Sunday, September 30, 2012

City/County Officials to Announce Joint Endorsement of Sales Tax Referendum

Posted By on Sun, Sep 30, 2012 at 3:51 PM

from top left, clockwise: Wharton, Flinn, Robinson, Ritz
  • from top left, clockwise: Wharton, Flinn, Robinson, Ritz
[UPDATE: See report on Monday press conference.]

As the Flyer reported two weeks ago, conversations between Shelby County and Memphis city officials were being conducted concerning the prospect of a joint endorsement of the county sales-tax referendum on the November 6 ballot.

Those talks have now borne fruit. As a Sunday news release from the Carter Malone Group states:

"Elected officials in support of the upcoming half-cent sales tax referendum will hold a news conference on Monday, October 1, 2012 at 11 a.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building. Participants will include Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz, City Councilman Shea Flinn and Shelby County Unified School Board Member Patrice Robinson.

"On August 13, the Shelby County Commission approved a half-cent sales tax that voters in Memphis, Millington and unincorporated Shelby County would need to approve by way of a referendum on the November 6th ballot. This revenue will help fund education for all students in Shelby County when city and county schools merge in 2013…."

When Ritz, who has since become Commission chairman, first proposed the county's version of a sales tax, Wharton and Flinn were among several city officials who objected, on grounds that the new ballot initiative would supercede a city sales tax referendum that had already been scheduled for the November 6 ballot. Receipts from the city's version of the tax could have been allocated at the city's discretion, while half of all funds from the county sales tax, if approved, must be distributed to the public schools countywide.

Ritz and other county officials undertook to convince city representatives that their second-best option was to see the county sales tax passed, and, after the Commission overrode a veto of its referendum initiative by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, the city/county efforts to reach an understanding began.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ryan, in Memphis, Concludes Good Fundraising Day for GOP Ticket

Veep candidate greets local Republicans at Racquet Club, Smith dinner at rates ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 per person.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 9:10 PM

Ryan, the Man of the Hour, at the Racquet Club
  • Mark Puckett
  • Ryan, the Man of the Hour, at the Racquet Club

Paul Ryan came, saw, and picked up some loot in Memphis on Thursday for the Romney-Ryan ticket. His local time began with a brief but well-attended soiree (at $1,000 per person) at The Racquet Club and continued with a premium-priced dinner ($25,000 a head) at the home of FedEx founder Fred Smith. The dinner was reportedly co-hosted by Governor Bill Haslam.

Among the attendees at the earlier event were two local congressmen (Stephen Fincher of the 8th District, which has been reapportioned to include portions of East Memphis, including the Racquet Club site; and Marsha Blackburn of the 7th District) and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, all of whom spoke just before Ryan himself.

Numerous local officials and rank and file Republicans (who had the opportunity to pose for pictures with the GOP veep candidate for a mere $10,000) were also in the audience.

"It's an honor to be here,” Ryan, the Republican candidate for vice president as Mitt Romney’s running mate, told those present. “You have great leaders here, you have a great state and this is a great country. We know what we need to do. We know how to pull it together and with your help here today it helps us to make it so. We're going to give the country this choice. This country knows we don't want four more years of the same. THey want to get back to growth and opportunity and we're going to do that."

In the manner of most candidates who happen to be running on a presidential ticket, Ryan saw this year’s as “the most important election” in a generation. He told those present at the event, “We are picking a path that will set in motion either a reclamation of the American dream” or one that could result in a “welfare state with a debt crisis” like several countries in present-day Europe.

Ryan warned, in fact, that America will inevitably be heading in the same direction as Europe if it doesn’t get control of government spending. He said one of his goals was to see the revival of manufacturing in this country.

Another goal he embraced was that of “attacking the root cause of poverty.” By all accounts, the Romney-Ryan campaign fund was far from being impoverished at the start of events Thursday, and, after raising a reported $1 million in Knoxville from fundraising events earlier in the day to go with the expected good receipts in Memphis, it clearly was in no danger of insolvency.

Most attendees at the Racquet Club event said they were both impressed and inspired by
Ryan. Their estimates of how well the ticket as a whole was doing and of its chances for prevailing this year varied from person to person, however.

(This article contains information from a pool report by Samantha Bryson of The Commercial Appeal.)

Among the attendees at Ryans Racquet Club event were Mary Jane Anderson, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, and Mark Puckett
  • JB
  • Among the attendees at Ryan's Racquet Club event were Mary Jane Anderson, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, and Mark Puckett

Who Won in This Showdown?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 at 8:58 AM

roland_griz.jpg
One side included the likes of outspoken Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland; the other was the proposed new ownership of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. So how'd that come out? This week's Flyer editorial looks in on it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Flinn Press Release Attacks Cohen on FAA Grant, Foreshadowing a Long and Gritty Ground Game

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 12:06 AM

Cohen (l) and Flinn
  • Cohen (l) and Flinn
Most observers see Republican George Flinn’s attempt to unseat incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen in Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District to be the longest of long shots, notwithstanding the fact that Flinn, a wealthy radiologist and broadcast magnate, is in the habit of spending millions in the political races he has so far undertaken.

Even after a Republican-controlled redistricting process that transferred a large hunk of East Memphis to the 8th District, trading it in effect for a vast terrain including Cordova and northern Shelby County, the 9th District remains predominantly Democratic, with a two-thirds black majority and a population with demonstrably Democratic voting habits overall.

Third-termer Cohen, moreover, has a decent war chest of his own, in the neighborhood of a million dollars, and he is fresh from a 9 to 1 victory over a name black opponent in this year’s Democratic primary.

But apparently Flinn, a former Shelby County Commissioner who has so far been unsuccessful in other races (for Shelby County mayor, for Memphis City Council, and for an 8th District congressional seat) intends to contest the election across a fairly broad front.

