Monday, February 18, 2019

Study: Switch From TVA Power Could Save Up To $333M

Posted By on Mon, Feb 18, 2019 at 2:46 PM

TVA's new Combined Cycle Plant. - TVA
  • TVA
  • TVA's new Combined Cycle Plant.


Memphis Light, Gas & Water could save $240 million to $333 million each year by switching away from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for electricity, according to a new report issued Monday.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group, ordered a study of the switch from the Brattle Group, an “energy, economic, and financial research group that advises major energy providers, utilities, and governments around the country and across the globe.”
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The study is called “Power to Memphis – Options for a Reliable, Affordable, and Greener Future.” It contends that if MLGW and the city of Memphis terminated its contract with TVA and develop an alternative energy supply, the savings each year could reach to $333 million per year.

The options in the study do not include the proposal to use an abandoned TVA nuclear power plant in Alabama for Memphis energy.

“We could have reliable, cheaper, cleaner power for customers across Memphis,” Herman Morris, former MLGW president, said in a statement. “Memphis has the power to become a showcase for 21st century energy that will cost less and stop polluting the air and water. We should be looking ahead and not backward to TVA’s expensive and dirty nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants.”

If MLGW signed letters today to end its contract with TVA, MLGW would still have to buy power from TVA for five years. In that time, Memphis could build its own energy systems or buy it for another supplier like Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), the nonprofit energy group supplying energy for parts of 15 states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

A solar panel array at Agricenter International. - MLGW
  • MLGW
  • A solar panel array at Agricenter International.

All of the options studied would create fewer emissions than those with TVA’s current power supply, according to the study, and some scenarios saw all of Memphis’ power coming from renewable sources as early as 2050.

“MLGW customers deserve to know their options for cheaper bills and cleaner energy,” said former TVA chairman David Freeman. “City officials and MLGW officials need to begin the conversation now so the required five-year TVA notice process can begin sooner rather than later.”

TVA officials did not immediately respond to an invitation to comment on the study. We'll update this story if they do. 

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Workers Call XPO’s Closing of Memphis Warehouse Retaliation

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 9:43 PM

XPO
  • XPO

XPO Logistics is closing its Verizon warehouse here and some employees are calling it retaliation.


The employees were informed Wednesday via letters that they would be terminated as a result of the facility closing in June.


This is the same warehouse that’s recently gained national attention after allegations of pregnancy discrimination, sexual abuse, and poor working conditions were brought forth by employees.


About 400 employees currently work at the facility XPO plans to close.


In a letter to the warehouse’s employees, XPO said that it will be permanently closing the facility here because of “an overall business model change initiated and completed by our customer.”

“Consistent with this change, we anticipate there will be a need to have employment separations at the facility, commencing on April 15, 2019,” the letter reads. “We believe that these plans, when finalized, will be permanent and the entire facility will be closed.”


Employees will be terminated during a 14-day period beginning April 15th. The letter also details that the terminated employees will not be able to “bump or displace” other employees working for the company.


The termination letter was handed to employees on the same day that XPO announced new free benefits for new and expecting parents.


Workers, including Lakeisha Nelson, believe the move is retaliation for exposing sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination at the facility.


“My co-workers and I stood up and exposed the terrible conditions at the XPO-Verizon facility in Memphis, including sexual harassment, dangerous heat, pregnancy discrimination and worker abuses,” Nelson said. “In return, XPO and Verizon are shutting down our facility and cutting our jobs. I will not be intimidated by these corporate bullies.”


A former employee at the Verizon warehouse, Tasha Murrell, had a miscarriage on the job and now she questions XPO’s previously stated intentions to change its policies.


“XPO wants to talk about how much it cares about pregnant workers, and then it lays off all the workers from the facility that brought these pregnancy problems to light,” Murrell said. “This should tell you how serious XPO is about changing its ways.”

President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters General, James Hoffa agreed, calling the closing “disgraceful.”


We have stood by these workers since the beginning in their fight to improve their working conditions at this XPO Verizon warehouse,” Hofa said. “I have spoken to these women and seen the pain and suffering XPO has put them through.


“For XPO and Verizon to now close this facility is disgraceful. We will continue to help these workers in their fight to keep their jobs.”


However, a statement from XPO said the facility's closure is a result of a “business decision” made by Verizon.


“Our presence in the Memphis community remains string, and we have jobs available for the majority of these employees in our 11 other local facilities,” the statement reads.


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Memphis to Train and Hire More Police Officers. Will It Affect Crime Rate?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 2:24 PM

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In an effort to reduce violent crime in the city, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) is actively looking to hire more officers, with a goal of 2,300 commissioned officers by the end of 2020.


In his State of the City Address last month, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said MPD is on track to have 2,100 officers by the end of this year, after dropping to 1,900 in mid 2017.


The recent rise in the number of officers was aided by improved recruitment efforts and better pay for current officers, Strickland said.


“Our officers have received raises of as much as 7.75 percent since we took office, after almost seven years without any raise at all,” Strickland said in his address. “And as we assemble this year’s budget, pay for our public safety employees is at the top of our priority list.”


Anthony Rudolph, training commander at Memphis Police Training Academy attributes the increase in officers to the department’s enhanced recruiting efforts through attending job fairs and community events, both locally and in major cities as far away as Seattle.

The academy has also added more training and testing dates to accommodate more interested applicants, Rudolph said.


In order to maintain the quality of the department as the quantity grows, Rudolph said MPD has “beefed up” the staff in the background unit, which is now at "full capacity." The unit’s sole job is to screen applications, looking into the background of applicants to make sure they are suitable for the job.


When recruits leave the academy, Rudolph said they are “highly trained in what they do.”


