Friday, February 29, 2008

The Memphis Week That Was

Posted By on Fri, Feb 29, 2008 at 4:00 AM

No good deed goes unpunished. Beale Street promoters thought they would honor the Tigretts with a note on the sidewalk. But the gesture drew a scathing letter from Isaac Tigrett on the subject of self-promotion. Takes one to know one. Pat Tigrett deserves a note on Beale Street and another one on Riverside Drive and another one on the mall. I have never been to a Blues Ball, but I have seen her decorate old buildings, outdoor streets, the Mud Island River Park, and the train station; light the bridge; and put together an annual party that brings a lot of attention to Memphis music and gets people together downtown. The Academy Awards honors all kinds of people who aren't actors, and Beale Street should too. I'm all for Isaac getting a note too if he changes his mind.

If schools need metal detectors do the City Council and County Commission chambers need bullshit detectors? First Rickey Peete and now Bruce Thompson cop pleas to federal charges. Both should have known better and stayed out of politics. Peete had rehabilitated himself and his reputation after serving time on an earlier conviction. In Thompson's case, the telling indicator was that he had not voted in local elections prior to running for the commission. Voters elected him anyway. The cynicism indicator goes off the charts if Thompson keeps the $263,000 he got from H&M Construction. U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla will decide at sentencing whether there is any fine or restitution.

Joel Litvin says the Grizzlies aren't leaving Memphis. Rest easy. What's wrong with this picture? Everything. If sentiment trumped economics then the Dodgers would still be in Brooklyn. Litvin called Geoff Calkins to spread the good news. Calkins says he is "the No. 2 guy in the NBA hierarchy." So the No. 1 guy, commissioner David Stern, couldn't pick up the phone and dial Memphis? Or say something about Memphis at the NBA All-Star game? Or come to a game at FedExForum, ask for a microphone, walk to center court, and say a few kind words? The Grizz will end this season averaging nearly 3,000 fans below the projected 14,900 attendance that was the basis for the arena financing. Ticket guarantees are supposed to kick in after the eighth season in Memphis if attendance is below 14,900 including 70 suites and 2500 club seats. A "Save The Grizzlies" campaign in a recession in Memphis would be absolutely brutal. NBA reporters should pay their own way to five games a year and sit in the cheap seats. It might change their thinking.

It was a good week for Greg Ericson. See Jackson Baker's detailed report on this website about The Pyramid meeting. I wouldn't sell Ericson short. He has been around Memphis for 20 years, has a home and successful business downtown, and knows the concert business, the competition (Tunica casinos), and marketing as well as anyone. But the theme park strikes me as sleight of hand. First it was only The Pyramid, then it had to include Mud Island, then it was back to just The Pyramid, just like that. That's a huge difference, and a huge miscalculation about the difficulty of buying public land on the riverfront.

There was no second act for Venus Williams in Memphis. Or at least her second appearance at the tennis tournament here was a dud. Last year she won the Cellular South Cup and the affection of fans. Last week she lost her opening match to a qualifier, who promptly lost her next match. Then she bowed out of the doubles. She displayed a new second serve that could be returned consistently by most good club players. Venus was last seen at the Fox & Hound and did not appear to be unhappy about her early exit. Lindsay Davenport, the most consistent female player on the tour, becomes the heavy favorite.

An idea whose time has come: You Walk Away, LLC. As described in several media reports, including The New York Times on Friday, You Walk Away is a company that specializes in helping homeowners walk away from their subprime mortgages when they can't make the payments. The bank gets the property. The buyer, who was really more like a renter, gets another credit blotch on what was probably already a lousy credit record. Lenders who made zero-down loans are reaping what they sowed. In Memphis, which is known as America's bankruptcy capital, this sounds like a natural. See

The media got banned from Hamilton High School last week. I can't get worked up about that. School board member Kenneth Whalum Jr., was giving a speech to students. I'm sure it was interesting. But as a reporter, former teacher, and former 15-year-old, I'm not keen on politicians using schools as a backdrop for speeches during normal school hours. If it's okay for one, then it's okay for all. And I can see it making the jobs of teachers and administrators harder, when they're hard enough already. Schools can be surprisingly difficult to gain access to if you are a reporter, but it's always been possible to get inside if you persist and follow the rules, which I'm willing to do because once you are inside the truth is pretty hard to hide.

