Friday, September 22, 2017

Shelby County Recruits for a Volunteer Disaster Relief Team

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 2:33 PM

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In light of recent hurricanes and other natural disasters devastating parts of the country and surrounding areas, the Shelby County Office of Preparedness (SCOP) is recruiting a team of volunteers to help out in local emergency situations.

The team will serve in the Reserve Program and will be trained in all aspects of emergency preparedness to be able to provide assistance during natural disasters or other serious emergencies, as well as help with public disaster preparedness training through community outreach.

Director of SCOP, Dale Lane says September is always a month designated for reminding citizens to be prepared, but its proven to be even more crucial in recent weeks.

"...this September, following epic hurricanes with record breaking flooding in Texas and Louisiana and the powerful earthquakes that shook Mexico…we need no reminder that personal preparedness can save lives," Dale said.

Additionally, next month SCOP will offer free public training, instructing on what to do before, during, and after a disaster. The training includes lectures, videos, and hands-on exercises on various aspects of preparedness, such as first-aid, fire suppression, and what to do during a terrorist attack.

The next class is scheduled for Oct. 28, followed by a second session on Nov. 4. Both workshops are planned to run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

More information about the Reserve team or preparedness classes is here.

Suit Targets 'Destructive' Drivers License Policy

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 10:54 AM

Just City's executive director Josh Spickler calls the policy "failed" and "destructive." - JUST CITY
  • Just City
  • Just City's executive director Josh Spickler calls the policy "failed" and "destructive."

Just City and others filed a class action lawsuit last week to stop Tennessee’s practice of suspending drivers licenses because drivers could not pay traffic tickets.

The practice criminalizes poverty and disproportionately affects African Americans, according to Just City. In Tennessee, African-American drivers are four times more likely to lose their licenses for not paying traffic tickets than white drivers, Just City said.

The Memphis nonprofit criminal justice reform agency was joined on the suit by attorneys from Civil Rights Corps, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), and the law firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz.

The groups contend the suspensions happen without basic constitutional protections, like giving drivers adequate notice of the suspension or allowing them a hearing to give reasons why they aren’t able to pay the fines.
“When applied to people like our clients – who did not pay only because they could not pay —these suspensions are fundamentally unfair,” said Claudia Wilner, senior attorney at NCLEJ.

The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville.
It names David Purkey, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner, as the primary defendant but also the court clerks in Rutherford and Wilson Counties and the clerks of Lebanon and Mt. Juliet.

The suit asks the state to end the practice and to resinstate the drivers licenses of about 250,000 who lost them because they couldn’t afford to pay traffic tickets.

Here’s what Just City executive director Josh Spickler said of the practice:

“I see the destructive nature of this failed public policy nearly every day. Already struggling against poor mass transit and limited job opportunities in their neighborhoods, people are forced to drive across town to find work.

“Getting caught means hundreds of dollars in costs and fines and potentially jail. Not driving means not working.

“This destructive public policy does nothing except erode our workforce and criminalize poverty. We look forward to challenging this law in court and bringing some much-needed relief to Tennessee’s working families.”

To read more, go here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Supreme Court Steps In on Fayette Church Matter

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 3:53 PM

Temple Church of God in Christ - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • Temple Church of God in Christ

A Tennessee Supreme Court ruling Thursday will help determine who should be the pastor of a Fayette County church.

A disagreement arose in 2011 between the members the Moscow-based Temple Church of God in Christ and its parent group, the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The two organizations differed on who should be Temple’s pastor.

The disagreement boiled into a dispute over the control and ownership of the church property. Some members of Temple barred the person COGIC assigned as pastor from entering the building or administering the church, according to a statement from the court.

COGIC filed suit in 2015 hoping to declare that it owned the building and had control over it. The trial court dismissed the suit, concluding that the property despite would, ultimately, force it to determine who the church’s pastor would be.

The trial court ruled that deciding an internal, religious matter like that was prohibited by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals in Jackson affirmed the trial court’s decision in 2016.

However, the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled those decisions Thursday. It said courts could and should resolve church property disputes “so long as courts defer to religious organizations on disputes about church discipline, faith, ecclesiastical rule, custom, law, church polity, or the internal governance of the religious organization.”

So, the court deferred to COGIC as to who should be the rightful pastor of the church in Fayette County.

