City Reporter 

City Reporter

Found Money

Juvenile Court connects families with overdue dollars.

By Rebekah Gleaves

Juvenile Court Clerk Shep Wilbun says he doesn't know why efforts weren't previously made to deliver over $2 million in child- support payments; he only knows that he plans to make them now.

"My feeling is that it's unacceptable to have funds lying around like this when the children and families of Shelby County need it," says Wilbun.

The program, initiated by Wilbun and called Funds for Families, exists to find the intended recipients of money paid into the Juvenile Court clerk's office from 1970 through 1999. Wilbun says that in its first two weeks, Funds for Families has already written checks in excess of $15,000.

"The sad part of all of this is that we're always talking about deadbeat dads, but here the dads paid the money and through some bureaucratic process the kids never got it," says Wilbun.

Soon after he was appointed to the office of Juvenile Court clerk late last year, Wilbun learned that for nearly 30 years intended child-support payments had been returned to the court because the recipient's current address or other information was unknown.

Much of the child-support money was then classified as undeliverable or unidentifiable, with the largest amount listed as undeliverable, meaning that Juvenile Court did not have a current address for the recipient. The second largest amount was in the unidentifiable account, meaning that the child or custodial parent's name was not given when money was paid and the court could not determine to whom the money should be sent.

Using databases from organizations such as Memphis Light, Gas and Water and the Department of Human Services, Wilbun's staff has been able to match some of the names with current addresses for the originally intended recipients. He also encourages others who believe they may be entitled to money to call to see if their case could be included in the identifiable list.

"Why didn't my predecessors do this? I don't know," says Wilbun. "That's a question someone needs to ask them. I will say this: If they had done it, I wouldn't have $2 million to give out now because it wouldn't have been sitting there all this time. You have to assume that it wasn't a priority of that administration, whereas it is a priority of this administration."

Hold the Line

Class-action lawsuit filed against BellSouth.

By Rebekah Gleaves

Three Memphis attorneys have filed a class-action lawsuit against BellSouth, alleging that the telephone service provider negligently and fraudulently failed to inform qualified Tennesseans of the Lifeline discount program.

Bill Ray, BellSouth's assistant vice president for external affairs for East and West Tennessee, told the Flyer that BellSouth has a policy against discussing pending litigation.

The Memphis attorneys, William F. Burns, R. Douglas Hanson, and Murray B. Wells, all of whom work for the firm of Glassman, Edwards, Wade and Wyatt, filed the complaint on behalf of Rebecca Gray, Margaret Rogers, and Hazel Cain. Each of these named plaintiffs claims to have specifically asked BellSouth representatives to include them in the Lifeline program but each says she was told that the program did not exist.

"One of our plaintiffs moved here from California and had been on Lifeline there," says Wells, one of the attorneys representing the group. "She called BellSouth and asked specifically for the Lifeline program and was told that it was not offered in Tennessee."

Wells also says the firm is currently seeking additional plaintiffs who are qualified for but not enrolled in Lifeline to add to the lawsuit.

Lifeline and Link-Up are programs jointly funded by the state and federal governments to provide residential phone service for about $8 a month to qualified Tennesseans. Anyone currently receiving Supplemental Social Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, or Medicaid or anyone whose gross monthly income is equal to or less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level is eligible.

To fund the state portion of Lifeline, the Tennessee Regulatory Authority ordered BellSouth in 1991 to inflate its rates for all telephone lines by an additional fraction of a cent. Since 1991 BellSouth has collected this money from all Tennessee customers, though statewide only 36,000 qualified recipients are currently enrolled.

Land Grab

Whose waterfront is it, anyway?

By John Branston

Just in time for basketball season, interest in property near The Pyramid is heating up. Developers, landowners, and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) were all jockeying for position last week in a busy round of negotiations and deal-making that involved Mayor Willie Herenton at one point.

