Friday, May 31, 2013

Answering the "Summons"

In which New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu beguiles a blue-ribbon crowd at Memphis Magazine's inaugural "Summons to Memphis" event.

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Landrieu at The Peabody
  • JB
  • Landrieu at The Peabody

Only a Zen Master would begin and end a public appearance in Memphis by paying tribute to the ducks of The Peabody as a key to urban success.

Only a Zen Master or Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, who portrayed the hotel’s amphibian wobblers, famous in the tourist trade, as a case par excellence of creating “something out of nothing” — the apparent nothing having been something all the while, just waiting there to be discovered as such and leveraged for a whole community’s benefit.

Landrieu used the analogy to explain the extravagant success that his city, which was “17 feet under water” after the devastations of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has enjoyed in becoming, eight scant years later, “the Number One place to do business in America” according to Forbes Magazine.

Granted, the Big Easy’s advantages have always been there — indigenous music, cuisine, Old World charm with New World attitude, an intellectual life, a burgeoning sports culture, and a reputation as “a place to have a good time” — but rarely have they been combined to such effect as in the city’s stunning rescue from near-ruin.

Recent visitors to Landrieu’s city (like myself) have seen the revival for themselves — the gleaming shards, the bright lights of entertainment, the burnished glow of restored history — and reveled in the distinct tastes of New Orleans.

Some of the latter were generously sampled by members of the capacity crowd of blue ribbon paying guests, a cross-section of the city’s leadership, that gathered to hear Landrieu in The Peabody’s Continental Ballroom for Thursday’s first annual “Summons to Memphis” luncheon, sponsored by Memphis Magazine.

The menu: “salad of romaine, arugula and red oak, avocado, and Tomatoes; gulf shrimp remouilade; muffaletta sandwich slice, freshly baked rolls and breaks with sweet cream butter; chocolate caramel turtle tart; vanilla anglaise and bourbon Chantilly….

Yeah. Laissez le bon temps rouler, citizens.

Landrieu was the inaugural “Summons to Memphis” speaker — the event titled in honor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by the late Peter Taylor, the eminent Memphian who was himself feted at a Memphis-sponsored banquet a generation ago. Like all “Summons to Memphis” honorees who will follow him in years to come, Landrieu offered encouragement by word and by example to a host city questing for its own mojo.

The ducks, the Grizzlies, the river, the people, the barbeque, the city’s disproportionate number of Fortune 500 companies — all these were cited by the mayor. And, of course, the music. Landrieu, an artful politician indeed, may have gotten his biggest hand when he made reference to Memphis’ rivalry with a sister city: “Nashville — claiming to be the music capital of the world. It’s not.”

(It should be noted that Landrieu said that in the course of praising Tennessee’s capital city for having marshaled its assets toward the creation of a formidable music industry.)

Landrieu has a talent for rounding things out in the unexpectedly simple phrase, concept, or example.

To wit: “Less is less;” “It’s possible for government to be too big and too small at the same time;” “We all live together. Or do we? If we don’t, we don’t. If we do, we do;” “Everybody who thinks they can do everything by themselves, build a road, build a bridge, call me later;” “Nobody’s coming to save you. You’re it.”

That Zen thing: He spoke of “The Way of getting to the thing,” pointing out that “if you develop your golf swing, you can use it on any club.

In the case of city-building, this means discovering your assets, letting them mix and thrive symbiotically with each other, and, most importantly, working together, across racial, geographic, and economic lines. “If you leave anybody behind, they will be behind.”

Oh, there was a lot of nitty-gritty practical talk, too — about how to balance the private sector’s contributions with those of government, understanding the pluses and minuses of each, about reforming public pensions, choosing priorities, and expanding only that which you’re willing to pay for.

In sum, Mitch Landrieu, rumored to be a potential candidate for governor of Louisiana in 2014, was a revelation: a formidable speaker, a convivial guest, a dispenser of useful advice, and a perfect lead-off man for a series that will attempt to do on a year-by-year basis just what the mayor suggested: Bring everybody together.