In 2018, three police recruit classes were held, while five classes with 75 recruits in each are slated for this year, Rudolph said.


Why 2,300?


The mayor said employing more officers is an effort to continue to lower the violent crime rate here. The violent crime rate was down 4.2 percent in Memphis and 3.6 percent in all of Shelby County last year, according to an analysis released in January by the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission (MSCC).


Ursula Madden, the city’s chief communications officer said at the height of MPD’s staffing in 2011, there were roughly 2,400 commissioned officers. During that time, the violent crime rate was at its lowest since the MSCC started measuring the rate in 2006.

“Mayor Strickland has made it a priority to rebuild the police department,” Madden said. “To that end, our human resources team used our headcount from 2013 to set a goal to recruit and retain 2,300 officers by the end of 2020, while our consultants conduct a workforce analysis.”


Madden adds that the number could change based on the analysis of the consultant, which the city hasn’t received yet.


Will it Work?


Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City, a group that works to minimize the impact of the criminal justice system on people here, said “there is absolutely nothing wrong” with MPD wanting to hire more officers. But, not when done with the intention of reducing crime rates.


Josh Spickler
  • Josh Spickler

When the city says crime is up, so more officers need to be hired, Spickler said the city is “very overtly” saying that more police officers will impact the violent crime rate. But Spickler argues there is “no magic number” of officers at which violent crime decreases.


“Is there empirical evidence to suggest that hiring more officers will actually achieve that purpose?” Spickler said. “There’s no empirical evidence that I’m aware of that shows the number of officers has an effect on crime rates. If it’s there, show us. But it’s not there.”


Spickler said it’s “disingenuous” for the city to use violent crime as the reasoning for hiring more officers, saying he would rather hear the department say they have a personnel or staffing problem.


“That’s a totally different conversation and a very worthwhile one to have,” he said. “It leads to conversations about community policing and best ways to use our resources — the men and women in uniform. That’s the conversation I wish we would have.”


Spickler adds that in his opinion, parts of the community here are over-policed, saying that Memphis already has a high number of officers per capita.

“I don’t think more officers on the streets is necessarily a good thing for the community,” Spickler said. “A big, big percentage of this community already experiences too much interaction with the police department.”


A Different Approach

Spickler said violent crime is typically the result of a lack of opportunities and hope for individuals, and that the community has to work to create that.


“I think that means engagement with those most susceptible to violent crime,” Spickler said. “How can we engage them in a way that gives them hope and opportunity. And you see some of that stuff from many different parts of city government.”


Spickler cites expanded community center and library hours, summer job programs, youth recreation, and gang intervention programs as some of the most valuable anti-crime measures the city has taken.


The country has passed the threshold in which more police presence, enhanced punishments, tougher prosecution could have an impact on crime, Spickler said.


“Yet, the community is very, very bad about that still,” Spickler said. “Those are the things that don’t work. We’re way past that, and yet that’s what we fall back on.”


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XPO Adds More Benefits For New, Expecting Parents

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 11:21 AM

XPO
  • XPO


XPO Logistics announced new, free benefits for new and expecting parents Wednesday in the wake of national attention to allegations from workers that the company practiced pregnancy discrimination.

The global company runs a Verizon warehouse in Memphis. The company has been under fire after employees reported pregnancy policies that some said led to miscarriages.


Employees have also said XPO allows them to work in unsafe working conditions, such as extreme heat.


Now, the company is implementing a free, comprehensive supplemental care for new parents and expectant mothers, “expanding XPO’s commitment to providing high-quality care for women and working families.”


Through a partnership with Maven Clinic, a mobile app and virtual network of healthcare professionals, workers enrolled in XPO’s medical plan will be able to gain additional support services that complement their regular medical care.


“XPO is setting the standard in its industry by offering this comprehensive supplemental health care coverage for employees,” a Wednesday release from the company reads.

Through video chats, messaging, and phone calls, the app allows employees and their families to access a network of more than 1,400 practitioners with specialities including fertility, lactation, infant sleep, nutrition, and mental health.


“This virtual clinic gives our employees 24/7, on-demand access to an array of the services that women and their families seek most during and after pregnancy,” Josephine Berisha, XPO’s senior vice president of compensation and benefits, said. “These services complement our existing suite of US medical plans and are free to all employees. Expert digital healthcare is an important additional convenience for new parents, especially working mothers who are balancing the demands of home and work.”

The introduction of these new benefits comes after XPO announced in December it would take “proactive steps to enhance our policies” with more accommodations for expecting mothers.

New policies were launched earlier this year to provide increased support for pregnant employees, paid family leave, and 30 new types of wellness benefits for women and families. XPO said at the time its new pregnancy care policy is “among the most progressive in the industry,” and exceeds requirements set by federal, state, and local laws.



XPO also announced in December that Tina Tchen of Buckley Sandler’s, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in unique litigation, counseling, and crisis management skills, would be leading an independent investigation into the allegations made by workers.


Tchen, an expert in gender equity and workplace cultural compliance, will investigate the workplace conditions of the warehouse and make recommendations for improvement. An XPO official said Wednesday they could not provide an update on that investigation at this time.


XPO’s enhanced policy and investigation came shortly after 97 House members sent a letter to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce urging an investigation of the many allegations of “disturbing treatment” at XPO’s warehouses around the country.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

'The Clipper' Planned Downtown on FedEx Move

Posted By on Tue, Feb 12, 2019 at 1:51 PM

The Clipper - SOMERA ROAD INC.
  • Somera Road Inc.
  • The Clipper

Developers plan to build an eight-story office and hotel building called The Clipper adjacent to the Gibson Guitar factory building, the newly announced headquarters for FedEx Logistics.