“As for the property dispute, the Supreme Court enforced the language in COGIC’s governing documents which stated that local churches, like the Fayette County church, held their property in trust for COGIC,” the court statement reads. “Because the Fayette County church had voluntarily associated with and agreed to be bound by these governing documents when it joined COGIC, the Supreme Court concluded that COGIC was the rightful owner of the Fayette County church’s real and personal property.”

The Supreme Court sent the matter back to a trial court to work out any final details of giving COGIC ownership of the church.

Task Force Considers Medical Cannabis

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 1:34 PM

GREG CRAVENS
  • Greg Cravens

• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t the only god out there.

• Today’s cannabis is “not your grandfather’s marijuana.”

• Your average middle schooler knows how to score weed.

Those are just some the thoughts of state lawmakers and officials during a task force meeting Thursday to study the possibility of a medical cannabis program in Tennessee.

A Republican-led effort to start a program here died in the legislature earlier this year. But lawmakers agreed to a review of the issue in the legislature’s off-season.

The Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis met for the first time Thursday in Nashville. The hours-long meeting brought testimony from legal experts, cannabis industry officials, and state health and law enforcement officials.

It was the first of three meetings. The task force will meet again in Knoxville next month and then in Memphis in November.

Lawmakers wanted to know if marijuana was actually safe and effective for patients, what other states have done, and whether or not the federal government would ever crack down on the medical cannabis industry and its patients.

Many state officials urged caution on bringing medical cannabis to Tennessee. Health officials cited the lack of any conclusive data from the FDA. Law enforcement officials said legalizing cannabis in any way would make their jobs harder. Others noted that the elevated THC content of today’s cannabis “is not your grandfather’s marijuana,” making it more dangerous.

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the medical cannabis bill’s House sponsor, asked them all to consider one blunt reality.

“Whether you are ready or not, marijuana is coming to America, all 50 states,” Faison said. “Tennessee has the chance to not be 50. With y’all’s help and guidance, we can set up our own boundaries and guidelines. Or, we can try to build a plane with no wings while it’s flying and let everyone build (their programs) around us.”

State health officials pointed repeatedly, though, to the FDA. It’s a Schedule I drug now, the task force members were told, because the FDA hasn’t yet found any current medical use for it.

However, getting there would be tough, some said, because almost half of all Americans have tried cannabis, making it tough to execute an effective study. Further, all marijuana that could be used in any government cannabis research has to come for one place, the University of Mississippi, which offers researchers a lot of red tape and few varieties for study.

While some state health official agreed that cannabis could likely benefit some Tennessee patients, that “there are still way more unknowns on marijuana” and that “the FDA is best to know on this.”

“Is the FDA the only god out there that can decide what is good for us?” Faison asked. “I keep hearing, ‘FDA. FDA. FDA.’ Guys, there’s a lot more agencies out there who know what’s good for a sick person.”

Lawmakers reminded them that the FDA also green-lighted the use of fen-phen for weight loss in the 1990s but ultimately pulled the drug after the health risks associated with were deemed too serious. Further, Also, the said the FDA gave us many of the drugs responsible for the country’s opioid epidemic.

During their testimony, those state health officials told the panel that medial cannabis was still a question mark in the minds of groups like the American Medial Association, Medical Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatry Association, and more.

They also presented a slide titled “People Do Die as a Result of Marijuana,” and reported a story of a young man who ate a cannabis cookie and, as a result of the drug in it, threw himself off a balcony, and died.

Faison said this was, indeed, a “horrible thing.” Anecdotal evidence may provide other death cases across the country in which cannabis was the only drug found in someone’s system, he said. Opioids killed close to 2,000 Tennesseeans last year, he said.

Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) accused of cannabis naysayers of trying to make the plant “the villain of everything and that is just not right.” Jones was the House sponsor of the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act back in 2014.
“If you know a middle school kid, they can get you marijuana,” Jones said.

Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), agreed and said a middle-schooler or high-schooler could get “marijuana more easily than alcohol.”

“Cannabis is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. I mean, it’s everywhere,” Dickerson said. “If we approach it in a thoughtful and measured manner, the legal access (to cannabis) on the overall impact of use in our state would be immeasurably small.”



Trolleys Return to the Tracks for Testing

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 12:24 PM

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Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) has begun testing its steel-wheel trolleys on Main in preparation for their full return and operation in the coming months.

