City Reporter 

City Reporter

Watching From Outside the Ring

Its duties are a bit vague, but the state's boxing and racing board will oversee the Tyson/Lewis match.

By Rebekah Gleaves

In the shadow of the state capitol, just spitting distance from Nashville's immaculate Bicentennial Mall, is a shiny new state office building, a glowing structure with green-tinted glass windows and meticulous landscaping. Davy Crockett Tower is the name of the building, and it's the home of the Tennessee Board of Boxing and Racing. One of those obscure state offices that no one normally gives even a moment's thought to, the boxing and racing board now finds itself a subject of discussion for Tennesseans -- particularly those of us west of the Tennessee River. Only, it's not really a "board."

"It's not a commission, and it's not a full board," says Marilyn Elam, communications director for the state Department of Commerce and Insurance, which oversees the Board of Boxing and Racing or whatever it is. "It's an administrative program, one of about 30 boards, as opposed to a full board."

Gotcha. It's a board that's not a board and definitely not a commission. Elam says it's similar to the programs for geology and employee leasing, which are also not "boards."

Moving right along, before Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson decided to trade blows in The Pyramid, the main purpose for the Boxing and Racing, um, office was regulating Toughman Competitions -- a goulash of fighting styles where roughneck amateurs kick, punch, and wrestle each other for three-minute rounds. In fact, Toughman Competitions were previously so integral to the office's function that the commission's administrator, Tommy Patrick, would go to every single one in the state, according to Michelle Rodriguez, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

After much prodding, Elam acknowledged that this was pretty much the extent of Patrick's job description.

"Tommy doesn't run the program. He attends the Toughman fights," says Elam. "The majority of the fights in the state pale in comparison to the June 8th fight. He just goes to make sure everything runs smoothly."

Patrick's job description doesn't seem to include returning phone calls.

Elam says that several officials with the Department of Commerce and Insurance make the actual decisions regarding licensing and the day-to-day functions of the office. And in all fairness, there hasn't been much to do in the past. So little, in fact, that Elam says the Boxing and Racing "Board" consists of two people, Patrick and his secretary, Mechelle Powell.

On the fifth floor of the building, the Department of Commerce and Insurance is just another anonymous maze of offices and cubicles. Freshly scrubbed, smiling employees whisk files from one in-box to the next, all eager to note that little attention was paid to their office before Nashville-based fight promoter Brian Young set his sights on landing what some are calling the most anticipated boxing bout in history. Rodriguez says that interest in the commission has skyrocketed since the June 8th fight was announced. She says she fields dozens of media calls a day now, a considerable amount more than in days prior to the fight announcement.

But she and the others seem to be taking it all in stride.

"We're not treating this fight any different from the other fights," says Rodriguez. "We haven't had to hire any additional staff, and we don't plan to."

Rodriguez says that, even now, the so-called board's purpose is largely regulatory.

"Anyone who fights in the state has to be licensed. Boxers, promoters, judges, seconds, referees -- anyone involved in the fight or in assisting the fighter has to be licensed. Altogether, we have about 500 people licensed in the state."

Getting the license is relatively easy. Those wanting licensure simply submit an application with information like place of birth, criminal record, licenses held in other states, experience, and qualifications.

"We verify all of the information before approving the application," says Rodriguez. "Withholding any information is a reason for the application to be denied."

And that's pretty much it. After an individual is approved, he or she is free to go about the business of boxing. The state doesn't get involved again until just before the fight when they check to make sure physical examinations are administered and hands are taped. A rather official-looking green booklet titled "Tennessee Professional Boxing, Sparring and Toughman Law and Rules" also sets forth a few guidelines on things like weight classifications, licensing, and ring size -- but for the most part, the rules are straightforward. Fighters are going to fight, and the boxing and racing "board" tries to stay out of the way -- particularly Patrick.

"In general, Tommy will attend the Toughman matches across the state," says Elam. "At the smaller events, the fighters will not be licensed until the night of the fight. On those few-thousand-dollar prize fights, it's not very labor-intensive."