At issue are both a choice piece of Mud Island and the North Memphis area known as the Pinch. In a nutshell, here's where things stand:

· Developers Henry Turley and Jack Belz agreed to wait up to 60 days before rezoning property in the Pinch for the proposed "Uptown" redevelopment of public housing and vacant land. The RDC, supported by Herenton, sought the delay. Turley wants future Uptown residents "to get to go to the river, just like Harbor Town."

The RDC sees the riverfront, including both sides of the slackwater harbor, as part of its own long-range development plan.

"Our whole emphasis is connecting to Uptown, too," says CEO Benny Lendermon.

· Homebuilder Kevin Hyneman is expected to complete the purchase this week of 14 acres of Mud Island north of the park and south of Auction Street. Hyneman has had an option to buy the property from the group building the Echelon apartments next to AutoZone Park. The RDC is also very interested in this property.

"If it isn't handled the proper way it can really screw up what we're trying to do," says chairman John Stokes.

· The RDC met for several hours last week with its consultants "to try to get a handle on the economics," Stokes says. The most expensive parts of the plan include the proposed land bridge between downtown and Mud Island and the possible relocation of industry on the east side of the harbor.

· Landowners in the Pinch district, including Circuit Court judge Kay Robilio and her husband, Victor, want more money for their land than the city is willing to pay to take it by eminent domain. The Robilios own a half-acre lot two blocks north of The Pyramid that has been in their family since 1866.

"All we want is the opportunity to come out with enough money to purchase another lot that is as nice," says Kay Robilio.

The sides are headed for mediation. Kay Robilio says the city offered something less than $30,000 and the Robilios countered with a higher number she wouldn't disclose. The lot is appraised at $6,700 but speculators have driven up land prices in the area, which has been very slow to develop since The Pyramid opened 10 years ago.

More Jail Problems

Lawsuit filed after assault by inmates.

By Mary Cashiola

The continuing saga of the Shelby County jail began another chapter last Thursday as a Midtown man filed a lawsuit against the county, the county sheriff, and the county mayor.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Joseph Liberto, a Memphis man who was arrested last November after a marital dispute at his home. The lawsuit alleges that during his stay in the jail, Liberto was beaten, gagged, and sodomized with a plastic spoon by other inmates.

The lawsuit ties the violence to the fact that Liberto used the prison phone to call both his attorney and his mother. In an ongoing case in which the county jail was deemed unconstitutional, experts found that gang members inside the jail had posted their own set of rules within the cellblocks and routinely imposed them on other inmates.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court, asks that compensatory and punitive damages be awarded to Liberto, as well as legal fees. That amount is estimated at about $75,000.

Claimed damages resulted from permanent injuries to his back, thumb, and arm, as well as mental and emotional anguish, medical expenses, and lost earning capacity.

Liberto also alleges that he was assaulted by a male guard when he asked to be given his antidepressant medication.

Changing Focus

Hyde Foundation drops scholarships for Rhodes students.

By Mary Cashiola

For almost 20 years, Rhodes College has had eight Hyde Scholars on campus at any one time. But next year, there will be only six; the year after that, four, then two, and finally none. The scholarship, funded by the Hyde Family Foundation, is being phased out.

"Beginning next year, we will no longer offer Hyde Scholarships to new students entering Rhodes," says Dave Wottle, Rhodes' dean of admissions and financial aid. But, he says, the Hyde Family Foundation will continue to support the current Hyde Scholars until their graduations.

The scholarship paid for most, if not all, of the students' room, board, and tuition. Anything not covered by the Hyde Foundation was taken care of by other funding from the college. Including tuition, room, and board, Rhodes costs about $26,000 a year.

Teresa Sloyan is the executive director for the Hyde Family Foundation. She says the foundation is pleased with the growth and direction Rhodes has shown in the previous years.

"When it was initially started many years ago, it was felt it was for a particular period of time," says Sloyan. "The thought was, [the scholarship] will help them recruit locally and nationally."

Sloyan cites Rhodes' high national ranking as evidence that the school might not need the Hyde Family Foundation for that anymore. According to U.S. News and World Report, Rhodes is ranked in the top 50 of the nation's liberal arts colleges for bachelor's degrees.

