City Reporter 

City Reporter

Packing Heat

MCS security chief is fired for gun; questions remain.

By Mary Cashiola

Memphis City Schools board commissioner Sara Lewis once called them the district's "cowboys." The top-level members of the district's security division don't ride horses or rope cattle, but they do carry guns.

And most everyone at the Board of Education building knew it.

"Oh, yes," said schools superintendent Johnnie B. Watson when asked if he knew that John Britt, the system's former security, transportation, and risk-management director, was packing heat. Britt was suspended last Tuesday pending an investigation and fired on Thursday for carrying a gun onto school property. Britt's commission as a special deputy, which allowed him to carry a gun onto school property despite federal law, was revoked in December. But did the district know prior to Tuesday that Britt's commission had been revoked?

"I did not know it," said Watson. "I got a call last Monday ... it was a media person, and that media person shared with me what eventually came out in the investigation."

The district does not keep such permits on file, and a December letter from the sheriff's department informing the district of Britt's status has not been located. When asked if he knew Britt was supposed to have such a permit, Watson said he would have looked to Britt for that information.

"I was holding him accountable," said Watson. "As director of security, he was responsible for security-related matters." Since learning of Britt's revocation, Watson said he has made sure the other gun-toting members of the security division are in compliance.

Britt isn't the first high-level member of the district's staff to leave in recent months. Ricks Mason, the former personnel director, resigned last March after the district paid a million dollars in fines after the late filing of a preliminary report mandated by the state. Dr. Inetta Rogers, a 23-year veteran in the industry, was named the new executive director of human resources at the beginning of this month.

Watson said he wasn't worried about having an inexperienced staff.

"Look at Ricks Mason's replacement, Dr. Rogers," he said. "She's highly experienced in human resources, and I feel very comfortable with Sam Moses as the interim security director. His experience comes from a police background."

Watson said Britt's other duties, specifically risk management and transportation, would be divided up within the division. Some of those responsibilities will fall to Roland McElrath, associate superintendent of business operations and Britt's immediate supervisor, until Watson decides what he wants to do with the position.

Changing the Masthead

The Commercial Appeal names a new editor.

By Mary Cashiola

Ready for a more civic-minded Commercial Appeal?

Scripps-Howard is.

Last week, the CA's parent company tapped Chris Peck as the daily paper's new editor. He replaces Angus McEachran, who announced his retirement last spring.

"A lot of people at the [newspaper] and in the community have told us that one thing they hope for The Commercial Appeal is that it grows closer to the community," said Mike Phillips, Scripps' editorial development director and a member of the committee charged with finding McEachran's replacement. "That describes the kind of journalism Chris Peck practices."

Peck was editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, from 1982 until last year. During his tenure, members of the Aryan Nation marched in Spokane. Phillips said that Peck gave community members a chance to voice their feelings about the event through a series of meetings hosted by the newspaper.

"The newspaper didn't just stand up to the bad guys," said Phillips. "They helped the whole community stand up through the brand of journalism they practiced. Chris is really involved in the community and deciding what issues are most important in people's lives and therefore the most important for the newspaper."

Peck left The Spokesman-Review last year for Dallas and the Belo Distinguished Chair of Journalism at Southern Methodist University.

The three finalists for the CA editorship -- Peck, Timothy Gallagher from California's Ventura County Star, and the CA's own deputy managing editor Otis Sanford --were interviewed in mid-September by about 30 staff members from various departments.

"I collected the comments of all those folks, and that really played a very strong role in the decision," said Phillips. "Chris absolutely bonded with the newsroom." But in keeping with the theme of community, what of CA native son Sanford?

"It was a complex decision to make because Otis Sanford is a very important part of the formula. We weren't just dealing with one decision," said Phillips.

Along with Peck's new position, Scripps announced Sanford's promotion to managing editor and current managing editor Henry Stokes' appointment to the newly created post of assistant to the publisher. Phillips compared Stokes' new position to that of a chief of staff: "There's a tremendous amount of change going on in the business operations of The Commercial Appeal. There are so many programs and initiatives in place that Henry is really needed to help organize."

Sanford started at the CA in 1973 and later worked as assistant city editor for the Pittsburgh Press and deputy city editor at the Detroit Free Press. He returned to the CA in 1994 to take the newly created position of deputy managing editor.

"What will really make the leadership of the newsroom powerful is the teamwork between Chris and Otis," said Phillips. "Each brings something very important to the table."