Ken Neill, the editor/publisher of Memphis Magazine and the CEO of Contemporary Media, Inc., the parent organization of both the magazine and the Flyer, concluded the event by paying a well-deserved hat-tip to Ward Archer, Jr., chairman of CMI’s board and, as it happens, son of Ward Archer, Sr., a close friend of Taylor, the title of whose prize-winning novel will continue to adorn the series and summon distinguished visitors to Memphis.

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Haslam Disavows State Role in Local Car Inspection

Governor’s decision draws fire from Council members.

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Contradicting earlier statements by local Memphis and Shelby County officials that the state of Tennessee would assume the burden of an automobile inspection program, at least for Memphis, Governor Bill Haslam has apparently decided that the state will neither take on such responsibility for Memphis or Shelby County nor contribute to the funding for it.

Haslam’s decision was communicated to members of the Memphis City Council Thursday by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, and Council reaction has been furious.

Council budget chairman Jim Strickland, who had voted with the Council majority in February to end such testing by the city as of July 1 for fiscal reasons, wondered why Haslam would reject involvement with an inspection program in Memphis and Shelby County when, as he understood it, the state takes respnswibility for auotomible testing in several of the state's local jurisdictions.

Srickland later provided information indicating that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation hires a contractor to run the auto emissions inspection program for Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson County, while Nashville/Davidson County metro government does the contradcting for its area.

Strickland said he had participated in talks with state officials back in March, at which comnitments had been made by the state to involve itself with local automobile testing.. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell publicly announced as much, though he said the state commitment had been limited to Memphis. He said at the time he would be talking with TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau to work out a procedure for local testing by the state.

“I guess Haslam just decided to overrule the other state officials, but the commitment had been made,” Strickland averred.

Councilman Lee Harris, sponsor of an ordinance that would absolve Memphis residents of testing requirements until some framework can be worked out for them, was also critical of the governor.

“He doesn’t appear to be a real firm administrator, a visionary. He just wants to make everybody happy,” said Harris. “It’s the same thing as wth Obamacare that he dithered on before deciding not to decide. He just dithers. He’s neither solving a problem nor showing leadership. There was no cost factor. The only factor was, he was afraid of suburban legislators who don’t want a testing program in the county.”

Harris said the city is definitely out of the business of funding inspections and that either the County Commission or state government should take responsibility for them. The city has been spending $2.7 annually on funding automobile inspection. County government has never required such testing for residents outside the city limits of Memphis, though the Environmental Protection Agency has declared both Memphis and Shelby County at large to have unsafe emission levels.

The ordinance which Harris hopes to see pass before July 1 would exempt Memphis residents from the existing requirement that cars older than four years be inspected until some, presumably fee-based, system is instituted by county or state government.

Even that doesn’t satisfy Councilman Shea Flinn, who contends that such an exemption pre-supposes that there is a city obligation. Flinn said It is the state’s responsibility to conform to the EPA emissions mandate, not that of local government, and he included Luttrell in with Haslam on the charge of bowing to suburban pressures against testing in the outer county.

Wharton told the Council that he and Luttrell would continue to seek a solution from state sources and that meanwhile the EPA has apparently extended an 18-month window for “good faith” efforts toward rectifying the situation.

Monday, May 27, 2013

FFUN's "Celebration of Life" Among Memorial Day Attractions

Founder Steve Moore's annual event, commemorating the death of his son and aimed at preventing random violence, is a local institution.

Posted By on Mon, May 27, 2013 at 12:38 PM

There's still time to get to one of the more significant — and different — Memorial Day celebrations: the Celebration of Life at the Overton Park Shell, which lasts until early evening.

The event is under the auspices of Stevie Moore's organization FFUN (Freedom from Unncessary Negatives), founded to combat random street violence in the city of Memphis.

