Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leadership Academy Grads Provide Mayor Wharton With Ideas To Attract Young Professionals

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 4:32 PM


Graduates from the city’s Leadership Academy gathered Tuesday morning to brainstorm ideas on how to attract and retain young professionals.

The “Millennials’ Memphis” event was held at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation auditorium. After the brainstorming session, the ideas were presented to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.

The 100 graduates, dubbed “Leadership Fellows,” broke into seven small groups to come up with answers for three questions: What values do you believe matter most in Memphis’ future? What can we promote about our city today to make it attractive to visitors and get them to come back? What do we need to revolutionize in order to be that city of choice in the future?

Groups determined economic development, empowerment, innovation, eco-friendliness, having a strong art community, and urban renewal as the values that mattered most for the city’s future.

Cost of living, cultural arts, and being a soulful city were among the ideas touted to make the city attractive to visitors.

Responses to how to revolutionize the city included partnering and investing, achieving positive promotion of Memphis, and progressively changing the current void in education and transportation.

“I wish I could say man, this really shocks me. All I can say is that this really affirms what you will see embodied in the priorities that we set out for our state and city,” Wharton said, after hearing the presentation.

He mentioned educational enlightenment, investing in the city, and sharing more of its history to visitors as significant things on his list to tackle.

Rod Moses, director of fellows for the Leadership Academy, said the event allowed leadership fellows “to share their perspectives, ideas and advice with the mayor” on how to move the city forward.

“For the mayor, it’s an opportunity to receive a perspective that comes from a generation where ideas are fresh,” Moses said at the event. “It helps to fulfill the vision that he has. He’s the type of person that leaves no stone unturned, so for him to hear from this young generation, it just helps to fulfill the vision that he has for Memphis to be a city of choice.”

Nancy Coffee, president and CEO of the Leadership Academy, said Memphis is the perfect city for a person who seeks to make a difference.

“One thing that is unique about Memphis is that we’re a city of great challenge, and we’re a city of great access,” Coffee said. “We have the challenges of poverty, of crime, and potentially an education system that is in reform. All of those become opportunities for people in this generation who truly have a heart for making a difference. This city, Memphis, is the city for all of us who want to serve, who want to make a difference, who want to not move but improve the city and where we’re going.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

King and Queen Hottie

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2012 at 10:27 AM

Congratulations to Will Vestal and Melissa Hass, the winners of our 2012 Hotties voting!

They were crowned King and Queen Hottie on Thursday night at Cortona during the Flyer's annual Hotties Party.


Check out the rest of the pictures from the party.

Thanks to all of the Hotties who came out to celebrate, and a special thanks to everyone who voted for King and Queen Hottie by donating to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Memphis!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Interim Administrator Chosen to Lead Memphis Animal Services

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM

James Rogers
  • James Rogers

Former U.S. Postal Service manager James Rogers will serve as the interim administrator for Memphis Animal Services, Mayor A C Wharton announced yesterday.

The shelter has been operating without a director since former director Matthew Pepper's resignation last August. Since then, the shelter has relocated to a new state-of-the-art facility on Appling City Cove. It's also been the subject of a recent police investigation into allegations that employees were starving dogs held in the court case area. Shelter critics held a protest last weekend at Highland and Poplar.

Rogers has no shelter experience, but Wharton said he chose him for his business and management background.

"[The city was looking for] someone with strong leadership qualities, who is very experienced and comfortable in operating a major facility and overseeing a large staff. Mr. Rogers fits the bill perfectly, and I am delighted that he was willing to accept our offer to serve in this capacity," Wharton said.

The Memphis native graduated from LeMoyne-Owen College with a master's degree in business administration. In his role as a senior manager for the U.S. Postal Service, Rogers oversaw 17 other managers, 48 supervisors, and more than 1,600 employees.

In a news release on the Rogers announcement, Wharton admitted the shelter has much work to be done, but he emphasized positive changes that have been made at MAS so far.