Sears is on the skids. Fourth-quarter net income fell 47 percent. The Wall Street Journal reports "a growing likelihood that the retailer will be closing stores, selling real estate, and offering its core brands through other retail outlets." The biggest asset is the real estate. That would be no surprise to anyone who has shopped at the lackluster East Memphis store on Poplar. And the tornado-damaged store in the Hickory Ridge Mall would seem to have even less of a future.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thompson's Guilty Plea Leaves Some Questions Unanswered

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Former Shelby County commissioner Bruce Thompson, who proclaimed his innocence and determination to go to trial at a news conference in November, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in federal court Wednesday.

Thompson, a Republican from East Memphis, faces a maximum sentence of one year and a day as part of the plea agreement with prosecutors. Two mail fraud counts and an extortion count carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine were dismissed. There is no fine or restitution in the plea agreement. Prosecutors said that will be up to the judge at sentencing, set for June.

In the four-count indictment last year, the government charged that Thompson, while a member of the county commission in 2004-2005, falsely represented to a Jackson, Tennessee construction firm that "by reason of his position as a commissioner, he had the ability to control the votes of members of the Memphis City School Board" on a $46 million contract to build three schools.

The company, a joint venture of H&M Construction and minority-owned firm Salton-Fox Construction, paid Thompson $263,992. The school board unanimously awarded the contract to H&M and Salton-Fox in 2004, reversing a decision earlier that year to give it to Inman Construction.

On Wednesday, Thompson told U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla that he did in fact make false statements to H&M president Jim Campbell about his influence and the make-or-break nature of campaign contributions if H&M wanted the contract.

While on the commission, Thompson was a proponent of ethics reform. He decided not to seek reelection in 2006. Shortly after he was indicted, Thompson told reporters "I have done nothing wrong" and "I reject the implication that anything has been done in the back of the room or in the dark." In 2004, he obtained an opinion from Shelby County Attorney Brian Kuhn that it would not be a conflict of interest under state statute for him to try to help a company get business with the city or county school systems because he would be paid by the company and would not be voting on the contract award. Kuhn did not know what Thompson had told H&M, and his opinion said nothing about legality.

The indictment said that as part of the scheme to defraud, Thompson "would falsely represent that he had made commitments to give campaign contributions" to school board members and "did cause to be placed a check in the amount of $7,000 addressed to Kirby Salton from H&M."

When the indictment was announced, United States Attorney David Kustoff would say only that it was ongoing and the $7,000 was for "campaign contributions." FBI Special Agent in Charge My Harrison made headlines when she said at a news conference, "What can I say? Same game, different names," obviously linking Thompson's case to other Memphis political corruption cases.

It is not clear what happened to the $7,000. Asssistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza said there was a meeting of an unnamed board member, a person with the board member, a representative of Salton-Fox, and Thompson at which $2000 went to the person with the board member. DiScenza said Salton gave another $2000 to $4000 to Thompson and kept the rest himself. Kirby Salton has publicly stated that he gave $2,000 to Wanda Halbert's campaign through an associate of Halbert. But Halbert said she was unaware of that until asked about it in a grand jury session last year, and said the money was either lost or stolen. She subsequently listed it on her disclosure form.

Salton and Halbert give differing accounts of the meeting. The plea agreement did not clear that up, but DiScenza said that if Thompson's case had gone to trial there would have been no proof that Thompson and any board members had a deal.

It also left questions about the legality of consulting by public officials and the leniency of Thompson's sentence compared to the harsh treatment of some Tennessee Waltz defendants for taking much smaller amounts of money.