The plan would build the 250,00-square-foot, modern office tower on a surface parking lot at just south of the Gibson plant across Doctor Martin Luther King.

The planned location of The Clipper. - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • The planned location of The Clipper.

Here’s how The Clipper website describes the building:

“The Clipper will contain 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail space for high-end restaurants, a grocer, and boutiques. The remaining 200,000 square feet will be modern, Class A office space composed of 29,500 square-foot open-floor plates and space to house 1,500 employees. Also available to tenants is a new multi-level parking garage that allows for plenty of parking for future tenants.”

The project also includes “a state-of-the-art approximate-250-key full-service hotel, flush with best-in-class food and beverage amenities, a rooftop deck, and conferencing center. The hotel will be built in partnership with Senate Hospitality, owners of the highly successful Westin Beale Street.”

The plan comes from New York-based real estate investment firm Somera Road Inc. and local partner Orgel Family LP. The FedEx Logistics move to the Gibson factory announced earlier today was a major factor for the companies’s decision to build.

“The FedEx tenancy at the former Gibson site, our market research of the supply and demand dynamic Downtown, and the continued support and commitment from our investment committee have affirmed that we truly can reimagine a block of Downtown Memphis by strategically activating and bridging this valuable corridor between Beale Street and South Main,” said Ian Ross, managing director of Somera Road Inc. “The project will be a dynamic mixed-use, transformational connector.”

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FedEx Wants $2M Grant for Downtown Move

Posted By on Tue, Feb 12, 2019 at 11:26 AM

The now-vacant Gibson factory will be the new home for FedEx Logistics. - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • The now-vacant Gibson factory will be the new home for FedEx Logistics.

UPDATE: FedEx Logistics wants a $2 million grant from taxpayers to move its headquarters Downtown.  

Moments after the official email about the FedEx Logistics project went out, another email from the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) went out calling for a special meeting on Wednesday.

The agenda for that meeting includes the grant request from FedEx Logistics for the $2 million in free money. That money would be used to "tenant improvements to the building which are permanent in nature."

The application also reveals that the project will create 339 new jobs, not the 689 new jobs given in the state's news release. The new headquarters would bring 332 existing jobs to the site for a total of 662, acceding to FedEx's application to EDGE for the free money.

The multinational corporation made a profit of more than $1 billion in fiscal 2018. It said it needed taxpayer money to fix the building because of the "high costs for retrofitting the space for office use."

ORIGINAL POST:
FedEx Logistics will move its headquarters Downtown to the Gibson Guitar Factory building in a move expected to cost $44 million and create 689 jobs.

Gibson announced in December that the company would move production from the Memphis location to its Nashville factory. The company said it would be out of the building by April.

FedEx announced the move Tuesday morning in an event that included a host of elected officials, including Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

“With FedEx Logistics creating more than 680 jobs, and investing more than $44 million in Shelby County, they are once again showing that Tennessee is a great place to do business,” Lee said. “FedEx and its subsidiaries have been a true Tennessee success story, and we as a state are proud to see this company continue to grow and call Tennessee home.”

FedEx Logistics is now based in East Memphis. The FedEx subsidiary's president and CEO is Richard W. Smith, who is also chairman of the Greater Memphis Chamber. The company has about 22,000 employees worldwide.

FedEx Logistics "provides worldwide freight forwarding services" that "integrates international freight forwarding, customs brokerage, trade and customs advisory services, and other cross-border service to create comprehensive solutions to international trade."

“This campus will provide a collaborative environment for our team members and a true home for this growing FedEx company as we continue to attract top talent for the future," Smith said. "I can’t imagine a better place to work and be a part of than the vibrant, thriving Downtown Memphis business community.”


Smith said "this is a moment of dynamic growth and transformation for Memphis and FedEx. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the importance of FedEx to Memphis "cannot be overstated.”

"With this move, we’re bringing life back to the Gibson Guitar Factory with one of the strongest brands in the world and continuing to bring more jobs and people to our Downtown," he said.

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MLGW Explains Need for Rate Increases, Infrastructure Improvements

Posted By on Tue, Feb 12, 2019 at 11:04 AM

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As Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) prepares to return to the Memphis City Council next week to again make its case for rate increases, the utility is beefing up its public engagement efforts.


MLGW’s president and CEO J.T. Young is scheduled to host a Facebook Live chat Tuesday (today) at 1 p.m. to answer questions and address concerns the public might have about rate increases or system upgrades.


Questions for Young can be submitted via Twitter, Facebook, and Nextdoor.


The utility is also holding a series of town hall meetings this week to inform customers about the rate changes, infrastructure, and the “truth about MLGW outages.”

“Because of the nature of media reports, you may only get a 30-second sound bite about MLGW news,” reads a flyer about the meetings. “Quite frankly, that’s not enough time to talk about some complex issues surrounding how we deliver power to your home or why the infrastructure, most of which was installed in the 1950s, is in need of an overhaul.”


The first of four meetings was held Monday at the Bert Ferguson Community Center. There, customers were told that the increases for water, gas, and electric rates total 6.8 percent over five years, or about an additional $11.54 per month for customers. The additional funds would get MLGW infrastructure “where it needs to be,” Young said.


Attendees were also told that MLGW has aging infrastructure and “downward-trending electric reliability.” Therefore, the utility is looking to implement a five-year reliability improvement plan funded by rate increases. The plan includes increased tree trimming, as untrimmed trees are the primary cause of power outages. It would also make improvements to the utility’s distribution automation and water-pumping station, as well as replace substation equipment, poles, and cables.


Under the plan, the utility could also implement gas regulatory initiatives, build a new north community office, and construct new wells.


