Flyer InteractiveCity Reporter

Y2K Not a Problem, Say Chemical Companies

What if a chemical plant WAS controlled by computers, and the Y2K problem caused those computers to crash?

That was the scenario debated May 10th by the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Y2K. Dr. Jerry Poje, a toxicologist and member of the Chemical Safety Board, was among those who testified. "We're very concerned about the running of the plant itself, especially in those areas that deal in hazardous materials and are highly computer-controlled," he says. "We're also concerned about the public -- the communities that live in close proximity. The worst-case scenario is a catastrophic release of a chemical."

A random check of some Memphis-area facilities, however, indicates that most seem to have the problem under control.

"We have had a group working on it for a year," says Hayden Lipp, environment manager for ICI Acrylic on Fite Road. "We're under a corporate edict that everything must be completed by June so it can be tested. We've spent several million on a totally new computer-controlled system, so we knew for sure we'd have one that was Y2K-compliant."

Next door to ICI is DuPont, where environmental manager Greg Zweig says, "For the past year, we've been reviewing systems and software. We found some that were not Y2K-compliant, and those are being replaced. Testing should be finished by the end of the summer."

"We basically replaced everything last year," says Tim Meek of Buckman Laboratories on Chelsea. "We're in great shape now."

"We plan on having everything done by the end of the third quarter," says Glenda Akins, plant manager of Velsicol Chemical on Jackson Avenue. "Two of our three facilities at the Memphis site are compliant; the other we've purchased new software for."

"We started addressing it back in '97," says Brent Coussens, Y2K manager for the Williams (formerly MAPCO) refinery in South Memphis. "The refinery is more than 80 percent complete on testing," with a deadline of June 30th.

Spokesmen for all of these facilities say that even if a Y2K problem occurred, safety systems would automatically shut down the plant so that the public would not be in danger. -- Debbie Gilbert

UTMG Settles Malpractice Case

Almost a year ago, the University of Tennessee Medical Group was claiming in court that it was too indigent to pay a $9 million medical malpractice settlement.

Now the medical group is boldly moving into affluent Germantown with a new $20 million medical building.

A financial turnaround for the nonprofit? Nope. In reality, two strokes of luck made the situation possible.

The nonprofit group settled out of court in the malpractice case in mid-February. The details of that settlement are confidential, so it's unclear how much money was given to Maureen Hickman Meserve Vaniegas, whose daughter was permanently brain-damaged in 1990, allegedly due to the mistakes of a doctor and a nurse-midwife with UTMG.

UT Medical Group CEO Steve Burkett won't say how much malpractice insurance the organization has, but it apparently wasn't enough to cover the $9 million judgment. In their appeal, attorneys for UTMG unsuccessfully tried to file a motion declaring the organization too indigent to pay Vaniegas.

A month after the Vaniegas settlement was reached, UTMG received a major subsidy through Morgan Keegan and the county's Industrial Development Board. A $25 million bond for the professional service organization was approved.

The move to Germantown Parkway is expected to offset the costs of providing for inadequately insured and uninsured patients from the poorer parts of Memphis. -- Phil Campbell

Schools Lose Grant for Eezone.Net

The Tennessee Board of Education has denied Memphis City Schools a Goals 2000 grant that would have been used to pilot, a Web-based interactive environmental education program.

The school system still received $1,009,644 in other grant money.

"It's mainly interactive projects based on problem-solving and technology skills," says David Lapides, project manager for Bricolage Interactive Design, the company that developed Eezone. Lapides is the son of local sports talk-show host George Lapides.

The site went online last year and is reaching sixth-grade and older students in five Texas school districts. The program will expand to about 15 Texas school districts next year whether it is picked up in Tennessee or not.

"We chose Tennessee as our second state because there's a very active environmental education program," says Lapides. "And the state department's done a wonderful job connecting students to the Internet. It looked like a good match."

Right now, the site has units on graffiti, litter, and landfills and is planning on adding units on aquifers and wildflowers.

Students working on the litter unit, for example, might go out once a day to gather data about garbage on their campuses. Then the students track the data graphically on the Internet, make an analysis, and try to develop a policy for keeping their campus clean. Students in other areas could log onto the site and determine if that policy would work in their districts.