Former state senator John Ford was convicted of taking $55,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman to influence legislation. Ford was sentenced to five and one half years in prison. Ford said he was acting as a consultant. He faces a second federal trial in Nashville on charges relating to his consulting work for Tenn-Care contractors. Former school board member Michael Hooks Jr. is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to unlawfully taking $3,000 for bogus consulting invoices to Shelby County Juvenile Court. Convicted Tennessee Waltz defendants Roscoe Dixon and Kathryn Bowers also described themselves as consultants.

School construction in Memphis and Shelby County has been a booming business for decades due to suburban sprawl and decaying inner-city schools. By 2004, with the arrival of new Memphis superintendent Carol Johnson, it was deemed so expensive and disorganized that a joint venture of O.T. Marshall Architects and Self-Tucker Architects was hired to inspect all schools and decide which ones to close, rebuild, or replace. That set off a scramble of established construction firms to finds minority partners to have a better chance of getting a piece of the business. Tom Marshall, an architect and member of the City Council at the time, was head of the project. Marshall, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, testified before the grand jury that indicted Thompson.

Thompson is not an architect, engineer, or attorney, and apparently earned his money from H&M by providing political contacts, introductions and political advice - some of it apparently legal and extremely valuable and some of it false and illegal. Attempts to reach Campbell at H&M were unsuccessful.

A former prosecutor who did not want to be identified speculated that the government "maybe wanted to clear the air on whether board members were dirty" by disposing of Thompson's case. Another former prosecutor, Mike Cody, said that based on news accounts, "it looks like it kind of cleared everybody else."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rock 'n Roll for For Red on Beale Street

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Thursday night at EP's on Beale, the Memphis Flyer, Macy's, and other fine sponsors are holding a fund-raising party for "Go Red for Women," a program of the American Heart Association.

Five bucks gets you in the door for complementary cocktails and appetizers. If you wear red, you get a specialty drink for free. And if you really want to high-roll it, $50 gets you into the VIP area. We'd tell you what goes on in there, but we'd have to kill you. Sorry.

Big fun for a great cause! Thursday at EP's on Beale. For more information, call the Heart Association at 383-5400. All proceeds benefit the AHA.

Tennessee GOP Issues Stupid, Racist Press Release

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 4:00 AM

From a press release issued this afternoon: "The Tennessee Republican Party today joins a growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States.

It's time to set the record straight about Barack Obama and where he really stands on vital issues such as national security and the security of Israel," said Robin Smith, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. 'Voters need to know about two items that surfaced today which strongly suggest that an Obama presidency will view Israel as a problem rather than a partner for peace in the Middle East.'"

Accompanying the release, which went on to quote Farrakhan extensively, and which ignored Obama's "rejection and denunciation" of Farrakhan in last night's debate, was a photo of Obama in Somali native costume, which the GOP-tards called "muslim dress," (thereby remaining at least 24 hours behind the national news cycle, which had debunked the "muslim clothes" meme yesterday).

The release was soon being ridiculed on various national websites and shortly thereafter, the TN GOP issued the following "Clarification": This release originally referenced a photo of Sen. Obama and incorrectly termed it to be “”Muslim” garb. It is, in fact, Somali tribal garb, hence, we have deleted the photo. Also, in order to diffuse attempts by Democrats and the Left to divert attention from the main point of this release -- that Sen. Obama has surrounded himself with advisers and recieved (sic) endorsements from people who are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel -- we have deleted the use of Barack Obama's middle name."

Yes, of course, it's the "Democrats and the Left" who are at fault for seeing this as fear-mongering ignorance. Remember that, people.

By the way, if we're not mistaken, Robin (we can't tell you her real middle name, but it's scary) Smith appears to be wearing traditional ass-hat garb in this photo.

--Bruce VanWyngarden

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lisa Marie Presley Preggers With Another Elvis Grandchild?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Priscilla Presley is putting on her dancing shoes, but if the gossip is to be believed, it's her daughter Lisa Marie who will be hearing the pitter-patter of little feet.

