City Reporter 

City Reporter

Museum Protester Given Car Used By MLK

After 13 years, Jacqueline Smith is getting a new set of wheels.

Smith, the National Civil Rights Museum protester who calls herself the last tenant of the Lorraine Motel, will soon have an automobile to aid her in her battle.

"A supporter of the protest found out about the car on my Web site," Smith says on this, the 13th year and 128th day of her sidewalk protest across the street from the museum. "He came to me and said that he wanted to purchase the car and then loan it to the protest."

The car is the 1966 Lincoln Continental that was loaned to and used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union officials during the 1968 Sanitation Workers' Strike. Originally owned by community activist Cornelia Crenshaw, the car was rotting on the lot of a local body shop.

"They had it for a number of years," says Smith, "probably since 1979. We found a newspaper in it from 1979, that's how we know."

Although Crenshaw died in 1994, she had tried for several years to get the car back and repair it but was financially unable. Smith says she promised Crenshaw on her deathbed that she would do whatever she could to restore the car.

So when the protest supporter came to her with the idea of buying the car and loaning it to the protest, she was delighted.

"I told him I thought it was an excellent idea. It was something that Ms. Crenshaw always wanted," says Smith.

Last week the car was towed to Chicago where the protest supporter -- who wishes to remain anonymous -- lives. There, its engine will be rebuilt and the exterior and interior refurbished.

"We want to make sure everything is done to perfection," says Smith. She estimates it will take about two years to get the car in mint condition. Afterwards it will come back to Memphis where it will be on loan to the protest whenever they want or need it.

"I won't be driving it," she says, laughing. "I don't drive. No, it will have a spokesperson, someone who will relate its history."

"I would like to use it to continue the principles of Dr. King," says Smith. "We want to help people who need help."

Smith has been holding vigil against the museum for over 13 years because she believes it to be a disgrace to King. She feels that to honor King's teachings, the building should be used to house the homeless and help the poor. · -- Mary Cashiola

Cooper-Young Forms Food Co-op

"I want good food at a good price without having to drive all the way across town to get it," says a member of the Midtown Food Cooperative, a shopper-owned whole and health foods store planned to open in the Cooper-Young neighborhood in late June.

Based on a model that has worked throughout the United States, the co-op currently has just over 100 members, but Jonathan Harrison says they need 330 to receive the maximum $10,000 in matching donations promised by an anonymous donor. The store will be open to all customers, but members would receive a 20 precent discount and be able to vote for products the store would carry, he says.

Right now the co-op is looking for a store site somewhere on Cooper. After helping found co-ops in other cities, Harrison says it is often difficult to get things done with a democratically run organization, but co-ops allow people to have a say in what they eat, assure a steady supply of affordable organic food. and build a community of health- and environment-conscious people.

A gardener who has turned his front yard into rows of salad greens and vegetables, Harrison says the co-op would be able to save its members money by buying in bulk and would also try to support its neighbors by buying local produce and products.

"The co-op will create a community space where people can gather and members can use it for meetings and social functions," Harrison says. "It would also be a place for people who want to promote local goods and shop with friends and neighbors -- a return to the corner grocery store concept."

Memberships are $25 per individual, $40 per family, $15 per student, $100 for a business, and $200 for a lifetime membership. A potluck meeting will be held at 2086 Nelson on Sunday, June 3rd, at 7 p.m. Contact Harrison at for more information. · -- Andrew Wilkins

Parker's Utility Bill Finally Gets Paid

After an extended battle with Memphis Light, Gas and Water, Mamie Parker's utility bill has been paid and both of her children are doing fine.

Three weeks ago Parker approached the Flyer because she was unable to pay her $460 utility bill and MLGW was threatening to cut off her power. She was especially worried because her two young children, Keith and Kiara, have severe asthma and rely on an electrically powered breathing machine during attacks.

After this paper reported Parker's story, a number of Memphians expressed an interest in helping pay her bill. However, when two readers called MLGW, the utility would not permit them to pay the bill, and one of the would-be benefactors says that twice MLGW representatives hung up on him.

Parker says that she asked repeatedly to be included in the utility's SmartPay plan but her requests were denied. She also says she asked the utility to install a separate power line for her children's breathing machine and that this request was also denied.

MLGW did not respond to numerous calls from the Flyer.

Councilman Edmund Ford, who represents Parker's neighborhood, contacted the utility to ask for help for her. Though Parker initially believed that Ford had paid half of her bill, Ford says that the money was actually given by anonymous donors.

"I thank God first of all for the whole debt to be paid off," Parker says. "I also thank Councilman Ford and each and every person that stood behind me through all of this. Councilman Ford really helps people in need and I feel like I can truly count on him."

Parker adds that the children are doing really well and have not had recent problems with asthma attacks since the continuation of their breathing-machine treatments.

"I can't say if any of this will ever happen again to me, but I am going to keep praying regardless," she says. ·

-- Hannah Walton

NBA No(w): What's All the Fuss About?

While most Memphians agree that getting an NBA team would be beneficial for the city, that's about all anyone can agree on. Opinions on the financing of a new arena divide residents into two distinct camps: NBA Now and No Taxes NBA. Both groups have well-reasoned arguments, both are passionate about their beliefs, and both believe the law is on their side. With the city council scheduled to vote on the financing package on June 4th, the debate is only getting more heated. So what is it these two sides are actually fighting over? The Flyer talked to representatives from both camps to find out what all the fuss is about.

On the No Taxes NBA side, Memphis attorney Duncan Ragsdale has filed a lawsuit to prevent the NBA arena from being financed in a way that, he believes, violates the Tennessee Constitution and both the Memphis and Shelby County charters. In his lawsuit, Ragsdale cites certain clauses from those documents:

· Article II, Section 29 of the Tennessee Constitution says that no city's or county's credit can be loaned without an election on the issue. Ragsdale thinks that the municipal bonds proposed to aid in financing the arena would violate that clause.