This year's event marks the 10th anniversary of the shooting death of Prentice Moore, the founder's son, and will be attended by numerous dignitairies, including Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Meet the Man Who’s Bringing New Orleans Back

Posted By on Sun, May 26, 2013 at 2:24 PM

And see and hear extended excerpts of an interview with Mayor Mitch Landreu, who will be guest of honor and featured speaker at Wednesday’s inaugural “Summons to Memphis” luncheon. The event, sponsored by Memphis Magazine, will be held in the Peabody’s Continental Ballroom. VIDEO:

And reed the Flyer report on the interview here.

Mayor Landrieu discourses candidly on Katrina, crime, city financing, "dysfunctional government," and the value of sports franchise to a community, along with much else.

Tickets for Mayor Landrieu’s appearance , as and if they remain available, are $50 per person, $450 for a table of 10, advance sale only at The event is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Haslam Cautions Fellow Republicans at Lincoln Day Dinner

Governor sees GOP lagging in electoral prowess nationwide; cites tight 2012 race in North Carolina as warning to overconfident Tennessee Republicans; Fincher proclaims a GOP version of the social gospel.

Posted By on Sun, May 19, 2013 at 7:21 PM

Governor Haslam at Lincoln Day

After exciting a surprisingly less-than-overflow crowd at this year’s annual Lincoln Day dinner by recounting the Republican Party’s successes in Tennessee — including the possession of two U.S. Senate seats, 7 or 9 U.S. House seats, and super-majorities in the state legislature — Governor Bill Haslam cautioned his listeners with a qualifier, preceded by a warning.

The “national situation” was different, he noted. “At the end of the day we have to get better at winning elections,” Haslam said, noting the GOP’s failure in the two most recent presidential elections. He contrasted 2012 party nominee Mitt Romney’s 16-point victory in Tennessee with Romney’s 4- or 6-point loss nationwide.

The governor compared the voting in Tennessee to that in North Carolina, “a little bit bluer than we are” but a state roughly comparable to Tennessee in its demographics. Romney’s winning margin in North Carolina was only 2 or 3 percentage points, Haslam said. “What’s the difference?” he asked, and answered his own question: The Democrats in North Carolina “went out and engaged,” unlike what was the case in Tennessee.

In the Tar Heel State, “they advertised, we advertised, they organized, we organized,” whereas, in Tennessee, “the Obama campaign wrote it off early. We didn’t see all those advertisements….When both parties engage, you see a difference.”

Haslam’s words presumably meant to inspire Republicans to more dedicated and technologically up-to-date efforts locally and statewide, could have the unintended consequence of rousing the currently dazed and near-impotent Democrats of Tennessee, as well.

An unspoken issue in the Democrats’ state chairmanship election, in January, had been this very question of whether, in the current political environment, contesting elections on a statewide basis was really possible. The governor’s North Carolina comparison could serve as an encouragement to them and to their new chairman, former state Senator Roy Herron, who is already, it would seem, adopting an aggressive strategy.

The other featured speaker at Lincoln Day, held at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn location on Central, was 8th District U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who was probably being seen for the first time by many members of the audience, residents of the portion of East Memphis which was redistricting into Fincher’s domain for the last election cycle.

Fincher, who seems to be making a conscientious effort to appear locally and get acquainted with his new constituents, made remarks of the sort that Romney, inclined toward verbal malapropisms, might have called “severely conservative” but delivered them with the Frog Jump congressman’s characteristic sunny-side-up manner.

Citing an anonymous Democrat’s comparison of legislation for social programs to the ministry of Jesus, Fincher said, “Man, I really got bent out of shape,” contending that the Bible says that “the poor will always be with us,” and it also says “if you don’t work you don’t eat”. He said that Christians needed to take care of each other but it was wrong for Washington to “steal” from some in the country “and give it to others in the country.”

Rep. Fincher at the dais

With 2014, an election year, approaching, numerous candidates helped swell the crowd, including a goodly number of current sitting judges, who are up for re-election next year and, one of them acknowledged, would probably be on hand for the local Democrats’ annual Kennedy Day dinner.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

John Willingham, Barbecue Maven and All-Around Achiever, Dies at 80

Coloful figure and Renaissance man had looked forward to another triumph at this year's Festival.