The remaining meetings are slated for:


• Tuesday, February 12th, 6 p.m. at the Glenview Community Center


• Wednesday February 13th, 6 p.m. at the Ed Rice Community Center


• Friday February 15th, 5 p.m. at the Whitehaven Community Center


This public outreach from the utility comes as the city council continues to delay approving the rate increases, which were first presented to them in December.


Last week the council voted 5-5 on the proposed gas rate increase before delaying the votes on hikes to the water and electric rates for another two weeks.

The numbers proposed to the council differ from those presented at Monday's town hall meeting. Last week the council discussed a total increase of 10.5 percent over five years, rather than the 6.8 percent increase discussed at the public meeting. 


Against the increases were council members Gerre Currie, J Ford Canale, Frank Colvett Jr., Cheyenne Johnson, Jamita Swearengen, Berlin Boyd, and Sherman Greer.


Boyd said last week that MLGW has to find other ways to finance improvements to infrastructure. Boyd, echoed by Canale, pushed the idea of MLGW switching from TVA as a power source to a cheaper option or for TVA to lower its prices to become more competitive. This way the utility could use the money that would be saved to fund infrastructure improvements, Boyd said.

Young explained that ending MLGW’s contract with TVA requires a five year notice and that the potential savings from switching aren’t a guarantee.


Meanwhile, Jones and Robinson contending that something has to be done to improve the infrastructure, pushed for their colleagues to support the hikes.


Jones said the council is in its current position because of past councils’ inability to pass rate increases.


“Deferred maintenance does not go away,” Jones said. “So all that we are doing is postponing this, pushing it down the road, and just requiring a greater rate increase on the same rate payers that we are concerned about now by not taking any action.”


The council will vote on electric and water rate hikes at its February-19th meeting next week. The council could also reconsider its vote on a gas rate increase then.


Tune in to MLGW’s Facebook Live session at 1 p.m. for more information about the utility’s proposals.


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Monday, February 11, 2019

Gannett Still Skeptical on $1.8B MNG Deal as Takeover Threat Looms

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2019 at 11:09 AM

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Gannett Co. leaders said they remain skeptical of MNG Enterprises’ $1.8 billion offer to buy the newspaper company after a meeting late last week.

MNG made an unsolicited offer to buy Gannett, the corporate owner of The Commercial Appeal, last month for $12 per share, or $1.8 billion. Gannett leaders said they first learned of the offer in a story in The Wall Street Journal. Gannett leaders rejected the offer a week ago, claiming MNG failed to provide details on financing the deal, antitrust issues, and more.

MNG, a company also known as Digital First, is owned largely by a New York hedge fund, Alden Global Capital. Digital First operates The Boston Herald and The Denver Post, according to USA Today. MNG owns a 7.5 percent stake in Gannett. 
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Leaders from both companies met on Thursday, according to a news release from Gannett Monday morning, to hammer out details. But the information given in that meeting was “deficient” and did not convince Gannett leaders, the newspaper company said.

“We are disappointed that at the meeting on February 7, MNG again failed to provide substantive answers to the basic questions Gannett has repeatedly raised,” Jeffrey Louis, Gannett’s board chairman, said in a statement. “Instead, MNG offered vague and generic statements that further confirmed the board’s decision to reject MNG’s proposal.”

Here are some details from the meeting, according to Gannett:

• MNG said it would fund the deal with debt financing.

• MNG had not secured the financing, nor had it contacted potential financing sources.

• MNG offered ”vague assurances” and said that it is not concerned about antitrust issues.

• MNG said the transaction would be a merger, “not the acquisition proposal that MNG had previously put forth.”

“Despite being afforded every opportunity to provide Gannett with specifics related to these important matters, [R. Joseph Fuchs, executive chairman of MNG] refused to provide any substantive, actionable evidence of a credible proposal,” reads a Gannett statement.

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POSSIBLE HOSTILE TAKEOVER

During a break in these talks, MNG told Gannett leaders that the company intends to nominate six MNG-affiliated candidates to Gannett’s board of directors during the next shareholder meeting. That board will shrink to nine members during that meeting. Filling the board with MNG candidates could amount to a hostile takeover of the company.

“Gannett believes MNG’s clearly conflicted nominees are not in a position to fairly, and in a disinterested way, evaluate and advise Gannett shareholders on MNG’s proposed transaction,” reads a Gannett news release.

Three of the MNG candidates my not be legally capable of serving on the Gannett board, Gannett said, given their roles at MNG. Another, the 78-year-old Fuchs, exceeds Gannett’s mandatory retirement age for board members.

”MNG’s acknowledgement that these nominations are indeed intended to advance its efforts to acquire Gannett further underscores the proposed nominees’ clear and irreconcilable conflicts of interest and inability to satisfy fiduciary responsibilities to all Gannett shareholders,” said Louis.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Tom Lee Park Re-Design Sparks Concern for Memphis In May, Tourism

Posted By on Fri, Feb 8, 2019 at 10:47 AM


Scale model of the new Tom Lee Park - BRUCE VANWYNGARDEN
  • Bruce VanWyngarden
  • Scale model of the new Tom Lee Park

Memphis in May (MIM) officials said Friday morning they received files from the Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP) yesterday that will allow them to begin testing how tents and stages would fit in the park during the month-long festival.  

This comes after a hotel industry leader said last week he was “deeply concerned” a redesigned Tom Lee Park could negatively impact the festival. However, an MRPP leader said the events will fit and prosper in the new park.

MRPP unveiled its design for the park last week. That plan adds contours, trees, facilities, and more to the now-wide-open Tom Lee Park. MRPP president and CEO Carol Coletta said her team has spent two years and $100,000 focused on the the ongoing success of the festival at Tom Lee Park.

