Wednesday, November 14, 2018

TVA CEO Set to Retire in April

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2018 at 11:49 AM

CEO Bill Johnson - TVA
  • TVA
  • CEO Bill Johnson

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) president and CEO Bill Johnson will retire next year, the utility announced Wednesday.

The TVA board will conduct an internal and external search for Johnson's replacement, which could take a couple of months. He will remain as CEO through the process and help to transition the new leader into the role.

Johnson, 64, joined TVA in 2013 as the organization's second CEO. He is the highest-paid federal employee with a pay and benefits package that tops $6 million.

"He improved TVA’s financial health and operational performance, engaged TVA employees, and established better relationships with our customers, elected officials, industry regulators, and community leaders,” TVA board chairman Richard Howorth said in a statement.

Here's a list TVA offered of the milestones achieved during Johnson's tenure:

• TVA debt reduced by $3.5 billion

• reduced the effective price of energy for TVA customers 2 percent from 2013 levels

• diversified TVA’s energy portfolio, and making significant progress toward cleaner energy options

• completed and is bringing online the nation’s first new nuclear power plant of the 21st century, Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2, and improved the performance of TVA’s entire nuclear fleet

• completed the Paradise combined-cycle natural gas plant ahead of schedule and $220 million under budget

• completed the state-of-the-art Allen combined-cycle plant [in Memphis] for reliability, reduced emissions, and flexibility

• completed the $1 billion clean-air improvement project at Gallatin Fossil Plant

• maintained 99.999 percent reliability in the delivery of TVA power while investing in the power system

• began work on a $300 million multi-year initiative to upgrade the power system’s fiber optic telecommunication system

"TVA has a direct, positive impact on the quality of life in the Tennessee Valley, and I have been privileged and honored to lead this organization and the great people who work here,” said Johnson in a statement.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker said Johnson "has exceeded all expectations."

"With a focus on economic development, improving rate competitiveness, reducing debt, and increasing customer satisfaction, Bill and his team have ensured TVA will continue to play a critical role in the economic success of the Tennessee Valley for decades to come," Corker said.

Johnson was also widely criticized for adding luxury jets and a luxury helicopter to the TVA fleet. TVA was also scolded by its own Office of Inspector General for the use of those aircraft.

TVA CEO Bill Johnson (right) met resistance to the new rate change when he visited Memphis earlier this year. - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • TVA CEO Bill Johnson (right) met resistance to the new rate change when he visited Memphis earlier this year.

During his time, TVA was also criticized for drilling wells into the Memphis Sand Aquifer for a plan to pump 3.5 gallons of the city's famously pure drinking water to cool its new energy plant here. Johnson told Memphis City Council members he would have made another choice if he had the decision to do over.

Johnson's appearance at Memphis City Hall earlier this year prompted protests over a TVA proposal to change the city's energy rates.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s executive director Stephen Smith issued this statement in response to today’s announcement:

“For the last six years, Bill Johnson has steered TVA in the direction of serving corporate interests over public interests, evident in preferential rates and rate restructuring for corporate customers which have caused residential and small businesses’ energy bills to rise.

TVA has primarily been focused on serving large corporations’ interest in renewable energy, leaving behind small businesses and households that also want to take advantage of this cleaner, more independent energy choice.

And TVA has been consistently opaque, hiding details about policy decisions from public scrutiny and being less transparent, as we saw with this week’s so-called listening session which was neither web-streamed nor held the same day as the board meeting itself.

We believe it is imperative for the board to appoint a successor with a demonstrated commitment to and interest in public power values.”

Leaders Work to Revamp Public Art Guidelines

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2018 at 11:49 AM

UAC's piece 'rise' painted at Humes Preparatory Academy - URBANART COMMISSION
  • UrbanArt Commission
  • UAC's piece 'rise' painted at Humes Preparatory Academy

Leaders in the art community, Memphis City Council staff, and city officials have been working, somewhat quietly, to streamline the rules and processes around public art here.

The city council voted in March to place a 120-day moratorium on art projects going up on public right-of-ways, and then re-approved that measure again last month.