If the school system had received the Goals 2000 grant, the money would have been used to train teachers to use the Web site. -- Mary Cashiola

Tri-State Defender Headed for New Ownership

The Detroit-based Barden Companies, Inc., announced last week that they have reached an agreement in principle to recapitalize Sengstacke Enterprises, Inc., the Chicago-based company that owns and operates the Tri-State Defender, as well as African-American newspapers in Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh.

The chain's 94-year-old flagship, the Chicago Defender, has a long history of activism, a heritage that became endangered when John Sengstacke, nephew of the paper's founder, Robert Abbott, died in 1997. Sengstacke had placed the company in trust with instructions that it be sold upon his death. His heirs and the paper's supporters became concerned that new ownership might not respect the paper's proud history.

The sale to the African-American-owned Barden Companies, whose holdings include a casino, manufacturing interests, and several radio stations in Illinois, serves to quell those fears.

But the Tri-State Defender will not become a part of the new configuration. According to Tom Picou, nephew of John Sengstacke, he and Sengstacke's son, Robert, have made arrangements to purchase both the Memphis paper and the Pittsburgh Courier, forming the Sengstacke Media Group. According to Picou, the new group is looking to acquire as many as five more papers in the coming months.

"We're very anxious to move forward," says Picou, who was president of Sengstacke Enterprises from 1984 to 1987. He expects the deal to close in June. -- Jim Hanas

Flyer Hosts Alternative Newsweeklies

For a few days, at least, Memphis will be home to more than 100 newspapers.

This week, from Wednesday, May 25th, through Sunday, May 30th, The Memphis Flyer is hosting the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN), the trade organization for the alternative newspaper industry. Founded in 1978, AAN currently includes 112 newspapers in North America, with more than 20 petitioning to join the group this year.

The Memphis convention, with most events taking place at The Peabody, will draw more than 600 newspaper staffers from a diverse array of publications, including Honolulu Weekly, Washington City Paper, Seattle Weekly, and British Columbia's Monday Magazine, among others.

"We're delighted to be hosting such an illustrious group here in May," says Kenneth Neill, publisher and CEO of Contemporary Media, parent company of the Flyer. "We have plenty of activities planned for our guests, and we've been telling them to get a good night's sleep beforehand, because there'll be no rest for them while they're here."

Convention-goers -- publishers, editors, art directors, sales personnel, and other staff -- can participate in more than 50 instructional seminars and workshops, with topics devoted to classified advertising programs, libel law, computer-assisted reporting, and "The Intersection Between Editorial and Design." Bruce Shapiro of The Nation will lead a workshop on community-level investigative reporting techniques. Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, will speak at the First Amendment luncheon on May 29th.

The convention will also include a trade show featuring software vendors, computer services, freelance artists, columnists, and cartoonists.

While they are in town, the AAN members will be given a good taste of Southern hospitality. Scheduled activities include a welcoming party at the River Terrace Yacht Club, a rooftop party at The Peabody, visits to Beale Street (where they'll view a special performance by El Vez at Elvis Presley's Memphis), and tours of Sun Studio, Graceland, and the National Civil Rights Museum. The grand finale will be the Memphis in May Sunset Symphony in Tom Lee Park.

The alternative-news industry is growing, and this year's convention reflects that trend. A record number of exhibitors paid for slots at this year's trade show, and 23 weeklies -- the largest number to date -- have applied for AAN membership this year, according to the AAN Web site.

The convention activities are not open to the general public. But Memphians can read all about it when those journalists go back home and write about their visit here. -- Daniel Connolly

Come Fly With Us

Every organization should have a specialty car tag.

That's the word from Sen. Bobby Carter (R-Jackson), sponsor of a bill in the Tennessee legislature giving the Sons of Confederate Veterans a specialty plate adorned with the Rebel flag. The state Senate approved the bill last week by a 28-2 vote, and it now goes to the House.

"I don't believe it's the state's job to decide what hurts somebody's feelings," Carter told the Associated Press, when asked about opposition to the tag's Stars and Bars symbol. "We should either eliminate vanity plates or let everyone have them."

According to Carter, even groups with reputations for antagonizing large segments of our population -- such as the Ku Klux Klan -- can have their own specialty plates. "I don't agree with a thing they stand for," he says, "but do they have a right to do it? I'd say yes."

