City Reporter 

City Reporter

Shelby Farms Forever?

County commission votes against Shelby Park plan.

By Mary Cashiola

For now, Shelby Farms will stay just the way it is. But tomorrow, there's no telling.

A plan that would have kept Shelby Farms free from developers for up to 100 years was effectively killed by the Shelby County Commission on Monday.

The Shelby Park proposal, a privately endowed plan that would have pumped millions of dollars into the park and protected its wide-open pastoral spaces, was first proposed in April by retired First Tennessee chairman Ron Terry. The plan was to manage the park through the Shelby Park Foundation and Shelby Park Conservancy.

The county commission's vote, a motion to reconsider the June 19th defeat of the ordinance to dismantle the Shelby Farms board, failed after nearly two hours of discussion by commissioners. Those who voted against the proposal bristled at abdicating their authority over the park to a private group, the lack of specificity in the Shelby Park plans, and the two 50-year lease agreements. But proponents of the reconsideration said that the fear that Shelby Farms would be sold off to finance the city's debt is very real.

Commissioner Tom Moss worried that future commissions would always be tempted to sell more off, even if previous commissions had already done so. "They won't remember. We'll chip away at it until, at some point, there'll be nothing left," he said.

At the meeting, the Friends of Shelby Farms were out in full force wearing brightly colored bowlers and waving signs in support of the park. Initially, the group was leery of the plan to turn Shelby Farms into Shelby Park; Friends vice president Lois Kuiken said they changed their minds because the conservancy was the only way to be certain to save Shelby Farms.

"Ron Terry got it all worked out before he showed it to anyone. When we found out what's involved with the conservancy, we realized we're extremely lucky we can save Shelby Farms this way," said Kuiken. "If the vote fails today, it will be devastating."

Friends member Sue Goodman agreed. "I don't want anyone chipping away at it," she said. "I'm in support of the conservancy or a land trust, but I think a community conversation would be a good idea."

Commissioner Walter Bailey, who was one of the original opponents of the plan, called the threat of developers a "scare tactic" and said, "Nothing has been done by this board to suggest that the park will be sold off."

Commissioner Michael Hooks went so far as to caution the audience against turning the land over to a privately run group. "Beware of the Trojan horse," he said.

One contention among audience members was a proposal Hooks made at the last meeting, offering up a long-term lease of 28 acres of property along Germantown Parkway for commercial or residential use. And Commissioner Buck Wellford reminded the group that one of the candidates vying for his seat on the commission, Joe Cooper, had already raised the idea of selling off part of the Shelby Farms property.

"Certainly, if someone brought [development] up, we'd have to consider it," consented Commissioner Julian Bolton. "I don't think it's prudent to give up what could be a billion-dollar piece of property to a private group."

After Hooks made the argument that Shelby Farms was fine under county government, Commissioner Tommy Hart listed the most popular aspects of the park: the Agricenter, the shooting range, and horseback riding.

"If you look at all the things on those 4,000 acres, most didn't get there because of the Shelby County government," said Hart, adding that if there was a report card for the county's running of the park, they'd probably get an F. "We're not visionary."

Commissioner Linda Rendtorff agreed, saying that the county's budget is not going to allow them to maintain the park. Ultimately, however, the measure failed.

Terry said Tuesday that he has no plans to revive any parts of the Shelby Park plan.

"The Friends of Shelby Farms got their butts kicked yesterday," said Terry. "I don't know what more there is to do."

Terry said he was surprised by the vote since he thought two commissioners who voted the measure down were going to vote the other way.

"There was plenty of coverage in the media. It all boiled down to what 13 commissioners thought," said Terry. "I regret that the proposed Shelby Park got caught up in larger political-power issues that leave that precious open space vulnerable to commercial development."

Terry also lamented the loss of the opportunity to build a great park for future generations and fears that part of the park will be developed.

And the Friends will probably keep on fighting. "All you have to do is say there's a new threat, there's a new crisis,'" said Kuiken, "and people will come out in support of the park. They love it. It's the largest urban park in the nation. If we lose that, we'll be the laughingstock of the entire country."

Diversity In the Workplace

FedEx makes Fortune's top 10 list.

By Bianca Phillips

FedEx has apparently succeeded in its attempt to create a diverse workplace. The company ranked in the top 10 in both the African-American and Native American subcategories in Fortune magazine's "Best Companies for Minorities" report released Monday.