The moratorium exempts projects funded by the city’s Percent-for-Art program, as well as certain ongoing projects by the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Memphis Medical District Collaborative.

It was first put in place after the council publicly criticized one organization’s murals. The council deemed a handful of murals sanctioned by the nonprofit Paint Memphis as offensive and, in some cases, “satanic.” Some of the less popular murals featured Elvis Presley with a snake coming from his orifices, a cow skull, a dancing skeleton, and a zombie.

After months of heated debate with Paint Memphis and a vote to remove six murals, the council approved the moratorium. The hold was originally implemented to establish a “road map” or legislation that regulates art in public spaces done by outside entities, chairman Berlin Boyd said at the time.

Though the council has not been very vocal about their ongoing efforts and quickly reinstated the moratorium at a meeting last month without any discussion, since then, Boyd said the body and others have been working to improve legislation.

Included in the effort, Lauren Kennedy, executive director of the UrbanArt Commission (UAC), has been working with council staff, as well as Nick Oyler, manager of the city’s Bikeway and Pedestrian Program to improve the process of handling public requests for public art.

“The council isn't trying to stop public art,” Kennedy said. “The goal is to sit back and assess the guidelines for public art on city-owned property. There are good intentions here and this will be useful down the road.”

The Bikeway and Pedestrian Program, which manages the city’s artistic crosswalk/intersection program, is one of many the city divisions that often gets public art requests. Kennedy said the program has strong guidelines in place for handling those requests.

The process, in part, consists of an entity requesting to install an artistic crosswalk/intersection, submitting a design for review, and fulfilling a number of requirements to ensure public safety and proper maintenance associated with the project, Oyler said.

“Perhaps one reason that the program could be described as working is that we have a written guidelines and policy document for the program,” Oyler said. “This sets standards and expectations for everyone involved – the artist, sponsoring entity, and city staff.”

The idea is to develop those guidelines to be applied across different city divisions, Kennedy said.

The new guidelines will lay out the how the city should respond to public art requests, as well as ensure there are opportunities for design review processes to “make sure some of the things that happened in the past don’t come up again,” Kennedy said.

“We want to find a solution to address concerns of the council and administration, but also trying to make sure that the process put in place is friendly enough for people to navigate and doesn’t create too many barriers,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the goal is to have the guidelines completed before the current moratorium ends in March 2019.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Video Purports to Show COGIC Leader Using Homophobic Slurs

Posted By on Tue, Nov 13, 2018 at 1:17 PM

While Memphis leaders celebrate the return of the Church of God in Christ's (COGIC) annual convention to Memphis, a video has surfaced that purports to show a church leader using homophobic slurs during the most recent convention.

COGIC leaders voted during the latest convocation this week in St. Louis to move the annual convention back to Memphis in 2021. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said since 2016 his team and Memphis Tourism "has worked hard and made it a priority" to bring the convention back here.

On Tuesday morning, NewsOne, an outlet delivering news "from a Black perspective," reported the video has "gone viral." The video, posted to Twitter and Facebook, purportedly shows preacher Frances Kelly preaching directly to one man during the convocation.

During her talk, Kelly tells the man he needs to "come out from around those sissified men who have been hanging around you" and "we call them faggots."

"God can’t use no men trying to be women," Kelly said in the video. "We call them faggots. I ain’t calling you that. You understand it. You understand it?"

After getting what seems to be a reproachful comment from a woman standing nearby, Kelly waves a hand at her and says, “hey, I don’t play with God.”

Back to the man, she says, "hey, stay away from around them sissies, okay? Let God save them. God has chosen you. And they know it. That’s why the devil in hell is going to destroy you. In the name of Jesus, I curse this spirit."

COGIC public relations executive director Robert Coleman would not confirm any of the details of the video, whether it shows Kelly, or if the sermon was delivered at the most-recent COGIC convocation. When asked if he'd like a link to the video, Coleman said there was "no need" and said he had no comment on it.  