According to The National Enquirer (and if you can't believe The National Enquirer, then who can you believe?), Lisa Marie was pregnant when she married her fourth husband, Michael Lockwood, last month. She and Lockwood had intended to be married in the spring, but when she found she was with child, they rushed the ceremony.

Lisa Marie has two teen-aged children from her first marriage to Danny Keough.

Priscilla is slated to be on this season's Dancing with the Stars, which begins Monday, March 17th. Dancing with Louis Van Amstel, Priscilla will be pitted against fellow "stars" Adam Corolla, Marlee Matlin, Penn Jillette, and Steve Guttenberg.

Count us relieved that Lisa's former hubby Michael Jackson isn't named in either of these items.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Memphis is Number One ... in Gluttony, Sloth, & Envy

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In yet another attention-seeking, city-ranking survey, Forbes Magazine has cleverly come up with a list of "America's Most Sinful Cities." It worked, because we're writing about it, even though it's sketchy logic, at best.

The seven deadly sins are Avarice, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Pride, and Wrath. According to Forbes, Memphis is Number One in Gluttony, Sloth, and Envy.

We totally win the title of America's Most Sinful City! So finish off that double-Whopper, get your fat ass off the couch, and go steal something!

More of this nonsense -- with an interactive map, no less -- at

House of Blues Founder Tigrett Not Pleased With His "Note" On Beale

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Alert readers of may have already noticed the "comment" posted today by Isaac Tigrett, founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and House of Blues clubs.

Tigrett is the son of the late John Burton Tigrett and he is not happy about an honorary "note" placed on Beale Street honoring him and his father, and most notably his stepmother, Pat Kerr Tigrett.

Here's a sample: "This is a travesty to Memphis Music and an insult to the great contribution of the men and women whose sweat, blood, and god-given talent made Memphis the epicenter of the world's music culture!!! Has the Beale Street Commission lost its mind? Certainly they have lost their credibility with musicians and music fans around the world by succumbing to this absurd mockery of honoring socialites who have never sung a note and never played anything but a radio! I wish to publicly apologize to the citizenry of Memphis and especially the Musicians, Writers and Fans to whom I have dedicated my life's work ..."

Read it all here (scroll down). Suffice it to say, he's royally pissed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

It's the Kenneth T. Whalum Sr. Post Office Building Now

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In a ceremony at City Hall on Friday morning, the main Memphis post office building at 555 South 3rd St. was formally redesignated in honor of the late Kenneth T. Whalum Sr., pastor emeritus of Olivet Baptist Church, former city councilman, and longtime official of the U.S. Postal Service.

Presiding over the dedication was 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, who introduced the enabling legislation, H.R. 2587, that became law on October 24 of last year, one day after the death of Rev. Whalum. Among the others taking part in the ceremony were Memphis mayor Willie Herenton; city councilman Myron Lowrey, Memphis postmaster Tom Pawlowski, Olivet Fellowship Baptist Church senior pastor Rev. Eugene Gibson, Jr., and Brenda Dupree of A-Plus, a postal workers’ organization.

On hand to represent the late honoree were his widow, Rose Whalum, and sons Kevin, Kirk, and Kenneth Jr.

In his remarks made on the floor of Congress, Cohen had noted the unusual fact that few post office buildings had been named for postal employees. “Most are named for political figures, war heroes. Kenneth Whalum was a political figure, a clergyman of great renown, but also a man who spent a career in the postal service and was respected by the rank-and-file and rose to prominence in the postal service.”

That same theme was alluded to at Friday’s ceremony by Cohen and the other speakers. When he was named director of the Postal Service’s Office of Personnel in the South in 1968, the Rev. Whalum became the first African-American to hold that position, and several of the speakers noted his efforts on behalf of diversifying the postal ranks.

