City Reporter 

City Reporter

Joining Forces

Inmates and at-risk youth work to revitalize communities.

by Janel Davis

Two public-private training collaboratives, YouthBuild Memphis and Building for the Future (BFF), will provide up to 50 homes for low-income families during the next year.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the first house are complete and program administrators hope to build about one house each week, with 48 to 50 homes completed by June of next year. The new homes will be replacement housing for the homeless and elderly.

"We must address the housing needs in a dramatic way to have an impact on meeting our commitments to elderly and disabled who are living in substandard homes," says Robert Lipscomb, director of the Memphis Housing Authority and the Division of Housing and Community Development.

Primary funding for the project will come from the HCD, using federal Housing and Urban Development funds which have been earmarked for construction of low-income housing for private ownership. Cost for each of the 1,200- to 1,400-square-foot brick homes will be approximately $60,000.

Volunteer trainees/inmates from the Shelby County Division of Corrections and students in YouthBuild will participate in the construction. Instructor/trainers are provided through local trades unions and instruction is offered through the Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis.

Joe Kerley, YouthBuild manager, is responsible for the prototype house.

"All the agencies who are on board have offered ideas to help form the plan," he says. "It's been a long time coming. We just keep working together until barriers disappear."

The two organizations have a long history of assisting and rehabilitating members through community development. YouthBuild Memphis is a federally funded training program that targets 18- to 24-year-old at-risk youth. The organization's mission is to provide education and job training, supplemented with counseling and support services necessary to achieve economic self-sufficiency, and to expand the supply of permanent affordable housing. HUD has funded six YouthBuild programs in Memphis. Five grants have been operated through the Tennessee Technology Center, and Shelby County recently received its first YouthBuild grant. More than 150 youth have received training through the program.

BFF is a nationwide community development partnership with 13 agencies collaborating to leverage public money and resources to build homes and revitalize communities. Volunteer inmates are trained in construction and employment skills and use these skills in community projects. BFF began building homes in 1993 and has built 80 new homes and trained more than 1,000 inmates.

Chief Public Defender A C Wharton has become a big supporter of BFF.

"We have no single-purpose dollars. The dollars must be spent for more than one purpose," says Wharton. "The dollar that rehabilitates also educates."

Keeping Us In the Dark

MLGW won't elaborate on additional security measures.

By Rebekah Gleaves

In light of the recent terrorist attacks, officials at Memphis Light, Gas and Water say they have an "increased focus on security measures" at the utility but won't elaborate on what that means. After an inquiry from the Flyer about what additional steps have been taken to protect the utility from terrorist attacks -- particularly biological attacks on the water system -- Mark Heuberger, MLGW's chief communications officer, faxed the following:

"MLGW has a very well-trained, professional, and effective security force, which oversees and enforces security measures at the utility on a daily basis. The recent tragic events have brought increased focus to the company's ongoing efforts to protect its facilities, employees, and customers. As a result, the utility has engaged in additional measures across the board to further strengthen the effectiveness of its security activities."

Heuberger did not respond to specific questions about whether MLGW had hired additional personnel, installed new security systems, improved existing systems, conducted background checks for employees, or implemented an ID badge system for employees. Nor did he respond to additional calls from the Flyer.

No More Flip-flops

County defines casual-day dress code.

By Mary Cashiola

county officials might be tightening their belts due to the budget, but for employees in one Shelby County department, the issue of the day concerns the tightness of their pants.

In what was called a final reminder, Shelby County Clerk Jayne Creson recently issued a tersely worded memo to her staff redefining the department's casual-day attire allowed each Friday. Included in the new restrictions were no tennis shoes, T-shirts, or tight pants.

"Jayne changed the casual-day policy because it had gotten ridiculous," says the county clerk's office administrator, Katherine Kirk. "People were coming to work looking like they should be washing their car in their yard."

The department instituted a casual day five or six years ago, says Kirk, but more recently, the policy was shifted to a business-casual or dress-down day to try to formalize the employees' dress.

Kirk says the casualness of the wear had gotten worse, with employees wearing everything from flip-flops to short, body-hugging skirts.

"Six months ago, there was something in The County Line that said casual day had become sloppy day," Kirk says, indicating the county's in-house newsletter. "It's not just our problem. It's all over the county."

The county's official dress code says that male employees who work with the public should wear coats and ties, and female employees should wear dresses, suits, or coordinated pants suits. Each department has the power to create its own casual-day policy, however.

Creson's memo also included restrictions on shorts, jogging suits and sweats, Spandex pants, and shirts that show any midriff.

"We would never have said, 'Don't do this or don't do that,' if it hadn't been done," says Kirk.

The policy went into effect immediately and Kirk said the first day of the stricter casual day worked very well.

Wrong Number?

BellSouth could face a lawsuit over its subsidy programs.

By Rebekah Gleaves

In the coming days BellSouth may face a class-action lawsuit for not communicating the existence of the Lifeline and Link-Up programs to half a million of Tennessee's needy residents. A Memphis lawyer, William F. Burns, says he is currently gathering information on the programs in order to file a complaint against the telephone service carrier.

"We are in the process of investigating the factual issues involved in this unique and complex regulatory scheme," says Burns. "From our initial review, we anticipate pursuing any and all legal remedies on behalf of Tennessee consumers in the very near future."

Burns also says that associates in his office have already spoken with members of the potential plaintiff class.

