Friday, September 30, 2011

'Kumbaya' or 'See Ya?': Is the Greater Shelby School District Wishful Thinking?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 2:57 PM

Aitken (standing) at Planning Commission meeting; seated are David Pickler of SCS, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, and Martavius Jones of MCS.
  • JB
  • Aitken (standing) at Planning Commission meeting; seated are David Pickler of SCS, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, and Martavius Jones of MCS.

Let’s get down to cases here. My colleague John Branston has presented some well-distilled arguments for large school districts. If memory serves right, the consolidated Memphis City Schools-Shelby County Schools district, if taken at full (i.e., with no dropouts) would be the 18th largest in the United States.

That’s the figure that was incessantly cited early in the year by state Senator Mark Norris (he of Norris-Todd), and while it doesn’t quite put a Greater Shelby County School District in the Top Ten, Number 18 is large enough — though, when Norris, in the course of pitching his bill, thought to be pejorative by projecting such a district as on a par with the Greater Dallas school district, I confess I was baffled.

What was wrong, exactly, in being reckoned on the same scale with a recognized (and presumably prosperous) monolith elsewhere in the Southland? How many of us would trade the whole of the Liberty Bowl (scattered football crowds and all) for Jerry Jones’ mammoth new Jumbatron?

Even so, we could surely construct lists of pros and cons for a large district and argue the point. In his patented succinct manner, John makes the case for large, while erstwhile Shelby County Schools board candidate (and recent applicant for the big board) Ken Hoover demurs in a series of comments.

Arguments for either side of this debate have their merit. But to wax dialectical on the choice may have more in common with the old medievalist arguments about the number of angels on the head of a pin than with decisions regarding reality. Consider:

One of the members of the new Greater Shelby County School Board is Mike Wissman, a first-term SCS Board member and the newly elected mayor of Arlington. Wissman’s city is one of several suburban municipalities whose governments have recently concluded pacts with the consulting firm of Southern Education Strategies as a first step toward creating a school system independent of the Greater Shelby district.

True, no concrete plan has yet been hatched, as Wissman pointed out when asked about it Thursday, at the conclusion of the SCS Board’s last meeting (make that the last meeting of the old SCS Board, since Board members voted on Thursday, judicial decree or no judicial decree, to regard the new 23-member as an extension of themselves rather than as something new).

But Wissman did not dissemble about his— and his city’s — ultimate intent, not only to create an independent public-school system for Arlington, but to merge that system with those of other jurisdictional units in outer Shelby County. In fact, he imagines that all of the territory that, up until now, has been that of Shelby County Schools, can and will be recreated intact.

City boundaries vis-à-vis unincorporated areas should be no obstacle, Wissman suggested. “I imagine we can find the way to associate with each other so as to keep the same thing we have right now.”

And Wissman is no Lone Ranger. The same thought is doubtless on other suburban minds, including those of fellow board members on the new “extended” 23-member body. Yes, former SCS chairman-for-life David Pickler is still singing verse s of Kumbaya and hailing the virtues of Love, Togetherness, and Common Interest vis-à-vis the new Greater Shelby system, but it is hard to see how he could easily forswear allegiance to a brand-new special school district encompassing all of the territory governed up to now by SCS (the old SCS, of course). After all, just that is what he striven to achieve for more than a decade.

SCS superintendent John Aitken has acknowledged that he would be interested in becoming superintendent of a Greater Shelby school district. He also acknowledges, when asked, that he would consider heading up some other version of a school system in Shelby County. “There are a lot of roads leading a lot of places,” he said the other day.

And there’s Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald — who, like Wissman, is avowedly thinking out loud on behalf of his city and the suburban population at large. McDonald is a member of the 21-member Planning Commission, whose exact authority is still being debated but whose existence is an integral part of the Norris-Todd legislation, which (let us not forget) posits the creation of one or more special school districts as the last act of “merger.”

Given that McDonald’s city has also contracted with Southern Education Strategies and that the mayor himself is unapologetically stumping for separating Bartlett’s public schools from those of the Greater Shelby district. Given further that McDonald argues that the school buildings and related infrastructure currently in use by SCS should be considered the property of their current locales without further expenses (he bases that reasoning on the 3:1 capital expenditure split dictated by the state’s Average Daily Attendance formula), it is no brain-teaser to see what sort of planning he intends to commit.

Indeed, after presentations had been made by representatives of the SCS and MCS administrations at the first meeting of the Planning Commission on Thursday (Aitken for SCS, deputy superintendent Irving Hamer for MCS), McDonald asked the first question, a clearly pointed one of Hamer, regarding the city system’s per-pupil expenditures.

It should not be imagined that McDonald, who no doubt envisions a meaner, cleaner, frills-free, cost-efficient district for his city, was unduly impressed by the add-on funding , from Bill and Melinda Gates or whoever, that currently augments the heavily programmatic, "reform"-minded, administratively deep workings of the MCS system. Nor, presumably, was he moved to think “Eureka!” concerning the grandiose claims made for MCS by Hamer (a dropout rate of 1percent? Really?).

McDonald and Wissman and an indeterminate number others on both the new 23-member Board and the new 21-0member Planning Commission are biding time and looking past the still distant date of September 1, 2013. And their watchword at that point is less likely to be Kumbaya then than it is to be See Ya.

Lamar Alexander Makes a Pitch for Coalition Government

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Alexander at the UM Law School
  • jb
  • Alexander at the UM Law School
Lamar Alexander is revisiting his past at the same time he is redesigning his future. The state’s senior U.S. Senator, who recently announced he is stepping down from his leadership post as GOP caucus chairman in the Senate, treated students at the University of Memphis Law School to a vision of his political beginnings on Thursday.

Speaking on “The Rule of Law,” Alexander outlined the scenario whereby he had become governor a few days early in 1979 in order to prevent his corrupt predecessor, Ray Blanton, from freeing an indeterminate number of state prisoners via commutations or pardons. As Alexander told the story, which was illustrated by a vintage videoclip of his emergency sign-in ceremony from Nashville’s Channel 5, one of those prisoners was rumored to be James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King.

A key point of the story was the bipartisan agreement to break precedent , involving such Democratic officials as the two then Speakers of the House and Senate — Ned McWherter and John Wilder, respectively.

Besides illustrating the pre-eminence of “the rule of law,” the saga clearly suggested the ecumenical nature of Alexander’s new professional course. As Alexander told the UM law students. “This liberates me to do the things I care about the most” — e.g., fashioning “a coalition of good Republicans and good Democrats” regarding matters like the safe disposal of nuclear waste, reform of No Child Left Behind, and the looming national debt.

Alexander used a football analogy regarding his decision to drop out of the leadership post: “If you’re in the huddle, and the quarterback says, we want to sweep left end, and you want to go around the right end, so I go around right end and everybody else is going around left end, that’s not a very good place for me to be.”

Said Alexander: "I can do more in a body where you need 60 votes as an independent senator," adding, "I'm still a good Republican."

The former governor also tipped his hands on presidential preferences for 2012. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Alexander said, “I like the governors.” That would be former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, current Texas governor Rick Perry, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Executive experience, the ability to set an agenda, and practice in forming coalitions were all desiderata for the office of president, as the onetime presidential aspirant (1996, 2000) saw it.

And he even praised Perry for sticking to his guns on the one thing the conservartive Texas governor’s rivals have abused him for — his relatively liberal policy of extending educational benefits to children of potentially illegal Mexican immigrants.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Joe Ford Subject of Arrest Warrant

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 7:18 AM

Joe Ford
  • Joe Ford
Joe Ford, the former Memphis City Councilman and Shelby County Commissioner who served several months in 2010 as Shelby County mayor and was the Democratic Party’s unsuccessful nominee for that office, was the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with bad checks, according to sources.