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 7:32 PM

John Willingham, 1932-2013
  • John Willingham, 1932-2013
John Willingham, a man who made a name for himself in many worlds and will be mourned by a broad cross-section of people in Memphis and Shelby County, died Wednesday evening of complications from heart disease at St. Francis Hospital, where he was under treatment.

Willingham, who would have been 81 on Sunday, the day after the conclusion of this year’s Barbecue Festival, had looked forward to the event this year with special anticipation. A two-time Grand Champion of the Festival and winner over the years in several event categories, he had argued for years that competitors should be allowed to vend their products at the Festival and had finally convinced the sponsors to allow it.

“Daddy told us a year ago he thought that this year ‘Karla and Clay’ would carry the load,” said Karla Templeton, one of three Willingham daughters. And she vowed that she and her husband Clay would indeed carry forward and try to win the championship in her father’s honor.

Besides Templeton, Willingham leaves his wife Marge, two other daughters, Kristi Goldsmith and Kara Wilbanks, and six grandchildren,

“And there were many others who called him ‘Daddy’ just out of love and respect,” said Templeton.

Willingham, a former Shelby County Commissioner, had been a prominent figure in local politics for decades. He made several runs for both city and county Mayor and was an influence in the careers of numerous office-holders.

An inventor, he held several patents, and he was a high official of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Nixon administration. The versatile Willingham also played professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Willingham was perhaps best known, however, as a barbecue maven, who owned several restaurants and packaged and sold a variety of products related to the art of barbecue.

No funeral arrangements have yet been announced.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cohen Hits Passage of House Bill on Overtime

“One of the saddest days,” congressman says of bill allowing “comp” time rather than extra pay; measure’s chances seen as dim in Senate.

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 9:02 AM

Billed by its sponsors as “The Working Families Flexibility Act” and characterized by opponents as “The Bosses Flexibility Act,” H.R. 1406 narrowly passed the majority-Republican U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday by a vote of 223 to 204.

The bill, technically an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a New Deal measure, is given no chance of passage in the Senate, and it is also opposed by President Obama, who has indicated he would veto it if need be, and by organized labor.

Its effect, according to its GOP sponsors, is to give employees the option to take time off from their jobs at a later date as an alternative to receiving overtime pay. The Democrats who oppose the bill say that it would give employers the right to decide when or if this ‘comp” time is actually allotted.

Here is 9th District U.S. Representative Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) called Wednesday “one of the saddest days the House of Representatives has probably ever seen” expressed his opposition to H.R. 1406 on the House floor:

In a news release, Cohen made the following points against the bill:

What this misnamed bill really means is more work and less pay for workers, not flexibility:

o Workers will not get paid for hours that exceed 40 hours per week. That pay will instead go into an employer-controlled pot to be paid later.

o An employer can refuse to allow a worker to take time off to deal with a family member or attend a parent-teacher conference. This is not real flexibility for workers.

o Employers could schedule excessive overtime hours and only offer overtime work to workers who agree to take comp time instead of overtime wages.

o Since unused comp time will not be paid to workers until the end of the year, this amounts to an interest-free loan out of workers’ pockets to the employer.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Two Days After Donating a Kidney, Mulroy is ‘Rarin’ to Go

Shelby County Commissioner appears fit at press conference with UT-Methodist Transplant Institute personnel;.

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 9:28 PM

L to r: Moore, Eason, Mulroy, Campos
  • JB
  • L to r: Moore, Eason, Mulroy, Campos

As the Flyer first reported in March, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy had resolved to donate one of his kidneys to the National Kidney Registry through the UT-Methodist Transplant Institute, the Registry's sole medical partner in Tennessee.

That was then, this is now — mere days after the Institute’s famed director, Dr. James D. Eason, extracted the kidney via laparoscopic surgery on Tuesday. And if the science of transplant surgery should need a poster boy to represent its potential to the general public, it couldn’t do much better than Commissioner Mulroy, whose regular job is that of a University of Memphis law professor.

