merely an instance of two local-government colleagues maintaining cordial relations, the presence at the affair of Clark, who is opposed by Republican Harold Sterling, also underscored her determination to practice an outreach to GOP voters similar to that which she accomplished with black Democratic voters during her successful primary campaign against county commissioner Michael Hooks, an African American. Both Patterson’s annual outing and Kirby Farms itself are traditional venues for Shelby County Republicans. The GOP primary contest for State Representative in District 83, the seat being vacated by longtime incumbent Joe Kent, promises to be something of a free-for-all. The favorite -- via good financing and name recognition gained in a previous race against Kent -- is probably Chuck Bates, but four other Republican candidates possess respectable credentials of one sort or another, and all four -- Pat Collins, Brian Kelsey, Charles McDonald, and Stan Peppenhorst -- showed up for the Patterson Bar-B-Q. Kelsey and White will be returning to Kirby Farms -- this and next Thursday night, respectively -- for campaign affairs of their own. Though District 83 is regarded as a safe Republican district, there is a Democratic candidate as well, Julian Prewitt. Both major parties this year made decisions at the state-committee level to offer opposition wherever possible, even in districts where success seemed highly problematic. An arguable case of the latter involves the challenge in District 89 of Republican Jim Jamieson to Democratic incumbent Beverly Marrero -- though, arguably and ironically, Jamieson may possess more name identification on the strength of two prior races than does Marrero, who beat Jeff Sullivan in a special-election primary last December that was notable as much for its scant turnout as for a disproportionate bitterness. Jamieson, who ran previously against longtime incumbent Carol Chumney, now a city council member, is counting on potential fallout among Democrats from last year’s contest. He balances conservative economic positions with moderate social ones -- a mix that is potentially saleable in this Midtown district. But Marrero, a protŽgŽ of State Senator Steve Cohen and a longtime activist in her own right, has made new party connections and solidified existing ones since last year’s race. Moreover, she inherits a tradition of female representation that began with Chumney’s predecessor, Pam Gaia. And the district is definitely inclined toward Democrats. He Wishes (And Best Wishes): At last month's Gridiron Show at the Al Chymia Shrine Temple on Shelby Oaks, city councilman Brent Taylor made an unscheduled appearance onstage during a skit. He hung a pair of boxing gloves around the neck of the actor playing Mayor Willie Herenton then draped a pillowcase over the face of the actress playing council mate Carol Chumney and escorted her offstage. It remains to be seen how completely life imitates art, but, for what it's worth, when Taylor showed up late for an appearance by Hizzoner during a council committee meeting this week, he apologized thusly: "Sorry, Mayor, I thought you said meet you outside." Yeah, you remember!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Politics 101"

Sometimes the personal and political mesh.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2004 at 4:00 AM

The role of personality -- and of personality conflict -- just can't be overlooked in governmental matters, especially when, as in the case of Shelby County Commission chairman Marilyn Loeffel and Commissioner Bruce Thompson, they may reflect genuine policy disagreements.

Loeffel is a Cordova homemaker who represents the social conservatism of her sprawling suburban area, while Thompson, an investor and entrepreneur, hails from the more laid-back environs of East Memphis. Both Republican commissioners express concern for fiscal solvency, but Thompson, who campaigned in 2002 for strict budgetary controls and against unbridled development, sees Loeffel as being lax in both respects.

Further, Thompson has groused both publicly and privately that Loeffel often votes no on public spending projects while making backdoor arrangements with other commissioners to enable them. For her part, Loeffel sees Thompson's objections as masking political ambitions that last year brought the first-term commissioner to the brink of challenging her for the chairmanship.

All this boiled over at a meeting Monday morning of the commission's Housing and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Deidre Malone, another first-termer and a Democrat who frequently allies herself with Thompson. The issue was that of the commission's two appointees to the PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) Evaluation Committee of the Memphis and Shelby County Industrial Development Board.

This committee, which has members from both the commission and the Memphis City Council, oversees the increasingly controversial issue of tax-break incentives for new and existing industry. Loeffel had proposed to name Malone and GOP commissioner Tom Moss, a homebuilder, as the commission's representatives. Malone had asked off, suggesting Thompson, her committee co-chair, as a replacement.

Loeffel demurred and sounded out Democrat Julian Bolton, who agreed to serve with Moss on the PILOT oversight panel. The chairman announced her choices at the Monday morning meeting of Malone's HED committee. Thompson then made bold to question the chairman on the matter.