Ford, who turned himself in late Tuesday at 201 Poplar, reportedly wrote Las Savell Jewelers two post-dated checks totaiing $5800 for as many Rolex watches last year and, when the checks repeatedly bounced, failed to respond to several requests to make the checks good.

More information will be reported as it becomes available.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Settle, Under Fire During Chancery Scandal, Resigns as Clerk

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 5:38 PM

Dewun Settle
  • Dewun Settle
Dewun Settle, under fire for the quality of his supervision in the course of a burgeoning financial scandal at Shelby County Chancery Court, has resigned his position as Clerk and Master of the Court, the three elected chancellors announced late Tuesday in a press release.

Dated September 27, the statement by the chancellors — Walter Evans, Arnold Goldin, and Kenny Armstrong — reads as follows:

Dewun R. Settle, the Clerk and Master of the Shelby County Chancery Court, submitted his resignation today, effectively immediately. We, the Chancellors of the Shelby County Chancery Court, have accepted it.

Pursuant to T.C.A. 18-5-5-1 et seq., the court will begin immediately the process of receiving applications for the now vacant position of Clerk and Master.

Until a new Clerk and Master is appointed, retired former Shelby County Chancery Court clerk and Master John Robertson will serve as Interim Clerk and Master.

Settle is one of three Chancery Court employees who were the subject of an ethics complaint filed this week by Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz, who was reacting to accusations of lax supervision of Court fiscal affairs.

One Court employee, Valerie Nelson, has resigned, following allegations in a report by Shelby County Attorney Kelly Rayne that she accepted, and then covered up, financial favors from an employee she supervised, Brandon Gunn, who is accused in the report of stealing some $1 million in money due citizens involved in tax sales of property. Nelson is also accused of having a romantic relationship with Gunn and lying about it.

Yet another Chancery Court employee, Carlton Brown, is accused of signing payout checks without proper authorization. And Settle has been targeted by various critics for his alleged slow pace in dealing with the mounting irregularities under his nose.

“Why is the Clerk still the Clerk?...We have obvious ethics complaints,” Ritz said in Monday’s Commission meeting. Ritz’s complaint mentions Settle, Nelson, and Wanda Wright, Settle’s chief administrator.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

E Pluribus What? Memphis and Shelby County Prepare for School Unity

Posted By on Sat, Sep 24, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell
  • Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell
For students of history in Memphis and Shelby County, there are few precedents to guide them through the extraordinary synthesis that is about to get underway as Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools begin their two-year path toward merger. On October 1, an enlarged interim school board will become official, comprising the MCS board’s current 9 members, the SCS board’s 7, and 7 new members just selected from as many freshly designed districts by the Shelby County Commission.

The new board won't have its first real meeting until October 3, but the members of that board, as well as those of the equally new 21-member transitional or planning committee created by this year’s Norris-Todd bill to assist the merger, have already had a joint, get-acquainted session.

That kumbaya affair was convened on Thursday at the University of Memphis by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, one of three ex-officio members of the transitional committee. The other two are MCS Board chairman Martavius Jones and SCS Board chairman David Pickler. Since Jones and Pickler are also members of the interim school board, the actual number of the ensemble gathered Thursday night was 42 — a number suggestive of the Nashville Metro Council and a not unwieldy group, considering the circumstances.

Those circumstances include the separate-but-equal state of mind that was embodied in the very fact of the two soon-to-be consolidated entities — an urban, almost all-black school sysem and an integrated but white-dominated one representing the suburbs. To call their union a shotgun marriage requires re-casting that metaphor, inasmuch as the process began after the 2010 election when representatives of the two systems and their host populations armed themselves for a showdown. The SCS’s Pickler talked out loud of getting the new heavily Republican legislature to sanction a new special school district for the suburbs. And Jones and others on the MCS Board, feared the possible loss of tax revenue to a new county district, responded with their own doomsday scenario — a threat to surrender the city board’s charter so as to force consolidation with SCS.

Commissioner Heidi Shafer
  • Commissioner Heidi Shafer
In the event, the MCS Board followed through and Memphis voters, under the terms of a 1961 Private Act, ratified the prospective dissolution of MCS in a March referendum. Meanwhile, the Norris-Todd bill, named for the two Collierville legislators who introduced it — state Senator Mark Norris and state Representative Curry Todd — had handily passed the General Assembly, mandating a delayed merger, to be accomplished in fall 2013, at which time the suburbs, together or singly, would indeed be granted the opportunity to create one or more special school districts.

So it was that the unity of the Thursday night get-together convened by Russell was somewhat deceptive. One member of the new interim board, broker Chris Caldwell, reported being hot-boxed by two of his new colleagues from SCS, David Reaves and Mike Wissman, who made the case for new breakaway districts when the time came. Indeed, Wissman had just been elected mayor of suburban Arlington, a municipality which has already engaged the consulting group Southern Education Strategies, to help it plot the course toward an independent district. Other municipalities — Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett — are embarked on similar preparations. Bartlett’s mayor Keith McDonald, who was recently named to the transitional committee, has served notice he intends to lead his city into a separate school district, and he makes the case that new county districts are entitled to inherit their present school buildings and other infrastructure cost-free, on the ground that the state-mandated Average Daily Attendance formula had already distributed tax moneys for capital construction on a 3:1 ration favoring the city schools.

Arlington Mayor/SB member Mike Wissman
  • Arlington Mayor/SB member Mike Wissman
That premise is sure to be contested in court, however, but, whether adherents of the city schools achieve full unity or not, they will finally gain the single-source funding status that has eluded them in recent years, when city residents have been assessed both the county general tax for education and a surcharge to help finance the separate city district. That circumstance has been the source of a troublesome sidebar to the Memphis public-education saga. A cash-strapped Memphis City Council shaved $57 million off its maintenance-of-effort obligation to Memphis City Schools in 2008, and when the courts found the City of Memphis liable for the shortage, the Council has been straining ever since to pay its back bill. That’s one good reason why Council members had heartily endorsed the MCS charter surrender, which would ultimately get the city out from under its special obligation. Should the suburbs follow through with their special-district plans, their citizens will be the ones, not Memphis residents, who are saddled with two public-school bills. In a striking irony, the current “city” schools — i.e., those of Memphis — would become the official county schools, while such of the former county schools as formed new municipal districts would become the “city” schools.

Thus, the prevailing apparent unity of the present may be only a veil for a coming separation which will re-establish a demographic division of Shelby Couny’s public schools — but a division which, more clearly than the prior situation, would give each of the two entities a little more of what they have historically wanted. That would be the aforesaid single-source funding for Memphis residents and autonomy (though an expensive variety) for a major portion at least of county residents.

Martavius Jones
  • Martavius Jones
Which is not to say that a more expansive form of consoldaton would be prevented from taking hold. Former exponents of school-district separation, like Pickler himself, are now making public statements suggesting their commitment to build a common future — especially if that future should allow significant independence within the structure of what is being talked up as chancellery system on the model of New York, with considerable autonomy in curricular and administrative matters for the separate parts. In an op-ed last week for the Memphis Flyer, suburban Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer, who had been opposed to school consolidation, endorsed just such a formula.

But there are still pockets of bitterness and intransigence — notably on the County Commission among the three representatives from District Four, Shelby County’s outer suburban rim. Those three — Terry Roland, Wyatt Bunker, and Chris Thomas — have from the beginning of the merger process fought a running guerilla war against the proponents and prospects of consolidation, declining to countenance it in any form.