A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan. - STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang
  • A view of Tom Lee Park from Studio Gang's 2017 Riverfront Concept Plan.

Wayne Tabor, president and CEO of the Memphis Metropolitan Hotel and Lodging Association, said in a letter last week to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, that he was told the redesign would reduce festival capacity and attendance. He said this would “reduce the festival’s ability to generate revenue, tourists, room night sales, and would reduce the economic impact of the festival.”

“This concerns us because the month of May has consistently been one of the highest hotel occupancy months of the year and one of the largest sales revenue months for Downtown restaurants,” Tabor said in the letter. “In fact, in 2018 Memphis in May festivities had a $137 million-dollar impact on businesses in Memphis. There are a number of issues we have with the proposed plans.”

Coletta said her team has worked closely with MIM officials on the plan for Tom Lee Park. Much of the design work for the park, she said, has been informed by attendance figures, logistical needs, and event-staging preferences from MIM. The three large fields now present in the plan, for example, were created and sized to handle the three main stages and the ever-swelling crowds for Beale Street Music Festival, Coletta said.

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Robert Griffin, an MIM spokesman, said his organization will study MRPP's designs "and expect to have an initial assessment of these tests and the possible resulting impact on our events late next week." After that, MIM president and CEO Jim Holt will answer questions form the media.

Maps drawn up by Studio Gang, the Chicago-based design firm behind Tom Lee Park’s new look, show enough space around the stages to handle the capacity and add more. Those maps show how 18-wheelers would access the park and deliver their loads without ever driving onto the grass. Service vehicles for the festival would also never have to leave concrete paths inside the park.

Tabor said Memphis in May would have to be moved next year during the park’s renovation and revenues lost because of it “could never be recuperated.”

Tabor said the Downtown market now has more than 2,000 hotel rooms and 90 percent of them are booked during the Memphis in May Music Festival and the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Construction and renovation of new hotels Downtown could soon double the number of rooms there, he said, and "Memphis in May will be an even more critical lodging driver with the expanded hotel capacity.”

Coletta said she expects construction of the new Tom Lee Park design to take 18 months. She hopes to get started in June, right after Memphis in May concludes this year. So, under this schedule, the park would be under construction for the festival next year.

Coletta said hosting the festival in Tom Lee Park next year is not off the table. But, as MIM requires the entire park for the festival’s production, she said she was unclear if it would work. She said the Downtown Memphis Commission is now identifying other locations Downtown for the festival in 2020.

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Also, Tabor said the plan would move the barbecue-team tents to Riverside Drive, a move he said would reduce the size of their tents or the number of teams competing.

“Using Riverside Drive for the barbecue competition would also make the contest less appealing or mediocre as it would be just like any other competition around the country — Chicago, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis,” Tabor said. “Using the existing park with the amazing river views enhances the entire experience and makes Memphis in May barbecue competition unique and more than just a World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.”

Studio Gang’s plan does not include moving all of the barbecue tents to Riverside Drive. Current configurations show some tents moved to the street but the majority will still be located in the park, on those large, grassy fields designed for the music-festival stages.

Colletta said the final design for barbecue will be strictly up to MIM. Her team was given specs on tent sizes, the number of tents, teams, team membership, overall attendance, and more. They were also given specifics on the logistical needs to execute the event.

With all of it together, Coletta said every, single barbecue tent at Tom Lee Park last year will fit easily into the new design with room for about 40 extra tents. Studio Gang designers even reconfigured the tent layout to give more teams river views, Coletta said.

STUDIO GANG
  • Studio Gang
Tabor also said converting Riverside Drive to a three-lane street would “congest traffic year-round.” When the street is not operating as a four-lane road, traffic gets congested “throughout Downtown,” he said. That traffic, he said, becomes one of the biggest complaints from our guests trying to reach our businesses in the Downtown area.”

Coletta said the current design shrinks Riverside to two lanes. It grows to thee lanes with the run lane at Riverside and Beale. But rather than get rid of the existing asphalt on Riverside, it would be used for parking lots, protected from the street with a barrier.

Coletta said city data, collected from a year-long pilot project that shrank Riverside to two car lanes, showed the move did not increase traffic congestion on other streets Downtown.

03_tailout_c_studio_gang.jpg

Finally, Tabor said in the letter (written last Monday) that he’d not been contacted to review any final plan for the park and indicated that he should have been.

“Tourism is a $3.5 billion-dollar industry in Memphis and supports over 40,000 jobs as we welcome 12 million visitors annually,” he said. “Any change that would affect our industry this substantially needs to be shared with us.”

Coletta said Tabor has been given a thorough tour since he wrote the letter.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

State Lawmakers File Bills to Address 'Anti-Sanctuary City' Law

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2019 at 1:21 PM

ICE
  • ICE

Four lawmakers, including two from Memphis, filed legislation this week to ease some of the impact of an immigration law that went into effect January 1st.


One of the bills, SB0507/HB0558, introduced by Tennessee Senator Raumesh Akbari and House Minority Leader Karen Camper, both Democrats from Memphis, would require the state to reimburse local government agencies for the expenses incurred while complying with what they call the “anti-sanctuary city “ law.


Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)
  • Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)

The new law would ensure that local governments are reimbursed for the cost of detention, litigation, and potential damages if a city is sued as a result of following the law. According to the lawmakers, local governments around the country have been required to pay significant damages when collaboration with federal immigration enforcement agencies has violated constitutional amendments.


The bill proposes creating a way to track the overall cost of adhering to the recently-passed law in order to better understand how local tax dollars are being allocated for the work of the federal government.