"Hell hasn't frozen over yet; and so I gave it to Julian Bolton," announced Loeffel, putting her disregard for Thompson on the record.

To Thompson's protest that the chairman had disregarded the wishes of Malone, whose committee had nominal responsibility for the PILOT appointments, Loeffel later responded that Thompson had not been so attentive to protocol last year when he was contemplating his race for the chairmanship. At the time, Loeffel was first vice chair under then-Chairman Walter Bailey and, according to commission tradition, was next in line for the chairmanship.

Loeffel summed up her decision on Monday succinctly: "Politics 101," she said.

• Personal matters may also affect the final disposition of a still-pending proposal to put the commission on record as favoring the conversion of The Pyramid into a casino. Though other proposals are beginning to surface (see "Better Bets," page 13), the casino proposal, advanced by Commissioner John Willingham and in legislation proposed in Nashville by state Representative Larry Miller, has gathered some momentum.

A commission resolution to back Miller's bill, which would begin a constitutional-amendment process to enable casino activity at the single site of The Pyramid, narrowly failed two weeks ago -- thanks mainly to Loeffel's delaying tactics and behind-the-scenes activity against it.

Though formal action to reconsider that vote was put off this week, it remains a possibility for the next commission meeting on April 26th. Thompson, a no voter on March 29th, has already signaled his willingness to look at the matter anew, provided that some sort of advance referendum by Shelby County voters could be incorporated into the proposal.

• The personal element is also a factor in the pending settlement of a suit by Clark Construction Group, Inc. against the city of Memphis and the Memphis Cook Convention Center board. County government would be responsible for paying half of an estimated additional $17 million that would be awarded Clark for its work on the new Convention Center. The commission has been asked to approve the proposed settlement, though its ability to nix an agreement outright is in question.

In any case, the death last week of former Shelby County commissioner Morris Fair has put off the commission's reckoning. Fair, terminally ill from cancer, appeared last month before two commission committees investigating the settlement and made a detailed case against it, arguing that Clark was responsible for both construction delays and cost overruns and should not collect additional monies. Both sides saw a commission vote on Monday as inappropriate. The matter will presumably come up again on April 26th.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

POLITICS: '101'

Sometimes the personal and political mesh.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2004 at 4:00 AM

'POLITICS 101'

The role of personality -- and of personality conflict -- just can’t be overlooked in governmental matters, especially when, as in the case of Shelby County Commission chairman Marilyn Loeffel and commissioner Bruce Thompson, they may reflect genuine policy disagreements.

Loeffel is a Cordova homemaker who represents the social conservatism of her sprawling suburban area, while Thompson, an investor and entrepreneur, hails from the more laid-back environs of East Memphis. Both Republican commissioners express concern for fiscal solvency, but Thompson, who campaigned in 2002 for strict budgetary controls and against unbridled development, sees Loeffel as being lax in both respects.

Further, Thompson has groused both publicly and privately that Loeffel often votes no on public spending projects while making back-door arrangements with other commissioners to enable them. For her part, Loeffel sees Thompson’s objections as masking political ambitions that last year brought the first-term commissioner to the brink of challenging her for the chairmanship.

All this boiled over at a meeting Monday morning of the commission’s Housing and Economic Development committee, chaired by Deidre Malone, another first-termer and a Democrat who frequently allies herself with Thompson. The issue was that of the commission’s two appointees to the PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) Evaluation Committee of the Memphis and Shelby County Industrial Development Board.

This committee, which has members from both the commission and the Memphis city council, oversees the increasingly controversial issue of tax-break incentives for new and existing industry. Loeffel had proposed to name Malone and GOP Commissioner Tom Moss, a homebulder, as the commission’s representatives. Malone had asked off, suggesting Thompson, her committee co-chair, as a replacement.

Loeffell demurred and sounded out Democrat Julian Bolton, who agreed to serve with Moss on the PILOT oversight panel. The chairman announced her choices at the Monday morning meeting of Malone’s HED committee. Thompson then made bold to question the chairman on the matter.

“Hell hasn’t frozen over yet; therefore, I appointed Commissioner Bolton,” announced Loeffel, putting her disregard for Thompson on the record.