All the while declaiming their abhorrence of consolidation, the three District Four resisters boycotted or, without apology, tried to subvert the merger process at every turn — refusing to participate in the first round of Commission interviews of prospective interim school board candidates and taking part in the latter stages only to try to insert opponents of merger onto the board. At best, they succeeded only incrementally, subjecting outspokenly pro-merger candidates to hectoring interrogations and, whenever such an applicant was demonstrated to have children in private schools, charges of hypocrisy.

State Senator Jim Kyle
  • State Senator Jim Kyle
The opponents of merger did claim one prominent scalp, however — that of state Senator Jim Kyle, who had volunteered to serve as an interim representative in District 5 and, especially after indicating he would give preference to his Board function in case of a calendar conflict with simultaneous duties in the legislature, had been expected to glide into the position with minimal fuss. Kyle’s service as state Senate Democratic leader, however made him the focus of an argument by the GOP diehards that his very presence confirmed a Democratic bias on the board. The debate on Kyle drew from Commissioner Wyatt Bunker the strikingly discordant claim that the senator, a former gubernatorial candidate respected on both sides of the aisle in Nashville, was “just a political hack.”

In the end, in what had to be a mortifying outcome for Kyle and his supporters, the senator was edged out on a 7-6 vote of the commission — party-line except for a crossover vote from African American freshman Democrat Justin Ford, who was impressed by the credentials of Kyle’s opponent, a young and evidently sincere black businessman named Kevin Woods, whose political affiliation happened to be Republican.

So the two basic bodies that will guide Memphis and Shelby County schools (or such vestiges of the latter whose municipalities are willing) into educational union are now up and soon to be running — both destined to go out of commission on September 1, 2013, the date set for completed merger by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, who had earned universal plaudits for his skill in dealing with assorted litigations from the contending groups. Overcoming some resistance from representatives of state government, Mays had also presided over the development of as Memorandum of Understanding beween the parties, one fruit of which was their agreement to include all members of the current MCS and SCS boards on the interim all-county board.

Judge Mays
  • Judge Mays
On September 1, 2013, that provisional 23-member assembly will be replaced by a new seven-member board which will have been elected in August 2012 from the seven agreed-upon Shelby County districts, whose borders, reflecting demographic patterns in the 2010 census, had essentially been dictated by the joint city/county Office of Planning and Development, a politically neutral body. Lori Patterson, a lawyer for the Shelby County Commission, has informed her clients that Judge Mays has indicated an openness to both speeding up the timetable for the new school board to take over and to increasing its membership to 13 if that is the will of the Commission.

As for the 21-member transitional or planning commission, whose highly education-oriented membership was appointed by the two current school boards and County Mayor Luttrell, with single-member add-ins from Governor Haslam, Senate Speaker Ramsey, and House Speaker Harwell, it, too will dissolve on September 1, 2013. Its functions meanwhile are purely advisory, as the interim school board will be calling the shots on the way to merger.

Again, the situation of this highly ad hoc merger of previously polarized entities in Shelby County has few historical precedents. One possible guiding example, however, might be that of the federal union itself, created in 1789 from competing entities with disparate priorities. That one has endured despite awesome threats to its unity. The new Shelby County Schools system should be so lucky.

A somewhat different version of this article appeared in the current issue of the Tennessee Journal.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

County Commission Defers Action on Awarding Title X Contract for Family Planning

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 4:01 AM

UPDATE: Terry Roland asks Governor Haslam to intervene in Commission dispute.

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, charging that Commission Democrats "are aligning with Planned Parenthood solely as a partisan stronghold," asked Governor Bill Haslam by letter Thursday to intervene in the local dispute "because the Democrats are using this contract as a political football...." Without specifyng what kind of help was needed from Haslam, Roland said, "I am asking you to step in, assist, and offer us guidance with this matter and review the process."

Kennedy and Madlock at Wednesdays committee meeting
  • JB
  • Kennedy and Madlock at Wednesday's committee meeting
In a session Wednesday which saw opposing sides accuse each other of playing politics with a medical issue, the Hospitals and Health Committee of the Shelby County Commission voted 6-4 to defer action for three weeks on approval of Christ Community Health Center as a sub-contractor for women’s health services under Title X federal funding.

The vote was along party lines, with Democrats in the majority, and it prefigured what is certain to be a politically charged power struggle and cliff-hanger vote when the issue is revisited in committee on October 12 and in full public session for final disposition on October 17.

Christ Community Health Center had, along with Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region and the Memphis Health Center, answered an RFP (Request for Proposal) from the Shelby County Health Department, which under legislation passed earlier this year and subsequent state directives, is now the official contractor for such services rather than the state itself, as was the case in previous years.

A six-person panel of officials from the Health Department and county government recommended approval of the bid from Christ Community on the basis of the Center’s higher cumulative score on a checklist of previously established service-related criteria. According to Yvonne Madlock, Health Department director, the aggregate scores were: Christ Community Center, 95.33; Planned Parenthood, 88.88; Memphis Health Center, 84.54. Madlock added that all three bidders met the Department’s basic standards.

Commissioner Chris Thomas, the first of several Republicans speaking in favor of contracting with Christ Community Center, moved to accept the panel’s recommendation as a purely professional judgment and asked his colleagues to “not get political.” After several exchanges involving various commissioners, Commission chair Sidney Chism, a Democrat who made the first formal motion for deferral, issued a similar caution, charging proponents of the Christ Community contract with a “push [that] has to do with politics.”

Underlying the medical issues involved was the fact that a Tennessee state government dominated by Republicans in the governorship and both legislative chambers had publicly embarked this year on a concerted effort to freeze out Planned Parenthood from women’s health activities funded under Title X of the 1970 Public Health Service Act. For several previous decades, Planned Parenthood had performed a major portion of family planning and other services locally under contract with the state.

But Planned Parenthood is identified with abortion procedures by many of the social conservatives who loom large in the Tennessee Republican hierarchy, and, even though none of the highly diverse women’s medical services performed with Title X funds relate to abortion, the legislature attempted to exclude Planned Parenthood from direct involvement with Title X. When a flaw was discovered in the enabling legislation that nullified that intent, the state Health Department moved on its own to require county health departments to administer Title X funding and administer the program’s services.

Madlock temporized, advising the state Health Department that the Shelby County Health Department was not equipped to provide a full level of services on its own and would have to sub-contract or “partner” with one or more local agencies if it was to administer the entire local package of $1,345,000 in Title X funding. (The portion of the grant being out-sourced is $397,900.)

Hence the RFP and the creation of the six-person panel to adjudge bids. The members of that panel were Harvey Kennedy, who serves as CAO for county mayor Mark Luttrell; Kim Hackney, Luttrell’s chief policy advisor; Dr. Kenneth Robinson and Bill Powell, two other county officials; Dr. Helen Morrow of the county Health Department; and Madlock herself.

Barry Chase, director of Planned Parenthood locally, attended Wednesday’s committee session along with other Planned Parenthood staffers and supporters, and affirmed to reporters his beliefs that politics was behind the rejection of Planned Parenthood, that the panel’s criteria for selection had been unclear, and that Planned Parenthood was both better equipped to provide Title X services locally and had done so “for 30 years.” In support of the latter statements, he passed out a checklist of his own, including the claim of being able to serve some 3500 clients as against CCHC’s 2000.

When similar arguments had been put forth in committee debate by Democrats Walter Bailey, Steve Mulroy, and Melvin Burgess, Republicans Thomas and Terry Roland scoffed at these as “talking points,”. In the process they advanced some talking points of their own, one of which was that Christ Community Center had six brick-and-mortar branches and one mobile center.

The Democratic members essentially argued that more time was needed to evaluate the information used by the six-member panel to make its judgment. The Republicans basically countered that the panel had performed, in Roland’s words, “due diligence” and that waiting three weeks to approve the contract would take things beyond September 30, the last date of an existing three-month extended contract with Planned Parenthood.