Though interim CEO of MATA Gary Rosenfeld previously said he would like to have the steel-wheeled trolleys be ready to operate with passengers by the end of the year, MATA officials said Wednesday that the trolley cars, which have been reengineered and revamped, must be tested on the tracks for “several months” before the trolleys can be deemed suitable for passengers.

The testing, currently taking place on Main between A.W. Willis and Greenlaw, is to ensure that the newly-installed safety systems on the cars are working properly.

The trolley cars will also be on rails in the middle of Main, and officials warn the public not to come in close contact with any poles, cables, or wires near the trolleys as they may be electrically charged and dangerous.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Q&A: Brooks Museum of Art Director Emily Ballew Neff

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 10:34 AM

Brooks Museum of Art - KEVIN BARRE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Kevin Barre Photography
  • Brooks Museum of Art


Brooks Museum of Art officials announced last week that they would consider relocating the museum from its 101-year home in Overton Park as one option to preserve its collection and plot its future.

Emily Ballew Neff, the museum’s executive director, said renovations to meet current standards have been projected at $84 million. The Brooks board, she said, has a duty “to make some very hard decisions” and are correct to “explore all options before we move forward.” — Toby Sells

Memphis Flyer: You have a list of options for the Brooks and you just recently added relocation to that list, right?

Emily Ballew Neff: Right. That’s all we’re doing.

Basically in the 1990s, the Brooks board decided that the 1973 (portion of) the building was not operationally sound. And that building is still standing.

MF: Is anything in it?

EBN: Yes, we have art in it. We have temporary exhibitions in it. It’s had structural problems pretty much ever since it was built. It was a pre-cast concrete building and it (does not meet seismic standards) and we are on the New Madrid fault.

It’s something that we have to address and want to address. We have to secure the collection in the way that it needs to be secured and preserved.

We maintain everything in it that we’re supposed to do, the climate control, the humidity levels and the whole bit. But it is not easy to do that, to make it into the kind of building that it needs to be in order to maintain the work in safely.

The board has been working on this issue since the 1990s. In the 2000s, the museum — and remember this is long before I was here; I’ve been here two-and-a-half years — the board was teeing up for a capital campaign to address the challenges of that building. Then, in 2008, the Great Recession happened. So, those plans were mothballed.

What my predecessor did in the interim was to go ahead and commission — with the support of one of our major funders, Wil and Sally Hergenrader — a space facilities program. So, we have a report from Cooper Robertson, a firm in New York, and they did an extensive report for the Brooks board.

That report was presented to the board in 2014. Then, my predecessor accepted a job at the Cincinnati Art Museum and left. So, the plans, again, were put on hold.

Basically, what the Cooper Robertson plan did was to outline several options for the board. The first option was to retrofit the 1973 building and bring it up to museum best practices standards.

We do maintain it. I think it’s important for people to understand that the art they see in that space, we do everything we can and we are able, at great expense and at great trouble, to maintain those climate control and humidity levels.

One of the options was to retrofit that building. That had the same conceptual budget as tearing down the 1973 building and adding 23 percent (more space).

The third option was to add about 70 percent-75 percent additional space, tear down the 1973 building, which would allow you to do the expansion. That would have taken over, though, some precious space in our parking lot. That had a conceptual budget of $84 million, and that is in 2013-2014 dollars.

With my predecessor’s departure, everything was put on hold again. I came in April 2015 and we were getting ready celebrate our centennial. We had only one exhibition on the books. What I decided to do with our staff was to do everything that we could to look as great as we could for our centennial year.

Emily Ballew Neff - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Emily Ballew Neff
That’s when we introduced two new exhibition programs. One is Brooks Outside, which takes the museum beyond its walls. That’s thing like Tape Art, the bunnies, and Red Ball. We’ll be doing another project in the spring.

We also started the Rotunda project, where we brought in changing exhibitions into the rotunda. We added some additional programming for our centennial year.

We also carved out of our existing spaces, every square inch that we could for the display of art. I think a lot of people don’t know that even though that 1989 addition added one small gallery, basically it was more about adding the rotunda, the auditorium, the restaurant, and some of those public spaces, which are terribly important.

So, it was the right to add those spaces. But it didn’t really add any new room for the display of art.

So, in essence, we’ve not added new space for art since 1973. And our collection has grown significantly. We now have over 10,000 objects. We also ran out of art storage a long time ago.

We have a fantastic curatorial staff. We have two curators who basically do programming at this museum from our annual operating budget. We do programming that’s usually at the levels of institutions twice our size.