Besides the TV spots and yard signs that have begun to proliferate advertising Flinn’s name (as “Dr. Flinn”) and a selectively rosy projection of his persona, the battle will apparently be fought ditch by ditch, detail by detail, and issue by issue.

That would seem to be the lesson of a press release issued Monday by the Flinn campaign in an effort to counter the congressman’s press conference and subsequent press release on Monday touting a $31.8 million grant from the Federal Aviation Authority “to be used for runway safety, pavement and security projects at Memphis International Airport.”

Cohen, a member of a House aviation subcommittee, joined Airport Authority president Larry Cox and other officials at a ceremony announcing the grant.

The Flinn campaign answered with its own press release later in the day, this one noting that the funds were provided through the auspices of the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, which, said the Flinn release, was “part of $3.35 billion in funding that was part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill (HR 658),” a bill signed into law by President Obama earlier this year.

But, said the Flinn release, Cohen had voted against the FAA Reauthorization Bill, both in the original House consideration of the measure in 2011 and in the form of a conference report (a final version agreed on by the House and Senate) this year.

Further, said the release, “[t]he Flinn Campaign has also learned that none of the other members of the TN Congressional Delegation from the Memphis metropolitan area, all of whom actually voted for the grant funds, were invited to the press conference….Steve Cohen had a chance to show unity with the delegation representing Memphis, Shelby County, and surrounding areas, but instead chose to stand alone and lay claim to their work and their votes.”

The Congressional Record shows that the bill passed the House in April 2011 on a strict party-line basis by a margin of 223 to 196, with only two Democrats voting for it, presumably because the bill contained controversial provisions imposing new restrictions on unions.

In February of this year, a House-Senate Conference version of the bill passed 248-169 and garnered 24 votes from House Democrats, one of whom was Jim Cooper of Tennessee’s 5th District (Nashville), the only other Tennessee Democrat in the House besides Cohen. Like Cohen, Cooper had voted no in April 2011.

The bill was subsequently signed into law by President Obama, who had also opposed its labor provisions but apparently accepted the Conference Report as the best version available and one that might help stimulate job growth.

As the Flinn press release acknowledges, Cohen had attached language to an early version of the bill that was designed to spur development of an “aerotropolis transportation system” at Memphis International Airport.

Asked to comment on the Flinn campaign’s press release, Cohen noted a misspelling and a grammatical lapse in it and called it “obviously amateurish.” Beyond that, he said his appearance at the morning grant announcement was dictated by the fact that the Airport was in his district and that he was pleased for obvious reasons by the grant.

In his own press release earlier, Cohen had termed the grant “a great accomplishment for the Memphis International Airport,”and said, “ These new federal funds will help ensure that the Airport can continue its long history as our nation’s premier cargo airport.”

He noted later that he had not claimed credit for the bill, although he also said he had voted for “22 of the previous 23 extensions” of the FAA before this year’s long-delayed reauthorization bill and the improvements involved in the grant announced on Monday may have been contained or anticipated in those versions.

Cohen also acknowledged that, as the Flinn press release had said, he had originally been a co-sponsor of the FAA reauthorization bill. “It was not originally a labor-bashing bill, but it became that way, and I ended up opposing it,” he said.

The congressman said there had been “three kids” at Monday morning’s announcement ceremony, evidently from the Flinn campaign, and that one of them had also attended a rally of his on the last day of the recent Democratic convention which he called to watch President Obama’s acceptance speech.

“I guess they’re going to be with me from now on out,” Cohen said.

And he could be right about that.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Shark, and How to Jump It: Mitt Romney’s campaign looks like chum in the water

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 10:06 AM

LastMitt.png

Does anybody use the expression “Jump the Shark” anymore? The pop-idiom refers to a 1977 episode of the TV show Happy Days where Fonzie, a tough character with a heart of gold, literally dons a pair of water skis and jumps a shark. The saying is used to describe any evolutionary moment when someone or something — a Republican presidential candidate for example— finally loses touch with the qualities that have defined past success and shifts irretrievably from viability into ridiculousness.

From sea to shining shark-filled sea Democrats are surging, due in part to the release of a video clip that documents Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney describing half of America as parasites who pay no Federal income tax. A new Pew poll shows President Obama with an 8-point lead over Romney who, at this point, might as well be wearing swim trunks and a black leather jacket.

There’s been a lot of chatter as to why the Romney Sex Tape ™ (a voyeuristic fantasy for people who love artificial boobs) has been so incredibly damaging. All of that commentary can be summed up with a single YouTube link. But why stop there?

$50,000 is hefty price to pay for a midday meal. And that was the per-plate cost to attend the now infamous fundraiser where Romney wrote off 47% of the American electorate. That’s almost double the money average Americans earn in a year and nobody who puts in 40+ hours a week wants to be told that they're what's wrong with America, even if they have to live with the shame of only making half of what a single Romney donor shells out for lunch. From a purely populist standpoint it’s probably the most singly damaging thing a viable candidate has said since Barry Goldwater imagined the entire Eastern Seaboard floating out to sea.

By moving beyond traditional identity politics at a time when the demographically-challenged GOP needs all the angry white guys it can get Romney openly disrespected elderly voters and insulted our combat troops. He also became the GOP’s most toxic asset for reasons that may not be obvious at first glance.