The Democrats responded that Planned Parenthood would no doubt continue to provide services during the intervening period — a fact confirmed later by Chase, who said that a temporary grant to his agency of some $100,000 in Title X funds to cover the months of July, August, and September had been expended long ago and that Planned Parenthood had continued to provide services gratis.

Commissioner Heidi Shafer, who chairs the commission’s Hospital and Health Committee, noted pointedly during Wednesday’s discussion that all of the agencies that had bid for the Title X contract would necessarily be operating at a loss.

Chase and other Planned Parenthood representatives at hearing
  • JB
  • Chase and other Planned Parenthood representatives at hearing

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Mulroy-Roland Throwdown? Has It Come to This?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 2:54 PM

Anyone who has attended recent meetings of the Shelby County Commission has observed the obvious: There are people on that body who just don’t agree about issues. Worse, from time to time they don’t seem to like each other.

This is especially true when it comes to Democrat Steve Mulroy, a Midtown resident and a University of Memphis law professor in civilian life, and Terry Roland, a boisterously outspoken Republican and store-owner from the hinterland of Millington.

On gay rights (Mulroy, for; Roland against), school consolidation in Shelby County (Mulroy for; Roland against); political philosophy (Mulroy’s a professed liberal; Roland’s a hardshell conservative); or just on general principles the two hardly ever see eye to eye.

But duking it out? Fist to fist? That’s a stretch, even for these two.

On Monday, the day the Commission met to resolve the matter of who was going to serve in the seven new seats created for a unified all-county school board, things came to a head.

That morning, Mulroy was on hand early and had gone to the Commission library, a room on the same floor as the commissioners’ offices, to look something up.

He was promptly joined by Roland who, as Mulroy tells it, stalked up and confronted him nose-to-nose, with fists doubled up.

Again, as the Democrat recalls things, the Republican commissioner in a hard-edged version of his distinctive drawl, said something to the effect of this: “You and I are never going to agree. There’s only one way to settle things. We’re going downstairs, and I’m going to whip your ass!”

Mulroy maintains that he tried to respond with a joke, and Roland responded, “I’m not kidding! We’re going downstairs and settle things with our fists!” There may have been an epithet along with that, Mulroy thinks; in any case, there were was little doubt in his mind that Roland was dead serious.

And, he says, he tried to defuse things by saying, “Sure thing, Terry. In fact, let’s call up the media, get some cameras down there, and put on a show for television.” Or words to that effect.

To that, Mulroy says, Roland gave him a menacing stare and stalked away.

Roland, of course does not agree with that account.

“Aw, heck, I was just kidding with him!” the Republican commissioner said this weekend by telephone, on the way to his farm. In fact, says Roland, it was he, not Mulroy, who threw out the facetious idea of putting on a public exhibition. “I remember my exact words. I said, ‘Why don’t we have a celebrity boxing match?’ And I thought sure he knew I was joking.”

Roland went on, speaking in a soft and mock-cordial tone. “Hey, tell him he’s going to be all right. I don’t pick on elderly people, children, or invalids.” The commissioner did not indicate which of those things applied to Mulroy.

Mulroy still doesn’t believe the set-to was all in jest. In an email, he sums up his view: "I do not believe Roland was actually intending to engage in fisticuffs. I do think he was trying to physically intimidate. That is, he was hoping I would think he might actually be serious, and be intimidated as a result, even though, in fact, he wasn't planning on actually throwing a punch."

And Mulroy says that during the subsequent contentious debate in the commission meeting Monday about candidates for the School Board, Roland came over to his side of the commission semi-circle, got behind him, and whispered loudly in his year, “Your gay rights ain’t going nowhere in Nashville!”

To which Mulroy, who sponsored a successful anti-discrimination resolution last year, says, “I thought, ‘What gay rights? In the legislature that’s in Nashville these days? No chance!” (In fact, the GOP-dominated legislature passed a bill in the 2011 session prohibiting anti-discrimination measures by local jurisdictions.)

Joke or no joke, the confrontations in the County Commission, as currently constituted, come increasingly fast and furious these days. It hasn’t yet come to physical confrontations, and, if it ever does, we can only hope the gents at least put the gloves on and don’t try to do it, as Mulroy says Roland first suggested, with bare fists.

And if tickets are sold, we hope the proceeds go into the county general fund, which, in this time of budget austerity, needs the money. Mulroy and Roland would surely agree on that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

SCS Vice Chair Wissman Wins Arlington Mayor's Race

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 10:56 PM

Mike Wissman, already vice chair of the Shelby County Schools Board and soon to be a member of the new interim all-county school board, picked up yet another public office Thursday, winning the four-way race for Arlington mayor with 745 votes (38.78 percent of the vote) to 626 votes for fourth vice mayor Hugh Lamar, his nearest competitor.

Brian Groves (also known professionally by his former radio-DJ name Brian Elder) was third with 297 votes (15.46 percent of the total), followed by alderman Brian Thompson with 252 votes (13.12 percent).

Wissman succeeds Russell Wiseman, who opted not to run for reelection as mayor

Although the prospect of his serving in two public offices at once became a campaign issue for his opponents, Wissman, a Memphis firefighter, has indicated he will keep his school board post while serving as Arlington mayor.

Wissman made the issue work for him, though, as he countered that his familiarity with the issues of the forthcoming merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools equipped him best to deal with an uncertain educational future.

All four candidates had expressed interest in Arlington’s withdrawal from the forthcoming all-county school system into a new suburban special school district in September 2013 when the ban on such districts will be lifted under the terms of the Norris-Todd legislation passed this year in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Last week Arlington city officials contracted with Southern Educational Strategies to help the city pursue the prospect of an independent school district.

Winners in Arlington’s aldermanic races were: Glen Bascom, Position 1; Gerald W. McGee, Position 2; and Jeff McKee, Position 3.

In neighboring Lakeland, where it was also election day, Randy Nicholson and Gerrit Verschuur won commissioner’s seats.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Yacoubian Poll Shows Wharton in Easy Win

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 12:38 AM

Mayor A C Wharton
  • Mayor A C Wharton
Consistent with the consensus among pol-watchers and word on the street, too: That’s the bottom line of pollster Berje Yacoubian’s latest tracking poll on the 2011 Memphis mayor’s race. In a nutshell, Yacoubian finds incumbent A C Wharton headed toward an easy victory, but there is data, too, that shows weaknesses in the mayor’s support.

On the favorability scale, the latest survey, taken this month by Yacoubian Research, shows that 63 percent of 273 persons polled in the Memphis section of the poll (415 persons were surveyed in other, all-county portions of the poll) would rate Wharton’s job performance as either “excellent” (25 percent) or “good” (38 percent). Another 24 percent rate the mayor’s performance as “average,” while 3 percent would rate him “below average,” 5 percent regard his performance as “poor” and another 5 percent are “not sure.”

Matched against his best-known opponents, Wharton is the likely choice of 54 percent of 229 persons polled; Runner-up is former city councilman Edmund Ford Sr., with 7 percent. Perennial candidate Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges has 1 percent, and no one else, including Shelby County Commissioner James Harvey, has earned a full digit. Some 5 percent would prefer “someone else” unspecified, while 33 percent profess themselves “not sure.”

Wharton gets his best favorability scores from Memphians in the 65 to 74 age category; he is weakest among members of the youngest demographic polled, respondents aged 18-24. His scores rise proportionate to the educational status of those polled, as well as to the income status of respondents. The mayor fares well in all geographic areas, with little variation, but his best scores are among East Memphians.