Last week's issue of the Flyer featured a cover story on the phone subsidy programs that only 36,000 Tennesseans receive though half a million are qualified. The programs are funded jointly by the state and federal governments. Lifeline reduces the cost of monthly services to $8 for qualified participants and Link-Up covers half of the connection charge.

In 1991 the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) ordered BellSouth to generate the state subsidy amount by adding a fraction of a cent to the basic rate charged for every telephone line in the state.

The issue came before the TRA again last fall when a competing telephone service provider, Memphis-based Discount Communications, enrolled customers who were qualified for Lifeline and Link-Up and attempted to get the state to subsidize the bills. BellSouth refused to pass on the monthly state subsidy of $3.50 per customer, saying that Discount should be required to generate the subsidy for its customers from among its own customer pool.

The Tennessee attorney general's office submitted a brief to the TRA on the Lifeline issue, stating that BellSouth should be required to pass on the subsidy money. TRA did not follow the attorney general's opinion.

"We only intervene when we think there's a matter important to consumers," says Vance Broemmel, the lawyer in the attorney general's office who drafted the brief on Lifeline. "We took the position that the Lifeline money should be passed on. Unfortunately it's somewhat common for the TRA to disagree with us."

Burns says his office has spoken with lawyers in the attorney general's office in order to learn more about the issues involved.

Up In Arms

Despite statewide trend, local bank robberies decline.

By Chris Przybyszewski

In a recent AP article, an FBI representative claimed that bank robberies are on the rise in Tennessee. Events in Memphis, where two separate fatalities have occurred during bank holdups in the last year, seem to support that claim.

But Steve Anthony, the FBI supervisory special agent for violent crimes in West Tennessee and member of a special violent-crime taskforce, says those statistics don't hold true in Memphis.

"In the Memphis metropolitan area, actually since 1997, we have had a steady decrease in bank robberies," says Anthony. "From 90 bank robberies in 1997 to 62 in 1998 to 50 in 1999 to 41 last year. As of right now we've had 21. This time last year we had 30. We're down another 30 percent right now."

Anthony attributes the drop to several factors. "First and foremost is community involvement," he says. "That receives the most credit, in particular the Crimestoppers unit. Especially with the violent robberies, people are not going to stand and let others be victim to these kinds of senseless acts."

Anthony and his group work closely with area banks.

"The banking community has been very cooperative," he says. "We train some with them and we discuss security matters and such." However, while he emphasizes that the FBI can make suggestions to banks, "they are a business. All we can do is to recommend they have good cameras, and good-quality video, preferably 35 millimeter. We ask that they have alarms and other security devices such as dye packs. All we can do is meet regularly and suggest."

Anthony also attributes the declining robbery rate to his group.

"In some small way, we give credit to the agency and the taskforce that had the foresight in 1997, when the robberies hit a peak," he says. "The heads of the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff's Department and now the Collierville Police Department came up with a unified front -- one group of investigators that work together day in and day out that can handle the leads. The credit goes around."

Anthony says that the taskforce's efforts led to the quick capture of William O. Maxwell, Terrance Johnson Jr., and Aaron Haynes, who during their July 23rd robbery of a Union Planters branch allegedly left bank guard James Earl Jones with a bullet wound in the face and bank customer Sheryl White dead.

"It is a terrible incident," he says. "It rallied our taskforce, it rallied the community. It pushed us forward to say that we're not going to let this happen. I have been doing this for many years and whenever you hear over your radio that shots have been fired and someone has been injured, it's hard to describe. It's a tragic thing. You're pumped up inside. In the last case, the taskforce literally worked 24 hours a day until that was solved in two days. We're going to continue to respond like that and we're going to do our best not to rest until the people responsible are put behind bars."

Still, Anthony acknowledges that such high-profile crimes scare customers and bank personnel alike.

"It does come to the forefront that bank robbery, by its very essence, is a violent crime. Bad things tend to happen when a robbery has been committed."

And despite Memphis' lower-than-average robbery statistics, "We are, unfortunately, the only city where a customer has been killed in a bank for the last two years. We're not happy with that at all. When you have an instance like that it raises the concern for safety and what we are doing to catch these people. [It] will hopefully help prevent the robberies."

One Month Later

Memphis holds fund-raisers to help families of victims of September 11th.

By Janel Davis

In the wake of the September 11th tragedy, area businesses are offering a variety of fund-raising activities. A month later, on October 11th, Memphians can participate in the following:

· Windows of Hope Fund -- The Memphis Restaurant Association's member eateries are donating 10 percent of their sales to the fund, which provides assistance for the families of the victims in the food service profession. More than 45 Memphis restaurants will participate in the project. For more information, call 276-1958.

· FedEx Express Live Broadcast -- FedEx Express will broadcast a live, 90-minute program from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to encourage FedEx employees across the nation to donate to United Way through the "Now More Than Ever" fund. The goal for the FedEx fund-raising effort is $11.5 million nationwide. "Now More Than Ever" will be broadcast on cable channels throughout the area. For more information, call 434-7785.

· Colonial Country Club's Hero's Tribute -- Colonial Country Club will donate its golf facilities to the American Red Cross for a Hero's Tribute. The Red Cross invites players for an 18-hole round of golf on one of the two championship courses. Cost will be $150 per person with all proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. For more information, call 726-1690.

· Freedom Art Exhibit Opening Reception -- Two local artists will display flag paintings at 2093 Madison in Overton Square. The opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m.

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