To Thompson’s protest that the chairman had disregarded the wishes of Malone, whose committee had nominal responsibility for the PILOT appointments, Loeffel later responded that Thompson had not been so attentive to protocol last year when he was contemplating his race for the chairmanship. At the time Loeffel was first vice chair under then chairman Walter Bailey and, according to commission tradition, was next in line for the chairmanship.

Loeffel summed up her decision on Monday succinctly. “Politics 101,” she said.

Personal matters may also affect the final disposition of a still pending proposal to put the commission on record as favoring the conversion of The Pyramid into a casino. Though other proposals are beginning to surface (see “Better Bets” in Viewpoint, p. TK) the casino proposal, advanced by Commissioner John Willingham and in legislation proposed in Nashville by state Representative Larry Miller, has gathered some momentum.

A commission resolution to back Miller’s bill, which would begin a constitutional-amendment process to enable casino activity at the single site of The Pyramid, narrowly failed two weeks ago -- thanks mainly to Loeffel’s delaying tactics and behind-the-scenes activity against it..

Though formal action to reconsider that vote was put off this week, it remains a possibility for the next commission meeting on April 26th. Thompson, a no voter on March 29th has already signaled his willingness to look at the matter anew, provided that some sort of advance referendum by Shelby County voters could be incorporated into the proposal.

This week’s contretemps over the PILOT committee issue might conceivably open the commissioner’s mind even further on a matter concerning which chairman Loeffel is intractably opposed.

The personal element is also a factor in the pending settlement of a suit by Clark Construction Group, Inc. against the City of Memphis and the Memphis Cook Convention Center board. County government would be responsible for paying half of an estimated additional $17 million that would be awarded Clark for its work on the new Convention Center, and the commission has been asked to approve the proposed settlement, though its ability to nix an agreement outright is in question.

In any case, the death last week of a beloved public figure -- former Shelby County Commissioner Morris Fair -- has put off the commission’s reckoning.. In what turned out to be a gallant last hurrah, Fair -- terminally ill from cancer -- had appeared last month before two commission committees investigating the settlement and made a detailed case against it, arguing in essence that Clark was itself responsible for both construction delays and cost overruns and should not collect additional monies.

Under the circumstances, even the involvement on Clark’s behalf of former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to China Jim Sasser (locally represented by entrepreneur and longtime Sasser confidante Karl Schledwitz) became irrelevant.

Both sides saw a commission vote on Monday as inappropriate. The matter will presumably come up again on April 26th.

JOSEPH LEE:

JOSEPH LEE:

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Minutes after hearing himself extolled Tuesday afternoon by city council member Ta Juan Stout-Mitchell and experiencing a standing ovation in the City Hall auditorium, city finance director Joseph Lee was asked if he might, as Mitchell suggested, revive his on-again/off-again candidacy for the directorship of Memphis Light Gas & Water Division.

A clearly pleased Lee’s answer: “I’m not ruling anything out.”

What Mitchell had said to a packed auditorium that had just heard Mayor Willie Herenton’s presentation of his fiscal 2004/5 budget was that Lee, whom she seemed to credit for much of the no-new-tax aspects of the mayor’s budget, should “reconsider” his decision, announced only Monday, to withdraw as one of five finalists to become MLGW head.

“If you can do this...” Mitchell said. She then paused for emphasis, prompting a standing ovation for Lee. She then resumed, advising the city finance director to “pray over your decision again.”

Mayor Herenton himself declined afterward to offer his own explicit encouragement, however. After telling a group of reporters that it was harsh treatment by “the media” that had likely impelled Lee’s withdrawal on Monday, the mayor said only that he was prepared to receive the council’s recommendations on four other finalists, and, if not satisfied with one of the four would “go on from there” --- presumably to reopen competition for the job. The mayor seemed to be implying that Lee might keep his options open until then.

Council member Edmund Ford, contacted after the mayor’s speech, agreed with Mitchell that Lee should re-enter the field. His colleague E.C. Jones had said before the speech that the finance director might have sensed he didn’t have the votes on the council and withdrawn in a spirit of gallantry, to spare himself and allies on the council embarrassment.