"Too often the state legislature saddles local governments with costly, unfunded mandates,” Akbari said. “We believe it's critical the state understands the true cost of legislation like HB2315 and that the state legislature takes responsibility for the legislation it passes. Memphis is a city that celebrates diversity and people there don't want local resources committed to anti-immigrant campaigns."


Karen Camper (D-Memphis)
  • Karen Camper (D-Memphis)

Camper agreed saying that those resources could be used for other purposes: "Memphians want our state and local governments to use resources effectively and prioritize our community's needs.


“We must allow local leaders to invest in areas with desperate need like education and healthcare — not force them to divert critical resources to help the federal government deport undocumented members of our community."

The second bill, SB0931/HB1110, introduced by Rep. Jason Powell and Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, both Democrats from Nashville, would seek to restore trust between local immigrant communities and state and local governments.


The law would exempt certain agencies from the anti-sanctuary city law, as well as clarify that local police agencies don’t have to inquire about the status of victims or witnesses of crimes.


The goal is to encourage the cooperation of the immigrant communities with reporting and solving crimes. Finally, the bill would also exempt health and educational institutions so that immigrants can access these without fear of deportation.


Yarbro said police officers can’t promote public safety if people in the community fear them.


"Communities are built on trust,” Yabro said. “The job of law enforcement is to promote public safety and investigate crimes, but they cannot do that effectively when large portions of our communities are afraid to call the police or serve as witnesses.

“I want my local police department to be able to enact common-sense policies that keep our whole community safe, including being able to reassure immigrants who are victims and witnesses that they can cooperate without losing their families."


Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said the organization warned lawmakers about the motivations for the law and consequences it could have last year.


“Unfortunately, in an election year, members of the legislature chose cheap politics over sound policy,” Sherman-Nikolaus said. “We applaud the sponsors for introducing these bills, which are an important first step in fixing some of the most harmful provisions of this sweeping and misguided new law and repairing some of the trust in local government that has been deeply severed by the passage of HB2315."


This move from lawmakers comes after Shelby County Attorney Marlinee Clark Iverson gave a legal opinion last month saying that HB2315 would not be applied in Shelby County.


“The language in the statute is unclear to the extent that it can be interpreted as requiring absurd and/or potentially unconstitutional conduct by any law enforcement agency,” Iverson said in her January opinion.


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Local Journalist Sues For Access to Crime Commission Records

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2019 at 10:41 AM

Wendi Thomas
  • Wendi Thomas

A local journalist, joined by a national news outlet, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission (MSCC), contending that its records should be open to the public.


The suit was filed in Shelby County Chancery Court by Wendi Thomas, founder of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, along with leaders from The Marshall Project, a New York-based nonprofit news organization.


According to the petitioners, the MSCC denied multiple records requests, including requests for the details surrounding a $6.1 million police retention grant the commission announced in October.


Thomas and the other petitioners also requested information including how the commission operates, what its policies are, and details of its interactions with the Memphis Police Department and others.


The suits says, in part, that because the MSCC is “the functional equivalent of a government agency, it’s records are, therefore, public records subject to the access requirements of the Public Records Act.”

However, the crime commission maintains that it does not have to adhere to the Tennessee Public Records Act and that its records are not public.


In one response to Thomas’ request for records, MSCC president Bill Gibbons responded: “As we have stated in response to precious similar requests, the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission is a 501(c)(3) private nonprofit entity and is not subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act.”


Additionally, the suit argues that because one-third of the MSCC’s current leadership, including Gibbons, is employed by a public entity, the commission itself is a public body.


The petitioners are asking the court to order MSCC to appear before the court within 10 days to make its case.


Additionally, Thomas and The Marshall Project staff are asking that the documents previously requested are released immediately, their attorneys fees be covered, and that the court finds that the MSCC “willfully refused to grant access to public records.”


Chairman of the MSCC board of dircetors Ben Adams said in a statement Thursday that the commission is not subject to the public records act: “The Crime Commission is a non-profit corporation funded privately and with no governmental authority. It is not subject to the public records act.”

This story has been updated with a statement from the MSCC.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Memphis Pets of the Week (Feb. 7-13)

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 11:14 AM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

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Council Recap: MLGW, Shared-Mobility, & Convention Center Hotel

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 10:08 AM

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The Memphis City Council has put off approving rate increases for Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) customers since December, and did so again on Tuesday.


The utility is asking the council to approve water, gas, and electric rate increases totaling 10.5 percent over five years. The hikes would not take effect until 2020. The average customer would pay an extra $18.59 over the five-year period. J.T. Young, MLGW president, said the increased revenue would go toward improvements to the utility’s infrastructure.


The council voted 5-5 on the proposed gas rate increase before delaying votes on water and electric rate hikes for two weeks.


Voting no for gas were members Gerre Currie, J Ford Canale, Frank Colvett Jr., Cheyenne Johnson, and Jamita Swearengen. While Robinson, Reid Hedgepeth, Martavious Jones, Worth Morgan, and Kemp Conrad voted yes. Members Joe Brown, Berlin Boyd, and Sherman Greer were not present for the vote.


Young said several projects are on hold pending the council’s approval of the rate increases. He also said that putting off infrastructure repairs will only add to the cost of the improvements later. Young added that some of the improvements are needed to help the utility remain in compliance with safety standards.


Boyd, who is against the hikes, said MLGW has to find other ways to finance improvements to infrastructure. Boyd, echoed by Canale, pushed the idea of MLGW switching from TVA as a power source to a cheaper option or for TVA to lower its prices to become more competitive. This way the utility could use the money that would be saved to fund infrastructure improvements, Boyd said.


Young explained that ending MLGW’s contract with TVA requires a five year notice and that the potential savings from switching aren’t a guarantee.