So, we really punch above our weight. We have a great staff, great community, and great members. So, that’s all terrific. But the board has known since the 1990s that we must address these problems.

So, our long-range planning committee was formed by the board in November of 2015. This is not to be confused with strategic planning. We have a strategic plan. This is long-range planning, which deals with the physical plant.

They were charged with going through the Cooper Robertson plan with a fine-toothed comb. They determined, over a series of probably eight meetings or so, that in doing a cost-benefit analysis they thought, ok, if it’s $84 million and it’s plus or minus, because it’s a conceptual budget. At the end of the day, where do we end up?

That’s when they decided we needed to put all options on the table and consider a relocation. Once you get up to $84 million, you’re getting pretty close to what it would cost to start over anew with a more sustainable building rather than trying to fix some of these longstanding problems.

MF: When did the long-range planning committee come up with that idea?

EBN: Long-range planning makes recommendations to the executive committee and that committee makes recommendations to the full board. So, the full board determined this summer that we wanted to put all options on the table.

But we don’t meet during the summer, as a board. But one of the reasons we decided to announce was simply that there a lot of people making speculations and the word was kind of getting out. So, we thought it was better to be transparent about it and let our members know that this options was added to the list of pre-existing options.
MF: When the announcement came out, it seemed like y’all were really careful with it. There was an announcement and then you went silent.

EBN: Well, there was nothing to announce. I mean, we’ve announced what we’ve announced. We’ve shared this one bit of information and we have some existing options and we’re exploring those but we have nothing to announce.

Our board is acting responsibly. They have a duty to make some very hard decisions. They are right that we should explore all options before we move forward.

If we’re talking about a conceptual budget of $84 million, you need to then do a cost-benefit analysis. If it’s that amount and we do this expansion and it takes you into the already precise parking lot that we have, that will trigger some decisions that we have to make.

I think it’s just a matter of being responsible. We need to explore and exhaustedly explore all options. It’s our duty to do that.

MF: Would it be tough to leave Overton Park?

EBN: We love Overton Park. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

We love being here. We’ve had a fantastic 100-year-long history here. It’s such a distinguished, historic park. But I think we have to put all options on the table and that is all we are doing.

MF: Is these a timeline for a decision?

EBN: There is no timeline. I get that question a lot. We are exploring some interesting possibilities. Our board is doing that work. We’ll know something when we know something.

MF: I’ve heard that the Brooks is able to show about 10 percent of what you have. Is that accurate?

EBN: It’s probably pretty accurate and it’s pretty accurate for most art museums. I think what most people forget is that art museums are also repositories.

We have one of the most important collections in the nation and possibly even the world of original photographs by (William) Eggelston as well as original photographs by Ernest C. Withers. We were the second art museum in the country to give Bill Eggleston a solo exhibition back in the 1970s.

Work on paper, such as photographs, can be on view for three months to six months at a time before they have to go back in storage. They are affected by light levels. So, remember we’re about conserving that collection as well as displaying it and interpreting it.

For every month that a photograph or a work on paper is on display, it has to rest for one year. So, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t have all of our Egglestons on display all the time, or all of our Withers photographs on view all of the time. You have to maintain certain light levels and you have to rest them.

There is no doubt that if you don’t have new space since 1973, that’s a problem. We were able to retrofit, during our centennial, an orientation theater that was mostly functioning as a coat check. We tore that out and created a new space for the display of art.

We retrofitted our board room and for a permanent collection of artwork by Caroll Cloar. We’re one of the world’s best and largest repositories of Caroll Cloar’s in the world. So, we wanted a space for that.

We moved some offices and spare office space so we could show more of our Eggleston and Withers collections. Right now, we have Eggleston up and beginning in February, we’ll have a year-long display of Ernest Withers. And we also have other great photographs.

So, you have to be careful about these 10 percent (figures). Or, is it 12 percent? Or, is it 8 percent? That’s simply because there are artworks that cannot be on view all the time.

Then the works that can be on view, we try to cycle works in and out and keep the displays pretty vibrant and lively.

But there is no doubt that we have been bursting at the seams for a very long time.

MF: In your statement, you said visibility and accessibility were important to the Brooks to be able to continue attract art works there. Can you talk about that a little bit?

EBN: Art museums are many things but they are also a history or a particular city as seen through the lens of the art objects that have been collected and then donated to the art museum.