The mayor’s budget drew initial -- though, in some cases, qualified -- praise from council members in the aftermath of his presentation. Without raising taxes, it proposes to increase funding for youth employment and fire and police services, to provide pay raises for city employeees, as well as to pursue a variety of neighborhood “revitalization” programs, riverfront development, and a stepped-up urban-transportation network.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

MORRIS FAIR DIES

MORRIS FAIR DIES

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Morris Fair, a well-respected longtime member of the Shelby County Commission and a financial expert known for his private-sector innovations in the securities field, died Thursday at Baptist East Hospital of complications resulting from cancer. Fair, who had served for the last year as a member of the state Lottery Board, had remained active despite a lengthy illness and had made an appearance before the Commission only last month to deliver a lengthy and typically detailed critique of a pending settlement with Clark Construction Co over issues relating to the new Convention Center. Commissioner John Willingham, who was FairÕs victorious opponent in the 2002 election, had become a close friend of FairÕs and said, ÒIf I had known Morris as well then as I do now, I would never have run against him. He will be sorely missed. He was a good friend and a good soldier.Ó Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, chairman of the commission, said, "Former Commissioner Morris Fair was highly valued during his service on the Commission for his financial expertise and advice on these matters when they came before the Commission. However, for me personally, I will always remember him as a consummate gentleman in all dealings and for his deep unbounded love of his wife and family." Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton said, "Morris Fair was one of the kindest and most courteous elected officials I've known. He always put me at ease. Most of all he was an outstanding leader, whose thoughtful approach to government helped to advance our community and he never let politics stop him from doing what was right. We all will miss his warmth and his wisdom." A veteran of the Memphis business community since 1962, Fair was founder and CEO of UMIC Securities Corporation and served as community and government relations coortdinator for Union Planters Bank. Besides the state Lottery Board, he was a member of the Memphis and Shelby County Convention Center Board, a body which he had served as chairman from 1997 to last year. Fair was a well-known rooter for the University of Arkansas Razorback athletic teams. He served as president of the universityÕs National Alumni Association in 1997-98 A native of Marion, Arkansas, Fair is survived by his wife Diane, four sons, and seven grandchildren. Memorial Park Funeral Home at 5668 Poplar Avenue is handling arrangements. Visitation will be there from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 9th. Funeral will be at St. MaryÕs Episcopal Cathedral on Saturday at 1 p.m., and burial will be at Crittenden Memorial Park of Marion.

Rose-Colored

Rep. Blackburn looks on the bright side.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Fear not: That's the word on Iraq from 7th District U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, who has been there. Yes, there would seem to be a great deal of difficulty going on right now, in the eruption of violence from Shiite Islamic mobs that -- added to violence from Sunni Islamic mobs -- has generated death and disruption over there and no small anxiety over here.

But those disturbances, which over the weekend saw four American security contractors massacred in Sunni-controlled Fallujah and a mounting number of combat troops killed in Shiite-dominated areas of Iraq, are essentially indications that "time is running out" for terrorists and loyalists of former dictator Saddam Hussein, said Blackburn, who visited Iraq late last year and reported then that things were on schedule for the development of "freedom" in the beleaguered Middle Eastern country.

Blackburn updated her report Monday night at the newly refurbished Hilton East (formerly the Adams Mark hotel) to an audience of the "Frontline Politics" series, sponsored last year by the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored this year by the chamber and the Memphis Women's Foundation.

As the first-term conservative Republican -- unopposed this year and a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006 -- sees it, things are still on schedule. She foresees no impediment to the transfer of power on June 30th from the occupying coalition led by America to an Iraqi interim government. The current turmoil is merely a sign of "desperation" on the part of those opposed to the transfer, Blackburn said.

As for another point of contention -- the question of prewar Iraq's so-far-undiscovered WMDs -- Blackburn is equally untroubled. "As far as I'm concerned," she said, "the biggest weapon of mass destruction of them all" has been accounted for. That would be the aforesaid Saddam Hussein, captured last December.

Blackburn was equally optimistic about the economy. "Listening to the major media, you may not realize that. More Americans than ever have a job -- a job they want," she said. "We think there is a very simple reason underlying this, and it is called tax cuts."

Contending that productivity and manufacturing jobs were at "their best level in 20 years," the Nashville-area native cited both supportive statistics and her own private research. "What I do is go to the mall, and I sit down and I count bags, shopping bags. Down South, we've got a theory: If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy. And when Mama is happy, Mama goes shopping."

On other issues, Blackburn said that President Bush's suggested five-year timetable for halving the current $512 billion deficit is "too slow." Curtailment of spending, coupled with attention to "waste, fraud, and abuse," could get the job done in four years, "or even three years," she said.