As Dupree said, the late honoree’s name was something of an acronym: “Working Hard At Lifting Up Minorities.” When it came his time to speak, postmaster Pawlowski suggested that the acronym might well end up appended to the bottom of the plague that henceforth will greet visitors to the main post office.

After the unveiling of the plague on the City Hall stage, Kenneth Whalum Jr. accepted it on behalf of the family and threw a verbal bouquet at Cohen for his sponsorship of the dedication and re-naming. Whalum, pastor of New Olivet Baptist Church and a city school board member, called Cohen “the embodiment of the word ‘representative’” and announced his support for the congressman as “my man” in the 2008 congressional race.

Civil Rights Museum Board Names New Members at Contentious Meeting

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The National Civil Rights Museum board of directors announced eight new members at a public meeting Thursday evening to an audience of 50, including museum founders Chuck Scruggs and D'Army Bailey, and local activist Deke Pope.

The board has been criticized lately for favoring corporate-linked membership over members with civil rights movement experience. The Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Community Oversight Committee, a grassroots group unaffiliated with the museum, offered numerous nominations of its own. Meanwhile, the state of Tennessee -- the museum owner -- included board membership guidelines in the recent lease agreement with the museum board.

The state mandated a 60 percent African-American membership, which the board met with its new nominees, as well as representation from a number of specific categories.

The eight new members: State representative Johnny Shaw from Hardeman County fulfills the state legislator requirement; local director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Dorothy Crook represents labor; former Martin Luther King Jr. speech-writer Clarence Jones represents civil rights scholarship; while Urban Child Institute member Kenya Bradshaw, Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Dwight Montgomery, and Crichton College's Darryl Tukufu represent civil rights and community activists. Additional nominees include FedEx Senior Vice President Cathy Ross and pastor Gina Stewart.

Following the meeting, the board opened the floor to public feedback for 20 minutes, with two minutes alloted per speaker. A number of civil rights movement foot soldiers came forward with prayers and calls to support the museum and its mission despite the outside criticism. "There was innocent blood shed in this city," Dr. Jerry Jones declared, "and it has got to be paid for. It's not going to be paid for with people playing games," he said, in reference to the controversy.

Charles Todd, a former critic of the board's make-up said that the public should look into the work of the museum before passing judgment. "I don't think it's y'all's fault," he told the board members. "A lot of it is our fault as a community. We did not know how this museum worked. A lot of times, when you start talking with each other, you can get some things done. If I can do anything to volunteer and help this organization I would be glad to do so."

"I think it's time for this city to come together," said Robert Harris, longtime local minister and former civil rights marcher, "with the same mind and the same goals. Until we do that, I don't think anything will be accomplished."

Former NCRM marketing director Judith Black added, "So much of the publicity about this place is negative. It"s hard to get the positive word out if you’re having to fight the negative."

Laurice Smith, the chairperson of the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Oversight Committee, ran well over her allotted time-period while criticizing the museum board's reluctance to clear its nominations with the oversight committee.

Board member Maxine Smith (no relation), 79-year-old former NAACP executive director and decorated civil rights veteran, clarified the fact that the state lease makes no stipulation for the board negotiating or communicating with any other body in its internal business.

The meeting adjourned, though a protester approached the board members shouting "This is class-ism," while another local activist loudly attempted to address the meeting as it dispersed.

--Preston Lauterbach

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ginnifer Goodwin Graces Vanity Fair's "Priciest Cover"

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Vanity Fair's annual "Hollywood Issue" is on the stands. It features nine young actresses in expensive clothes and jewelry.

Included is Memphis' own Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love, I Walk the Line) decked out in the following: Cartier earrings with diamonds (approx. 4.0 carats) set in 18K white gold Cartier Tradition bracelet, New York circa 1937, with oval-shaped curved bombé top pavé-set with brilliant- and single-cut diamonds (approx. 21 carats), three cushion-cut sapphires (5.56, 4.60, 4.09 carats), box-set French-cut sapphires (approx. 1.20 carats), and baguette-, bullet- and trapeze-shaped diamonds (approx. 11 carats) set in platinum and 18K white gold.