The video does, at least, feature Kelly, who was once listed as the church's National Director of Intercessory Prayer Ministry. Kelly was also a pioneer in Memphis television as the first woman to host a talk show here in the 1970s on WREG.

Discussing the situation on YouTube, Dashawn Stallings said he knows “Mother Kelly” and said she is ”a sweetheart lady.”

“Mother Kelly is like that in the church and out the church and will cuss you out,” Stallings said.

He said people have said on social media they want to fight Kelly. Also, he said he understands that Kelly is “old and we got grandmas who say the same thing.”

“But when we come into the house of god…” Stallings began. “This ain’t no house. It’s a slaughterhouse. Honey, we don’t care what we say to people. We don’t care how we act in the church.”

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

LeMoyne-Owen receives donation at its gala

Posted By on Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 9:14 PM

LeMoyne-Owen College president Andrea Lewis Miller at the President's Gala. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • MIchael Donahue
  • LeMoyne-Owen College president Andrea Lewis Miller at the President's Gala.

LeMoyne-Owen College received a $250,000 donation from the Shelby County Commission at the school’s President’s Gala, which was held Nov. 10 at Memphis Cook Convention Center.

County Commissioners Mickell Lowery and Willie Brooks made the presentation to president Andrea Lewis Miller and board of trustees chair J. W. GIbson.

The money will be used for various things, including scholarships.

“Absolutely wonderful,” Miller says. “It will do a lot of good.”

The scholarships will be used for need and merit based students, she says.

The President’s Gala, which drew about 700, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the merger of LeMoyne College with Owen College.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Memphis Zoo CEO to Retire in April

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 12:55 PM

  • Memphis Zoo
  • Brady

Memphis Zoo president and CEO Chuck Brady will retire from the post in April.

Brady has been with the zoo for 38 years, according to a news release from the zoo on Friday.

"As CEO since 2003, Chuck helped raise approximately $80 million in major capital improvements — $60 million from private funds, and led the charge to make our zoo one of the highest-ranked zoos in the country,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a statement. “He will be missed."

Brady’s Memphis Zoo career began in 1980 as curator of mammals and rose to the top job in 2003. He played an integral role, according to the news release, to bring giant pandas to the zoo, which brought an expansion of the zoo’s conservation and research activities. “He has led the zoo in providing a global voice for conservation, research, species reintroduction, and overall animal welfare,” reads the release.

Brady was also a central figure in the ongoing and controversial saga of the zoo using the Overton Park Greensward for overflow parking. The issue began decades ago but sparked again in 2014 and ignited protests, one in 2016 drawing a heavy presence by the Memphis Police Department, including its helicopter.

Brady was also the central figure in a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed against the zoo by a former employee. The employee, a woman, claimed Brady held her to different standards than her male counterparts and used phrases like “cat fight” and “hen house” when describing women-involved issues and places at the zoo. It was not immediately clear if that suit is ongoing.

“Memphis Zoo will miss Chuck’s leadership,” Memphis Zoological Society Board President Tommy Farnsworth said in a statement. “He has demonstrated and proven his ability to make Memphis Zoo a first-class organization for staff and guests alike.

“He has played an instrumental role in the overall transformation of the zoo and his commitment to making Memphis Zoo a better place going forward, is recognized and appreciated.”

The Memphis Zoo board will form a search committee to find Brady’s successor, reads the news release. The board will use a national executive search firm to facilitate the search. A job announcement will be released in the upcoming weeks.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Hyde Gift Pushes Riverfront Redesign

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 12:07 PM


Riverfront redesign got a $5.2 million shot in the arm Thursday thanks to the Hyde Family Foundation.

The foundation made the gift to the Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP) to support the redesign of the riverfront from bluff to bank between Carolina and Beale. MRPP will also use the money to fund a new position, the Hyde Fellow in Community Engagement.

“Making a riverfront that reflects the ambitions Memphians have for our city is a major civic statement,” said Barbara Hyde, chair and CEO of the Hyde Family Foundation. “A reinvigorated riverfront – designed by two of the nation’s best design teams – will support a new Brooks on the Bluff and transform the heart of our downtown.”