Boyd said — putting himself in the shoes of citizens that might already be experiencing hardship — he can’t support any rate hikes.


Robinson implored her colleagues to approve the increases, arguing that there are several programs in place to offset the cost of utilities for those living in poverty here. She asked the council to consider the needs of the entire county, and not to harp on the 25 percent she estimates live below the poverty line here.


“We can’t kick the can down the street any longer,” Robinson said. “We have to consider all citizens, not just the few. We’re doing everything we can to put a safety net around them … What else do you want us to do? We’ve got to able to stand in front of our constituents and say this is in the interest of all ratepayers.”


Jones who also supports the hikes said the council is in its current position because of past councils’ inability to pass rate increases.


“Deferred maintenance does not go away,” Jones said. “So all that we are doing is postponing this, pushing it down the road, and just requiring a greater rate increase on the same rate payers that we are concerned about now by not taking any action.”


The council will vote on electric and water rate hikes at its meeting in two weeks. The council could also reconsider its vote on a gas rate increase then.


Shared Mobility


The city could invest $75,000 into shared-mobility infrastructure here.


A Downtown bike-share station - EXPLORE BIKE SHARE
  • Explore Bike Share
  • A Downtown bike-share station

The council is considering a resolution proposed by Conrad that would allocate the $75,000 from fees the scooter companies, Bird and Lime, pay to operate here. Per city ordinance, both companies give the city $1 a day per scooter. Conrad said that’s generated $100,000 in revenue and will generate $200,000 annually.


The $75,000 will go toward growing the nonprofit Explore Bike Share, Conrad said. Currently, EBS operates about 60 stations with close 600 bikes, but the additional funds would help the nonprofit expand by another 300 bikes.


“This is about investing in our public transportation ecosystem, by offering a lot of ways that you can get around and get you a job,” Conrad said. “One of the biggest reasons we have so many unfilled jobs is because of the transportation gap. Scooters and bikes are a good way to fill those."



Second Convention Center Hotel


The council also passed a resolution Tuesday relating to the financing of the second convention center hotel.


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The Tennessee Building Commission approved the use of revenue from the Downtown Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) to finance the hotel last year.


The resolution comes after the Sheraton hotel chain filed a lawsuit against the city for the tax incentives offered to Loews to construct the hotel. The lawsuit claims the incentive gives an unfair advantage to Loews.

Sheraton also claims the city didn’t take the necessary steps to follow through on the state’s approval of the TDZ request.

But the resolution approved Tuesday states that the council did act properly by considering a feasibility study and a hotel-need analysis before adopting the action by the Tennessee Building Commission.


Sheraton’s lawsuit against the city will be heard later this month in Shelby County Chancery Court.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Priscilla Presley, Jerry Schilling, and their friend, George Klein

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2019 at 11:32 PM

George Klein, Cindy Schilling, Dara Klein and Jerry Schilling at The Blues Ball.
  • George Klein, Cindy Schilling, Dara Klein and Jerry Schilling at The Blues Ball.

George Klein. Two words you just know if you live or ever lived in Memphis. Or if you’re an Elvis fan.

Klein, a radio and TV personality - and the King’s buddy - died Feb. 5 at the age of 83.

He was a deejay. He had his own TV show. He made personal appearances seemingly everywhere, including Graceland during the commemorations of Elvis’s death in August. He was even in Elvis movies, including “Jailhouse Rock.”

I remember him as gracious and kind. The first time I saw him was in the 1970s at the old Tadpole discotheque. It was like seeing a movie star. I don’t think I said a word to him that night.

Over the years I called him at his home or work to verify something about Elvis or find out something about the King for a newspaper story. He always called me back and he told me everything I wanted to know.

George Klein
  • George Klein

One of the last times I called him was to see if he thought Elvis ever ate the meatloaf at the Arcade restaurant. It was for a food story. Klein said he never went with him to eat at the Arcade, but he told me about the type food Elvis liked to eat. I think Klein knew everything about Elvis.

But nobody knew Elvis like his close friends Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling.

The first time Priscilla heard about Klein was when she was in Germany, she says. Elvis was telling her who his friends were. “And George, of course, was at the top of his list,” Priscilla says.

“The first time I met him was when I went to Graceland in 1962 for Christmas. When he (Elvis) had asked me to come there for Christmas. And we drove up the drive of Graceland and he opened up the door and all of his friends were there that he wanted me to meet. And he introduced me to family and friends. People that he thought were very special. George, of course, was right there among them.”

Elvis, she says, “really thought George to be a great friend. They had gone to Humes High School.”

Elvis and Klein “kept their friends close to their hearts over the years.”

And, she says, ‘And beyond with George.”

What made Klein special? “His loyalty. His friendship. His support. I don’t think I’ve ever heard George say a bad word about anyone. He remembered everyone. He was charitable. He would emcee foundations. He was just a great human being.

“You loved having him around. His sense of humor. His relationships with all his friends. He had so many friends that embraced him and vice versa.”

Elvis and Klein “had their own language,” Priscilla says. She recalls them saying to each other, “You Got it right, Mister.”

Priscilla, who kept in touch with Klein, spoke to him two days before he died. “I’ve been speaking with him at the hospital.”

The last time she saw him was when she presented him his Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Award. “I went and brought it to his home.

“It’s just hard to believe that he’s gone. I don’t know what Memphis will be like without George Klein.

“He’s an icon.”

Schilling, a close friend and business associate of Elvis, and Klein were friends for decades. “He has been my dear friend since the beginning - when my mother was his babysitter and we lived across the street from each other on Leath Street in North Memphis - 777 and 780.

