City Reporter 

City Reporter

On Hold

Emergency notification system contract lapses.

By Janel Davis

The contract agreement for maintaining the emergency notification system (ENS) in North Memphis is in limbo after a December 31, 2001, lapse in payment. The system is used to alert 2,300 households in the Douglass Bungalow Crump area of impending danger from industrial accidents.

Service bureau fees of $4,000 and technical support, maintenance, and mapping identification fees of $11,845 have been paid by the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Glen Mohler, LEPC chairman, says a small group has been formed to determine whether or not they will renegotiate the agreement. "LEPC is a non-funded organization and not the type to fund this," says Mohler. "If it's this expensive [to keep], we may need to consider another company or another system."

The system is operated by Dialogic Communications Corporation of Franklin, Tennessee. Dialogic provides The Communicator!, an automated telephone tree, which calls homes in a certain area with alerts or instructions during emergency situations. The 200 phone lines, based in Franklin, are used as a backup for the 20-line system which the company installed at the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

The system is a secondary emergency notification instrument, voluntarily purchased in 1999 by 17 Shelby County chemical plants for the EMA. Ron Ridings, who was LEPC chairman at the time of purchase, says the system originally cost $65,000. Now the LEPC must determine if they or the EMA will continue paying the fees.

"[Dialogic] also wanted to raise the $4,000 fee to $7,000-$8,000," says Ridings.

Monica Dawson, Dialogic contract manager, denies the increase.

"The service bureau fee has always been the same. I am not sure which service they are going to renew, but the increase would be for extra services not currently a part of the contract. The only increase is a 3 percent yearly installation fee."

According to Dialogic, the lapse equates to a loss of system maintenance services. Until an agreement is reinstated, services would be paid on a "pay-as-you-go" basis.

"The system is still fully operational," says Dawson. "If something were to happen today and we got a call from Memphis to send out emergency information, the calls would still go out."

The effectiveness of the secondary notification system has been questioned since its implementation.

"This system has been discussed several times before at community meetings," says Rita Harris of the Sierra Club. "The system has never worked correctly. Even on the test date residents didn't receive a call."

Ridings admits that the first test was a failure but says that later tests were successful.

Ridings also says the notification system has never been used in an actual emergency situation. In February 2001, when a Velsicol tank erupted, the system was not used, causing more criticism. But Ridings says the chemicals were not hazardous.

"This [system] is turning into something to be criticized, but this is actually a voluntary notification. There are still some kinks, but we're working on it," he says. In fact, he says the South Memphis Alliance Group has inquired about implementing the system in their neighborhoods.

"I hope that maybe as [federal] Homeland Security moneys get filtered down the pipe, they can be considered to fund this," says Mohler.

At press time, calls to Memphis/Shelby County EMA Planning Officer Joe Lowry had not been returned.

Training In Tunica

Boxers to set up training camps at Fitzgeralds, Sam's Town.

By Rebekah Gleaves

The rumors have been confirmed: Fitzgeralds Casino in Tunica will host Mike Tyson and his training camp, and Sam's Town casino will host heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. The boxers will meet June 8th in The Pyramid.

"My owner, Don Barden, challenged me with the task of making sure the next heavyweight champion would be working out here. I think I've accomplished that," jokes Domenic Mezetta, vice president and general manager for Fitzgeralds Tunica Casino.

Representatives from Fitzgeralds, Sam's Town, the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau, and fight promoter Brian Young announced the decision on the training camps Tuesday, April 16th, in a press conference at Fitzgeralds.

"It was an easy choice on these casinos," says Young. "Fitzgeralds made us a tremendous offer. We were so impressed with them. We didn't feel there was any place better suited."

Mezetta claims there was no truth to the rumor that Fitzgeralds was the only casino willing to host Tyson's camp, saying, "There were other people who wanted him too."

He says Tyson is expected to arrive on June 1st and will stay at Fitzgeralds until June 9th. Mezetta also says that there will be at least one public and one media workout scheduled but does not know the dates or how tickets will be handled. With a capacity of only 500-700 spectators in the training area, Mezetta anticipates that the viewing audience will have to rotate for everyone to watch.

The training camp is expected to begin June 1st with the dates and times of public workouts to be announced at a later date.