MRPP is in the midst of a $70 million capital campaign. The money will breathe life into the Memphis Riverfront Concept, delivered from Chicago-based Studio Gang in 2017. The concept is a roadmap to direct locals to a new riverfront. It included new park ideas, markets along Front Street, new cultural amenities there, and more.

So far, nearly $32 million had been raised toward the $70 million goal. With the new gift, the Hyde Family Foundation’s total contribution stands at more than $6.2 million.

Joint Venture Formed to Spur Economic Development Announced

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2018 at 11:19 AM

EDGE board meeting
  • EDGE board meeting
Local officials announced Thursday the proposal for a new joint venture between the city/county economic growth engine and the Greater Memphis Chamber with the intent of accelerating economic growth.

The joint venture between the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) and the Chamber would work to establish a data-driven, accountable approach to recruiting and attracting business from outside of the the region. The new body would be governed by a board with representatives from the city, county, Chamber, and EDGE.

The board will set goals, give quarterly reports on the progress of those goals, and be evaluated on success annually. Reid Dulberger, CEO of EDGE said the new joint venture will accelerate growth and “create a more dynamic and sustainable community” by coupling new research capabilities and targeted economic development opportunities with public goals and accountability.

The changes are an effort of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, as well as Richard Smith, Chamber chairman and president of Fedex Trade Network; Beverly Robertson, interim Chamber president and CEO; Al Bright Jr., EDGE board chairman; and Dulberger.

Strickland said the joint venture is in line with his priority of making data-driven decisions and holding institutions accountable.

“We’ve worked closely to build consensus with government and business partners around this new joint venture, which is in line with my priorities of making data-driven decisions and holding institutions accountable,” Strickland said. “This is a new day in the economic development structure in Memphis, and we’re all coming together to accelerate our job growth.”

Though there are currently about 14,000 more people working in Memphis than three years ago, Strickland said that the main challenge to economic development is the workforce. These proposed changes, he said, are just part of the solution to increasing development, citing other obstacles to economic growth like crime.

“We have momentum in Memphis, and we’re at a time in our history that calls for accelerating that growth,” Strickland said. “These improvements are only part of the equation to increase economic development — working hand-in-hand with our work to reduce crime, reduce poverty, and invest in our neighborhoods — but they are meaningful.

“We must address our No. 1 economic development challenge, which is workforce. And we must make sure that existing businesses, where most of our job growth has taken place recently, are just as equipped to accelerate, too.”

Bright of EDGE said the joint venture will allow for more resources to go toward job recruitment and retention here, as well as help create a new focus for the board, allowing its approach to be more targeted.

“This formal partnership will allow us to put more resources behind recruitment and retention of jobs,” Smith said. “It will focus us on being more targeted in our approach, more responsive to existing employers looking to expand here, and will ensure seamless support across the entire business development ecosystem.

“Furthermore, it creates greater alignment between both public and private sectors and will allow for strategic oversight and goal setting based upon community priorities, with the built in accountability for driving outcomes that will ultimately create more jobs for Memphians.”

The joint venture is just one of the changes government and business leaders are looking to implement to the local economic development ecosystem. Other parts of the proposal look to increase connectivity, improve the workforce, and assist existing local businesses.

Additionally, Strickland is proposing a new EDGE position — a vice president of workforce development, who will work to connect local employers with training and educational avenues.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Crosstown Arts Opens Membership-Based Co-Work Space for Artists

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 4:31 PM

A musician works in the sound lab - CROSSTOWN ARTS
  • Crosstown Arts
  • A musician works in the sound lab

A new membership-based shared art work space is now open in Crosstown Concourse.

The Crosstown Arts’ Shared Art Making Facility, located on the ground floor of the building, is like a gym for artists, officials with Crosstown Arts said Wednesday. The idea is to offer art-making equipment and software to the public that they may not have the financial resources to purchase or space to house.

Kasey Price, a tech at the facility, said the space is for anyone with a passion for art.

