City Reporter 

City Reporter

What's Next For Shelby Farms?

County commission votes down plan for Shelby Park.

By John Branston

Political miscalculations have put the fate of the proposed Shelby Park Conservancy in doubt.

The Shelby County Commission voted 6-4 Monday against turning Shelby Farms over to a privately funded conservancy, reversing its 9-2 approval of the concept in May.

"We're down but far from out," said Ron Terry, mastermind of the conservancy plan. "Normally, you should be able to count votes before you have a vote taken, but in this case, some of the votes were pretty well obscured."

An impassioned last-gasp appeal from Shelby County mayor Jim Rout on behalf of the conservancy failed.

"This is not a political football," Rout said. "I urge you to think about this. Do not defeat this item. Defer it, but don't kill it today."

A majority of the commissioners, however, was not moved by the lame-duck mayor, although retiring commissioner Buck Wellford, a conservancy supporter, switched his vote to the majority to keep his options open.

In some ways, Shelby Farms has become a political football. Joe Cooper, the Democratic candidate for Wellford's seat, attended the meeting and spoke in favor of allowing commercial development in part of the 4,450-acre park. His Republican opponent, Bruce Thompson, has ridiculed that position. On Monday, Cooper scaled down his proposal from 2,000 or more acres to a modest 25 to 30 acres of development suggested by Commissioner Michael Hooks.

Cooper sat next to developer Jackie Welch, who is both a political kingpin and a supporter of developing some of Shelby Farms. But Welch downplayed his involvement and said he was at the meeting only because his daughter was being appointed to the Land Use Control Board and he had a zoning case before the commission.

"I'm not involved, and I'm not going to get crosswise with Rout or anyone else," Welch said. "My opinion is that you could take 30 to 40 acres of frontage along Germantown Road and lease it and produce some income. [The county] could have had Wal-Mart there."

Welch said Hooks called him to verify some property values along Germantown Parkway because Welch sold some adjoining land to Storage U.S.A. Welch has supported Hooks politically and raised money for his campaigns in the past.

But the political football analysis shortchanges some philosophical objections made previously by some opponents of the proposed conservancy. Commissioner Walter Bailey in particular has questioned the wisdom of turning over a huge public asset to a private board, even one willing to invest $20 million in park improvements and maintenance. He has noted that proponents brought the proposal to the commission scarcely a month ago as pretty much of a done deal and urged commission ratification by July 1st.

"The Shelby County government is not for sale," Bailey said. "If you got money, you got control. I will not vote for this project."

Marilyn Loeffel, who also voted against the conservancy, is a member of a conservative faction of the Republican Party that has some problems with Rout, but her objections also were grounded on principles. She thinks the elected commission is giving away too much power to appointed authorities.

Even though he is in the thick of the political campaign for his commission seat and has bad blood with Welch, Wellford was willing to grant opponents of the conservancy some good-faith motives. "I think a combination of issues is going on," he said. "You've got some people who legitimately think this is an elitist project, and they are sort of reacting in a populist, anti-elitist attitude. I think Walter personifies that. Second, I have no doubt there are developers looking to carve out a substantial part of the park. Third, some Democrats are trying to give some credibility to Joe Cooper."

Wellford said any opposition to the conservancy, even in the form of a request for a study of land values, is tantamount to killing it.

"Momentum is everything in politics," he said. "Ron Terry may not have the energy or desire to put it back together in six months or a year from now, but the new mayor could make it a priority."

A day after the meeting, Terry sounded like he still has plenty of fight left in him.

"You still have the same question of whether we can give additional information to the commission that would be persuasive enough to make them reconsider their action and whether we can continue with the progress in the state legislative delegation concerning the Agricenter bill over there," he said.

That bill would dissolve the Agricenter in favor of the conservancy.


Crime Reporting Gets Update

New system is based on actual incidents.

By Janel Davis

Next month, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) will release 2001 crime statistics reported by all law-enforcement agencies in the state. It will use an incident-based system instead of the traditional summary system.

The new Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRS) is drastically different from the old Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system used by the FBI to publish its annual crime statistics. The UCR system applies a hierarchical rule to offenses and only collects information on the most serious offense connected with an incident and drops any others. Such a system only reports information on eight types of crimes, and only arrest information is reported on other offenses, including drug possession, forgery, and fraud.