Mulroy appeared at a press conference at Methodist Hospital on Union Ave. Thursday with Dr. Eason; Dr. Luis Campos, who administers exchanges along the organ-transplant network; and transplant coordinator Melissa Moore.

Wearing a pajama robe, but looking more like a denizen of the Playboy Mansion than of a hospital ward, Mulroy was bright-eyed and ebullient, cracked jokes, did impressions, elaborated on the fine points of his surgery, and vowed to be in full “argument mode” for the next Commission meeting on Monday, when a contentious debate on a gun-rights resolution is expected.

On the other side of that debate from Mulroy will be fellow Commissioner Terry Roland, author of the resolution and no miser with energy himself. Mulroy was asked: Would he be able to handle Roland in debate?

” I don’t know if anyone is ever up to handling Terry Roland,” he answered. “That’s a tall order. But I will say that, come Monday, I will be there. I will do my duty for the voters of Shelby County.”

Mulroy this week became what is known in the transplant-surgery world as an “altruistic donor” — meaning that he did not donate his kidney to a particular individual but to the Registry at large, so that his organ might go — as Mulroy said, quoting (and doing) the Ned Flanders character from a Simpsons TV episode about transplant surgery — “to whom it may concern.”

The way he and the Institute personnel explained it Tuesday, the acquisition of an unencumbered organ makes it easier to arrange ideal matches through the transplant network’s computerized system, to “break the log jam,” in Mulroy’s words. As Dr. Eason said, “We didn’t just do one transplant on Tuesday, We did six.”

Dr. Eason emphasized that the laparoscopy done on Mulroy was relatively “non-invasive,” done via a small incision and employing a camera and a fiber optics system — or in Mulroy’s words, “so easy-in-easy-out it’s not a big deal.”

Asked if he’d like to meet the recipient of his donated kidney, Mulroy affirmed that he would, jesting, “First, I’d like to find out if they’re a registered voter in Shelby County.”

Mulroy said, “People ask me, ‘can you still drink?’” He said that, “as a good Irish Catholic,” he intended to. A running and exercise addict, he added that he expected eventually to resume his full round of activities. “It doesn’t change your life all that much,” he said. “The remaining kidney grows and takes over the function of the other kidney.”

Mulroy’s wife Army, daughter Molly, and son Quinn were on hand for the press conference. Asked if his loss of a kidney might in any way inconvenience them, he said he had done extensive preliminary research on the point and argued convincingly that their medical histories made the odds infinitesimally small that they would ever be in need of a kidney transplant requiring him as a donor match. He had looked for “red flags” and was assured there were none, he said.

Dr. Eason said, “We do approximately 35 living-donor transplants a year. We’d like that to be more.”

Melissa Moore is the Institute’s contact person for potential donations and can be reached at (901) 516-8466.

Here’s more information about the Institute and its work.

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Accord at the Eleventh Hour (Literally)

Yes, Tuesday’s elongated Unified School Board meeting was exhausting, but it was also exhaustive — and fruitful.

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 4:01 AM

Boad member David Reaves: ...a great meeting.
  • JB
  • Boad member David Reaves: "...a great meeting."
Well into the sixth hour of a unified School Board meeting that had started at 5:30 Tuesday afternoon, Board member David Reaves cast his vote with the Board majority for a hybrid transportation plan, exulted, “This was a great meeting,” and promptly moved for immediate adjournment. Wilted and/or giddy, most of the 23 members of the crazy-quilt, mixed city-and-county Board probably agreed wiith his sense of the moment.

A week after failing to reach agreement on school closures or cleaning services and only hours after being tongue-lashed in absentia by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who was irked (as many of the Board members themselves were, for that matter) by their inaction, the Board disposed of several pending matters and even managed to extract some not too scolding advice from Rick Masson, the hitherto Delphically silent Special Master appointed by presiding federal Judge Hardy Mays.