Although the Earned Income Tax Credit was originally championed by a pair of Democrats, a big Federal tax exemption for poor people is one of the best things that ever happened to the Republican Party. The original bill, passed in 1975 under Gerald Ford, was broadly liberalized in 1986 by Ronald Reagan who described the EITC as the best anti-welfare, pro-family, pro-job-creation bill to come out of congress. Why was this government giveaway so awesome you might ask? Because it was a pro-business welfare-to-work initiative that subsidized cheap labor and provided the working poor with more money to give back to their bosses. That’s the economics behind the EITC, the political implications cut in a completely different direction. These same tax cuts implemented to move poor people from direct-pay welfare to low-income work also gave Republicans a new metric to measure the shiftlessness of poor people who take, and take, and take, and don’t give anything back. A friend — to give credit where due— has described the political nature of the EITC as “a permanent resentment machine” — a clean, renewable fuel source for class warfare. The trick, of course, has always been to play the numbers selectively to create conflict between different sets of low-income-earners, not to give them common cause.

By using such a large number — 47%— Romney exposed the not-so-progressive underpinnings of a progressive tax code and wrecked the “Welfare Queen” illusion that’s been a staple of Republican politics since Reagan coined the term in his campaign against Jimmy Carter. In a single perfectly disastrous line Romney insulted half the country, stuck a knife in the Reaganomic heart of modern Conservatism, and forced Americans who, at this point in a Presidential election would normally be quibbling over guns, gods, and gays, to wonder en mass who the real parasites might be. At a time when Wall Street bonuses remain high, wages remain stagnant, jobs are scarce, and income inequality is the highest it's been 45 years it's not a tough call.

In political terms we’re a long way from November 6. Just about anything could happen between now and election day. But, unlike the shark-jumping Fonz, Mitt Romney failed to clear his obstacle. And there’s blood water.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dogs, Ponies, and a Shelved Initiative: The Sexual Orientation Vote for Dummies

How administration pressure and attorneys’ advice combined to force a delay — and a possible, but not inevitable, defeat for an anti-discrimination proposal down the line. (REVISED AND EXTENDED)

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:12 PM

The oft-used term “dog and pony show” has never been precisely defined, but it usually betokens some kind of staged sham event that is ballooned all out of proportion to its reality content. It’s a case of “you know one when you see one.”

By the time it was over on Tuesday, the City Council’s hearing on a non-discrimination ordinance, which may have begun as something real, had taken on many of the appearances of a dog and pony show.

For a whole week, at minimum, and in most cases for much, much longer, everybody who crammed into the cavernous auditorium at City Hall on Tuesday was aware that a showdown was pending on the issue of including Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexual, and transgendered people within the text of a non-discrimination ordinance that was about to get its third and final reading.

The prospect of such an amendment, which Councilman Lee Harris had made it clear he would introduce if he could amass enough votes (7 members of the 13-member Council) to pass it, was the very reason why a large group of opponents, headed by the Rev. Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist, had come to the auditorium, it was the reason why an even larger number of members and supporters of the Tennessee Equality Project, headed by Jonathan Cole, were there, and it was certainly why the media, which had been writing and broadcasting about it for days, were there in droves.

But Council members themselves, both pro and con, felt compelled — whether motivated by Roberts’ Rules or by the Stanislavsky Method — to pretend that no such issue was at hand, even as audience member Gaines came to the well to deliver his philippic against the amendment.

No sooner had he launched than he was interrupted by a colloquy between Council chairman Bill Morrison and personnel committee chair Harold Collins, the thrust of which was that no amendment regarding sexual orientation had been introduced and thus Gaines or anyone else choosing to speak on it would be out of order.

Technically, this was so, and as an instance of forthrightness, it certainly trumped later protestations from the likes of Councilman Bill Boyd and a pair of attorneys, Allan Wade representing the Council, and City Attorney Herman Morris for the administration — all of whom would imply or straight-facedly declare at strategic points that the emergence of the sexual orientation matter or issues concerning it on Tuesday had been a complete surprise to them.

On cue, Harris would declare that he did indeed have an amendment on sexual orientation, which he introduced with some appropriately pointed rhetoric, casting the issue as one of “tolerance and inclusion,” as the kind of workplace protection that other Tennessee cities and even so conservative a place as Salt Lake City had already adopted, something so mundane and overdue as to be “the bread crumbs of a civil rights struggle:

He continued in that vein:



Between Harris’ pronouncement and that of Gaines came a brief interrogatory by Council member Wanda Halbert, whose vote was considered one of the unknown quantities on the issue.

For the first of two crucial times on this day, Halbert served as a kind of Greek chorus within the developing drama.

Her question, posed as that of a mere information-seeker, served the purpose of clarifying that the language of Harris’ amendment had been softened. “Sexual orientation” is all it added to his previous listing of national origin, age, disability, and ethnicity — a fact that would later prompt TEP’s Cole to lament the omissions of specific categories

Then came the turn of Gaines, who in the course of six minutes cast himself as a believer in civil rights and in the fact that homosexuals were as “precious” to the Almighty as straights but quoted the Bible as his witness to the fact that homosexuality was “wrong” and suggested that the true purpose of the amendment was to advance some unspecified larger homosexual agenda.


After that spokespersons for the two sides would present competing versions of righteousness to salvoes of applause from their respective support galleries. It became progressively obvious that various members of the Council whose constituencies, present or imagined future tense, contained large populations on both sides of the issue would themselves be conflicted.

At some point after much oratory had been heard in both directions, Janis Fullilove, who, with Shea Flinn, had been one of the earliest Council supporters of workplace protection for gays, made the point that current federal protections against discrimination seem not to apply to issues of sexual orientation, a lynchpin of the argument that the specific language of Harris’ amendment was needed.

But shortly it was time again for an intervention from the Chorus. Enter Halbert, who had a new question, one that would turn the tenor of the debate around so decisively as to seem scripted. What had the City Charter to say on the question at hand?, she wondered of both Council attorney Allan Wade and City Attorney Herman Morris.