Phew. Good thing she's lying down. Check out the cover and other photos here and here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Civil Rights Museum Board to Expand and Discuss Potential New Members

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The 31-member board of directors of the National Civil Rights Museum will meet Thursday at 4 p.m. at the museum to review the recommendations of its nominating committee. The board will add three new seats and replace three departing members.

The organization has come under fire from critics in recent months, who have demonstrated outside the museum and pressured the board to add more members with a background in the civil rights movement. Those critics see this as a crucial moment.

"The struggle for community control of the National Civil Rights Museum has entered a final and most critical phase," began a letter from Judge D'Army Bailey, one of the museum's founders who was ousted from the board's presidency in 1992, sent to supporters on Monday.

"The [museum board] will show whether and how it responds to the pleas of community and national civil rights leaders for more sensitivity and diversity on the governing board of this, black America's holiest and most historical site."

Beverly Robertson, executive director of the museum since 1997 and president of the board, explains that the state of Tennessee mandated an expansion of the board in its lease agreement with the museum. "One of the state's provisions is a 60 percent African-American representation on the board," Robertson says. "Another is to make sure that we have someone that represented labor, a historian or civil rights activist. We need to be able to do that and maintain a balance of people who wish to engage their companies and corporations in helping to advance this mission."

Robertson says that the board assessed the strengths of its current membership to determine what sort of members need to be added. "We need several things," she says. "We need people who represent different perspectives, whether its labor or the grass roots community. We need people who are fund-raisers, and we need educators who can figure out new ways to engage young people and build our programs. We need people with technological backgrounds to reach kids who download, iPod, Tivo, and podcast. If we're not doing those things, then our message isn’t resonating. We need young people on the board as well."

"This Lorraine Motel site is important to the world not because of this board, but because it is where King died," Bailey wrote.

He accuses the board of operating secretly, ejecting black legislators from a recent meeting, and minimizing black participation. His letter says that the board rejected a proposal from labor leader Bill Lucy to add eight new members via a joint committee of board members and civil rights veterans. A second community group, the Lorraine Oversight Committee, requested input into the new board nominations as well, while the Arkansas Delta Truth and Justice Center submitted a list of recommended board nominees to the museum board.

Robertson says she welcomes the input from citizens and organizations alike. "Everybody should feel that they have a voice," she says. "I don't think we’ve been restrictive in the past. Board members reach out to people they know [for new members], but that's typical of every board."

In continuing his running critique of the board as too corporate, Bailey wrote, "During the civil rights movement we had white moneyed support but they weren't making the policy and strategy choices... The corporate and other well-to-do people who currently serve on the Museum Board are needed and welcome to raise money. However this doesn't qualify them to make the judgments on how our black history should be told... ."

Why doesn't he count Ben Hooks or Billy Kyles as civil rights representatives?" Robertson asks. "Maybe in the process of keeping the lights on and the doors open here, we haven't scanned the external environment as much as we needed to. That's not to stay that we don't welcome people volunteering or putting names in the hat. In the long run we'll be better off for it. I find it so interesting that people think we're fighting this. We're not."

The four-member board nominating committee includes First Tennessee Bank executive vice president Herb Hilliard, Tower Ventures chief manager Billy Orgel, philanthropist Lucia Gilliland, and Baptist Hospital senior vice president Greg Duckett. The meeting is open to the public.

Visit later this week for a wrap-up of the meeting.

-- Preston Lauterbach

Bass Pro in The Pyramid? Council and Commission Get Briefed

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2008 at 4:00 AM

It's not exactly the University of Memphis Tigers vs. the Tennessee Volunteers, but the other game in town this week pits the Bass Pro Hunters and Fishermen vs. Ericson's Theme Park Thrill-riders. After sessions of the City Council Tuesday and Shelby County Commission Wednesday, here's how it looks.