· Section 835 of the Memphis City Charter says that the city of Memphis can borrow money for construction and repairs of city buildings "to permit and enable said City to put to profitable use by improvement, lease or license any municipal property not presently needed for public purpose."

Ragsdale thinks that the city's lease to the Grizzlies would not be "profitable" and is not allowed. He says this because the lease terms currently being bandied about have been widely reported to be the most team-favorable in the league. (For comparison's sake, the Indiana Pacers pay only $1 per year to lease Conseco Fieldhouse, and this is a plan that Memphis' arena is currently modeled after.)

If the Grizzlies would actually get a better deal than the Pacers do, Ragsdale believes that the lease would not be "profitable" to Memphis.

· Section 5.15 of the Shelby County Charter says, "Every obligation incurred and every authorization of payment in violation of the provisions of this charter are void. Every payment made in violation of the provisions of this charter are illegal, and all county officials who authorize or make such payment or any part thereof are jointly and severally liable to the county for the full amount so paid and received."

Ragsdale believes that if the terms of the deal are found to be in violation of the charter, Memphis and Shelby County could shirk the debt incurred, leaving any and all creditors holding the bag.

Second, the No Taxes NBA group says that similar financing plans used to build the Redbirds' AutoZone Park and the Tennessee Titans' Adelphia Coliseum have come under IRS investigation because of the naming rights sold.

In AutoZone Park's case, the IRS asserted that the "tax-exempt" bonds issued to build the park were not really tax-exempt after all because they were used to benefit a private corporation and not a government entity. (The benefit to tax-exempt bonds is that investors don't have to pay taxes on the interest they earn from the bonds.) The Redbirds' owners recently paid $1.6 million to satisfy the IRS, which is currently investigating Adelphia Coliseum for the same bond issues.

Currently the Memphis arena proposal is modeled after the plan used to finance Adelphia Coliseum. If this plan is used, the anti-arena folks say the IRS could investigate the "FedEx Forum" -- or whatever it's called -- to see if the "tax-exempt" bonds were actually taxable. If the bonds are taxable, the taxes and penalties would have to be paid. Any purchasers of these bonds could sue the city for issuing fraudulent bonds, that is, bonds the city claimed were tax-exempt when they really were not.

Third, as the Flyer reported last week, Memphis Light, Gas and Water's involvement in the financing package might be prohibited by the utility's charter. By charter MLGW must channel any surplus funds into a rate decrease for its customers.

On the other side, NBA Now attorney Marty Regan not only believes that using city bonds to finance the arena is legal but says it's a common move that municipalities often take to pay for costly construction projects.

"Would communities build airports that will primarily be used by Delta, American Airlines, or Northwest?" Regan asks. "Would we build The Orpheum, where the theater is used mostly by private plays, or the Mid-South Coliseum, which gets used by groups like Ringling Brothers? Besides, the NBA will only use that arena 42 to 44 nights out of 365; the rest of the year it can be used for other purposes."

And, on the subject of whether or not the lease terms will be profitable, Regan reminds opponents that none of the terms have been settled on or finalized yet. But he does allow that as the smallest market in the NBA, Memphis has to make the deal all that much more attractive.

"To attract a team, you've got to offer certain perks. One concession the team is seeking would be the $1 a year rent. One of the reasons they want that is that they'll have to play in The Pyramid for two years, which doesn't have the amenities that are standard in other NBA arenas and in the arenas already built in New Orleans and Anaheim, cities that also want a team."

All of which begs the question: Can Memphis afford a team? More specifically, can Memphians afford to go to the games?

Regan thinks the answer to both questions is yes.

"Corporations here like Federal Express have really stepped up," says Regan. "In Indiana, Conseco paid $54 million for the naming rights; FedEx has offered more than that."

And as for ticket prices, Regan says, "Ticket prices here will be among the lowest in the NBA. They're not going to charge Los Angeles prices here, they'll charge Memphis prices." ·

-- Rebekah Gleaves

Bartlett Resident Is Upset Over Sidewalk Fee

Bartlett homeowner Bill Purcell recently received a letter from the city's department of code enforcement stating that he had 90 days to repair his sidewalks and install a wheelchair ramp because he lives on a corner lot. The letter said that he would be financially responsible for all repairs, minus a $250 reimbursement for the ramp.

Purcell, who thought that sidewalks were in the city's domain, did not take the news well. "I was hot for three days," he says. "What are our taxes being used for?" According to estimates Purcell received from local contractors, total cost of the repairs will be $5,000 and $400 for the ramp.

According to Ancil Austin, director of code enforcement for the city of Bartlett, Purcell's problems are not unique or new.

"Bartlett has an ordinance since 1958 that homeowners had to keep their sidewalks in proper repair," Austin says. In 1997, that ordinance was amended so that the city had a right to send inspectors out and mark sidewalks that need fixing. After the sidewalks are marked, residents receive their letters. If the residents do not comply with the ordinance, the city will make the repairs with a charge of $100 or 15 percent of the total costs, whichever is larger. The charges are billed toward the property owner's property taxes.

The ordinance was published, Austin says, in the daily newspapers and that all area real-estate agents are aware of the ordinance.

"It should be noted by the real-estate people [to the home-buyer]," Austin says. Few agents actually mention it to potential buyers. He says, "It's hard enough to sell the house and [the agents] rely on the theory of 'Buyer Beware.'"

Austin says that anyone receiving a letter like Purcell's has one recourse. They can petition the "Concrete Board" for an extension but not an exemption. The board, a group of Bartlett citizens appointed by the mayor, meets on the last Monday of each month. ·-- Chris Przybyszewski

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