A parenthesis: Unbeknownst to most observers but suspected by some (notably Cole of the TEP, who would voice suspicions afterward) the city administration of Mayor A C Wharton was by this time actively attempting to shape developments. According to a source in a position to know, the Mayor had become concerned that action by the Council on the anti-discrimination ordinance might set a precedent for expansion of the Council’s authority in other areas of the city agenda and tilt the balance of power.

Indeed, said the source, Councilman Jim Strickland, who already had his concerns about the divisive aspects of the controversy, was also wondering if a completed Council action would extend the Council’s authority. Upon his first election in 2007, he had studied the Charter, concluded that too much power had been needlessly waived by the city’s legislative body, and, in an op-ed for the Flyer, had made the case for reclaiming it. Like Wharton, but from an opposite viewpoint, he may well have seen the prospect of dislocations in the proposed amendment, but also opportunity.

Anyone going to the Council’s website to review Tuesday’s meeting there will notice that, at the moment that Agenda Item #17 (the anti-discrimination matter) came under discussion, Strickland went, for whatever reason, to huddle briefly with Wade — a conversation that was unrelated, he insists, to any of the bombshells that would come later on from the Council attorney. And there is no reason to doubt his commitment to Harris' amendment.

Between that early point in proceedings and Halbert's asking her question a memorandum had been circulating amongst the Council members. It was on the basis of this memorandum, which came from City Attorney Morris, that Wade now delivered a somewhat roundabout response to Halbert’s question, the kernel of which was: To add the language that Harris wanted might require more than an ordinance, it could indeed transcend the currently active non-discrimination language and depart from legal precedent to the point that it needed an amendment to the charter itself.

And that meant one thing: a referendum, which brought with it the certainty of delay and the possibility, maybe even the likelihood, of rejection.

In his turn, Morris the author of this view, would also be summoned, and he reinforced it strongly. Either the proposed sexual-orientation amendment would violate the charter or it would have no effect at all.

There was an apparent disingenuousness about both these attorneys’ presentations that was breathtaking. Each of them averred that he had not so advised the Council previously because he had not been asked to (a contention which, in itself, is reminiscent of a vintage Abbot-and-Costello routine: “Why didn’t you tell me about that bomb behind me about to go off?” “Because you didn’t ask me!”). Each professed not to have even thought about the issue of the amendment’s legality until he was asked about it that day.

Yet Cole would say that he and other TEP members had reviewed — and cleared — serial drafts of a sexual-orientation amendment with the City Attorney’s office. And various Council members would say that they had been discussing aspects of the pending legislation with Wade for weeks. “Yes,” Wade would acknowledge when asked about that, “but all of that was about procedural matters; they never asked me to rule on its legality.” Abbott-and-Costello, again. The Council attorney's defenders say, however, he had been genuinely blindsided by the argument in Morris' memo, which cited selected portions of the city charter.

There is good reason to believe in any case, that both lawyers were well aware of the Mayor’s attitude by this time.

Although Halbert, in her brief colloquy with Wade, had chided him for not having apprised the Council of this opinion well in advance of the current controversy, she in truth seemed more relieved than vexed by his answer. Indeed, it was obvious to everyone almost immediately that it was now possible for any Council member who was tempted both ways on the anti-discrimination issue to have it both ways: Vote for the amendment, and then vote for the delay -- which entailed the prospect of a referendum.

The idea of proceeding that way was too equivocal for some. Myron Lowery, for one, was virtually Churchillian in resistance. He wanted, above all, to preserve the prerogatives of the Council and to decide the issue one way or the other then, without further delay. Let any legal testing proceed from the standpoint of a fait accompli.

Along the way, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy had weighed in as a lawyer with a view antithetical to those of Wade and Morris. Not only were the city charter’s existing strictures on discrimination a floor and not a ceiling, any suit (for the specter of litigation had been invoked by the two official attorneys) would be dismissed for lack of standing unless it came from the administration itself.

Mulroy taking his turn
  • JB
  • Mulroy taking his turn

But caution would prevail.

The proposal, when it came, was for a 30-day delay, during which the exact legalities of the case could be further researched, and it came from Shea Flinn, who has always been in the vanguard of initiatives to protect gays, and it seemed clear that his motive was the straightforward one of encasing the amendment in a formal structure so as to preserve it for action later on.

Before that vote, though, was the key one in favor of adding Harris’ “sexual orientation” language.

Seven members voted aye — Harris, Flinn, Fullilove, Lowery, Strickland, Ed Ford, and (surprise!) Reid Hedgepeth. The first four of these were slam dunks, Strickland had been (and remained) ambivalent, as had Ford, whose voice vote on roll call was muted and next to unintelligible. Hedgepeth was a late flip, a conservative convert to the cause, a fact that is guaranteed to enamor one to activists on the other side and did so in this case.

Hedgepeth would later put out an all-points email calling the amendment “the right thing to do” and citing his conscience, the New Testament, and Fred Smith as authorities for his vote — the decisive one, as it turned out. (And very likely the decisive one for a future resurrection of the ordinance; Hedgepeth does in fact represent the conservative, business side of the community, and his vote may very well indicate a seismic shift in sentiment there.)

Halbert, who had clearly been a case study in conflictedness, chose not to vote.

The five nays were Boyd, Collins, Morrison, Joe Brown, and Kemp Conrad.

Just as important, of course, was the vote in favor of a 30-day delay. Tellingly, the nine-member majority in favor of it included all of those who had voted against the amendment itself, plus Flinn, Ford, Halbert, and Strickland. Fullilove, Harris, and Lowery voted no, and Hedgepeth abstained.