Work in the woodshop - CROSSTOWN ARTS
  • Crosstown Arts
  • Work in the woodshop

“Shared Art Making is a place for people to work on creative projects and for those who need access to professional equipment,” Price said. “It’s really for anyone who has passion and focus about their art, whether it’s composing a beat or laser-etching a coffee mug.”

The shared work space has equipment for digital arts, music production, woodworking, printmaking, photography, and other art forms. The digital lab houses seven iMac stations, all with the full Adobe software suite, large-format printers, a laser cutter, vinyl cutter, and industrial sewing machine. The wood shop includes a CNC router for precision cutting, power tools, work tables, and common hand tools.

There’s also a sound lab with private work spaces and equipment for music recording, as well as editing bays and equipment for video work. A silkscreen studio provides tools to create and screen-print images for projects like, T-shirts and graphic posters.

Artist working in the space's sound lab - CROSSTOWN ARTS
  • Crosstown Arts
  • Artist working in the space's sound lab

“We’ve seen artists use the equipment in a lot of fun ways — a rabbit house, laser-etching images into a banana peel, a vinyl chicken woman, and drawer partitions,” Jamie Harmon, Shared Art Making manager, said.

Memberships are $80 per month, if paid on a month-to-month basis, and $75 per month with an annual membership. Members can be artists of any skill level, but must be 18 years or older.

The facility will also allow members to host classes for the public in their area of expertise.

The studio is open Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m; Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.

See more of the space below. 

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New Plan Reboots Marine Hospital

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 12:25 PM

  • Downtown Memphis Commission

Developers are hoping, once again, to revive the former U.S. Marine Hospital in the French Fort area this time with a $18.7 million project that includes 71 apartments.

The hospital was originally established in the 1880s to care for workers injured on waterways. Only one building — the Nurses Quarters — remains on the property from that time, however. Most of the remaining buildings, including the main hospital building there now, were built in the 1930s, according to the property’s owners. The hospital's latest official use was as a National Guard headquarters during Operation Desert Storm.

  • Downtown Memphis Commission
In 2010, a plan to renovate the hospital with condominiums was scuttled by the faltering economy. In 2016, another plan would have converted the space into low-income housing. But the plan was vacated because property owner Lauren Crews didn’t like it and opposition was expected by French Fort neighbors and the Ornamental Metal Museum, according to documents.

Crews still owns the property and is back with a new plan and a new team to convert the long-vacant property. The plan would create 71 market-rate apartments with a pool, covered parking, courtyards, water features, fallout shelter, bike-care facilities, common areas, and a pet-washing station.

  • Downtown Memphis Commission
To do it, Crews’ company, Desoto Pointe Partners, hopes to score a 20-year tax break deal with the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC). In a letter to the DMC, Crews said the project qualifies for the 24-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) deal, though he understands the usual term is 15 years. However, Crews said “the additional years are needed to make the project possible.”

The deal would be worth more than $3.6 million to the investment group, according to its application, over the 20-year PILOT term. Over that same time, the project would add $1.2 million more to local tax coffers than the property would if it wasn't improved, according to the application.

DMC staff recommended the PILOT deal for the project in its report.

Memphians Vote Against Longer Term Limits, Repeal of Runoff Voting

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 9:55 AM


Memphis voters said no to all three Memphis City Council-related referendums on Tuesday's ballot.

The controversial questions asked voters to extend term limits for the mayor and city council members, to repeal instant runoff voting (a system 71 percent of voters approved in 2008), and to eliminate runoff voting in single council districts.

About 60 percent of voters said no to elected officials serving three consecutive four-year terms in office. There were 101,607 no votes and 67,220 yes votes.

  • Shelby County Election Commission
  • Shelby County Election Commission

Voters also said no to repealing instant runoff voting, with 62,316 votes in favor of the repeal and 104,431 — or 63 percent — against it.

  • Shelby County Election Commission
  • Shelby County Election Commission

Finally, 54 percent of voters, or 91,183 voted against eliminating runoff elections in single council districts, while 77,243 voters voted for the elimination.