"We have increased our positive outcomes for animals to the highest level in the history of the shelter," Wharton said. " We have reduced the euthanasia rate to a 20 percent lower level when comparing 2011 with 2009. In one day, we moved every pet from the old facility to the new shelter. In our new facility, we have installed some 45 cameras that are linked to Memphis Police’s award-winning Real Time Crime Center. Along the way, we have been able to root out irresponsible employees and fix broken internal systems.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Bus Riders Union Demands Change From MATA

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 4:13 PM


A group of regular Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) riders have formed a union to voice their concerns about the transit system and brainstorm ways to improve MATA’s service.

The Memphis Bus Riders Union had its first meeting on Saturday, February 18th at the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union Hall.

One union member, Shelia Williams, has depended on the city bus system for transportation since 2008.

Williams said the lack of buses traveling to certain areas in Shelby County, such as parts of Cordova and Collierville, is something that hinders many riders from obtaining better jobs. Currently, the furthest that MATA buses travel is Germantown Parkway.

“The buses don’t transport into the suburban areas where a lot of the poor are employed,” Williams said. “If they don’t have a car, they lessen their opportunities of even working in the suburban areas where the pay rate is a little bit higher because they don’t have adequate transportation.”

Prior to the formation of the union, upset riders gathered on January 28th at the AFSCME Union Hall to voice their concerns about overcrowding, poor customer service, bus leaks, and confusing routes.

The group, which was initiated by the Transportation Task Force, is composed only of people who ride the bus. Fifty-nine people attended the union’s inaugural meeting.

Union member Josue Rodriguez moved from Memphis to Texas during last Thanksgiving. Rodriguez is wheelchair-dependent, and he uses the bus as his primary transportation.

He joined the union after experiencing multiple issues with bus wheelchair ramps. Rodriguez said he’s frequently told the ramps are not working, but he doesn’t believe they’re always broken.

“One time when I was going to set up my utilities, the driver told me I was going to have to wait for another bus because the ramp that extends out wasn’t working,” said Rodriguez, community organizer for the Memphis Center for Independent Living. “I knew that, although the button they use to extend the ramp wasn’t working, they could do it manually.”

The bus riders union is pushing for an increase in bus routes (primarily to low-income neighborhoods), cleanliness, and more accuracy with the pick-up times listed on bus schedules.


The group is also seeking lower transit fares. The average cost for an adult to ride the bus is $1.75 or $3.25 to ride all day. The average cost to ride the MATA Plus, the bus available to people with disabilities, is $3.50.

Although the group isn’t pleased with MATA’s current service, many members without vehicle access have no choice but to continue utilizing the transit system. The group is asking local churches to get involved by providing their members with volunteer transportation to meetings.

“The ultimate goal, on a fundamental level, is to put transportation decisions into the hands of customers, into the hands of people who use MATA and depend on MATA everyday,” said Brad Watkins, member of the Transportation Task Force. “What normally happens is these decisions are made, and then it’s put out to the public once things actually are determined. Input is one thing, but front-end input is altogether another thing.”

The bus riders union is having its next meeting on March 3rd at the Riverview Community Center on 1891 Kansas St. The meeting will last from noon to 2 p.m.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

City Council Committee Votes to Allow Private Company to Operate Ball Park

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2012 at 11:46 AM


The Memphis City Council parks committee approved a measure on Tuesday morning to allow the city to enter into a contract with Tri-State Youth Baseball Academy, Inc. to manage and operate Jesse Turner/Bellevue Baseball Park.

The city-owned park is one of nearly 100 city baseball parks not being maintained by the city due to lack of funds and a short-staffed Parks Services department. Currently, the city only maintains three baseball parks, but they are complex lots with a total of 15 fields.

City councilwoman Wanda Halbert expressed some concern with the fees Tri-State plans to charge for use of the park. In the example she gave, if 10 teams want to play in a baseball tournament under Tri-State's management, they would have to pay $150 per team. Under the city's management, the same 10 teams would only have to pay $32 each. Halbert proposed an amendment that would allow the council to study how those fees are being used by Tri-State with the option of requiring them to lower the fees if the council deems it necessary.

A representative from Tri-State said the fees would be used to improve the park by re-sodding the field, repairing fencing and bleachers, and adding a new baseball diamond for younger players.