Rick White, Sam's Town director of marketing, says that he ranks the upcoming Lewis/Tyson fight in the same category as the legendary Muhammad Ali/George Foreman match.

"Here you have two fighters who have been there -- have knocked out the best in the world. There are two champions at work here," says White.

Young says that the undercard fighters have not yet been decided but that they and their camps will likely be housed at some of Tunica's other casinos.

Bound For Italy

Rhodes invited to international theater festival.

By Chris Davis

A group of student actors from Rhodes College will reprise last season's production of Iphigenia and Other Daughters for the Arezzo Teatro international festival in Tuscany, Italy. They are one of only three American companies invited to the festival.

"We were asked to apply," says director, Rhodes alum, and visiting faculty member Brad Shelton, "and we did, and that was that." Shelton says he thinks having worked on a successful professional version of the show in Chicago prior to directing the equally well-received production at Rhodes was a key factor in being chosen for the festival.

"We sent a copy of a review from the Chicago production," Shelton says, "as well as the review from the Flyer as part of the package. And they invited us to come."

The other American companies chosen for the festival include groups from the University of Texas and Mount Holyoke College. They will share the stage with notable European companies, including the Beckett Institute of Dublin..

Iphigenia and Other Daughters is by classical revisionist Ellen McLaughlin, whose newest play, Helen, opened in New York this week under the direction of Angels in America author Tony Kushner. Shelton says the play is about exploring the role of women in a male-dominated society.

"The issue is one that interests me even more now, given the situation in the Middle East," Shelton says. "I'm also interested in seeing how it plays in Italy, another male-dominated society."

The Rhodes performance is slated for May 24th.

Stuck In Neutral

School board delays vote on bus contract.

By Mary Cashiola

As an investigation continued into the city schools' bus services, a proposed transportation contract was scuttled by the city schools board at its most recent meeting.

With a group from Laidlaw Transit, the system's bus-services provider, in the audience, school superintendent Johnnie B. Watson withdrew the proposed contract from the table after concerns were raised by the board. Commissioner Wanda Halbert, for one, was worried that the transportation services had not used a fair bidding process.

In February, amid allegations of collusion, Watson asked internal auditor Waldon Gooch to investigate the transportation division's activities from April 3, 2000, to February 15, 2002, mostly as they related to Laidlaw. Watson asked that any information uncovered that appeared to be unlawful be forwarded directly to the attorney general. Any other information was to be presented to the board.

Last week, Gooch told the Flyer that his investigation was ongoing and his report would not be ready for a few weeks.

After Watson told the board he could not get them a completed investigation by the next board meeting on May 6th, the commissioners asked for a preliminary report before they voted on the contract.

"Let's be realistic," said board president Michael Hooks Jr. "There is already a public perception of the issue. Isn't it best to get some type of feedback on the validity of the charges before moving forward? It's been over a month. Somebody has to know something."

The proposed negotiated contract with Laidlaw would be for two years, with the opportunity to renew the contract for three one-year terms. The agreement eliminated any shared-savings clause and included an incentive/penalty program based on the transportation company's performance. The current contract, dated July 1997, expires June of this year.

The school district never sent out a request for proposal (RFP) asking other companies to bid for the services. Instead, an interdepartmental memo from the transportation office dated January 2001 said the decision had been made to renegotiate with Laidlaw versus putting out an RFP. It did not say who made that decision or when it was made.

At Monday night's meeting, Halbert brought up a policy which would seem to make an RFP necessary, only to be told that transportation services fell under the term "professional services" and thereby did not have to be bid out. The commissioner also proposed a motion to extend the current contract for one year instead of signing an entirely new contract. Instead, Watson pulled the item for review.

"This superintendent did not like the former contract with Laidlaw," said Watson. "In his opinion, it was not a good contract."

Before Watson took the contract off the table, Commissioner Hubon Sandridge wanted to go ahead and approve the proposal without the results of the investigation.

"I've been around a long time," said Sandridge. "I know we're going to have [Laidlaw] do it. I don't know why we're going through all this."

Commissioners asked that when the new contract comes before them it be accompanied by a copy of the actual contract, an explanation of professional services, and an update into the investigation.

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