The congressman (that's the title she prefers) said she opposed taxing Internet sales: "That would just set up another federal agency." A better boost to sales figures and tax revenues would come from congressional action to restore the deductibility of state sales taxes, she contended.

Subsequent speakers in the "Frontline Politics" series will be U.S. Representative Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-Ark.) on May 27th and Tennessee state Representative Lois DeBerry on June 8th.

* Last Thursday was the deadline for filing for statewide races. Although there is at least nominal competition in several state House and Senate districts, the most notable races should be the following:

House District 83: Contests for the southeast Memphis seat being vacated by longtime Republican incumbent Joe Kent include Republicans Chuck Bates, Pat Collins, Brian Kelsey, Charles McDonald, Stan Peppenhorst, and Mark White and Democrat Julian Prewitt. Bates, a conservative who gave moderate Kent a tough race two years ago in the GOP primary, seems to have more name recognition, momentum, and available financial resources than his rivals.

House District 87: Democratic incumbent Kathryn Bowers, who doubles as Shelby County Democratic chairman, faces a rematch with Greg Grant, her primary foe of two years ago.

House District 89: Republican Jim Jamieson will be making another try for the seat vacated last year by current City Council member Carol Chumney; his Democratic foe is incumbent Beverly Marrero, who won a special election for the seat last year.

House District 93: A tight race is expected in a fall rematch between longtime Democratic incumbent Mike Kernell and Republican challenger John Pellicciotti, who ran Kernell close in 2002 and will undoubtedly campaign this year against Kernell's current bill seeking a pay raise for state legislators.

Senate District 30: Longtime Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen has three challengers: Republicans Bill Wood and Johnny Hatcher Jr. and independent Mary Taylor Shelby.

In nearby Tipton County, House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, a Democrat who has had a close call or two in recent elections, is being challenged this year for his District 80 seat by Dr. Jesse Cannon, an African-American Republican.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

POLITICS: Rose Colored

Rep. Blackburn looks on the bright side of Iraq and the economy.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 7, 2004 at 4:00 AM

ROSE-COLORED Fear not: That’s the word on Iraq from 7th District U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who has been there. Yes, there would seem to be a great deal of difficulty going on right now, in the eruption of violence from Shiite Islamic mobs that, added on to violence from Sunni Islamic mobs, has generated death and disruption over there, and no small anxiety over here. But those disturbances, which over the weekend saw four American “security contractors” massacred in Sunni-controlled Fallujah and a mounting number of combat troops killed in Shiite-dominated areas of Iraq, are essentially indications that “time is running out” for terrorists and loyalists of former dictator Saddam Hussein, says Blackburn, who visited Iraq late last year and reported then that things were on schedule for the development of “freedom” in the beleagured Middle Eastern country. Blackburn updated her report Monday night at the newly refurbished Hilton East (formerly the Adams Mark Hotel) to an audience of the “Frontline Politics” series, sponsored last year by the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored this year by the Chamber and the Memphis Women’s Foundation. As the first-term conservative Republican -- unopposed this year and aa likely candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006 -- sees it, things are still on schedule. She foresees no impediment to the transfer of power on June 30th from the occupying coalition led by America to an Iraqi interim government. The current turmoil is merely a sign of “desperation” on the part of those opposed to the transfer, Blackburn said.. As for another point of contention -- the question of pre-war Iraq’s so-far-undiscovered WMDs -- Blackburn is equally untroubled. “As far as I’m concerned,” she said, “the biggest weapon of mass destruction of them all” has been accounted for. That would be the aforesaid Saddam Hussein, captured last December. Blackburn was equally optimistic about the economy. “Listening to the major media, you may not realize that. More Americans than ever have a job -- a job they want,” she said. “We think there is a very simple reason underlying this, and it is called tax cuts.” Contending that productivity and manufacturing jobs were at “their best level in 20 years,” the Nashville-area native cited both supportive statistics and her own private research. “What I do is go to the mall, and I sit down and I count bags, shopping bags. Down South, we’ve got a theory: If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. And when Mama is happy, Mama goes shopping.” On other issues, Blackburn said that President Bush’s suggested five-year timetable for halving the current $512 billion deficit is “too slow.” Curtailment of spending, coupled with attention to “waste, fraud, and abuse,” could get the job down in four years, “or even three years,” she said. The congressman (that’s the version of the title she prefers) said she opposed taxing Internet sales. “That would just set up another federal agency.” A better boost to sales figures and tax revenues would come from congressional action to restore the deducitibility of state sales taxes, she contended. Subsequent speakers in the “Frontline Politics” series will be U.S. Rep. Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-AR) on may 27th and Tennessee state Rep. Lois DeBerry on June 8th. Last Thursday was the deadline for filing for statewide races. Although there is at least nominal competition in several state House and Senate districts, the most notable races should be the following: House District 83: Contests for the Southeast Memphis seat being vacated by longtime Republican incumbent Joe Kent include Republicans Chuck Bates, Pat Collins, Brian Kelsey, Charles McDonald, Stan Peppenhorst, and Mark White; and Democrat Julian Prewitt. Bates, a conservative who gave moderate Kent a tough race two years ago in the GOP primary, seems to have more name recognition, momentum, and available financial resources than his rivals. House District 87: Democratic incumbent Kathryn Bowers, who doubles as Shelby County Democratic chairman, faces a rematch with Greg Grant, her primary foe of two years ago. House District 89: Republican Jim Jamieson will be making another try for the seat vacated last year by current city council member Carol Chumney; his Democratic foe is incumbent Beverly Marrero, who won a special eledction for the seat last year. House District 93: A tight race is expected in a fall rematch between longtime Democratic incumbent Mike Kernell and Republican challenger John Pellicciotti, who ran Kernell close in 2002 and will undoubtedly campaign this year against Kernell’s current bill seeking a pay raise for state legislators. Senate District 30: Longtime Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen has three challengers: Republicans Bill Woods and Johnny Hatcher, Jr.; and independent Mary Taylor Shelby. In nearby Tipton County, House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, a Democrat who has had a close call or two in recent elections, is being challenged this year for his District 80 seat by Dr. Jesse Cannon, a Republican and an African American.