Democrats (59.6 percent ”good” or “excellent”) like the mayor, but not to the degree that Republicans (71.8 percent “good” or “excellent”) do.

Perhaps the most interesting of Yacoubian’s findings is that Wharton, an African American, fares significantly better with whites (74.4 percent “good” or “excellent” with males, 72 percent with females) than with blacks (62.4 percent “good” or “excellent” among males, a mere 50.4 percent among females).

Only Ford comes close to challenging the mayor among the various demographic groups, and he only to a modest degree. The former councilman is neck-and-neck with Wharton only among the 18-24 group, a sample consisting of only 6 people. Ford gets double-digit ratings (and low ones, at that) only among African Americans and the group making between $10,000 and $20,000 annually.

Yacoubian noted that his poll results were taken just before a recent rash of publicity regarding opponent Ford’s endorsement by several labor groups, and he regards it as possible that the former councilman may rise higher in subsequent trackings closer to the October 6 election date. But Yacoubian sees it as highly unlikely that Wharton’s reelection can be significantly threatened.




Alternate Views of Poll Materials




Tuesday, September 13, 2011

County Commission Picks Seven Members for Interim School Board

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 8:34 AM

Kyle makes his case before Commission.
  • jb
  • Kyle makes his case before Commission.
It took several hours, but the Shelby County Commission, which began its deliberations in mid-afternoon, finally managed on Monday evening to fill the last seven places on a 23-member interim school board that will guide the development of a unified all-county school system up to the point of completed merger on September 1, 2013.

Given the fact that three members of the Commission — Wyatt Bunker, Chris Thomas, and Terry Roland, all from District 4, which covers the non-Memphis portions of Shelby County — have made it clear that they oppose the whole process of merger, everybody seems to have gotten something of what they wanted.

At one end of the Commission’s political spectrum, Democratic member Steve Mulroy¸ a professed liberal, unabashed supporter of consolidation and representative of the Commission’s District 5, an east Memphis-based area, confided that he saw his first choices named to several of the seats being filled, while Republican Thomas, an equally adamant conservative and representative of the suburbs, was able to exult late in the process, “We got one!”

The source of Thomas’s satisfaction was the triumph of Kevin Woods, a rank-and-file Republican and employee of a technology firm, over Jim Kyle, the state Senate’s Democratic leader, in the vote for the new school board’s District 5. That outcome had come as something of a surprise when, in the course of a runoff ballot, Democrat Justin Ford joined the Commission’s six Republicans to create a narrow 7-6 edge for Woods over the favored Kyle.

That District 5 contest left a sour taste for several Democratic commissioners, notably Walter Bailey and James Harvey, who condemned what they saw as ad hominem insults directed against Kyle — particularly one from Bunker, who had denounced Kyle, a respected figure in the General Assembly, as “a political hack.”

Roland, who had himself, early and often, challenged what he regarded as Democratic control of the vote process, would advise reporters afterward to keep in mind that his GOP colleague was under the effects of strong sedatives prescribed for severe back pain.

But Bunker, who had left midway during Monday’s meeting to get medical attention and then returned, declined to withdraw his epithet after the meeting when chairman Sidney Chism made a point of lamenting comments that had been “out of order.” The concept of “out of order” applied only to procedural matters, contended Bunker, who defended what he termed “freedom of speech” and said he had merely “called a spade a spade.”

In the aftermath of the vote, Kyle had congratulated Woods and accounted for the latter’s victory by saying, “Well, he wasn’t me.” In a telephone conversation later, he would elaborate. “It would appear that the venom and partisan rhetoric of Washington have made their way down to our local level.”

In what may have been an indirect comment on the District 5 contest, Chism afterward would say of his advance wishes for Monday’s vote, “I wanted four African Americans. I got five.” (Woods is an African American.)

Although several other contests involved multiple ballots, none was as volatile as that for District 5. And none was as prolonged as that for District 1, which was resolved at the very end of the marathon meeting after commissioners could not agree on a choice when voting had first commenced.

Ultimately, the decision would go to Chris Caldwell of Morgan Keegan, a compromise choice who had, all things considered, more appeal across various lines than such other nominees as retired deputy Sammie Jones, assistant D.A. Christopher Lareau, the Rev. Noel Hutchison, and Katy Spurlock of the Urban Child Institute.

Other choices Monday were: city prosecutor Teresa Jones in District 2; Medtronic administrator Raphael McInnis in District 3; Attorney Venecia Kimbrow in District 4; FedEx administrator Reginald Porter in District 6; and cell-tower entrepreneur Billy Orgel in District 7.

The seven board members will join the existing nine members of the Memphis City Schools board and seven members of the Shelby County Schools board. The newly constituted 23-member board will supervise the affairs of MCS and SCS beginning October 1. Their exact tenure may extend only through the election of a permanent seven-member all-county board in August2012 if, as special Commission attorney Lori Patterson advised the Commission Monday, federal Judge Hardy Mays approves a consent decree allowing an early takeover by the elected board.

Patterson also said, in answer to a question from Commissioner Mike Ritz, who was back in attendance after a month’s absence on business, that Judge Mays might also approve an earlier-than-expected increase in the ultimate board’s membership to 13 members. Under Judge Mays’ rulings and a Memorandum of Understanding signed onto by various parties, that possibility has already been enabled for the post-merger period.

GADFLY: Our 9/11 Mourning is Misdirected

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 5:33 AM


Are we safe yet? From 9/11 commemoration hysteria, I mean.

It astounds me that every year since the tragedy (and this year more than ever before), we don sackcloth and ashes to bemoan the untimely and tragic deaths of 2,974 innocents, and in the process, pay homage (if you buy the official story) to a bunch of ragtag zealots for bringing an entire country to its knees, supposedly with a handful of sharp objects.

Doesn't anyone understand that, by doing so, what we're doing is actually celebrating the terrorists' success, and doing what we're supposed to so assiduously avoid, namely hand them yet another victory.

Where is the outrage?, I constantly wonder on these Groundhog-Day-like occasions, which should be righteously targeted at the people who allowed this disaster to happen? Why did the supposedly most exceptional country on earth—-you know, the one our politicians ask for God to bless at the end of every speech they make—-fall victim, again according to the official story, to a tiny band of dedicated madmen who managed to turn the most elaborate, gargantuan, expensive defensive apparatus ever amassed in the history of mankind into an ineffectual outfit more characteristic of the Keystone Kops?

Why is George Bush, who ignored the warnings leading up to the event and who couldn't even get off his butt with anything like a sense of urgency to assume his role as commander-in-chief when he was told the country was under attack, given a place of honor in the ceremonies commemorating the 10th anniversary of a tragedy he allowed to happen?

And why is Rudi Giuliani, whose failure to learn, much less apply, any of the lessons he should have learned from the first attack on the World Trade Center made him directly responsible for the deaths of over 400 of New York's first responders eight years later, allowed anywhere near those ceremonies, much less to parlay that abject incompetence into a lucrative consulting career and even a shot at the presidency?

Oh, I know: in the words our current president used to explain why Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, aren't being prosecuted (or even investigated) for war crimes: We're supposed to look forward, not backward, which, of course, flies in the face of the very raison d'etre for the 9/11 commemorations.

When you stop to think about it, the direct (and I emphasize that word) effect of what happened on 9/11 actually impacted a relatively small number of people. How many relatives, friends, acquaintances, fellow workers, businesses, etc. do 3,000 people have connections to? 20,00? 50,000? Maybe even 100,000, but not much more, in a country of (at the time) about 280 million people.

The main reason the events of that day affected the country as a whole was because of our government's reaction to it, and, of course, because of our collective astonishment that our government could have let it happen. Just like the last sneak attack on our citizens, Pearl Harbor, the events of 9/11 had a far greater penumbral, than immediate, effect because of the war(s) it caused us to enter/start, than the event itself ever had.