  • Shelby County Election Commission

  • Shelby County Election Commission

This comes after the city council voted late last month to fund a public education campaign related to the three ballot questions. Council Chairman Berlin Boyd said Tuesday that the Carter Malone group was contracted to implement the campaign, and that he was unaware of how the campaign was actually carried out.

The group Save Instant Run-off Memphis said in a Tuesday-night Tweet that the "landslide victories" show that voters understand and support IRV.

"Local leaders should unequivocally end obstruction of democracy and work to implement these voter led initiatives without hesitation," the group said on Twitter. "Memphis has spoke loud and clear."

For more coverage of Tuesday's election results, see Jackson Baker's report here. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

MPD Director Refutes ‘False Narrative’ About Officers' Actions

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2018 at 2:08 PM

MPD director Mike Rallings
  • MPD director Mike Rallings

Memphis Police Department (MPD) director Michael Rallings said Tuesday there is a “false narrative” regarding the actions of officers.

“This narrative is problematic and can have negative consequences and jeopardize public safety,” Rallings said. “Given our environment and the national climate, I thought it was of utmost importance to present you the facts regarding incidents in Memphis.”

Rallings said in the past the media has reported that 95 percent of Tennessee’s officer-involved shootings take place in Shelby County, but based on information that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) has provided that is “not even close to being correct.”

There have been 43 officer-involved shootings investigated by TBI statewide; three of those shootings or 6.9 percent involved MPD officers, Rallings said. MPD officers hardly use any type of force, he said. 

“We rarely have an incident where officers use deadly force,” Rallings said. “In all actuality, officers only responded to resistance 1.2 percent of the time in 2017. That’s a very sharp contrast to the 200 homicides recorded in 2017.”

Rallings also said that in 2017, excessive force reports from citizens were down.

In the past seven years, there have been 11 officer-involved shootings in the county. Three were fatal. Since 2011, Rallings said there has been a 73 percent decrease in officer-involved shootings.

Ralling’s comments came during a Memphis City Council committee discussion on the TBI investigating all officer-involved shootings — both fatal and non-fatal.

Rallings said he worries that if TBI does this for Memphis, it will have to implement the same policy for the entire state, which based on his conversations with TBI, without having more staff, the Bureau would not be able to do.

The council will vote on a resolution supporting the involvement of TBI in all officer shootings at its meeting in two weeks.

The Shelby County Board of Commission already approved a similar resolution 7-4 at its meeting last week.

This comes after the TBI stepped in to investigate the officer-involved shooting of Martavious Banks in September. Banks was was shot by three officers who did not have their body cameras turned on at the time of the shooting.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Edmund Ford Jr. Snags Memphis Libraries Position

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2018 at 3:56 PM


Edmund Ford Jr., who was recently elected as a Shelby County Commissioner and is currently serving his last two weeks on the Memphis City Council, was named the Memphis Public Libraries’ new financial literacy coordinator Monday.

Dan Springer, the city's deputy director of media affairs said Ford's role is a newly-created position at the library. The salary is $78,000 per annum. 

A statement from the city on Ford’s new position reads:

“We are pleased to announce the addition of Dr. Edmund Ford, Jr. as our new Financial Literacy Coordinator. Our libraries have long been a central hub of learning, and this position will offer Memphians another important avenue towards financial freedom and stability.

Financial Literacy is one of the cornerstones to help lift citizens out of poverty. Dr. Ford will focus his work with the most impoverished and highest needs citizens primarily in the North and South Memphis areas. As Budget Chair on City Council, Dr. Ford demonstrated his passion for knowledge and strong financial background. Now, he will be able to share that with the greater community.”

Springer said the position is net-neutral, budget-wise, as "there was already a vacancy at the library."

Ford, who is also employed as a teacher for Shelby County Schools, was elected to the county commission in August, and has yet to resign from the city council.

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Man Arrested for Recording Police Interaction at Mall

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2018 at 12:34 PM

  • The Commercial Appeal
  • Kevin McKenzie

A Memphis man was arrested at the Wolfchase Galleria on Saturday for videotaping an incident between Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers and two young black men, which was sparked by the mall's no hoodie policy.