They also dealt with virtually all of the recommendations inherited from the Transition Planning Commission and were suddenly within grasping distance of being able to submit a budget for the 2013-14 school year. Their previous failure to come anywhere close to one had been the catalyst for the outburst earlier Tuesday by Luttrell, who told a luncheon meeting of the Memphis Rotary Club that the seemingly gridlocked Board had been doing the community a “disservice.”

The mayor had also lent his support to the idea, discussed in several quarters after this month’s passage of municipal-schools legislation in Nashville, that city/county school merger, scheduled to be completed on July 1, might be held off for a year. A resolution to that effect would be introduced Tuesday night by veteran Board iconoclast Kenneth Whalum Jr. but was fairly effectively iced by advice from the aforementioned Masson.

The meeting began with a 30-minute warm-up round, during which audience members were invited to speak directly to the Board, and the sentiments that were expressed ran the gamut, with people expressing their desires that former Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken be drafted to return from retirement or that current interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson be induced to remain in the role permanently, that the merger be advanced or slowed or even abrogated, and much else, across the spectrum of opinion.

Not long after that Chris Caldwell, as expected, put before the Board a motion to allow PROACT, the firm hired by the Board to find a superintendent for the new Unified system, to shelve their search efforts, for which they were facing a completion deadline on Friday, until the fall and winter months. News of the company’s desire to lay off for a year had leaked earlier in the day.

Caldwell said he “strongly” recommended allowing the firm to cease its recruiting efforts until after the beginning of the next school year.

Referring to a communication received from PROACT, he cited the firm’s conclusion that it would be too much of a challenge to recruit “the right kind of candidate,” given all the uncertainties swirling about the Board at that point — concern about the makeup and composition of the School Board, about the size of the Unified district, the prospect of separate municipal districts, and the pay scale a superintendent might expect. Concerns, too, about the departure of two prior superintendents and uncertainties about staff matters.

Caldwell made a point of stroking Hopson, the former Memphis City Schools attorney who succeeded MCS superintendent Kriner Cash and SCS superintendent Aitken, both of whose contracts had been bought out. “Until someone undoes that, he’s the superintendent,” Caldwell said, praising the “stability” brought by Hopson and “the kind of work he and his deputy have done.”

As for a putative successor to Hopson, Caldwell opined, “Because of all this dysfunction that has gone on, I’d be very reluctant to get into this job until I knew what I was getting into.”

Not everybody was all that ready to cut PROACT any slack — especially, it seemed, some former members of the MCS board who had insisted on the superintendency search last year when there was a move on to hire Aitken. Stephanie Gatewood and Teresa Jones both suggested the firm shouldn’t get any more pay until they got back on the job, and Tomeka Hart, eyeing the Friday deadline, said, “How will they know what they’ll get or won’t get by Friday?” She added, “We knew it was chaos at the time we hired them.”

In the end, most members responded to Caldwell’s (and PROACT’s) request in the manner of former SCS Board member Wissman, who said, “We need to listen to somebody.” The vote was 18-4, but Gatewood and Jones got their way with the Board on withholding payments during the cesura.

In the aftermath of the vote, Board chairman Billy Orgel, an inveterate jester, would ask Hopson, “Are you cool with hanging around?” Hopson deadpanned, “I’m willing to serve, Mr. Chair.”

FROM THERE THE BOARD segued into a report by attorney Valerie Speakman on a conference Tuesday involving the attorneys for the various parties to the still ongoing school-merger litigation and presiding judge Mays. The issue had been whether the Shelby County Commission had authority to appoint the six new members the Commission wants to add to the 7-member Unified Board that will exist on July 1.

“The hearing had no fruit at the end of it,” said an unaccountably poetic Speakman, who reported that representatives of the county’s suburban municipalities had raised the issue of scotching expansion plans altogether. Speakman said, “We took the position that the Board could be expanded in the general election of 2014.” The judge had asked for information on voting precincts, apparently with an eye toward the possible changing of district lines with the ultimate onset of municipal districts.