Make no mistake: the events of 9/11 aren't commemorated to honor, or even to avenge, the memory of the people who died on that day; it's commemorated as part of a continuing effort by our government to justify everything it's done in reaction to it. 9/11 cannot be allowed to fade from the country's collective memory because, if it did, people would never tolerate the atrocities our government has committed in the name of those who died on that day. As if to accentuate that purpose, have you noticed how the government comes up with some new (but inevitably either non-existent or inconsequential) terrorist threat just about the time of the commemoration? This year was no exception.

The real outrage, and the event that truly deserves the attention and collective grief of the entire country, is the deaths that occurred after 9/11. Over 6,000 American troops have died in the two wars that were started using 9/11 as a ruse, and that doesn't count the thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and who knows what other nationals we've killed as a result of those wars, or the tens of thousands more who've been wounded.

One could argue that dying was one of the consequences the men and women who volunteered for the military knew was a risk of their willingness to fight, whereas the victims on 9/11 never thought dying was a risk of going to work that day, which makes them more worthy of our collective sympathy. But injustice comes in various forms, post-9/11: it is no less unjust for soldiers to die as cannon fodder in wars they didn't start, and never should have been started, than for civilians to die in ones they didn't start either but are being fought in their names.

But the crowning irony of the consequences of 9/11 is that while we've engaged in an exercise of collective grief every September 11th for its relatively few victims, in that same time, over 150,000 people in this country have been murdered, nearly 6 million people have died of cancer and untold thousands more have died because the supposedly richest country in the world couldn't figure out a way to provide them the health care they needed to live. But we don't hold annual rituals of remembrance for those victims of 9/11, even though that's what they are, because with the untold trillions this country has wasted fighting two (now three) unnecessary wars, more police could have been hired, more medical research could have been done and the deaths of millions of uninsured citizens could have been prevented.

So, forgive me if I didn't join our country's collective lamentation about the events of 9/11, since I would rather mourn the lack of accountability of the people who let it happen, or the people who continue to be its victims, far-removed from where it happened though they may be.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Distant Nightmare, Closely Seen

Posted By on Sun, Sep 11, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Originally written September 11-12, 2001 and pubished in the Flyer of September 13, 2001.

DANA KEETON,THE SPOKESPERSON FOR the Department of Safety in Nashville, was on her way Tuesday morning to the Tennessee Tower, one of downtown Nashville’s looming monuments , for a Spanish class at the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute. She planned to go to work immediately afterward for what was expected to be an uneventful day.

Her language study was partly out of personal interest and partly a response to the complications that ensued from last year’s run on Department driver’s-license venues . Many of the applicants were Hispanic immigrants drawn by the temporary easing of various residence restrictions on the issuance of licenses.

“I just talked to so many Spanish-speaking people back then,” Keeton said. “I thought it would be useful to know the language.”

She was listening to the radio and, when she heard the first news broadcast of a plane hitting the first of the two World Trade Center towers in far-off New York, she had no reason to think it was anything but a freak accident. Then, about the time she reached the Tennessee Towers building and was about to park her car, she received a phone call from a colleague at the Department. “You’re starting to get some calls,” she was told.

Nevertheless, she went to class, but when the calls from workmates -- relayed messages from news media wanting to know about Tennessee’s emergency plans -- kept coming, she realized, “There was no point in trying to finish.” The full gravity of events -- which now included another kamikaze attack on the Pentagon near Washington -- was dawning on her, and, as her foreboding grew, she knew that she would spend the rest of the day, and perhaps much of the night, fielding the persistent questions of a needy state media. There would be no telling when she would get home that night.

Up in Lexington, Kentucky, meanwhile, where the Southern Governor's Conference had ended that morning (after a speech earlier in the week by Vice President Dick Cheney) Tennessee's governor Don Sundquist, his chief policy aide Justin Wilson, his main spokesperson Alexia Levison all were grounded and had to commandeer a car to get back to Nashville.

IT TOOK A WHILE FOR THE SENSE OF EMERGENCY to get around. Even though there had been a partial and temporary blockade of a portion of downtown Memphis by police -- for what purpose it was hard to say -- the men of Engine Co. No. 2, hard by the National Civil Rights Museum, , might have been doing what they were doing on any given day. It was some two hours after the first impact of the first hijacked airliner upon the first of the twin towers in New York and no more than thirty minutes after the collapse of both towers had occurred.

Three men in black regulation/casual T-shirts were busy washing a huge fire engine parked peacefully on the fire station’s broad concrete lot. A Fire department officer and an inspector stood nearby. “Business as usual,” one said. “Of course, I don’t think you’ll see any of us going out for groceries and heading off to do routine inspections of buildings. We’ve been told to stay close,..” But, despite the sawhorse obstacles that had blocked a street or two earlier, only blocks away, there had been no reported emergencies in the downtown area or anywhere else.

Inside two fire lieutenants -- Pat Pearl and Bill Shelton -- had sat down to a makeshift lunch. Both had seen the events of the morning on the firehouse TV


Pearl, a stout, mustachioed man, at first hazarded an observation that, huge as the circumstances in New York and Washington were, they amounted to little that he had not seen over and over again. “Keep in mind that death and destruction is something we see all the time in our work as firefighters,” he said.

He and Shelton began to speculate, more or less dispassionately, on the physics of the morning’s horrors -- explaining, for example, that the destruction of the upper portions of the two towers would have created enough dead weight to cause the ultimate total collapse of both buildings, without any need for further sabotage. “Hold your two fingers up,” he suggested, and was clearly about to undertake a physical demonstration. “I get the point,” I said.

But at some point -- probably about the time their speculation carried them into wondering how many firefighters had perished in the disasters -- affect crept into the voices of Pearl and Shelton, after all. After a spell of trying to talk about the New York rescue effort in terms of “stairwell logistics, if you will,” Pearl developed what sounded for all the world like a catch in his throat -- one that deepened when he was asked to estimate casualties.

Grimly, Shelton gave the final pronouncement. “There could be as many as 100,000 dead when they finally count ‘em all,” he said.

IN 1950, WHEN HE WAS STILL A TEENAGER, Jim Brown was a Marine private involved in the march northward of United Nations forces in Korea. He was on the Yalu River -- ready with his unit, as he remembers it, to make a leap north across the Yalu into China. That all changed when a huge Chinese invading force surrounded the Marines in North Korea and forced them to cut an escape route some hundred miles to safety in the dead of winter. “From November 27th, when the trap was sprung, until December 13th when I was on board a rescue ship eating pancakes, I had no meals at all,” Brown says. He went from 165 pounds to 90.

And, though his experience in Vietnam a decade and a half later never became quite so dire, Brown -- a master sergeant by then -- had a couple of narrow escapes there, too, at Da Nang and at Chu Lai.

All that was behind him, so he thought, at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, Memphis time, when the retired city schoolteacher --having suffered nothing worse in the intervening years than the rude treatment he got from some School Board colleagues and then from the voters who turned him out of office last year -- sat down at table for coffee. “Then my wife, who was watching television in the next room, yelled at me, ‘My gosh, a plane hit one of the World Trade towers!’ So I went in and was watching myself when we saw the second plane hit the second tower.”

Brown -- who, like many viewing these events from the supposed “cool” medium of television, was powerfully affected -- summed up his reactions later on. “My first impression was that they planted a bomb. What bothers me when I think about it is that they used our plane and our material to bomb us. That’s really scary and makes us realize how vulnerable we are.” And for Brown it was like that sniper-plagued three-week retreat through frozen Koreans hillsides or like the entirety of the Vietnam experience. “.Dealing with an enemy we can’t see and can’t understand!”