Yes, we have a terrific collection of art at the Brooks. One of the ways we can talk about it is the 5,000 years of art forms from many continents that we represent. You would have to go to St. Louis, or to Birmingham, or to New Orleans to encounter an art museum that includes artwork that comes from around thew world.
But you can also look at the art museum in terms of the history of the city. We are Memphis and you can trace the history of the city through the artworks that have come here.

So, part of our jobs as a staff and our board is to attract the most important art collections in our community. The way you do that is to convince those art collectors that we are the best place to steward their legacy.

That means they are going to ask a lot of questions. How visible are you? How accessible are you? Are your buildings set up to take a great collection such as XYZ collection?

You get a lot of questions. So, you have to be able to prove to your donors that we are the right place. Art collectors have lots of options. They have options in the city. They may be courted by art museums outside of Memphis.

It’s my job, it’s the job of the board, and it’s the job of the staff to build that kind of donor confidence. Quite fankly, and the board has known this since the 1990s, we have been at some disadvantage.
But we certainly did the best that we could during the centennial. We called them Botox renovations because we knew that we needed more work than we were able to do with not a lot of money. But we were able to make ourselves look as good as we could and to make things look as exciting as we possibly could.

Now that the centennial is over, we’re back to addressing these long-standing problems we have with the building.

We have a really fine collection here. It’s an important collection.

We have a Kress Foundation, Kress collection here. Memphis was the first Kress store. It’s an amazing story of philanthropy, of entrepreneurial philanthropy.

When Samuel Kress died, instead of giving his 30,000 objects in his collection to just one institution. He spread it out and gave it to institutions throughout the country that had Kress stores and Memphis was the first Kress store in the country.

So, we’re a major, important collection of Kress paintings. In fact, the Kress Foundation board met here. They’re in New York and they came to Memphis last February for their board meeting.
As I said, we one of the major repositories for original Egglestons and for original Withers, certainly Caroll Cloar. We have an important collection of early American modern art, as well as contemporary art.

So, we also have African art, which we are currently re-installing. We’re currently re-installing the Day Collection of Antiquities. We have some fantastic objects in pre-Columbian art and we’re getting ready to re-install that collection as well.

So, we’re doing the best we can with what we have and with the resources we have.

But, really, the board is doing what is supposed to do, which is to work with the staff to address these long-term building needs.

We’re the city museum and we want to be responsive. We have lots of people who are very positive and understand what our challenges are. We have others who are very concerned and we certainly appreciate and respect that. We knew that. That’s, in part, why we wanted to go ahead and let people know that we’re just putting all options on the table.

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Berlin Boyd Ends His Contract With Beale Street Merchants Association

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 10:32 AM

Berlin Boyd
  • Berlin Boyd
Memphis City Council chairman Berlin Boyd announced Tuesday he is ending his publicly criticized contract with the Beale Street Merchants Association.

Boyd, also chair of the council's Beale Street Task Force, signed a contract with the association last month in an effort to secure corporate sponsors. However, when the council voted to allow the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) to compensate merchants for security costs at the Sept. 5 council meeting, Boyd forgot to recuse himself from the vote. 

Boyd's announcement to dissolve the contract came amidst the council's discussion of reconsidering the said resolution which remits Beale Street Bucks and cover charge revenue to the DMC, making funds available to be allocated back to merchants.

Council member Edmund Ford Jr. proposed amending the resolution to make it clear that the reimbursement funds provided to the merchants are for public right of way security.

After a lengthy discussion, the council voted unanimously to return the resolution to committee on Oct. 3.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Layoffs Again Hit Commercial Appeal Newsroom

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 6:05 PM

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More newsroom staffers were let go at The Commercial Appeal Tuesday, another round reductions here from the newspaper's newest owner, Gannett Co.

In April 2016, Virginia-based Gannett closed on a purchase deal that included the CA, the Knoxville News-Sentinel, and 13 other daily newspaper in nine states. At the time, Gannett officials said they would not lay off any news staffers for one year.  

Almost exactly 12 months later, Gannett laid off 20 news employees in Memphis on one day in April 2017. So far, the company has laid off close to two dozen employees in the Memphis newsroom.

Daniel Connolly, a CA reporter and president of the Memphis Newspaper Guild, said his labor organization met with company officials this afternoon. Kevin McKenzie, a Guild-covered reporter, and a manager were let go Tuesday, he said.