The full council will discuss the item in their meeting at 3:30 p.m. today.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Judge Halts State Decision to Rescind HIV Testing Grants from Planned Parenthood

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 4:50 PM

United States District Judge William Haynes ruled today to grant a preliminary injunction to stop the Tennessee Department of Health from rescinding its grant funding for HIV and syphilis testing at Planned Parenthood.

Just two weeks ago, the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center was forced to end its free, Planned Parenthood-sponsored weekly HIV tests because of the funding loss. Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region and Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee sued the state, claiming the funding loss was a violation of federal law.

“This ruling is a victory for the thousands of women, men, and teens of Tennessee who rely on Planned Parenthood for HIV and STD testing and prevention counseling. Planned Parenthood has provided these services in our communities for more than 10 years and is eminently qualified to continue providing them,” said Barry Chase, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region’s CEO.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mark Your Calendar: Hotties Party!

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 2:13 PM

Join us next Thursday, February 23rd at Cortona (948 S. Cooper) for our annual Hotties Party!

The party is from 5-7pm, so stop by after work for drink specials featuring Buffalo Trace and Fireball,
door prizes, and the crowning of King and Queen Hottie at 6:30!

Plus, the folks from Memphis Fashion Week will be on hand conducting an open casting call for models. Bring headshots if you have them or strike a pose for our on-site photographer.

Hope to see you at there!

And if you haven't already, check out our 2012 Hotties. They're hot. And if you're able, please cast your vote by making a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Memphis.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Memphis Public Library to Improve Literacy for the Hearing-Impaired

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 at 12:58 PM


Some studies have shown that the average deaf or hearing-impaired person holds a fourth grade reading level, but the Memphis Public Library hopes to change that with a new program aimed at improving their literacy skills.

The American Library Association chose the Memphis Public Library & Information Center to be the recipient of its 2012 Light the Way Grant. As the winner of the grant, the library will receive $3,000 for their new “Read With Me, Sign With Me” project.

The Memphis library beat out more than 20 applicants from other libraries across the country. The grant was awarded this month.

Mary Seratt, coordinator of library youth services, said the grant would provide sign language interpreters, “big books” that are specifically for children who are deaf and hearing-impaired, and literacy workshops for parents of those children.

Seratt said she hopes the grant will attract more kids who are deaf and hearing-impaired to take advantage of the library.

“Hopefully, they will get the idea that the library is a place for [them] and the library has fun things to do,” Seratt said. “And later, [they may] avail themselves of all the resources we have—use the computers, get help with [their] taxes. We want to be there for everybody in the community.”

The grant will enable the library to screen Deaf Jam, a documentary about poetry in sign language, to project participants. They will also use the grant to expand their selection of books for the deaf or hard of hearing.

“Wherever there’s a need, we would like for people to be able to walk into the library and [hand] sign to a librarian what they want or what their reference question is and have [employees] understand,” Seratt said. “It would just be a more comfortable place.”

The library is partnering with the Deaf Family Literacy Academy of Memphis for the project.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Free Condoms!

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 at 4:18 PM

It's National Condom Week, and Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region is spreading the word about where to find free rubbers.


Don't have the money to drop on a 12-pack of Trojans (Magnum, of course)? Pick up free condoms at any of the following locations:

Planned Parenthood’s Health Center
2430 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, TN 38112

Caritas Village Coffee Shop
2509 Harvard Avenue
Memphis, TN 38112

Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center
892 S. Cooper Street
Memphis, TN 38104

Throughout the week, Planned Parenthood will share videos and other tidbits from condom campaigns across the country on their Facebook page.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Great American Steamboat Company Hiring

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 11:19 AM

More than 300 jobs with the new Great American Steamboat company will be up for grabs at a career fair scheduled for Tuesday, February 21st at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Locals will be hired to work in various roles on the American Queen steamboat, which will offer tours along the Mississippi River beginning in April. Open positions include jobs in hospitality, housekeeping, culinary, marine and technical crew, and other front- and- back-of-house positions.