THE REV. BILL ADKINS NEVER THOUGHT TWICE when he became acquainted with the facts of Tuesday morning’s catastrophes in New York and Washington. Though his church, Greater Imani Baptist Church, has moved to Raleigh, in the very north of Memphis, in the last year, Adkins still lives in Whitehaven, in the city’s south, where Imani, until an intermediate move to Mditown some years ago, had originated.

But he decided early on to hold a prayer vigil and, after instructing his assistants to start preparing for it, headed north on a route that took him by Memphis International Airport.

It was there, at mid-morning Tuesday, that he saw a shocking sight -- planes, rows and rows of them, pulled up and parked. “And I don’t mean just on the apron,” he said, recalling the moment hours later. “I mean on the runways! I’ve never seen anything like that. It looked like a scene out of wartime!”

As Rev. Adkins noted, the planes -- all commercial airliners -- included many which did not service the city but were routed here once the Federal Aviation Authority had shut down all domestic flights Tuesday.

Once into his service, before several hundred people, Adkins chose to preach from Psalm 27, which contains the key words, “When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me they stumbled and fell./Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear, though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.”

During the service, Rev. Adkins said a fifteen-minute prayer, during which he asked the Lord to “send a mighty wind to New York City, to blow away the soot and dust,” to send “a breath of air” to clean the lungs and souls of the afflicted.

After the service, he stood in the outer lobby of his church and declared emphatically, “You have to respond. God says we do not have to suffer heathen attacks and heathen rage. There are times to fight, and this is one of those times!”

As Adkins explained, many, many of his congregation were members of military units or reservists and had already been called up to deal with the emergency that morning.

“We may be on the eve of World War Three,” Adkins said solemnly.

TODD COOPER, A 32-YEAR-OLD NATIVE MEMPHIAN whose early upbringing was in Memphis and Florida, has lived in New York for the last two years, working as an “event producer” from a high-rise home office in midtown Manhattan. His brother Trent, a record producer, phoned him about 9 o’clock EDT to tell him that a plane had slammed into one of the two World Trade towers (the “North tower,” as every coach potato learned very quickly to call it).

Inasmuch as Todd Cooper had a balcony window that had a clear line of vision to the downtown New York skyline, he put down the phone and stepped out onto it. It was from there, minutes later, as he looked at the smoldering tip of the North tower, at a distance of some two miles, that he saw, to his horror, its mate impacted by yet another airliner.

“I had complete visibility. It couldn’t have been a clearer day. I couldn’t feel it or really hear it, but I saw it perfectly,” Cooper said. And he watched stupefied as the subsequent events unfolded --the collapse of both towers, the incredible storm-like clouds of smoke which rolled from the destruction and filled the horizon, the sense -- even at that distance -- that the affected masses of humanity were helpless, as before some implausible and unexpected cosmic plague

.Or like something out of Hollywood. “It was like watching a movie,” Cooper said, hours later. “ I kept thinking of Deep Impact from two or three years ago, the one where a comet was aimed right at the Earth, and people were helpless to do anything about it.”

That sense of helplessness was as evident in Midtown, where Cooper -- whose stock-in-trade is arranging Super Bowl parties, awards ceremonies, and the like -- found his fellow New Yorkers wandering about aimlessly in a crippled, shut-down city, as it was from the more terrified versions of it seen on his TV set from the chaos in downtown.

“I’ll tell you, “ said Cooper (whose father Joe Cooper is a familiar figure in Memphis politics) “my business is big events, good times, parties. None of that seems very important right now.” He paused.” We need to pull together right now, show the world what we’re made of.” And paused again. “Our world will never be the same.”

THERE HAD BEEN REPORTS all day Tuesday that gasoline retailers here and there -- whether on their own or at the direction of their governing corporate enterprises was not made clear -- had raised their price-per-gallon to outrageous levels. The effect of such price-gouging was to victimize their already demoralized customers, whatever the rationale for it might have been, whether fear of a curtailed supply or greedy exploitation of a public somewhat inclined to panic.

But was it so? Late Tuesday night, I stopped in on a Union 76 Snack Shop around the corner from my residence in Raleigh.

One of the two attendants, who identified himself as Brian Jones, pointed out proudly that his station had kept its prices down to the previously prevailing rate. OH, there was gouging all right, over in Arkansas, or in Mississippi, or even in Cordova to the upstart suburban east, at all of which places the rate-per-gallon had allegedly climbed to as high as $4.00 a gallon.

“The boss did call today to ask what the guys across the street were charging. We always try to stay just behind them.” Jones said.

Across the street, at an Exxon station, the prices shown on the pumps had held stable as well, and they were, indeed, only a mite more than those of the Snack Shop: $1.399, $1.499, and $1.599 for the three basic grades, compared to the Union 76 station’s $1.379, $1.479, and $1.579. So far, so good .p>

HUNDREDS OF PASSENGERS -- MAYBE thousands -- and not all of them on flights that were destined for stopovers in Memphis in the first place were routed by the FAA to permanent stops at Memphis International Airport. So a relatively huge number of people became involuntary tourists in the Bluff City, and, whether assisted by their airlines or by local authorities or on their own they filled up the city’s hotels -- some 200 at the Ramada Inn on Brooks Road, very near the airport, for example, and 59 at the prestigious Peabody, some distance away in downtown Memphis

Two travelers who ended up at the famous downtown hostelry with its equally famous resident ducks were Peter McCabe and Ron Rothstein, two Chicago lawyers who had been on a Delta flight to Atlanta when their plane was directed by the FAA to land at Memphis and go no further.

McCabe and Rothstein had to cancel a noon meeting in Atlanta that might have, they implied, settled a case that seemed to be of some urgency. They sat in the lobby of The Peabody late Tuesday night, their bags packed, waiting until it was time to go down the street a bit to the Amtrack station, where they would board a 1 a.m. train back to Chicago, mission unaccomplished and perhaps even in ruins.

Rothstein shrugged. “These things are relative” McCabe explained that their Chicago flight had left at 8:10 a.m., at roughly the time that the second of New York’s twin towers had, unbeknownst to them, been slammed into. Theirs was the last flight allowed to leave O’Hair, and they learned in-light of what had been happening in the outside world.

“But we didn’t fully understand the enormity of it until we disembarked here in Memphis,” said Rothstein..

On top of everything else, there was a reported gas leak at The Peabody at 3 p.m. that forced the hotel’s temporary evacuation. So McCabe tried to make the most of things. He headed, as so many tourists had before him, toward the legendary home of Elvis Presley. “That’s the main thing I regret, that Graceland was closed.,” he said. “They shut it down at 4 p.m., and I never got in. But I did see the Lisa Marie [Elvis’ airplane], and that was really something.”

Things are relative, all right.

*EPILOGUE: Two years ago [1999] I spent a golden week in New York with my wife and two daughters, then aged 8 and 10 and fully deserving, as I saw it, of first-hand experience with some of the monuments of their great country. On the second or third day, we got to the top of the Empire State Building (or to the main observation deck, anyhow.). To our disappointment, there was such a fog that morning that literally nothing could be seen in any direction -- a flash here and there of what looked like river, or a momentary glimpse of a nearby building. But there was no chance of showing the girls the two great towers that were due south at the tip of Manhattan Island -- on top of one of which their parents had stood on a memorable day back in 1983..

We waited and waited, and the fog never lifted. So, after an hour or so, Linda, Julia, and Rose were all inside the gift shop trying to buy souvenirs --little miniature Empire State Buildings that had caught the girls’ eye.