COMMERCIALAPPEAL.COM
  • commercialappeal.com

The Guild does not cover managers and Connolly said he didn't know the identity of that laid-off employee.

In April, advertising staffers were made to re-apply for their jobs, though how many of those lost their jobs is not known. The paper also ended agreements with freelance writers in January.

Here's what Connolly said to Guild members in an email Tuesday:

"I want to personally thank the many Guild volunteers who helped represent us in two separate meetings with the company regarding today’s job cut.

We’re also grateful for offers of support we’ve already received from former employees. It’s this kind of unity that helps us remain a strong and vital labor organization.

While this job cut is smaller than those we saw earlier this year, it’s a life-changing event for the people involved and we take it very seriously.

Company attorney Warren Funk told us this afternoon that two people lost jobs in Memphis as part of company-wide job cuts: one Guild-covered reporter, and one manager.

Our union does not cover managers and the company generally doesn’t release information about them to us. At this point I don’t know who the manager is, or what department the manager worked in.

We’re continuing to represent the interests of our Guild-covered employee."

Sources said newsroom staffers in Nashville, Dickson, and Knoxville also lost their jobs Tuesday.

As Tennessee-Led Opioid Investigation Advances, City Could Sue Over Crisis

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 1:59 PM

JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks

Tennessee District Attorney Herbert Slatery III announced Tuesday that the bipartisan coalition of Attorneys General nationwide participating in a multistate investigation into the national opioid epidemic is making headway. 

As the number of drug-related deaths rises around the country, it's increasing in Tennessee as well. In 2016, Tennessee had the highest number of drug overdose deaths in the state's recorded history: 1,631.

Now, 41 Attorneys General will use documents and information obtained from prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors to determine if there are any unlawful practices in the marketing, sale, and distribution of the drugs.

"The opioid crisis impacts all of us, and is a threat to families in every community in Tennessee and across the country," Slatery said. "We will use all resources available to identify and hold accountable those parties responsible. There is too much at stake not to attack this problem from all sides."

The coalition has already served subpoenas for documents from several pharmaceutical companies and their related entities, as well as three well-known opioid distributors.

The goal of the investigation is to determine what role the manufacturers and distributors might have in exacerbating the the current opioid crisis and determine a way to prevent it in the future.

Locally, Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford, Jr. told a council committee Tuesday that the opioid crisis is one that needs to be legally addressed in Shelby County. Ford says the city should look to pursue litigation against large pharmaceutical companies.

Suing the companies could offset some of the negative economic impacts of opioid-related incidents in the city.

Ford said he plans to present a joint resolution, between city and county, supporting litigation at the Oct. 3 council meeting.

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City Calls Second Public Planning Meeting for the Fairgrounds

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 9:49 AM

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The city is asking for feedback on more than 200 ideas proposed for the Memphis Fairgrounds.

City officials gathered these suggestions for what the 155-acre site could be at the first Fairgrounds public planning meeting last month.

Some of the top suggestions from that meeting include developing an amusement/water park, a retail space, or a sports facility.

Now, the city is again asking for input by way of feedback on these proposed ideas in order to hone in on the viable possibilities.

The meeting is set for 5:00 on Thursday evening at the Kroc Center, at which the city will present some site options, rationales behind those concepts, and how the neighboring communities, including commercial areas could benefit from the projects. There will also be discussion on the Mid-South Coliseum's role, if any, in the developments at the Fairgrounds.

Apart from the meeting, the public can give feedback at various locations in the nearby neighborhoods, like the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market in Orange Mound.

This feedback, as well as suggestions gathered from the Thursday meeting will be considered as the city produces its final recommendation ahead of the final public meeting in November.

From there, the city will submit those redevelopment recommendations to the state in order to be approved for a Tourism Development Zone, allowing tax increases to pay for the project.

Mayor Jim Strickland has said he hopes the city will have a plan ready to submit to the city council and state by the year's end.

Monday, September 18, 2017

State to Reinstate Work Requirement for Food Stamps

Posted By on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 at 4:17 PM

Governor Bill Haslam
  • Governor Bill Haslam

Work requirements will be reinstated for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in most Tennessee counties, state officials announced Monday.

The requirement was waived here in 2008 during the recession. But Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes said the requirements would now apply to “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWD).