Friday, April 2, 2004

It Ain't Over

Kibitzers of the Pyramid/casino proposal should hold their bets until April 12th.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 2, 2004 at 4:00 AM

The Shelby County Commission seemingly dealt a death blow last Wednesday to a proposal for converting The Pyramid into a casino. But did it? In all likelihood, the casino scenario, first advanced by Commissioner John Willingham, will surface for another vote in mid-April that could well reverse the verdict of Wednesday's special session.

That session was made necessary by an objection at last week's regular Monday commission meeting by Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel that the proposal had not been properly added to the body's agenda at an earlier committee meeting.

That created enough confusion that commissioners agreed to defer a vote on the matter until the specially called session two days later. And Loeffel, by her own account as well as Willingham's, used the extra time to organize a pressure campaign on commissioners to reject the proposal.

"I'll give her her due. She's very powerful in terms of her constituency," said Willingham after two casino-related votes had fallen short by two votes at the Wednesday meeting. He identified that constituency as one symbolized by -- but not limited to -- the Bellevue Baptist Church congregation and that church's pastor, the Rev. Adrian Rogers. Willingham added that pressure -- presumably independent of Loeffel -- had also come from sources close to Tunica gambling interests.

Loeffel acknowledged that she made efforts to see that her fellow commissioners heard from citizens objecting to votes that would have authorized the Tennessee General Assembly to pass casino-friendly legislation. One bill would begin a constitutional-amendment process legalizing a casino at the single site of The Pyramid. Another would legalize "games of skill" throughout the state.

"It was a combination of hard work and God dust," a beaming Loeffel said of the outcome, which saw the proposals turned back by votes of 5-7-1 (Cleo Kirk abstaining in the constitutional-amendment vote) and 5-8.

Voting no on both votes were Commissioners Linda Rendtorff, Walter Bailey, Joyce Avery, David Lillard, Tom Moss, Bruce Thompson, and Chairwoman Loeffel. Yes votes came from Willingham, Julian Bolton, Deidre Malone, Michael Hooks, and Joe Ford.

The votes almost didn't come off. After the commission had unanimously approved the other proposal on last Wednesday's special agenda for a reorganization of county school board district lines, Moss moved to defer action on the casino votes until the commission's regular meeting of April 12th. He was seconded by Lillard.

For a while, that seemed to be that, but Willingham pressed for a roll-call vote on the deferral, which was defeated.

