A Bad Bet

Whether or not Penn National’s request to build a harness horse racetrack is a good idea (and we’re unconvinced that it is), it is clear that part-time Memphis city lobbyist Robin Merritt is hedging her allegiances and engaging in a possible disservice to the city. Merritt, who also represents Penn National, has been lobbying city council members to approve the gaming company’s proposal. We’re not distressed that Merritt has other clients besides the city of Memphis; that’s to be expected. We are distressed that Merritt, a lawyer, seems to have no idea what constitutes a conflict of interest.
Merritt told the Flyer two weeks ago that she had checked with Mayor Willie Herenton and that he had no problem with her overlapping lobbying efforts. If so, we’re not surprised. Mayor Herenton himself holds a position on a gaming company board of directors, and is hardly a source from whom to be seeking guidance – legal or ethical – on this particular issue.
The bottom line is, Merritt is lobbying one of her clients – the Memphis City Council – on behalf of one of her other clients – Penn National. If this isn’t a blatant conflict of interest, then – excuse our editorial French – what the hell is? Robin Merritt’s lobbying efforts are way off-track, and she ought to know better.

Strong Medicine

There’s an adage that says there’s no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right. If that holds true, then Shelby State Community College has had quite a year. Throughout 1997, SSCC has been in the headlines, and the news has been generally bad. The school has suffered through enrollment declines, grading controversies, and a host of personnel-related difficulties, so much so that whenever Shelby State President Floyd “Bud” Amann’s name has shown up in the papers, it’s usually had the adjective “embattled” in front of it.
Dr. Amann came to the Shelby State presidency in the summer of 1996 determined to be what he calls a “change agent,” and he’s certainly delivered on that promise. “I suffer the consequences of being the bearer [of bad news],” he told the Flyer last week, “because we’re finally addressing some issues that have been longstanding and need to be addressed.” Some of those issues – ranging from an overdose of “administrators” to outright chaos in the details of administration to enormous uncertainties in the area of curriculum – had brought the school to the brink of collapse under Amann’s predecessor, the likeable but clearly bewildered Larry Cox.
The situation required strong medicine, and strong medicine is what Amann brought. It was what he was hired to bring. The college has begun to come to grips with major systemic problems that threatened its very future, and there’s no doubt that the application of overdue remedies has created some side-effects. What the prognosis is, no one at this point can predict, but Shelby State can be grateful for Amann’s willingness to undertake a serious therapeutic regime. We should wait to see what happens to the patient before judging his efforts.

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