Leaving Davy Crockett Tower, the security guard, a sweet elderly woman, collects the temporary pass and says that she's not used to seeing so much traffic moving through the building's doors. She's precisely the sort of Southerner who checks your ID and then tells you that a big man named Hymie with your same last name lived next door to her 60 years ago. "Are you any kin?" she asks.

Needless to say, this is not a building accustomed to all of this hubbub. This is not a place where history typically is made. The fast lane -- in this case, James Robertson Parkway -- may pass near, but it does not pass in front of Davy Crockett Tower.

Shared Savings

Did the school bus policy with Laidlaw actually cost MCS money?

By Mary Cashiola

Shared savings sounds like a good deal, a win-win situation. But for Memphis City Schools (MCS), it may not be.

On May 6th, the MCS board of education is expected to vote on a new transportation contract with Laidlaw Transit, Inc. At the last board meeting, Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson publicly stated that he felt the existing contract with Laidlaw, which expires June 30, 2002, was not good for the district.

While investigating the statement, the Flyer found that under the existing contract, dated July 1, 1997, there seemed to be some discrepancies with the "shared-savings" section. Under that clause, if Laidlaw eliminates a bus from the previous year's "district-supplied routing plan," any savings will be shared "on a per-route cost," with 60 percent going to the district and 40 percent to Laidlaw. And according to the contract, savings would be calculated on a base number of buses established no later than October 31, 1997.

John Britt, the school system's security, transportation, and risk-management director, says that the base number of buses for the shared-savings clause was set at 434. But in October 1997, the district was only running 410 buses.

"That's one of the things the audit is investigating," says Britt. "We don't want to jump to any conclusions without looking to the internal audit."

In February, amid rumblings of problems with the district's transportation services from Laidlaw, Watson asked internal auditor Waldon Gooch to conduct an investigation. Spanning the transportation division's activities from April 3, 2000, to February 15, 2002, the investigation was to focus on a chronology of events relating to Laidlaw and the district's current agreement or a request for proposal.

"We don't know where that number 434 came from," says Britt. "I wasn't here. Neither was Mr. Watson. The fact is that in October of 1997, we were running 410 buses. For whatever reason, the number 434 is what has been used. There's nobody here to know when and how that number came about."

The school system first paid moneys to Laidlaw for the shared-savings clause in January 1998. Laidlaw reduced the number of bus routes to 429, meaning the district paid for five eliminated routes.

Currently, the district is still paying moneys to Laidlaw under the shared-savings clause. When asked if the transportation company possibly owed MCS money, Britt could not answer.

"Any time you have a contract, it's always subject to interpretation," says Britt.

Routes are established by Laidlaw based on a computer routing program. Britt's division does two transportation audits a year, one 30 days after school starts and one in January. During the audit, the MCS staff looks at rider figures as well as average daily attendance figures and does some calculations.

In fact, Britt says that he or members of his staff might even go out and physically count the number of children on the bus to see if the route is needed. However, it's not an exact science. The ridership can change daily and a lot of variables are involved. Even the season -- such as in the fall when football practice takes place after school -- may affect the number of children riding the buses.

Britt says the number of routes needed is something of a judgment call.

At the last board meeting, commissioners requested that a preliminary report of the investigation's findings be presented before they vote on the proposed contract. Gooch says that he is not finished with his investigation and does not anticipate having preliminary findings to report.

In the proposed contract, the shared-savings clause has been eliminated. Instead, the contract reads, "[I]f MCS reduces the number of buses below the good faith estimate, MCS will pay Laidlaw ... a one-time prorated charge of $9,000 per bus, per school year."

A summary of the contract was brought to the board April 15th; the base number of routes set at that time was 397. Britt says that number has since been upped to 415 because it's closer to the number of buses the district is currently running.

Watson says he cannot get into the details but reiterates that the existing contract is not a good contract.

"Hopefully, the one I recommend to the board is an improved contract," says Watson. "I think it's a much better contract than the one I inherited."

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