The bottom line of the outcome was that the sexual orientation proposal was laid on the shelf. An even bottomer line is that, if it is slated for a referendum, an expensive, contentious one that most likely would multiply and magnify the divisions evident during council debate on the issue, the proposal will most likely fail.

It should be said that Flinn, whose exertions on behalf of a non-discrimination ordinance are of long standing, believes strongly that the 30-day delay and the concomitant legal research will work in the opposite direction, to disallow the need for a referendum and allow instead for a successful revival of the ordinance.

Should, however, the whole thing merely remain out of sight, out of mind for the foreseeable future, that would probably suit the city administration just fine.

Nothing happens by accident, and Tuesday’s outcome didn’t, either.

Holden on Probation as Election Commission Addresses Glitch Issues

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 9:22 AM

Rich Holden
  • Rich Holden
Quietly, with no fanfare, the five-member board of the Shelby County Election Commission has taken internal disciplinary action in the wake of a year-long series of glitches, which culminated in the troubling revelation that more than 3000 ballots issued for the August 2 countywide election cycle were found to be have improperly marched district races with precinct locations.

The Flyer has learned that the Commission board had, by unanimous decision, imposed a three-day suspension on SCEC administrator Rich Holden and put Holden on a six-month period of probation going forward.

“Rich is accountable as the administrator,” said one Commission member, who made it clear, however, that board members believed that staff issues involving some of the civil servants who work for the Commission were at the root of the problems that have dogged the Commission all year long. “If changes need to be made, we’ll go through the procedures necessary to make them,” said the Commissioner.

The bungled ballot matter has largely been attributed to a decision to hold off on completing redistricting for the August election pending resolution of a long-running redistricting stalemate on the Shelby County Commission (a body not due to hold new elections until 2014). Other problems have included the release of a misleading monthly update report that at first seemed to have erased the voter histories of several hundred Memphians in the inner city and a tabulation of the county’s official voter list that confused the distinction between active and eligible voters.

As part of a new monitoring process, staff performances and the work of specific divisions will be re-evaluated and periodically reviewed according to checkpoints jointly arrived at by Holden and board members.

Lawyer Robert Meyers, one of three Republicans on the five-member board and the board’s chairman, confirmed the disciplinary actions and the new arrangement at the conclusion of a lengthy regular work session at the Commission’s Shelby Farms offices on Wednesday.

Relations between Commissioners and Holden were business-like but cordial as the board reviewed several pending matters, including the fact that some 12,000 people who had registered to vote since the August 2 election had not yet received their voter cards and would not, said Holden, until the final resolution of redistricting issues, expected late this week or early next week.

Holden’s staff is currently getting assistance from the University of Memphis and the state Election Coordinator’s office in addressing the redistricting, and Meyers said he thought things were progressing in a timely manner.

The deadline for new voter registration for the November 6 election is October 8, and early voting will begin on October 17.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jerry the King Lawler: Back in Town and Looking Good

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 11:47 PM

Two stout dudes in Jerry Lawlers garage on Wednesday
  • JB
  • Two stout dudes in Jerry Lawler's garage on Wednesday

Scarcely a week after suffering a dramatic heart attack on live TV in far-off Canada and being reported in the first news flashes as being in critical condition, wrestler/announcer/icon Jerry Lawler put on a show Wednesday in his East Memphis garage merely by being there.

Lawler, who is recuperating in Memphis and may be out of action for an indeterminate period, attracted a gaggle of local media people to a called press conference, where he discussed, not a forthcoming WWE showdown with some ominous masked marauder, but the life-and-death encounter he’d just had with that ubiquitous and fearful entity known as The Reaper.

It has to be said that Jerry the King, who was accompanied at the event by his girl friend Lauryn McBride, looked to be in the pink, though he may have been a mite more subdued than usual as he talked about a sequence of events that many of his listeners had seen newsclips of but that he himself does not remember.

One widely seen clip showed Lawler delivering a dropkick to an opponent in a tag team match in a Montreal arena; another displayed Lawler later on sitting at his ringside desk discussing a match in progress with announcing sidekick Michael Cole. Up to that point it was a typical installment of “Monday Night Raw,” one of the most watched syndicated shows on television.

Lawler appeared to be experiencing some degree of discomfort in both videos, and it was not long after the second one that he collapsed and fell to the floor. He was given CPR on the spot and rushed to a nearby hospital, quickly enough to get the emergency medical attention that presumably saved his life. He was diagnosed as having had a bona fide cardiac event — a heart attack.

All of this Lawler learned much later. What he does remember about last Monday night: “I didn’t feel anything. I felt perfectly fine the whole day. I was prepared to do our live television show. I remember the first couple of segments of the show, and at one point I don’t remember anything….The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”

(A footnote: After Lawler’s collapse, and even during the period of his being loaded on a gurney and taken to the hospital, the TV broadcast continued to show the staged mayhem in the ring. “Oh yeah, the show must go on. That’s the way it is.”)

It was a matter, Lawler said, of “two little arteries” at the base of the heart. Both were clogged, but “one just needed a stint and the other a balloon opening.” The damage was “minimal,” and “The doctor told me yesterday that he doesn’t see why I shouldn’t have a complete recovery.”

And “complete” means that Lawler hopes to go back into the ring. “And I would definitely go back into commentary.”

The whole problem, Jerry says, was “too much cholesterol,” and the remedy is three-fold: Six months or a year’s worth of the blood clot-dissolving medication Plavix now, a change in diet, and “more exercise.”

What? He doesn’t get enough exercise throwing somebody around a ring and being thrown!?

“Well, the longest match now is about 15 minutes. Two bouts a week is not enough.”