After the two nay votes on the casino proposal, Thompson pointedly crossed over to Willingham's side of the commission table, whispered in his ear, and shook his hand -- an action inviting speculation from Loeffel and others that a move to reconsider the votes might be in the offing for April 12th.

If it did, the most likely converts would be Thompson and Kirk -- the former of whom did acknowledge later the eloquence of remarks made Monday by Hooks to the effect that Memphis and Shelby County "already" had casino gambling -- meaning the complex in nearby Tunica -- without benefiting from accompanying tax revenues.

Hooks also noted that the county's taxpayers were still on the line for $32 million worth of outstanding bonds and additional annual maintenance costs for The Pyramid, which would shortly "go dark" now that the University of Memphis basketball Tigers have completed plans to move to the new FedExForum.

"We've got a bone, but we don't even have a dog in the yard," Willingham said about nonexistent prospects for occupancy of The Pyramid, other than his proposal, in tandem with the Lakes Corporation of Minnesota, for developing it as a casino/hotel complex.

Among what seems to be a growing number of prominent Memphians advocating consideration of the idea is Convention & Visitors Bureau head Kevin Kane, who volunteered favorable testimony to a meeting of Willingham's Tourism and Public Works committee last week.

Opponents of a casino at The Pyramid and some media sources cite Governor Phil Bredesen as also being opposed to the idea, but the governor has debunked that notion, telling local officials who have contacted him, as well as the Flyer, that while he is "not at all sure" that the idea is good for Memphis and Shelby County, he intends to be responsive to local business, political, and civic leaders on the point.

Cutting Loose?

Rep. Harold Ford, a surprisingly early advocate of war with Iraq, gets some distance.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 2, 2004 at 4:00 AM

Responding last week to the controversy that erupted over former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke's criticism of President Bush's handling of the war on terror, 9th District congressman Harold Ford appeared to be distancing himself from the administration's war policies in Iraq.

Ford, who had previously expressed reservations about the conduct of the war and its aftermath but had declined to cast public doubt on the Bush administration's bona fides, said in a telephone interview that "it now appears from what we've learned in the last couple of days that the president was determined to go to war in Iraq and may have exaggerated the evidence he had for doing so."

Though the congressman, who voted for the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, continued to profess his frequently expressed belief that "we are safer with Saddam Hussein out of power," his response still represented a deviation of sorts from the qualified support for the war that he had repeated as recently as early March in an appearance before the Germantown Democratic Club.

At that meeting, during which he had to deal with some animated and occasionally hostile questioning, Ford's criticism of the administration was largely limited to chastising the president for retaining CIA chief George Tenet, whom the congressman blamed for faulty intelligence concerning Iraq's weapons programs or lack of any. The blame-Tenet approach was similar to one advanced by supporters of the president's war policy, including such active promoters as leading neoconservative Richard Perle, until recently chairman of the administration's Defense Policy Board.

What may have been lost in the shuffle of events over the years is the fact that Ford himself was associated very early on with calls for action against Saddam's regime. A reader calls attention to an artifact of that concern, currently featured on the Web site of the Project for the New American Century, an organization in which Perle, Under-Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and other neoconservatives are prominent.

This is a letter to President Bush signed by Ford and eight other members of Congress, including Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). The letter, dated December 5, 2001, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the beginnings of military action in Afghanistan, says in part:

"As we work to clean up Afghanistan and destroy al Qaeda, it is imperative that we plan to eliminate the threat from Iraq.

"This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf war status. In addition, Saddam continues to refine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies."

The letter goes on to praise the "Iraqi National Congress," a group led by then exiled figure Ahmed Chalabi, now president of the U.S.-installed Iraq Governing Council. The congress has been identified as a prime source of early allegations concerning Iraq's possession of WMDs.

"The threat from Iraq is real, and it cannot be permanently contained," continues the December 2001 letter. "For as long as Saddam Hussein is in power in Baghdad, he will seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. We have no doubt that these deadly weapons are intended for use against the United States and its allies. Consequently, we believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later. ... [I]n the interest of our own national security, Saddam Hussein must be removed from power."

Other signatories to the letter are Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.).

Ford's presence in such company reflects his penchant for other positions normally associated with political conservatives. The congressman, currently a national co-chair of the presidential campaign of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, is a member of the congressional Blue Dog caucus, composed of conservative Democrats. He is regarded as an almost certain candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2006.

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