“This waiver was necessary at a time when people were hurting from the recession. But nearly a decade later, Tennessee is one of the top locations in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and it’s now difficult to justify waiving the work requirement for adults without dependents who are able to work,” Haslam said in a statement. “We have experienced record low unemployment rates and substantial job growth in Tennessee, and if you can’t find a job, we are here to help you through a network of resources and opportunities across the state.”
The work requirement waiver will remain in 16 counties designated as distressed and have a labor surplus. It was not immediately clear which counties will retain the waiver.

The work requirement is currently in place in nine counties, seven of which surround Davidson County, where the economy showed faster improvement.

Of the approximately 1 million Tennesseans who receive SNAP benefits, the re-instated work requirement will likely impact 58,000 “able-bodied individuals without dependents who are not currently meeting the requirement.”

To satisfy the ABAWD work requirement, you must work at least 20 hours per week, or participate in qualifying education and training activities at least 20 hours per week. You can also qualify if you’re in an approved workfare/volunteer program at least 20 hours per week.

DHS will partner with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Economic and Community Development to those to meet the work requirement in the affected counties.

“We are excited to collaborate with other state agencies, local communities and employers to build a bridge connecting our customers directly with employment opportunities,” Barnes said. “Education and employment are critical for individuals to build a sturdy foundation for stronger communities.”

In the 2018 legislative session, Haslam wants to reduce “fraud, waste, and abuse associated with welfare programs while encouraging self-sufficiency by incentivizing work.”

To do this, he will propose:

• Seek approval to join a multi-state cooperative to identify dual participation in programs
• Strengthen investigations of multiple EBT card replacements
• Increase the ability to investigate fraud with additional tools
• Reduce the fiscal cliff for families meeting the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF or Families First) work requirements by providing a work incentive transitional benefit
• Encourage family stabilization by linking the TANF maximum benefit to the current standard of need


Friday, September 15, 2017

Loeb Wants $24M Hotel in Overton Square

Posted By on Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 3:00 PM

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Loeb Properties wants to build a $24.2 million hotel in Overton Square and wants a $3.3 million tax break to do it.

The project would be built on the surface parking lot that is now north of Hatiloo Theater and east of the Overton Square parking garage. The hotel would have 100 rooms, a rooftop restaurant, and structured parking.

All of this is according to documents issued by the Memphis and Shelby County Econcomic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) Friday afternoon.

Loeb president Bob Loeb said a hotel was needed there to help establish a regional theater district, in a September 7 letter to EDGE president Reid Dulberger.

“Unfortunately, it has become very clear that unless we dedicate the resources to make it happen, there will not be a hotel in Overton Square,” Loeb said in his letter.

Loeb engaged hotel consultants Pinkowski & Co. in December 2016 to help them find a hotel developer. Since then, they brought on LRC2 Properties and MMI Hotel Group as partners on the project.

However, “in order to make their project financially feasible,” Loeb is asking for a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) deal that would allow them to forgo a bit more than $3.3 million in local taxes.

“The project is not feasible without the PILOt benefit,” reads the project’s application.

The hotel would support 65 jobs with annual average salaries of $22,690. The general manager position at the top would make just below $70,000 and food and beverage staffers would make the lowest at $18,720 each year. All told, the hotel would pay about $1.9 million in wages here each year.

The hotel would yield about $5.4 million in tax revenues over the course of the 15-year PILOT and a $6.1 million “benefit to the applicant,” according to an EDGE staff report.

The project was supported in letters from Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau; Jackie Nichols, executive director of Playhouse on the Square; Sam Goff, president of the Midtown Memphis Development Corp.; and Ryan Watt, executive director of Indie Memphis.

EDGE members will consider the application on September 20.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Richard Ransom Back on the Air at Channel 24

Posted By on Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 4:37 PM

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Richard Ransom, for years the chief anchor for WREG, News Channel 3, will be doing business at a new stand, come Monday, September 25.

On that date, Ransom, who left WREG's employ several weeks ago, will become lead anchor, along with Katina Rankin, for the evening newscasts of WATN, Channel 24. He will also become the moderator for Local 24, the station's weekly news interview show.

Brandon Artiles, who had previously performed those functions for WATN, will continue reporting for 24 and will be evening anchor for the 9 p.m. news broadcast of WLMT, CW 30, 24's affiliate station, broadcasting from the same studio.

The station's management announced the changes on Thursday.