Before attending the fair, potential employees are encouraged to fill out an online application on the Great American Steamboat Company's website.

Applicants will be required to pass a drug screen. The career fair will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

To read more about the Great American Steamboat Company, check out Flyer writer Louis Goggans' story.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

City of Memphis Files 86 Lawsuits Against Owners of Blighted Properties

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 1:06 PM

This blighted property in Frayser is among those being targeted in city lawsuits
  • This blighted property in Frayser is among those being targeted in city lawsuits

Against the backdrop of a mound of trash in the parking lot of the rundown, abandoned Peach Tree apartments in Frayser, Mayor A C Wharton announced today that the city would be filing 86 lawsuits against the owners of blighted properties located throughout the city.

Additionally, the Shelby County District Attorney's Office is filing public nuisance petitions against 11 blighted properties. The city lawsuits and nuisance actions are being filed in the Shelby County Environmental Court under the Neighborhood Preservation Act. District Attorney Amy Weirich said, although negligent property owners may not seem like common criminals, they're "terrorizing neighborhoods with blight."

Through these lawsuits, the city hopes to force property owners, either by court order or consent, to rehabilitate, demolish, or divest their titles to the properties.

"These blighted properties are like the Statue of Liberty to criminals, but we're taking away their Statue of Liberty. These properties will no longer be a beckoning call for them to come and do their evil deeds," said Wharton.

The lawsuits are a continuation of the mayor's Campaign to End Blight, which launched last year with 138 lawsuits filed against owners of blighted properties. Since those suits were filed, two-thirds of those properties have been demolished or rehabbed. Specifically, there have been 46 rehabilitations and 19 demolitions. Eighteen are currently being renovated, and there are still 24 active cases.

Citizens who wish to report blight in their communities are urged to call 576-6500.

West Egg Properties, the California-based company that owns the Peach Tree Apartments at 3180 Steele in Frayser, are among those being sued by the city.

"This is where little children live and play," Wharton said, referring to the littered parking lot at the Peach Tree, which is located across the street from Frayser High School. "This is the world they see on their way to school. This is not a prop. It's a day in the life of Mary, Eddie, Bobby, Sally, Jose, and Edgar."

MLK Doc Premiere Today at Civil Rights Museum

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 12:14 PM


The National Civil Rights Museum will host the premiere screening of the one-hour documentary, MLK: The Assassination Tapes, today at 6 p.m.

The documentary is being presented on behalf of the Smithsonian Channel, which will air the film officially Feb. 12.

The documentary presents a timeline of previously unseen radio and television footage leading up to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and its aftermath.

“They get to see the stress on his face, the anxiety on his face, just a man who is really in such demand and is trying to be all things to all people,” said Gwen Harmon, director of the museum’s governmental and community affairs. “They get to see the stress of the community, the people who were repeatedly beaten and jailed…faces that we really haven’t seen before.”

The documentary will be shown in the museum’s main floor auditorium. There will also be an overflow room upstairs in the museum’s public meeting space. Both rooms will have giant screens showing the film.

Although the documentary centers on King and how he spent his final days in the city, Harmon said she hopes it provides people with a sense of the rich history that Memphis has in the civil rights movement.

“I hope they look at the way that the community bonded together in 68, not just black people, but a cross-section of black people, white people, different faith-based organizations, different churches, religious organizations,” Harmon said. “I hope [people] get inspired to get more involved today in their community, to make the same kind of commitment that these people made almost 50 years ago.”

King traveled to Memphis to support the sanitation strike in 1968, which involved black sanitary employees who refused to work until they were provided an increase in wages and better treatment.

King was shot as he stood on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum, on April 4, 1968.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New Social Networking Policy for City Employees

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Some Memphis City Council members aren't too happy with new rules guiding the use of Facebook, Twitter, or personal blogs for city employees.

The new policy, which went into effect on January 31st, prohibits employees from posting "disparaging" statements about the city, its employees, or citizens or from posting pictures of co-workers and the city property without permission. Employees cannot make statements or comments about illegal drugs or criminal activity or use profanity that could be considered obscene.