The 59-year-old African American man, Kevin McKenzie who is a former reporter for The Commercial Appeal, documented his arrest and the incidents leading up to it in a Facebook post.

"I witnessed a mall-to-prison pipeline in action and I will not support it," McKenzie wrote.

The incident began when McKenzie noticed a mall security guard following a group of young black men through the mall, according to his Facebook post. The men were then escorted off the premises for violating the mall’s no hoodie policy. However, they soon returned.

When they returned, McKenzie, who recorded the exchange, said they were met with MPD officers and were told they would be arrested for criminal trespassing if they did not leave.

“For reasons I didn’t hear, one young man in what appeared to be a nylon blue and white jacket with a hood that was not on his head was handcuffed by a Memphis officer and led away as my video rolled,” McKenzie wrote. “That’s when a black sheriff’s deputy approached me and told me I also was breaking the mall’s rules.”

McKenzie was asked to put his phone away and stop recording, and then told he would be arrested if he didn’t leave the mall.

“Before I could respond, he twisted my arms behind me and placed me in handcuffs and marched me down the escalator to a back office at the mall,” McKenzie said.”

McKenzie, who was ultimately issued a misdemeanor citation, told the officers that the mall’s policy is discriminatory. However, the officers argued that that policy is set by the group that owns the mall, the Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group.

A statement from Wolfchase said the policy is to promote a safe environment and that Saturday’s incident was handled by MPD, to which all questions should be directed.

The full statement reads: “Wolfchase Galleria is focused on providing a safe environment for all customers and employees. We require customers to not conceal their identity while on mall property as a matter of public safety. It is important that our security cameras and security personnel be able to see the faces of everyone on property.

Mall security personnel respectfully ask all customers concealing their identity to conform to the policy. Police are only called if a customer refuses or becomes belligerent. In this instance, a Memphis Police Department officer repeatedly requested the individual to remove his 'hoodie.' He did not comply with this directive and was removed from the mall. The incident on Saturday night was managed by the MPD and we refer all questions about the circumstances to MPD.”

Officials with MPD did not immediately respond to the Flyer’s inquiry about the incident.

This story has been updated with a statement from Wolfchase Galleria.

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Tom Lee Redesign May Affect Memphis in May

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 5:15 PM

Beale Street Music Festival at Tom Lee Park - MIM- FACEBOOK
  • MIM- Facebook
  • Beale Street Music Festival at Tom Lee Park

Will Tom Lee Park's redesign impact Memphis In May?

In its monthly newsletter, Memphis in May International Festival announced Studio Gang, the Chicago team creating a plan to redesign the Riverfront, met with MIM executives to discuss the Tom Lee Park design.

MIM has been working with Studio Gang and Memphis River Parks Partnership to, according to the newsletter, “ensure the redesigned park will protect Beale Street Music Festival patron capacity and full complement of World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest team spaces — not to mention their accompanying economic impact — and preserve the future viability of the festival and its events in Tom Lee Park.”

The final park redesign plan is scheduled for release in December. The initial plan for Tom Lee Park is slated to have landscape and hardscape improvements, including pocket parks with grassy knolls, trees and hills.

The question is — after all this is set in place — how will 225 barbecue teams fit in the park for the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest? And how will more than 27,000 people fit into Tom Lee Park for the Beale Street Music Festival?

The festival would go as planned in 2019, but after that, construction begins. Memphis in May events would have to move beginning in 2020. Where would these events go? The barbecue contest was held in 2011 in Tiger Lane. But that’s a long way from the Mississippi River and downtown hotels. Shelby Farms is a possible site, but, again, that’s a long way from downtown Memphis and its restaurants and hotels. And the traffic problem is another question. Getting thousands of people out of Farm Road and Mullins Station Road?

In its annual report, Memphis in May said it brought in $133.7 million last year in economic impact. And three and a half million tax dollars. Reduced space or a new location is, obviously, going to lower both these amounts.