Banned by Bookstore

Sexual orientation leads to lost job.

By Janel Davis

When Terry Christian began employment as a financial administrator with an area religious bookstore six years ago, he thought he had found his niche. But four months ago, in the span of 15 minutes, that job was taken from him, and according to Christian, his homosexuality led to his termination.

"Right now, there are no state laws prohibiting sexual orientation," said Jim Maynard of Equality Tennessee. "Right now, nothing sexually motivated is illegal. This is another example proving that we need and are working for laws that would cover these situations."

Christian was employed at Pauline Books and Media, the Catholic bookstore owned by the Boston-based Daughters of St. Paul. The store, at 4811 Poplar Avenue, is one of several Pauline stores around the country.

"[A sister] had previously come to the store to assess my skills and job requirements in order to determine the amount of my raise. She never mentioned anything about my sexual orientation," said Christian.

Christian is president of the Tennessee Leather Tribe, an organization of openly gay men and women with an active interest in sadomasochism. In July, Arthur Bowes, a human-resources consultant with the Daughters of St. Paul, visited the store and served Christian with a letter of voluntary resignation, effective immediately. According to Christian, Bowes said that "anonymous customers" had written letters to the office complaining about Christian's personal Web site and that of the Tennessee Leather Tribe.

"When I was hired by the organization, there was never any rule about sexual orientation. I think it was a kind of witch-hunt with all the other religious-clergy scandals going on," said Christian.

Several calls and messages to Bowes from the Flyer were unanswered.

In a follow-up letter concerning Christian, Bowes stated that the company would offer him four weeks' severance pay and all accrued vacation time, along with a reference letter verifying his dates of employment. But the Daughters of St. Paul would not give Christian a reference for a position with another religious organization or an organization serving children.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, federal employment statutes only cover Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, AIDS discrimination, the Equal Pay Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since the incident, Christian has found employment with another company.

The Battle Continues

Judge clarifies custody-case gray areas.

By Janel Davis

As the child-custody ordeal continued, Jack and Casey He returned to court last week to dispute court orders handed down during their fight for their daughter, 3-year-old Anna Mae.

This time, the Hes and their lawyer, David Siegel, were challenging two motions previously ordered by Chancellor D.J. Alissandratos. On April 11th, the judge ordered the Hes to pay court and custody fees totaling $15,000 to the clerk and master of the court. The Hes, who had previously faced contempt charges for not paying the money, completed payment of the required amount October 7th, almost seven months after the original order. This time, Siegel challenged the motion, arguing that the Bakers (the couple with whom Anna Mae resides) should also have to pay an equal amount. Siegel pointed out that the judge's earlier statement regarding "having confidence in the Bakers and their adherence and ability to remit the money if the requirement was assessed" should no longer hold true, due to the couple's recent financial straits.

According to Larry Parrish, attorney for the Bakers, Mr. Baker's employer had recently filed for bankruptcy, thus tying up $60,000 in payroll owed to Mr. Baker, which could be used for court costs. Since the bankruptcy, Mr. Baker has relocated to another company as a mortgage broker. Even with the loss of income, Parrish argued that the situations were different and should be treated thus. "Mr. He doesn't have a green card and therefore is not legally supposed to be earning a cent," he said. "The Bakers have paid at least $2,000 [to the court] already. The Hes haven't obeyed several of the court's rules."

Alissandratos sided with Siegel, ordering the Bakers to deposit $15,000 with the court by the end of the year but promised to be as lenient with them as he had been with the Hes.

Siegel also challenged the court's motion of a gag order on the case records and involved parties. The order previously prohibited the parties from communicating to "any other persons, including but not limited to media, for redistribution, any information, in the broadcast sense of the term, about or concerning the case." Mrs. He had previously been held in contempt of court for picketing in Parrish's office and at the Bakers' home, thus violating the order.

A ruling from the judge resulted in the order amended to allow picketing by both parties in public places where Anna Mae is not present and not within one mile of her school, church, or home. Offices of the legal parties involved were also determined to be off-limits. A violation of the order will now result in prosecution for criminal trespassing. Both parties can talk to the media, friends, and organizations regarding the court process but must not make any mention of Anna Mae. "It is the responsibility of all members of the court to keep the child from as much emotional trauma as possible," said Alissandratos.

Prior to the motion hearing, the Hes returned to Immigration Court to determine their resident status. In a short hearing, the Hes were allowed to remain in the United States until their custody case has been resolved.

The November custody-trial date will be reset to a later date.

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