Employees are also be forbidden from disclosing information identifying co-workers or the city's partners, vendors, or suppliers, as well as city intellectual property such as "drawings, designs, software, ideas, and innovation."

Additionally, employees aren't allowed to "disparage any race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin." If a city employee chooses to identify himself or herself as such on their personal social networks, he or she must state that views expressed there do not reflect those of the city of Memphis.

"All employees are responsible for maintaining the city’s positive reputation and presenting the city in a manner that safeguards its reputation, employees, managers, and shareholders," reads the policy.

Failure to follow the new policy could result in termination. But city councilman Jim Strickland disagreed with parts of the policy. He said employees should be able to express their views.

"If an employee was unhappy about the $4.6 million pay cuts, they should have the right to criticize the council for making that decision," Strickland said.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said she uses her Facebook page to discuss both good and bad things about the city.

"This isn't Iraq or Iran. The First Amendment says we have the right to free speech," Fullilove said.

Councilman Lee Harris agreed with the required employee disclosure statement, but he said the rest of the policy was too overly broad.

Councilman Harold Collins asked the administration to consider the council's input in tweaking the policy, and a representative from Mayor A C Wharton's office agreed to consider some suggested changes.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

St. Blues Open House, Guitar Giveaway

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 2:15 PM


Anyone with an interest in guitars can learn more at St. Blues Guitar Workshop’s open house this Friday and Saturday.

Teri Cox said the event would be an “Open Jam Session,” providing people with the chance to play one of the company’s signature guitars, view how they’re put together, and possibly take one home for free.

“We want people to come in and see what we do, see the guitars, and get a little touch of Memphis,” Cox said. “We’re advertising who we are and what we do.”

At the end of each day, one person will take home a $235 cigar-box guitar free of charge. People will have the chance to enter their name in the competition to win the guitar.

There will also be a t-shirt give away every hour, along with free stickers.

The open house will be Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The building is located at 645 Marshall Ave.

Check out next week’s Memphis Flyer to get the latest on St. Blues Guitar Workshop.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

French Quarter Inn May Become Comfort Suites

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 7:13 PM

Rendering of what French Quarter Inn may look like as Comfort Suites
  • Rendering of what French Quarter Inn may look like as Comfort Suites

Preliminary plans for converting Overton Square's abandoned French Quarter Inn into a Comfort Suites were unveiled at a public meeting at Memphis Heritage's Howard Hall on Wednesday evening.

The property is under contract to be purchased by two local businessmen, Rishi Chopra and Jay Kumar. Chopra owns several local Subway restaurants, a liquor store, and a Baskin Robbins. Kumar owns Metro and Advantage Cab companies, and his family has a long history in the local hotel business. A representative from Choice Hotels, the company that owns the Comfort Suites brand, also attended the meeting.

Chopra and Kumar plan to spend around $6 million to purchase and renovate the property. Chopra said the building would be almost entirely gutted inside. The outside of the building will also undergo a full renovation, but the brick wall around the current property will either remain in place or be replaced with a similar wall. The new owners did say they would try to manipulate the outside of the building to match the character of the neighborhood and the future Overton Square development.

"There is absolutely some work to be done. There's been some involuntary copper reclaiming," joked Evan Nahmias, an attorney for Chopra and Kumar.

Some Midtown residents at the meeting expressed concern over a corporate hotel brand moving into the space rather than a smaller, upscale boutique hotel. But Chopra said the economy and their budget simply wouldn't support such a hotel in that location.

The representative from Choice Hotels described the Comfort Suites brand as "upper mid-scale" and said rooms would be priced around $100 per night. There likely will not be a restaurant inside the hotel, but it will offer free breakfast and possibly a small bar for evening drinks.

Artist Robin Salant asked the new owners if they'd be incorporating local art into the interior design.

"We definitely intend to work with Comfort Suites to include local art," Chopra said.

Chopra and Kumar are only in the preliminary stages of planning, and the deal with Choice Hotels is not yet set in stone.

"Now is a great time for us to get involved with this project because of the city's investment and Loeb's investment," Nahmias said.

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