We couldn't agree more. And, because in the past decade we've offended at least as many people as have the Klan and the Confederate flag, we think a Memphis Flyer specialty license plate would pass the Legislature with no problem. Our art director has even whipped up a snazzy new Flyer car tag, which we plan to submit for legislative approval.

Here's the deal with the plates: They can't be vulgar (a requirement which immediately eliminated most of our staff's design suggestions); at least 500 people must promise to purchase them; and they must represent a nonprofit organization (although the professional sports teams the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators have them). Anyway, we've created the Memphis Flyer Fan Club, which should take care of that last requirement.

Eighty percent of the tag's proceeds will benefit arts in Tennessee, which sounds great to us, and the other 20 percent goes to the state Department of Transportation, for which our enthusiasm is a little more restrained.

How to guarantee legislative victory for the Flyer license plate? Since the Confederate car-tag bill conveniently came to vote when most of Tennessee's black senators were in Ghana for the African-American Summit, we hoped we could follow that path to success. Perhaps the vote on our plate can be scheduled during the Promise Keepers' convention, the National Rifle Association's annual meeting, or when supporters of Sheriff A.C. Gilless are off somewhere holding strategic planning sessions.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Since one requirement for a specialty car tag is a commitment from 500 people, we need you! Do you want a Memphis Flyer Fan Club plate proudly adorning your rear? Just fill out the form below and send it to us. Once we get at least 500 requests, we'll forward them to the appropriate legislative channels and get this baby rolling.

Just don't expect any sympathy if you're pulled over by a deputy sheriff. -- Eileen Loh-Harrist

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Clip and Mail!

Dear Tennessee Legislator,

YES! Please consider me among the members of the Memphis Flyer Fan Club who propose, and will purchase, a specialty license plate for this organization.



(your signature)

Name (please print):


Address: ____________________________________



Daytime phone:


Evening phone:


Mail to: "I Want A Flyer Car Tag!" c/o The Memphis Flyer, 460 Tennessee St., Memphis, TN 38103. Or fax to 901-521-0129.

Fly on the Wall

Fly on the Wall

Voice of Reason

"Calm down. It sucked." -- an honest audience member responding to the ovation after a recent screening of Finding Graceland at Playhouse on the Square.

The straight-to-cable movie, which stars Harvey Keitel as a may-be Elvis, was shot in and around Memphis in 1997. Those applauding were local cast and crew, reacting to seeing their names in the credits.

The film aired on Cinemax May 21st and will be shown again on May 31st.

Inside Track

"If you are a fan of beauty pageants and the silly antics that go with them, you're sure to love this very unique pageant." -- an endorsement of Playhouse on the Square's production of the beauty-queen-spoof Pageant, from Memphis Dateline's theatre writer Kevin Shaw. And he should know. Shaw not only saw the show, he choreographed it.

Promises, Promises

"I promise I will never tell the people, 'To go to Hell.'" -- a campaign promise from Memphis mayoral hopeful and city council chairman Joe Ford. Ford recently sent out a list of such promises aimed at differentiating himself from incumbent mayor Willie Herenton, who memorably told the Flyer to "go to hell" two years ago when the paper raised questions about his consultant-hiring practices.

Escape from Mud Island

"The incident at Mud Island River Park on Saturday, May 22, was unfortunate." So begins a statement from Mud Island general manager Patrick Frese about an incident over the weekend that saw several visitors trapped inside the park after closing time. Several people jumped the wall while others -- according to Sunday's Commercial Appeal -- waited an hour to be set free.

"There are signs posted at each gate with a telephone number to call if you are locked inside," the statement continues. "A pay telephone is also located in the areas." Plans are also in the works to add a "customer service line" for just such occasions.

Gary Busey Memorial Parkway?

The American Motorcyclist Association is angry, according to the Associated Press, about a bill naming a portion of the Pellissippi Parkway for state senator Carl Koella, who passed away last year after representing two East Tennessee counties for more than two decades. The association is outraged over Koella's involvement in a 1996 accident that resulted in the death of a motorcyclist, for which the senator pled no contest to leaving the scene.

An article in a magazine published by the organization had this to say about the bill: "Here's the new rule: Kill a biker, get a highway named after you."

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