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City Official: Others Would 'Love' to Move Into Brooks Building

Posted By on Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 2:19 PM

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Other organizations would “love to have the opportunity” to move into the current location of the Brooks Museum of Art should the organization move, said Doug McGowan, the city’s chief operating officer.

The museum’s board of directors recently voted to add relocation to a list of its future facility needs, a move announced Tuesday. McGowan said, “I haven’t been given any indication that, if they decide to move, that it would be anywhere but here in the city of Memphis.”

A statement from Brooks officials said the museum is growing. That “is revealing some concerning limitations about our current physical plant, which we must address,” said the museum’s executive director Emily Ballew Neff.
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Museum officials have been silent on the issue since the release of Tuedsay’s statement, giving no interviews or further details to media outlets.

McGowan said the city owns the museum building, which is maintained by city crews. Also, the Brooks gets about $571,448 annually from city taxpayers to run the museum and maintain the city’s assets there. It’s an agreement akin to the Memphis Zoological Society’s contract with the city to run the Memphis Zoo.

McGowan said Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration is “excited by the opportunity that they want to grow and expand” and that anything that would help the Brooks reach more people “is a good thing for the city.” But he said he understands the needs of a growing organization.

“We’re certainly willing and excited to help them do whatever we can to meet those needs,” McGowan said. “They’re a valuable partner here and there is obviously plenty of people that would love to have the opportunity to occupy that space, should they move. There’s plenty of compelling places in the city where they might consider moving.”

A (financial) year at the Brooks

The Brooks generated revenue of more than $4.2 million in 2014, according to the latest tax information filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The lion’s share of that — just more than $3.1 million — was from contributions and grants. Only $136,418 was made through admissions and other service fees.

After expenses, though, the Brooks lost $100,286 in 2014, according to tax documents. That was slightly better than the $166,662 the museum lost the previous year.

Brooks memberships brought in $506,667 in 2014. Fundraisers brought in $77,000.

In 2014, the Brooks dipped $1 million from its $5.4 million endowment fund. The fund ended the year at just more than $4.4 million.

Salaries were the largest expense for the museum in 2014. It paid around $2.3 million to its 152 employees that year.

The only employee to earn more than $100,000 was then-executive-director Cameron Kitchin, who made $141,224 as a base salary and had a benefits package worth $4,546.

Taxpayer art

McGowan said the Brooks nonprofit organization owns most of the art in the museum and some of it is on loan from other places. But the city owns a few pieces of art in the Brooks collection.

He said he wasn't sure just how much of the art is city-owned. Nor was he sure how, exactly, the city came to own the pieces.
"Either it was given to us or we purchased it in some way, shape, or form years ago," he said. "I do know it is the largest art collection in the state of Tennessee. It’s something for us to be proud of, and it’s a real state treasure here right in the city of Memphis."    

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Tennessee Floated as Location for Unite the Right Rally

Posted By on Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 11:11 AM



Tennessee is slightly leading in an informal Twitter poll that may help determine the location for the next Unite the Right rally like the one in Charlottesville last month that left one woman dead and many injured.

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White national blogger Hunter Wallace posted the poll Tuesday. Since then, it has garnered the attention of many, including the Tennessee House Democrats group, who retweeted the poll Wednesday.

"Hunter Wallace" is the apparent pen name for Bradley Dean Griffin, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Griffin, is "one of the white nationalist movement’s most cogent commentators of the past decade," according to the SPLC. It's a description Griffin uses like an author's blurb on his Twitter page.

Griffin's blog, Occidental Dissent, reports on the white national movement and has a loyal following, according to the SPLC.

Hailing the event as "UTR 2.0," Griffin asked his Twitter followers which state — Kentucky, Tennessee, or Georgia — "would be easiest for you to travel to?" So far, the poll has garnered 778 votes and Tennessee leads with 41 percent of the vote, a slim margin over 36 percent for Kentucky.
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Griffin said the event is roughly scheduled for November and that he was open to other location suggestions.

Some respondents suggested the event should be held on private land, in a state with open carry laws, or in conservative states. Twitter user Johnny Fash said the location didn't matter.
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Another Twitter user, Diversity Blues, wrote, "Either TN or Kentucky would work. Georgia has too much Atlanta in it, if'n you know what I mean."
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"We will return," promises a tweet from the seemingly official Unite the Right Twitter page. Several white nationals seemed eager (on Twitter for another rally, at one point trying to get an event called "Whitestock" off the ground.    


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