TIBRS collects information on up to 10 offenses attached to an incident, including 22 Group A offenses made up of 47 specific crimes. Arrests are reported for 11 Group B offense categories. The new system views a crime and all of its components as an "incident." Information is collected on the circumstances, victims, offenders, property, and arrestees. There is no felony and misdemeanor classification in the TIBRS system. As another important addition to the new system, TIBRS will include juvenile cases.

The TIBRS report will also provide information on domestic violence, gang crime, the time and location of an incident, and any victim/offender relationships.

Offenses will be counted according to the FBI's practices and standards and will be classified into three categories -- crimes against persons, crimes against society, and crimes against property. Each victim in the crimes-against-persons category -- including homicide, assault, sex offenses, and kidnapping -- will equal one offense. For example, an aggravated assault that involves two victims will be counted as two aggravated assaults.

In the case of crimes against society, mostly drug violations, each offense counts as one occurrence, as do crimes against property. Motor-vehicle thefts are the exception. If two automobiles are stolen in one incident, two thefts will be reported.

TBI staff attorney Jeanne Broadwell warns citizens not to compare 2000's UCR numbers with the 2001 TIBRS report. "The numbers will look different and be much higher," says Broadwell. "Don't panic. New crime rates cannot be compared to old data. Trend information will not be available until the 2002 publication."

In the 2001 publication, each of the 409 law-enforcement agencies that report to the TBI will be represented. The document will list reported offenses, and the agency's success will be determined by the number of those offenses that have been cleared. Clearance means an arrest has been made or an arrest cannot be made but the offender has been identified.

While Tennessee law-enforcement agencies have been recording crimes based on the TIBRS format for more than five years, the 2001 Crime in Tennessee report will be the first to depict the statistics in TIBRS format. The report will be available on the TBI Web site, www.tbi.state.tn.us.

Shelby County district attorney Bill Gibbons' annual report, released last week for 2001, used TIBRS data. The report listed a decrease in domestic violence cases and DUI charges but showed an increase in weapons charges, crimes against property, and the truancy rate.


Out With the Old?

A look at school reform models one year later.

By Mary Cashiola

The models have had their turn; now it's time to let the Diamonds shine. It's been roughly a year since Memphis City Schools superintendent Johnnie B. Watson did away with the district's reform models.

But has it made a difference?

"I'm anxious to see the test results when they come back," says Watson. "We've been using best practices; we have the districtwide curriculum; we implemented the textbook adoption plan. Hopefully, we have things in place that will make a difference."

The district hopes to see test data from the state in the next few weeks.

When Watson was elected superintendent, he charged the district's research-and- evaluation department with studying each model and its performance record with the children. The results were not great.

"I've never regretted my decision [to abolish the reform models]," says Watson. "I interacted with teachers, principals, and students. Many of the teachers did not like the reform models implemented in their schools."

What do teachers think now? Watson doesn't want to speak for his employees. "Leadership sometimes makes a difference," he says. "I would like to think the fact that I empowered teachers to teach has helped make a change in climate."

Dr. Marieta Harris, associate superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and school effectiveness, says that the district did not have to do an about-face when the models were removed. "We realized when there was a study in progress that there was a great possibility that the models would not be continued. The improved curriculum gave us a strong focus for instruction," says Harris.

While the reform models are gone, some of their practices may linger on. Harris says that if any teachers found something through their reform model that they felt was working for the students, the district encouraged them to keep using it, along with the systemwide curriculum. But if the district's strategic plan has also given schools even greater direction, there is one driving force in the district right now. "Since we're no longer implementing the models, the state-identified school situation has forced us to look at what we're doing in a different way," says Harris.

The KIPP: Diamond Academy is one such way. The nationwide program, which is based on "no shortcuts" thinking and includes longer hours and mandatory homework, opened for classes last Friday at Cypress Middle School.

"There wasn't one [particular] thing that drew me to the school," says parent Tereatha Hobbs of her decision to enroll her 10-year-old son. "I liked the program and I felt my son needed discipline."

The goal at KIPP is to eliminate the what-ifs in the lives of students: if the school day were longer; if homework were mandatory; if parents and students bought into the program. The result will hopefully be higher test scores.

"We've asked all our schools to build on best practices. What we've done is move forward," says Harris.

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