What Jerry the King seems to worry about as much as anything else is the touch of arthritis he has in his right hand, just enough to partially immobilize his thumb. “And that’s my drawing hand,” says Lawler, a talented sketcher, probably good enough to make a living as a commercial artist. “That’s my fallback position,” he says.

(Arguably, one of two fallback positions: Lawler has twice been a candidate for Memphis mayor, and he likes to note that in 1999 he finished third in a 12-person race.)

A little shot of cortisone is usually enough to take care of the thumb problem. Ask him about the wrestling issue a year from now. Or, if things go as well as he thinks they will, just be prepared to tune him in on “Monday Night Raw.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shea Flinn: ’48 Hours’ Could Tell Tale on City/County Tax Accord

Counciman confirms "discussions" have taken place but warns against presumption of "done deal."

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 2:59 PM

Shea Flinn
  • Shea Flinn
Sometime this week, representatives of city and county government could announce an unofficial accord of sorts in support of the county-sponsored half-cent sales tax increase on the November 6 ballot.

That’s the word from City Councilman Shea Flinn, whose own version of ballot initiative on a half-cent tax hike, confined to City of Memphis voters, was rendered moot by the county proposal from new Commission chairman Mike Ritz. The county tax, if approved and imposed, would also supersede previous sales-tax votes by suburban municipalities to support new municipal school districts.

Ritz’s proposal, adopted by a Commission majority, later earned the eight votes necessary to override a veto by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Both Flinn and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton had lobbied Commission members hard to sustain Luttrell’s veto, but since the override have been involved in discussions with Commission members to see if an accord on the county tax proposal could be reached.

Ritz and such other Commission proponents of the county tax initiative as Steve Mulroy have argued that it is in the City’s interest to support the county ballot proposal, which would net substantial tax proceeds for city budgetary needs after the allocation of half of the tax revenues for school-funding purposes countywide.

As Ritz had done previously (on last weekend's installment of the WKNO program "Behind the Headlines"), Flinn confirmed that city/county discussions on the matter were ongoing, but the councilman cautioned that an accord was “anything but a done deal” and might not come off. In any case, he said, the degree of it remained undetermined, and any cooperative understanding would not include the whole Council nor involve any kind of official action by that body or by city government as such.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Joe Cooper Considering Yet Another Run for Public Office

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 1:03 AM

Joe Cooper
  • JB
  • Joe Cooper
I am not making this up: Joe Cooper — yes, that Joe Cooper, the former county squire, perennial candidate, and twice-convicted felon — is considering running in 2014 for the District 5 seat on the Shelby County Commission now held by Steve Mulroy.

Cooper was defeated for the position in the 2006 Democratic primary by Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor who is prohibited from running again in 2014 by county charter prohibitions limiting a commissioner to two terms in office.

“I think people are tired of all the commotion and crazy stuff on the commission,” says Cooper, who believes that he would be able to facilitate public business and reduce some of the current confusion because of his experience as a member of the old County Court (precursor of the Commission), as well as his many years of serving as an official aide, go-between, and deal-broker for seated politicians and people seeking access to power.

Of course, some of that experience resulted in two felony convictions for Cooper, who served a prison term in the ‘70s for bank fraud and another in 2008-2009 for money-laundering in connection with a scheme in which Cooper, then a car salesman, arranged car loans for drug dealers by using third parties as signatories of record for the purchases.

Cooper’s sentence for the latter offense was reduced in return for cooperating with the FBI and the Department of Justice in setting up sting arrests for two longtime associates — then City Council members Rickey Peete and Edmond Ford Sr. — who were charged with accepting bribes from Cooper in return for their votes in favor of city ordinances. Peete pleaded guilty and Ford, who was exonerated in a jury trial, pleaded not guilty.

“I know I’ve got some baggage, but I also know how to get things done,” says Cooper, who most recently has been involved in a variety of business enterprises with wrestler/announcer Jerry Lawler, a longtime associate. (Lawler is now recuperating from a serious heart attack suffered just days ago while broadcasting a wrestling event in Canada.)

Cooper had been an influential member of the Shelby County Court prior to his conviction on the ‘70s bank fraud charges — which stemmed from his having prevailed on friends, many of them well-placed, to make loans in their own names, thereafter turning the money over to Cooper, who pledged to supply the funds for repayment. That Cooper was punished for these “nominee loans” while his helpers weren’t was an unusual aspect of the prosecution, which some besides Cooper himself saw as being politically motivated.

Over the years Cooper attempted several business ventures — restaurants, especially — with varying degrees of success, none of it long-term. He also made several runs for local office and assisted other office-holders, notably Minerva Johnican, whom he served as CAO during her tenure as Criminal Court Clerk. He also for several years orchestrated an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless on Beale Street.

Cooper says he does not believe he is affected by legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in the wake of several scandals involving office-holders, including Peete, prohibiting them from running again for political office after their conviction for felonies committed during their tenure in office.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Hinges on a Head Count

Council sponsor Lee Harris is hoping two more colleagues will commit themselves to inclusion of LGBT categories.

Posted By on Sun, Sep 16, 2012 at 10:26 PM

Councilman Lee Harris
  • Councilman Lee Harris
There was a lull in August, and the weather may be cooling, but the action in City Hall could heat up again on Tuesday, as the City Council takes on the issue that will not die (state government’s efforts to squash it notwithstanding): anti-discrimination.

And, in particular, anti-discrimination with respect to sexual orientation. Or so is the hope and intent of Councilman Lee Harris, fresh from an engergetic Sunday “Equal Protection for All” Rally at the National Civil Rights Museum, held under the auspices of the Tennessee Equality Project and assorted co-sponsors many of them mainstream.