Speakman reported that representatives of the Shelby County Election Commission had declared it impossible to hold a special election until December of this year, a fact that caused Board member Martavius Jones to wonder if state law did not require such an election to be called within 60 to 90 days of a formal request, as it had following the eventful MCS charter surrender of December 2010, which he and Hart had overseen.

Speakman confessed she had not fathomed the Election Commission’s reasoning. “I can’t really say I understood,” she said. “They kept talking about some kind of new computer system and IT people, and some were here and some weren’t.” This, it should be said, is par for the course when it comes to the kind of specialized hair-splitting one hears from Election Commission sources and at SCEC meetings.

“An absurdity,” was how Jones summed up the Commission’s position.

AFTER A LENGTHY DISCUSSION, the Board, which had deadlocked on teachers’ compensation issues for weeks, somehow found a basis for compromise between the concepts of rewarding the acquisition of post-graduate credits in the traditional way and the now modish idea of merit pay — “blending performance in with professional development,” as Patrice Robinson would put it.

It took a while, but the 16-5 vote on the compromise plan (with one abstention) indicated that the Board had heeded the messages of frustration and impatience emanating from Luttrell, PROACT, and — as it shortly turned out — Mays.

Whalum’s resolution to put off merger for a year took the form, as it had to, of asking the judge’s consent. And it was the occasion for Jeff Warren’s asking an opinion on the matter from Special Master Masson, the bearded and gaunt onlooker who for all the Board meetings since his March appointment as a monitor of the lagging merger process by Mays, had sat silent, immobile, and inscrutable, as if modeling for a bust of Lincoln.

Now Masson rekindled memories of his days as a prime advisor to former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, outlining the situation in a series of lucid but densely weighted sentences. There was a “mistaken understanding that a federal judge can do whatever they feel like doing,” Masson said, but in fact judges were “constrained by state law and case law. “

The law required that the merger be completed before the 2013 school year, Masson explained, and there was consequently “no basis for the judge to delay merger.” The Special Master also noted that the existing timetable and arrangements that all parties were obliged by were not decreed by Mays but contained in a consent order which the judge had approved.

The bottom line: “There is no legal basis for a divert.” Not until and unless the contending parties should agree to a new consent order.

There was more discussion, but the point of no return had been reached on the Whalum initiative. “It doesn’t seem like we’ll be able to put the genie back in the bottle,” concluded Jeff Warren, who — not for the first time — opened up a new and fertile subject area. Should not the Unified Board itself be a party to future hearings with Judge Mays? There was general agreement, and implied consent from Masson, that the Board should indeed be so involved.

Masson found it timely at this point to read the riot act to the Board, as politely as such a thing can be done. He and Mays had been astonished to find the Board’s arrangements for a unified IT program and other matters to be behind schedule. “We expected to see a countdown clock with a sense of urgency.” The judge expected the Board to make decisions.

But there was some soft soap in the lecture. “Of all my years in public service,” said Masson, he had not seen a group so clearly representative of the entire community as on this night at the Board meeting. “The judge and I have great faith in the democratic process. We want you-all to demonstrate that our community can work together. If you can do it, we can do it as a community.”

David Reaves intervened with a motion — unsuccessful by a vote of 15-3 — to request Mays to maintain a 7-member maximum for the Unified board. And Whalum’s main motion, for the record, went down 15-6.

Whalum was unfazed. “My heart is a-flutter because we got the Master to talk tonight,” he wagged.

From that point on, the meeting went comfortably downhill.

An accord was reached on the previously intractable matter of school closures — though all it amounted to was a tentative agreement on the identity of 16 institutions that, for various reasons, depopulation primary among them, seemed most eligible for closure. A policy in hand at last, the Board agreed to hold practical discussions on the matter, coinciding with public forums in the affected areas, beginning in August.

The night's final discussion, on transportation, was markedly uncontentious, and resulted in another compromise, blending out-sourced bus services with expanded use of the fleet vehicles now owned by the Unified district — and doing it so as to achieve an apparent discount.