And the winner is ... No contest. CASINO. Since we're just talking anyway. Assume the remaining debt: check. Attract visitors: check. Build hotel: check. Track record: check. Employ a lot of people: check. Sustainable: check. Pay taxes: check. Meet the challenge of Tunica: check. Feasibility: only with state enabling legislation. And there's the catch.

But the more talk there is about the merits of a Bass Pro or a theme park, the more hollow the arguments sound and the more apparent the financial benefits of a casino become. And while Six Flags stock is down from $40 to under $2 in the last ten years and ammo-and-camo retailers Gander Mountain and Cabela's are off 60-70 percent since a year ago, Harrah's, which was once headquartered in Memphis, is trading this week at $89.97, a 52-week high. When it comes to recession-proof entertainment, the market has spoken. Memphis is trolling in the backwaters. Mississippi won. Game over.

So get back to reality. Who's on which team?

The Bass Pro champion-by-default is city official Robert Lipscomb, which, no offense to Lipscomb, is one of the things the matter with it. No big project successfully navigates the city, county, and state political gauntlet with a government employee at the helm. It takes a ramrod with clout and commitment. If Bass Pro has one, you’d never know.

In three hours of meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, I did not hear a single councilman or commissioner express unreserved support for Bass Pro, which has been playing footsie for three years. I count council member Barbara Ware as probable. She cared enough to make the trip to Missouri a couple weeks ago.

On the commission, there was only skepticism and silence. Since Lipscomb works for Mayor Willie Herenton, I guess I'd count Herenton as leaning favorable. Greg Ericson is captain of the Theme Park Thrill-riders. I'd count Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton as leaning to his team, with commissioner Steve Mulroy the most enthusiastic backer. Ericson got a boost when county financial expert Jim Huntzicker pronounced his financing credible.

Who's opposed to what? That's the problem with having Lipscomb or any government servant as point man. He's open to all sorts of skepticism, where a Fred Smith, Dean Jernigan, Jack Belz, or Pitt Hyde would get some slack. The easiest thing to do in politics (and journalism) is point out shortcomings; the hardest is to get something done.

On the council, Jim Strickland had some tough questions about giving Bass Pro exclusivity for another year. "It is time to date other people," he said.

Shea Flinn and Reid Hedgepeth want to reopen the request for proposals if Mud Island is going to be in play. Harold Collins asked some tough but polite questions about possible conflicts of interest involving architect and former councilman Tom Marshall. Wanda Halbert noted that many people still have no idea what Bass Pro is.

On the commission, Mike Ritz and Mulroy are skeptical that $30 million in federal funds will come through or, if it does, that Bass Pro won't ask for more. They have only Lipscomb's word, backed by a loose agreement, that $30 million is the limit.

The opposition to Ericson's theme park hasn't really solidified for two reasons: One, Bass Pro is first in line. Ericson was relegated to spectator and not allowed to comment this week while Lipscomb explained why consultants rejected a theme park. The second reason is that his proposal includes both The Pyramid and Mud Island, and assumes that the developer will buy the land.

Leaving aside the credibility of an indoor and outdoor theme park and hotels, the land sale of public property, much less riverfront public property, is a big deal. If Bass Pro goes away for good and the Thrill-riders take center stage, there will be plenty of opponents and skeptics. As Flinn said, if we are talking about only The Pyramid, then Bass Pro is the only option. Or a church, Lipscomb says, citing Houston and Los Angeles and their unused arenas.

What is the earthquake issue? Marshall, aided by seismic experts hired by Bass Pro, told the council and commission that earthquake threat was nearly a deal-breaker as recently as last weekend. He said Bass Pro wants to build a hotel inside the Pyramid and, at one time, wanted to remove the "ceiling" which is also the floor of the observation deck. But structural issues forced them to change the hotel plan from seven stories to six stories and scrap the idea of knocking out the ceiling.