Come what may, Harris will sponsor an ordinance at Tuesday’s Council meeting designed to guarantee non-discrimination in city employment. At minimum, his ordinance will specifically apply to four conditions not expected to engender much controversy — those of national origin, age, disability, and ethnicity.

Harris also wants to ban discrimination in city employment on the basis of "sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression," and that’s where some resistance could arise, both on the Council and in the city. Harris said Sunday night he thought most of the organized opposition in the city — “90 percent” — emanates from Cordova and specifically from Bellevue Baptist Church, where pastor Steve Gaines and church members have mounted a campaign against the ordinance.

As for the population at large, Harris doesn’t foresee much objection to the inclusion of the sexual categories, loosely characterized by the initials LGBT (for “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered/transsexual”). “We wouldn’t be doing anything radical. We wouldn’t even be moving ahead much. We’d just be catching up,” said Harris, who said most major American cities have already moved to extend workplace protection to people in those categories.

Nor does Harris believe such an ordinance would be in conflict with legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2011 that prohibits local jurisdictions from passing anti-discrimination provisions at variance with those ordained by state law. Harris, who consulted legal authorities in and out of city government, said he was assured that, so long as his ordinance confined itself to municipal government and did not apply to “third party”employers, it would pass muster.

But Harris said his decision on whether to include the sexual categories in his anti-discrimination ordinance will be based solely on a simple practical test: “Do we have the votes? That’s it, pure and simple.” The ordinance will need 7 of the Council’s 13 votes to prevail.

And Harris was explicit on the subject. There are five Council members who would definitely support the more inclusive version of the ordinance, Harris said. They are: himself, Myron Lowery, Shea Flinn, Janis Fullilove, and Jim Strickland. Two other Council members — Wanda Halbert and Ed Ford — Harris counts as undecided, the swing voters on the issue.

So there is that uncertainty. Meanwhile, other forces in the city are taking sides. The executive committee of the Shelby County Democratic Party added its endorsement of the full ordinance at its regular monthly meeting last Thursday night. And a variety of groups, both pro and con, will undoubtedly be making their wishes known between now and Tuesday.

Harris sees it as an issue whose time has come.

“If Wanda and Ed are aboard, we get it done,” said Harris. Otherwise, he will present the more limited version of the ordinance.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Norma Lester Named to State Oversight Agency

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 10:13 PM

Norma Lester
  • Norma Lester
Norma Lester, one of two Democratic members of the five-member Shelby County Election Commission, has been appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to fill a vacancy on the state Registry of Election Finance. The board oversees and enforces state election laws.

Lester, a longtime Democratic activist, is a retired nursing administrator.

Her appointment, announced Thursday, fills a position that has been vacant on the six-member board since last year. Lester was one of three names submitted to Haslam by the state Democratic executive committee.

The governor also has the opportunity to name a member to the board from a list submitted by the state Republican executive committee.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Er, Notice Something Odd Here?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 11:49 PM

Hey, guys, what's with the pursed lips all the time?!

pursed_lips.jpg

School Issue Still Simmering on County Commission

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 10:51 AM

Terry Roland
  • JB
  • Terry Roland
The school-merger issue, and the legal opposition to municipal school districts, embodied in a suit brought by a majority of the Shelby County Commission, continues to simmer in meetings of the Commission, where Millington Republican Terry Roland, one of five dissenters from the legal action to block the schools, has launched a series of attacks against the Baker Donelson law firm formally representing the Commission.

In a letter to U.S.Attorney Ed Stanton III, Roland charged the firm with “conspiracy” in attempting to profit from the litigation and with holding meetings in secret. “Each action Baker Donelson takes forces other issues and as a direct result their billable hours increase,” said Roland, accusing the law firm of involvement in ”a conspiracy to use taxpayers [sic] money to sue themselves….”

On behalf of Baker Donelson Sam Berry Blair wrote to Stanton denying Roland’s contentions and saying, “…[H]e makes these allegations in an attempt to obtain personal publicity. Also, he appears frustrated that he cannot garner enough votes to have the Shelby County Commission take actions which he personally supports.”

Astonishingly, the oft contentious Commission needed only one ballot to fill each of two vacancies on the Shelby County Unified School Board. The new Board members are Oscar Love in District 3 and Mary Anne Gibson in District 5.

The Commission reverted to form, however, in failing to agree on some rules changes relating to the choice of a new Commission administrator to replace the now departed Steve Summerall. One change would alter the selection date for administrative staffs from the beginning of a Commission term to midway in such a term. Another change would allow the new administrator to name the rest of the Commission’s support staff. As of now, both the administrator and an assistant administrator are independently elected by the Commission.

With Commissioners Roland and Henri Brooks expressing misgivings, evidently concerned that unspecified political ends were being cloaked in procedural terms, action on the procedural changes, brought by Commissioner Steve Mulroy, was deferred for two weeks.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Last Thoughts: Highs and Lows of the Convention Season

Posted By on Sun, Sep 9, 2012 at 2:52 PM

Ruby Wharton and John Freeman share a ride in Charlotte.
  • Ruby Wharton and John Freeman share a ride in Charlotte.

It may not pass muster with the latest news in National Enquirer or Huffington Post of what (or whom) Kim Kardashian is doing, but we think this shot of Ruby Wharton, wife of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and a civic force in her own right, sitting in the lap of Democratic activist John Freeman aboard a rickshaw in Charlotte, N.C., is pretty hot.

Freeman, who has been an aide to several Memphis political figures, including congressman Harold Ford Jr., and another Memphis guest at the Democratic Convention, political operative David Upton, tied in with Ford one day in Charlotte. Ford, who now lives and works on Wall Street and does regular commentary for MSNBC, met the Memphis duo for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton, located near the Time Warner Cable arena.