“Let’s not stop the ball rolling,” was Orgel’s epitaph on the meeting, perilously near the midnight hour, and, like Reaves' summary at adjournment, it seemed appropriate. n

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fincher: 2nd Amendment Aimed at Government

8th District congressman gives ringing endorsement of gun rights at Range USA.

Posted By on Wed, May 1, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Fincher at Range USA

Amid the nonstop sound of gunfire from practice rounds in firing lanes on the other side of the wall from where he spoke, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-8th District) delivered a ringing endorsement of gun rights Monday night, speaking to members of the Northeast Shelby Republican Club at Range USA.

During a question-and-answer period following his brief prepared remarks, Fincher was asked for his views on gun issues by Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland, whose “Second Amendment Preservation Resolution,” intended to “prevent Federal infringement on the right to keep and bear arms,” will be voted on by the Commission at its Monday night meeting.

Fincher responded, “You saw a couple of weeks ago gun control could not get passed through the Senate? We’re very clear in the House what’s going to happen to gun control. It’s going nowhere….The Second Amendment’s not about hunting. It’s not about shooting for sport. It’s about protecting yourself from who? The government!….We’re not taking the guns. It’s not going to happen, not as long as I’m up there and I’ve got a vote.”

The congressman could hardly have chosen a more apt location to make such a statement, nor, to judge from the hearty and prolonged applause he got, a more appreciative audience to hear it.

The Bartlett facility, as Martha Montgomery of Range USA explained to attendees before the event, contains two ranges, the larger of which, with 14 lanes, was separated from the canteen area where the meeting was being held by a wall. Activity over there could not be seen, because, as Montgomery said, the wall had “cardboard in the windows.”

Constant gunfire could be heard, however, from the invocation and pledge of allegiance through to the very end of the meeting — confirmation that, as Montgomery said, the facility’s lanes “are always open to the public,” and instructional opportunities abound, including free clinics held there by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.

Continuing to make his case against the utility of new gun restrictions, Fincher referred to last December’s Newton massacre and asked, “How many laws did that boy break already? What about baseball bats? What about box cutters?” Roland suggested “pressure cookers,” and Fincher added that term on. “Pressure cookers!”

There were even Democrats voting against President Obama’s recently failed background-check legislation, Fincher said. “When you do a good job of messaging, it works.”

For much of the Q-and-A session, Fincher attempted to satisfy the wishes of some of the more conservative members of his audience without necessarily accepting their solutions. Asked about impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, Fincher said, “We’ve done everything short of impeachment,” and urged the attendees to accomplish their ends at the grass-roots level via elections.

“The American people elected President Obama. I don’t know how, but they did,” he said. “We’ve got to have good candidates.”

Fincher urged his listeners, “without surrendering our principles, “ to practice a sort of political moderation: “Our party, the conservative party more than the Republican Party, we’ve got to be the party of including people, not condemning people. Whether it’s immigration reform, whether it’s pro-life issues, or even, we talk a lot today about gay rights issues — every time we talk about these issues, we divide the country….We’ve got to be the party that cares about folks and doesn’t condemn.”

He even suggested they take Fox News, the preferred broadcast outlet of conservatives, with a grain of salt. “They’re entertainers” who offered their share of “spin,” he said. “Be very cautious, whatever the news organization.”

But the congressman did not shy away from some firm-sounding ideological statements. He noted that he had bucked GOP House Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal-cliff deal reached early this year. And on terrorism, he said, “These are not radical Baptists or radical Methodists doing this. These are radical Islamists.”

“The Constitution and the Bible are our guiding documents,” he said.

A member of the House banking committee, Fincher denounced the quasi-governmental lending agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and predicted, “In our committee, we’re going to do away with Fannie and Freddie.”

Fincher vowed to take a firm stand against any more government “bail-outs,” but suggested that Republicans might cease futile efforts to repeal “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act, and let it be implemented, “so people can see what’s happening.”

In concluding, Fincher returned to the idea of inclusiveness. Ultimately, the congressman said, “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, we’re all in this boat together. And if we push people away, we won’t win.”

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