“For the Beale Street Merchants Association, all Beale Street and all downtown, Memphis in May and the month of May for the festival are clearly the biggest things that happen to us all year long,” says Joellyn Sullivan, vice-president of the Beale Street Merchants Association and owner of Silky O’Sullivan’s on Beale Street. “The hotel occupancy is significant and the economic impact has been very well documented.

“And, to be clear, I am not familiar with the plans for Tom Lee Park. I have no idea. What I read in a newsletter from Memphis in May was the first notice. I saw a little bit about what was going on, but I haven’t seen plans,” says Sullivan

Things are slated to stay the same in 2019 when Memphis will be the honored Memphis in May country, but the next year? “Not only construction, but the ultimate design could decrease capacity for those events and it’s very concerning. We had a little bit of a test with the flood that moved the barbecue (festival) to Tiger Lane. And that definitely had an impact on downtown economics.”

A “key part” of Memphis in May’s mission is “to promote Memphis and, secondarily, Downtown," says Sullivan. "So, it’s a showcase we all have. And our riverfront. To think that venue might not be there for that mutual promotion, that is concerning. Tom Lee Park is what it is. It’s a great, open park that is very welcoming. It’s got sidewalks and benches and it’s already got a play area. It’s an established port that now handles riverboat traffic. People don’t give that riverboat traffic credit. We can tell Downtown when those boats are coming in and out. You can definitely feel the economic impact.”

And, Sullivan says, “Our riverfront has been improving anway. The RiverArtsFest was down here this past weekend. And now we’ve got dueling bridges in terms of bridge lights.

“To be able to have a big, open space downtown that can be a venue for the music fest and barbecue is amazingly special. To have those world class events on the Mississippi River at the foot of Beale where Downtown as a whole can be impacted and showcased is a wonderful, wonderful- thing.”

And if Memphis in May has to move somewhere else like Shelby Farms? “That is devastating. And it’s also probably festival busting. This is not a festival that belongs anywhere but on the Mississippi River. And the whole purpose of Memphis in May, its history, everything about it, is Memphis.”

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U of M Wins $5M contract for Aquifer Research

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Groundwater discharge from an aquifer test at the Tennessee Valley Authority Allen Combined Cycle Plant in October. - USGS
  • USGS
  • Groundwater discharge from an aquifer test at the Tennessee Valley Authority Allen Combined Cycle Plant in October.

University of Memphis researchers will examine water quality issues related to the Memphis Sand Aquifer over the next five years with a new $5 million contract from Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW).

A U of M news release says MLGW "has grown increasingly concerned over water quality impacts to our sole source of drinking water, the Memphis aquifer. Above the Memphis Aquifer is a protective clay layer which shields our drinking water from pollution, but gaps, or 'breaches' in the clay have been discovered."

A diagram shows the layer of aquifers underneath Memphis. - COREY OWENS/GREATER MEMPHIS CHAMBER
  • Corey Owens/Greater Memphis Chamber
  • A diagram shows the layer of aquifers underneath Memphis.

The contact will go, specifically, to the university's Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER). That group will be tasked "with finding more breaches in our clay layer, subsurface mapping of the aquifer, and determining how water use patterns impact groundwater contamination around the breaches. These gaps in the clay layer exist naturally and cannot be filled due to their size and depth below ground."

"These breaches pose a risk to the excellent water quality of the Memphis aquifer whereby contaminants are able to bypass the protective nature of the confining clay and enter the aquifer," said Dr. Brian Waldron, director of CAESER. "Over the next five years, we will bring the brightest student minds from around the world to the University of Memphis to tackle the problems we face."

U of M’s Scott Schoefernacker
  • U of M’s Scott Schoefernacker

The $5-million contact and university dollars will allow CAESER to support at least 30 graduate students to investigate breaches within the MLGW water service area The grant does not cover Germantown, Cordova, Collierville, or Bartlett, although the breaches could continue into those service areas. CAESER hopes to "expand current contracts to address the issues."

The new contact is thanks, largely, to a Memphis-City-Council-approved water rate hike of 1.05 percent on MLGW bills, which comes out to roughly 18 cents per month.  

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