Memphis and earthquakes have been mentioned in the same breath since the river supposedly ran backwards in Andy Jackson's day. Earthquake resistance was a big deal when The Pyramid was being built because of the San Francisco quake of 1989 and Iben Browning's well-publicized prediction of a calamitous Memphis quake on December 3, 1990, that never came. Marshall told commissioners the seismic code changed in 2003. But that doesn't explain why Bass Pro waited until 2007 to bring it up. Using surrogates to put forth excuses for its delays is hurting, not helping, the Hunters and Fishermens' cause.

Are we there yet? No, but we might be closer to some sort of decision. Even when the most powerful and credible businessmen in Memphis were ram-rodding projects, there were years of debates and meetings. Bass Pro is finally being vetted, and Ericson may get his turn. If he does, then Mud Island will automatically be part of the discussion. The new members of the council and commission seemed thoughtful, attentive, and aware of the pitfalls of both action and inaction.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Judge D'Army Bailey on "Democracy Now!"

Posted By on Tue, Feb 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Last week, Amy Goodman of liberal radio show "Democracy Now!", interviewed D'Army Bailey, co-founder of the National Civil Rights Museum, in front of the room where Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in 1968.

Bailey discussed the history of the Lorraine Motel -- how he and others worked to turn King's assassination site into a national museum focusing on the civil rights movement. Bailey also talked about what he sees as conflicts in the museum's management.

Specifically, Bailey claims that Pitt Hyde, who chairs the executive committee of the museum, is a Republican who raised money to defeat Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. in the 2006 election.

It should be noted that Bailey has been at the forefront of a group seeking to overturn board and management of the museum. The show pretty much provided an unimpeded forum for Bailey's point of view without a response from Hyde.

Goodman also interviewed retired Memphis police sergeant Jerry Williams, Jesse Jackson, and former sanitation worker Taylor Rogers in Democracy Now!'s special King broadcast.

To listen to the show or read the transcript, go here.

--Bianca Phillips

Are Bloggers Journalists? Is Thaddeus Matthews?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Shortly after 18-year-old Dexter Cox was arrested in the homicide case of Memphis Police Lieutenant Edward Vidulich, blogger Thaddeus Matthews released Cox's leaked police statement on his website.

Matthews is refusing to release the name of the person who leaked the documents, and Memphis Police director Larry Godwin has launched an investigation. The issue has raised a debate as to whether or not Matthews should be protected by the state's shield law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources.

Matthews will discuss the issue at "Are Bloggers Journalists?", a forum at the Meeman Journalism Auditorium on the University of Memphis campus on Friday, Feb. 22 at 12:30 p.m. The free event is hosted by the University of Memphis chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists.

According to the leaked document, Cox shot Vidulich in self-defense during a tussle with the officer in his home. Cox said he'd gone to Vidulich's house to impart information about recent robbery at the Vidulich's Frayser residence. In the statement, Cox says that the alleged robber had confiscated sex photographs featuring Vidulich and his wife in compromising positions, and Cox was demanding money for their return.

If subpoenaed, Matthews would be the first member of the non-traditional media to test the state's shield law.

For Flyer columnist John Branston's take on the issue, go here.

--Bianca Phillips

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Pizza Guy" John Stambaugh's Killer Convicted

Posted By on Mon, Feb 18, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Louie Holloway, age 26, was convicted on February 13 after a jury trial before United States District Judge Samuel H. Mays, Jr. on charges involving the September 8, 2002, attempted robbery and shotgun murder of Pizza Hut deliveryman John Stambaugh in the Cooper-Young neighborhood.

Stambaugh was memorialized by dozens of stencil-art portraits in Cooper-Young, many of which still remain.

Holloway was convicted of attempted robbery affecting commerce, carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Holloway is set to be sentenced on May 21, 2008 at 1:30 p.m. He faces up to life in prison.

Read editor Bruce VanWyngarden's Flyer story about Stambaugh. Read Pam Denney's story about the Stambaugh stencils here.

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