“At Humes High School, George was the president of the class. Elvis didn’t have any real friends at that time in school ‘cause he came up from Mississippi. George was just nice to him. It wasn’t like they were best friends in high school, but George was nice to him. And so right out of high school when Elvis made the record and everything, he trusted George.”

And, he says, the “people Elvis remembered who were nice to him in high school” became the “nucleus of the start of the Memphis Mafia.”

Elvis “didn’t hire like an accountant or a bodyguard or a bookkeeper. He hired people he trusted. Because you weren’t just working for him at that time. You were living with him.”
And, he says, “It was a family. We were all brothers. George was really kind of the glue of all the friends and stuff of Elvis. He knew everyone from every era, whether it was Hollywood, Memphis, early days, later days, George was right there.”

George, he says, “was always nice to me. In later years he called me his ‘West Coast manager.’”

Schilling got Klein a writer for his book, “Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nights, and My LIfelong Friendship with Elvis Presley."

“I was his friend sounding board. We never had an official management relationship. We were too good of friends for that.”

George Klein was always George Klein, Schilling says. “George was the same George that he was when we lived across the street from each other. He was six years older when I got to know Elvis in ‘54. George never changed. I think he changed a lot of things.”

Klein, he says, was “a pioneer on rock and roll radio. And when he had the TV show at WHBQ he was the first person in Memphis to have black artists on his station. I think Fats Domino was the first artist.”

Along with disk jockey Dewey Phillips, Klein “was right at the heart of it all.”

The last time Schilling saw Klein was two weeks ago. “Cindy (Schilling’s wife) and I went out to the Memphis Jewish Home. George knew we were coming and, thank God, he was having a good day. Which was not a good day normally. But a good day for George. We held hands. We talked almost every weekend of our lives whether on the air or off the air. But we always talked about basketball.”

Schilling became president of the Memphis Music Commission when Coach John Calipari became University of Memphis basketball coach. “He and George and I became really good friends along with R. C. Johnson, the athletic director. Coach Cal, when he went back after the game to talk to the team brought me and George back and we would listen.”

Schilling loved basketball, but he would defer to Klein when somebody would ask them what they thought about the game. Schilling would say, “Yeah, George, tell Coach Cal what we think.”

All the basketball players knew Klein and called him “GK” and “The Geeker.’ He was loved across the board.”

People outside of Memphis knew him, too, Schilling says. “I can talk to U2 or anybody about George Klein. They all know who he is.”

Klein, Schilling says, “never wanted to leave Memphis. He loved Memphis. And he had opportunities out here in Hollywood with the top radio station. He just didn’t want to leave Memphis.”

Then there’s the unmistakable George Klein voice. “Elvis would call it his ‘radio voice:’ ‘Oh, George, knock off that damn radio voice.”

Schilling says he told Priscilla, “I don’t think the bang of George leaving has hit me yet. He was truly for the last 40 years or whatever my best friend.”

Those days when he and Klein lived on Leath Street don’t seem so long ago, Schilling says. “I can hear his mother calling ‘George Boy, get in this house.’ I hope GK hears her calling now.””

Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling
George Klein with Cindy Schilling, former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris, Pat Kerr Tigrett and Jerry Schilling at The Guest House at Graceland.
  • George Klein with Cindy Schilling, former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris, Pat Kerr Tigrett and Jerry Schilling at The Guest House at Graceland.

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Rule Change Discussion Sparks Tension Among City Council

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2019 at 3:43 PM

Councilman Joe Brown was at the center of Tuesday’s heated conversation. - CITY OF MEMPHIS
  • City of Memphis
  • Councilman Joe Brown was at the center of Tuesday’s heated conversation.

The Memphis City Council committee chambers heated up Tuesday as members debated proposed changes to council rules and procedures.


Chair Kemp Conrad proposed two weeks ago to appoint a second vice chair who could step in when either or both the chair and vice chair are not present.


Tuesday councilman Joe Brown opposed the idea, questioning the need for a second vice chair: “Never in the history of this council have we had a second vice chair.”


As Conrad tried to table the conversation for the full council meeting, Brown interjected: “Let me tell you something, nobody is afraid of anybody. You’re travelling in the wrong lane and you’re after something, Kemp. I know you and this looks like corruption.”


Brown said he advises his colleagues to vote against “something like this.”


Brown also raised concerns in the meeting about a change of council rules that councilwoman Patrice Robinson proposed in the wake of the recent controversies surrounding the District 1 vacancy.


One of the rule changes that Brown contested was a move to allow a majority of duly-appointed members rather than seven members to make a decision when the council has vacancies. Robinson explained that the change is to add clarity for the council and the public.


But, Brown said the change is irregular according to the rules that we did have, calling it “wrong.”.


“It never ceases to amaze me how people want to change processes,” Brown said. “I don’t know what this game is all about, but you try to change something to fit people’s needs and not the needs of the public.”


However, Robinson said her reasoning behind the change is motivated by the conflicting passages of council rules she discovered during the November and December attempts to fill the District 1 seat.


“I took the time to sit down and read it and highlight them so staff could get a legal opinion,” Robinson said. “It’s so we’re all on the same page. I’m not trying to change it just to change it. I’m trying to see to what we have here is clear.”


Brown continued to challenge the rule change, calling it “murder.” Brown said the council “not to long ago murdered Rhonda Logan,” one of the top candidates in the running for District 1.


“Now this is a double murder that you just came with,” Brown said. “Wrong is wrong and right is right.”


The tense debate led Conrad to read a passage from the council rules of decorum for meetings, encouraging his colleagues to “think about what we say and how we say it before we speak to each other.”


The full council will vote on whether or not to add a second vice chair at its full meeting this evening. In two weeks, the council will return to the discussion of changes to council rules and procedures.

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