"During our strategic planning process last year, we decided to focus on K-12 public education," says Sloyan. One of their most visible projects is the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy in North Memphis. The Hyde Family Foundation was instrumental in bringing KIPP to the Memphis City Schools board, including flying six of the board members to New York to visit the school.

city beat

Soul Man

Is super-cool Isaac Hayes the real voice of Memphis?

by John Branston

Writers talk about finding their voice, going through this and that style until they find one that fits. Will the voice of downtown be the deep soulful bass of native son Isaac Hayes?
Say this at least, he has an open field in front of him. Elvis is dead. B.B. King isn’t here enough and it’s been half a century since he made his mark on Beale Street. Rufus Thomas is too old. Shane Battier is too young. The mayors Herenton-Rout buddy act is becoming as tiresome a self-parody as its predecessor, the mayors Morris-Hackett buddy act. The chamber of commerce is the chamber of commerce. And nobody is going to pay money to listen to Jack Belz, Henry Turley, John Elkington, the Jernigans, or any other developer talk about real estate.
But Isaac Hayes is cool. His voice is way cool, up there -- or, rather, down there -- with the stentorian tones of Barry White, the Rev. Kenneth Whalum, author Shelby Foote, and Senator Fred Thompson. He could make a weather report sound sexy. When he goes into his deejay patter on WRBO-FM 103.5 about late-night love songs and the river and growing up in Memphis, he makes our town sound like one of the cooler places in the world. Take your trucker music and teenybopper tunes and shove it, Nashville! His bald head and shades are cool, an amalgam of Michael Jordan and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. His black clothes are cool, especially when he flashes that 100-watt smile. His blocky, muscular body is cool. Is this dude 60 years old or 26?
And best of all, his songs are cool, from the theme from Shaft to “Deja Vu,” which Dionne Warwick performed during her terrific set at the opening last week of his new club, Isaac Hayes Music • Food • Passion. Hayes graciously introduced her, but for reasons he didn’t explain he didn’t take the stage himself. Not upstaging a friend and fellow performer, even at the grand opening of your own club, is pretty cool too.
But just by being there, Hayes gave class, glamour, authenticity, and focus to a place that badly needs it. Like Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Detroit’s Renaissance Center, and Atlanta’s Underground, the name Peabody Place has been stretched too thin to cover too many different things in too many places. Directions to Peabody Place? Sure, are you looking for AutoZone headquarters, Belz headquarters, Cafe Expresso, Muvico, or Tower Records? If you live by the brand you can die by it too.
What the world needs now is love sweet love and a good dose of cool. The NBA knows it, hence Michael Jordan. Television knows it, hence the continuing popularity of Seinfeld reruns and NYPD Blue knockoffs. And Hayes knows it, as evidenced by his mug on bottles of barbecue sauce and cookbooks.
Memphis already has plenty of barbecue impresarios, not to mention hucksters who give the impression that they would happily sell diseased blankets to Indians. What we need is a voice.
Willie Herenton is cool, never more so than when he’s wearing a dark suit and standing tall in the stage lights of a dark room with a microphone in one hand and an audience in the other, as he was at the grand opening last week. But he’s carried the ball long enough. When others try to help him, as Rout did in installment 9,673 of their seven-year series of now-let-me-present-my-good-friend introductions, the wrong note sometimes gets struck, like when Rout joked that Warwick was “in the psychic business.”
“No, mayor,” she corrected him with a definite hint of ice. “I’m in the singing business.”
There will be many more such moments in the coming months as celebrities and the national media descend on Memphis to do their inevitable take on the “Cinderella Gets the NBA” story. Someone needs to get out there now and then and counter this tripe. Someone with stature, bona-fides, and cool shades. Someone whose story and whose ups and downs have the stab of reality in a world of illusion. And that someone is Isaac Hayes, once known as Black Moses and maybe now our next Jeremiah.

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