It was then that, waiting outside with stiff-necked determination for the haze to clear, I caught a break. The two twin shapes in the distance began to materialize through the thick mist, even to gleam a bit, and I rushed inside to the gift shop and demanded that Linda and the girls come out and see.

Tell you the truth, Julia and Rose were probably annoyed at having their shopping interrupted But they came, and they saw. There was perhaps a ten-second window of opportunity before the vapors closed in on the buildings again, and they were gone -- for good, as it turned out, forever to remain in the unseen distance, dissolved in the mist of memory.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Six Familiar Faces in Race to Become Interim Successor to Mike Carpenter on County Commission

Posted By on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 at 12:48 PM

clockwise, from top left: Flinn, Stephens, Taylor, Willingham, Sammons, Loeffel
  • clockwise, from top left: Flinn, Stephens, Taylor, Willingham, Sammons, Loeffel

As Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter prepares to take his leave of the commission (and of Memphis) to become Tennessee state director of StudentsFirst, an educational think-tank in Nashville, there’s already a scramble on to become Carpenter’s interim replacement on the District 1, Position 3 commission seat.

District 1 straddles city and county lines and is a predominantly Republican voting area. Appropriately, then, the six known prospects as of the moment are all local Republicans well-known in both Memphis and its suburbs.

They are:

George Flinn, the eminent radiologist and broadcast magnate who vacated his own commission seat last year to run unsuccessfully for Congress in the 8th District;

John Willingham, another former commissioner, a local barbecue maven, and something of a perennial candidate in Memphis and Shelby County elections;

Marilyn Loeffel, yet another former commissioner, a former Commercial Appeal columnist, and mainstay of the socially conservative group F.L.A.R.E.;

Brian Stephens, a former member of the Shelby County Election Commission and a leading staffer for the pro-consolidation effort in last year’s city/county referendum on the issue of merging the Memphis and Shelby County governments;

Jack Sammons, a longtime former member of the Memphis City Council who served a stint as city CAO during the interim mayoralty of Myron Lowery in 2009;

Brent Taylor, another former City Councilman who was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in the 7th District in 2002.

Of these six, the most active in soliciting votes from members of the Commission, who will select the interim appointee sometime in October, is Flinn, who was very much in evidence in the County Building this week pressing the flesh with commissioners and, for that matter, with members of the audience during the commission’s interviews Wednesday with prospective members of the soon-to-be all-county School Boad.

The other mentioned hopefuls have also made pitches to commission members in one form or another — with the possible exception of Sammons, who has largely been boosted by his backers.

Word from members of the Commission is that applicants for the interim post may not be asked, as hopeful for interim positions have been in the past, to promise not to run for the fulltime position in August 2012.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bartlett Mayor McDonald Among Prospects for Norris-Todd Planning Commission

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 6:57 AM

UPDATE: Responding to a surprise protest from member Diane George that he might have done an end run around the state’s Open Meetings Law in announcing ten top scorers from among 19 nominations by Board members for membership on the Norris-Todd Planning Commission, chairman David Pickler on Thursday obliged her by calling for a revote from scratch.

Sentiment on the Board was clearly with Pickler rather than with George (several members maintaining that their roles were purely advisory and that Pickler had authority under Norris-Todd to make the appointments on his own), but at the chairman’s insistence, the revote was held.

After the votes were tallied, the five SCS members to the 21-member Planning Commission were named: They were (in order of votes received) Ricky Jeans, a parent and member of the SCS “Hall of Fame;” Richard Holden, former SCS operations chief¸and Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald (tied for second); former SCS adminisrrator Katie Stanton; and former Shelby County Commissioner Tommy Hart.

Board members react to George’s protest.


Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald
  • Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald

In a significant break with the pattern established by previous groups’ nominations to the Norris-Todd Planning Commission, which have run substantially to educationists per se, the ten finalists being considered by the Shelby County Schools Board are heavily political.

The list, from whom five nominees were scheduled to be selected at a noon Thursday meeting of the SCS Board includes several current and former public officials.

The most surprising name — at least to one critic of the list, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy — is that of Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, who is in avowed pursuit of a special school district for his city when merger between SCS and Memphis City Schools is completed on September 1, 2013.

“That seems to me to violate the spirit of Norris-Todd, which is intended to facilitate merger, not fragmentation,” said Mulroy.

Besides McDonald, others on the finaiists’ list are: former Shelby County Commissioner Tommy Hart; former SCS operations supervisor Richard Holden; Ricky Jeans; Jeff Norris; Chris Price; former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout; Katie Stanton; Kay Williams; and former Shelby County Republican chairman Lang Wiseman.

Mulroy, who did not disclose how he came by the finalists’ names, also questioned what he called a “lack of public input” in making the nominations.

At a meeting of the SCS Board last week, chairman David Pickler had asked each Board member to submit names of prospective nominees. The finalists’ list of ten was apparently distilled from the Board members’ contributions.

When the SCS Board makes its selection of five Planning Commission members from the finalists’ list at the Thursday noon meeting, only the member to be designated by state Senate Speaker and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey will be lacking.

Previous nominations have come from the MCS Board, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, state House Speaker Beth Harwell, and Governor Bill Haslam.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mike Carpenter Resigns County Commission to Head Education Group

Posted By on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 7:31 PM

After a tenure characterized by years of both controversy and achievement, Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter has resigned his position on the commission and will be moving to Naashville to become state director of the StudentsFirst, a non-profit ad hoc organization devoted to educational reform.

Carpenter, a Republican with notable independence from the party line, disclosed his intentions in a letter Tuesday to commission chairman Sidney Chism, the man whom he had expected to succeed this year. Carpenter had spent the past year as vice chair, and the tradition had been that the vice chair of one party succeeded the chairman of another at the beginning of each new fiscal year.

Democrat Chism, however, decided that he wanted to serve as chair for a second consecutive year and was able to do so by means of votes from both Democratic colleagues and Republicans who felt estranged from Carpenter because of his independent tendencies.

First elected in 2006 and handily reelected in 2010 over a well-financed Republican opponent supported by his party adversaries, Carpenter had immersed himself in numerous committee tasks, especially those which concerned education and fiscal reform. He had most recently been serving as chairman of the commission’s budget and finance committee.

After the election of then Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton as Mayor of Memphis in 2009, Carpenter served on Wharton’s transition committee and was considered for some time to be a strong contender for the job of CAO in the Wharton administration.

Carpenter, a resident of Cordova, had been employed for several years as President of the West Tennessee Chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors, a post which he presumably will be vacating.

Following is the statement released by Carpenter on Tuesday about his new plans;

Carpenter to Join StudentsFirst as Tennessee State Director
-A Statement from Mike Carpenter-

(Memphis) “Today, I am announcing that I am resigning from the County Commission effective October 1st to join StudentsFirst as Tennessee state director and relocating to the Nashville area. StudentsFirst is a non-partisan, not-for-profit founded and led by former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, to respond to the growing demand for a better education system in America.”

“During my time on the County Commission, I have advocated for children and families and believe that with the support of my colleagues, we have improved the lives of Memphis and Shelby County children. This new role is a natural extension of that work, because it will allow me to be an advocate for the kind of educational reform that can transform the lives of children throughout Tennessee for generations to come.”

“I have been inspired by the work of Students First in building a strong grass roots organization of parents, teachers and elected officials in Tennessee and the significant role the organization played in championing many of the education reforms passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this year. For too long in our state and our nation, the education system has pitted the interests of adults against the best interests of children. I am honored to have the opportunity to be a part of a movement that seeks to put children above all else.”

“I want to thank my colleagues on the Commission and Mayors Wharton and Luttrell for their leadership and willingness to collaborate with me for the good of our community. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to my supporters, neighbors and constituents in District 1 for entrusting me with the immense responsibility of representing them.”


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