The former congressman, who did daily stints on the Morning Joe program, still has some magnetism with both media and political types, and the trio found themselves being joined by the likes of interview host Charlie Rose, Senator John Kerry, and David Gregory of NBC. At one point Gregory launched into a spot-on impersonation of NBC icon Tom Brokaw — with improvised lines, in the longtime commentator’s distinctive baritone brogue, like “I was down at the Carolina Festival with James Taylor, doing some wack crack” — when Brokaw happened by.

“Hi, guys,” he said, effectively ending the show.

("Or was it me that had the 'crack' line," wondered Upton, who said, well after relating the tale, that he had been vying with Gregory for best-Brokaw honors. Aw, c'mon. Just be glad you were there, David.)

Most undesirable Convention City feature, Tampa: Though temperatures in Charlotte during the Democratic Convention were on again/off again steamy, there was no “off” switch at all at the previous week’s Republican Convention in Tampa Bay. Daily temperatures in the 100-degree range coupled with the thick humidity that came from proximity to Hurricane Isaac, and visitors standing in the long lines waiting for entry to the Tampa Bay Times Forum were treated to extended ad hoc saunas. People getting out of their air-conditioned cars would find their glasses fogging over instantly.

Most undesirable Convention City feature, Charlotte: Though Charlotte’s traffic arteries proved convenient — specifically Interstates 85 and 77 and Tryon St., a long, Poplar Avenue-like thoroughfare that connects important parts of the city — Charlotte also has adopted extra-long wait times for its traffic lights, with red lights lasting for interminable minutes.

Most unexpected sleep-in: Lawyer David Kustoff of Memphis, the workaholic former U.S. Attorney whose self-discipline is legendary, who famously restricts himself to one meal a day and habitually sleeps three or four hours a night by design, caught some extra winks and missed a delegation breakfast at the GOP convention in Tampa.

(Or seemed to. For the record, Kustoff says he was up early every morning and attended every delegation breakfast.)

Most expected sleep-in: Longtime activist Upton, whose more relaxed attitude toward discipline is also legendary, who restricts himself to no more than two meals at a sitting and sleeps however many hours a night that a 3 a.m. bedtime will permit, missed a breakfast at the Democratic convention in Charlotte at which his name was called as winner of a floor-credential raffle. No matter, artful dodger Upton, who has his ways, managed to finagle his own.

Nudge to the opposition from a political figure at Tampa: "I believe in getting results. As governor, I couldn't have got much done if I hadn't worked with Speaker McWherter and Speaker Wilder." U.S Senator Lamar Alexander, referring to then state House speaker, later governor, Ned McWherter, and longtime Senate speaker and lieutenant governor John Wilder, both Democrats.

Nudge to the opposition from a political figure at Charlotte: We have to be bipartisan. We have to thank Mitt Romney for passing Romneycare in Massachusetts, which was the basis for Obamacare. Thank you, Mitt Romney!” — 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen.

General Points of Comparison: At both the Republican Convention in Tampa and the Democratic Convention in Charlotte there was an odd inverse relationship between the mood of the convention at large and that of the Tennessee delegation. This reflected the relative political situations of both parties.

At the GOP conclave, the Tennesseans present were basking in their almost complete domination of affairs in the home state, where every major political agency and office is in Republican hands.

In Tampa, the Tennessee delegation would include Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, most of the seven Republican members of the U.S. House, and numerous legislative figures, including state House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville, the Senate Speaker.

Given the decimation in Tennessee political ranks caused by the disastrous 2010 elections, followed by GOP-administered redistricting, Cohen and 5th District Congressman Jim Cooper were the ranking political figures in the Tennessee delegation. (Neither had arrived in Charlotte by Monday of convention week, leaving it to ex-4th District Congressman Lincoln Davis, a 2010 casualty, to make the welcoming speech to the delegation. Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville was on hand early; Mayors Wharton of Memphis and Madeline Rogero of Knoxville would come later.

Looking for a silver lining of some sort, state Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester at one point directed attendees at a delegation breakfast to look around them and observe “the most diverse delegation in Tennessee history,” divided roughly half and half by gender, including roughly 25 African-Americans, four Hispanics, one Asian, and a generous number of gay and lesbian attendees, including transgender activist Marisa Richmond.

Saving Grace: In the absence of a galaxy of political stars, a shining light for the Tennessee delegation at this week’s Democratic National Convention was movie star Ashley Judd, who perked things up at the Tennesseans’ breakfast on Tuesday morning with an upbeat forecast for success in the presidential election. Judd turned up again on Wednesday night when it came time for Tennessee’s votes to be cast. Judd did the honor, flanked by 9th District congressman Steve Cohen and state party chairman Chip Forrester, both beaming to the gills.

A backstory had it that at some earlier point a photographer of some quasi-official sort had asked Cohen
to move away from his position of proximity to Judd in the delegation to make way for a shot of Judd and Memphis Mayor Wharton. That didn’t sit well with Cohen, who is famous for his ability to make aisle connections with presidents on their way to and from the podium on the occasion of State of the Union addresses, once making a widely televised appeal to George W. Bush to sign a baseball cap which Cohen subsequently auctioned off on behalf of a charity. The congressman would stand his ground in the Time Warner Cable arena, telling the photographer that he wasn’t moving until he was ready to leave the arena.

Like everybody else in the Tennessee delegation, Cohen was charmed and uplifted by Judd’s presence.
He had only one objection: In her remarks to the delegation Tuesday she had made it clear that she was happy to root for “UT and Vanderbilt, except when they play Kentucky,” the state of her birth. Cohen pointed out in his own remarks to the delegation on Thursday morning that Judd had omitted the Big Blue, the University of Memphis, “the best basketball team in the state.”

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