In the African-American category, FedEx holds the 10th spot, while it ranks sixth in the Native-American category. Out of a work force of approximately 190,000, FedEx currently employs about 50,000 African Americans, 32,000 of whom are male and 18,000 of whom are female. The company employs 1,331 Native Americans, 951 of whom are male and 380 of whom are female.

FedEx ranked 53rd in the overall list, which is not broken down into racial/ethnic subgroups. This is a three-point drop from last year, when the company ranked 50th. FedEx has made the "Best Companies for Minorities" list every year since Fortune began the list in 1998.

"It's very gratifying to have a publication like Fortune recognize our record of diversity and minority-hiring practices," says Pam Roberson, a senior communications specialist for FedEx.

Fortune's rankings are determined by sending surveys to all the companies on the Fortune 1,000 list as well as 200 of the country's largest privately held companies. One hundred and thirty-four surveys formed the basis of their rankings.

FedEx has always prided itself on creating a diverse workplace, says Roberson. FedEx founder Fred Smith created a philosophy he called PSP (People, Service, Profit) upon the company's founding in 1971. According to this idea, if the company puts its people first, they will in turn provide excellent service, thus leading to increased profits.

"Our employees are treated fairly, and they work in a safe environment," says Roberson. "They also receive excellent benefits."

Part of the company's diversity strategy involves supportive partnerships with organizations such as the American Red Cross, the United Way, Habitat For Humanity, the NAACP, Special Olympics, and several others.

"FedEx prides itself on being a good corporate neighbor. Our supportive partnerships help us stay in touch with the community. We're able to interact with groups our customers are involved with," says Roberson.

This year, FedEx will begin a new program by honoring employees who have gone above and beyond their duties to enhance cultural diversity, cultural awareness, and promotion of the company's "People First" policy. Those employees will receive the Corporate Culture & Awareness Diversity Champion Award. Details of the program are still being worked out, and the award will be presented later this year.

A Law With Bite

City proposes vicious-dog ordinance.

By Bianca Phillips

Owners of dangerous dogs in the city will soon be responsible for taking out public-liability insurance on their dogs and have them permanently tagged as vicious. According to an ordinance working its way through the Memphis City Council, any owner of a dog that has aggressively bitten or attacked a human must alert Memphis Animal Control (MAC) and promptly have their dog registered as a "vicious" animal.

The new ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Myron Lowery, was brought up in response to some recent dog attacks on children. It will require owners of any dog, regardless of breed, that has injured a human to immediately report to MAC.

"It's time to do something to protect our children. They can't run or fight to get away," says Lowery. "I'm hopeful that this will help animal owners realize they've got to be held responsible."

After reporting to MAC, the owner will receive a mandatory summons to city court where the dog's "vicious/dangerous" status will be determined. If the dog is declared vicious, the owner must take out public-liability insurance or a bond of at least $50,000 and pay a $50 fee for the vicious-dog tag, which must be worn by the dog at all times.

"We're not going to have a lot of dogs classified as dangerous. It's going to be very expensive to insure these dogs. It's more of a preventative tool than a punitive one," says Ken Childress, manager of MAC.

Owners will also have to show proof of a current rabies vaccination, proof that the dog will be confined to a proper enclosure with warning signs at all entry points, and permanent identification of the animal such as a tattoo on the dog's inner thigh or an electronic implant.

Failure to appear in court will result in an automatic determination that the dog is vicious, meaning the owner will still be responsible for taking out insurance and meeting vicious-dog requirements.

Owners of vicious dogs will be responsible for keeping their dogs muzzled when outside the confined area. If the animal is sold, given away, or dies, MAC must be notified.

Exceptions to the ordinance include dogs used for law enforcement, hunting dogs engaged in a legal hunt or training procedure, and any dog that attacks as a result of torment or abuse by its owner.

This ordinance passed its second reading Tuesday, July 2nd, and will be voted on in its third and final reading on August 6th.

The county has a similar ordinance that was drafted with the help of members of Responsible Animal Owners of Tennessee earlier this year. The city currently has no ordinances pertaining to vicious dogs. In 1993, a city vicious-dog ordinance was voted down because it was breed-specific to pit bulls.

"This ordinance is owner-specific, not breed-specific. We'll use this as a tool to get owner compliance. It's another step in the process to make it difficult for people to own dangerous pets," says Childress.

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