City Reporter 

City Reporter

Animal Anxiety

Proposed location of new shelter raises concerns.

By Mary Cashiola

Local animal activists are upset that the new Memphis animal shelter will not be located at Shelby Farms, as they had hoped.

"Location is a key factor," said Gail Phillips, program director for Save Our Shelter Animals. "We thought they were looking at building it near other county buildings in Shelby Farms."

The new shelter, expected to cost about $8 million, will replace the aging facility on Tchulahoma Road near the airport. The current shelter has been plagued with problems, including overcrowding and employees improperly euthanizing animals. The noise, smell, and generally depressing atmosphere have also drawn criticism from local animal-rescue workers who say citizens do not want to visit the shelter to adopt a pet.

When contacted earlier this week, Donnie Mitchell, director of the city's Public Services and Neighborhoods Department, could not say why the Shelby Farms location was out, only that there was debate on the site's accessibility.

Mitchell said his department is still considering several other locations, including at least two sites in East Memphis. Other possible sites include Shelby Drive near Swinnea, an unidentified location in Millington, and a site off I-240 near Highland and Orchi. Mitchell said the department will make a final decision this week.

Mitchell and local animal activists said their preference for the shelter is East Memphis. Michelle Buckalew, editor of the local Animal Times newspaper, said she is especially concerned that the new shelter might be built on Shelby Drive.

"This new location would not be conducive to citizens of the community who would be pet adopters and supporters of the shelter," said Buckalew. "This will be the shelter for a generation to come. ... I've worked out by the airport. Nobody goes out there."

Phillips shared Buckalew's concerns and said the decision should be considered from a business standpoint: "Where a business is located ... can make or break that business."

Both would like to see the new shelter function more as a facility for adoptions and worry that an inconvenient location would simply make the shelter a warehouse for holding and euthanizing strays.

"For a long time," said Phillips, "the thought was that people who love animals and want to adopt will come to you. The thinking has changed in the past few years. Now we want to bring animals to the public."


Unequal Access

Some polling sites are off-limits for the disabled.

By Bianca Phillips

Early voting for the Demo-cratic presidential primary begins January 21st in Tennessee, but according to the Memphis Center for Independent Living (MCIL), some local polling sites have not yet been made accessible for people with disabilities.

On Friday, December 12th, members of MCIL and several volunteers surveyed 40 of the 233 polling sites in the city. According to Randy Alexander, a spokesman for MCIL, not one of the 40 sites surveyed was in compliance with accessibility guidelines.

"Every one of them had some issue," said Alexander. "The first thing we looked at was parking. Each site should have an eight-foot-wide parking spot with an eight-foot-wide access aisle, and it must have the international handicapped parking symbol and say 'Van-Accessible.' Out of the 40 we looked at, 26 did not have that."

MCIL volunteers also found that 16 sites didn't even have the basic handicapped parking spots with a five-foot aisle. Seventeen of the sites did not have a way into the building that did not require the use of stairs, and of those that did have entrance ramps, 10 were not in compliance with American Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. Those guidelines state that the maximum slope of a ramp must not exceed one inch of rise for every foot.

"I went to a polling site a few months ago during an actual polling day, and the ramp was too steep. Everybody was trying to help push me up, but they shouldn't have to touch me in order for me to vote," said Alexander. "Then when I tried to get in the doors, I couldn't get my chair inside because they only had 24-inch doorways. I couldn't even get into the polling site."

Ramps that are six feet or longer must have handrails on both sides, and 18 of the 40 did not. Twelve of the sites also had improper door handles. According to the ADA, handles must be at least 48 inches or lower and operable with a closed fist.

"The very thought of having a disability keeping you from voting goes against the essence of democracy," said Alexander. "It's a real tragedy that we still have to fight for equal access to voting. You'd think after 13 years [after the passage of ADA], basic access would be much better."


The Blotter

Absurd crimes from the local police files.

The American entrepreneurial spirit: On December 9th, police were called to investigate a suspicious person near the corner of Second and George W. Lee. A witness told officers he had seen a man stand at the entrance of a downtown parking lot and pretend to be the attendant. He stopped a couple of construction workers in a green truck and told them that the lot cost $5, but he could give them a special deal. "The driver gave the suspect $2 and [he] pocketed the money and walked off laughing." He was later arrested.

This is why there are warning labels ... and, for that matter, pharmacies: Officers responding to a medical emergency on December 12th were told the victim "and a friend" had been taking some pills. The victim told police that an unknown black male had given him the pill and that he had taken it because he wasn't feeling well. After swallowing the pill, he felt his throat begin to swell up and he began having trouble breathing.

Someone is building one heck of a Christmas display: Last week, the Blotter reported several holiday decorations that had been stolen from yards across the county. In addition, this week saw the disappearance of several "life-size" lighted reindeer -- some wrought iron, some wooden -- at least two wreaths, a Santa, and a sled. Shame on you.

Maybe she thought she needed extra protection: On December 14th, officers responded to a theft on Twin Valley Lane. The victim said that his ex-girlfriend came to his house, jumped the fence, and stole his chihuahua. Officers talked to the man's ex, and she admitted she had the dog but said she would return it. The man decided not to press charges.

-- Compiled by Mary Cashiola

Lights Out

Photo-studio owner is indicted for fraud.

By Janel Davis

Federal indictments against the studio where Elvis posed for his first professional photo were handed down by the U.S. attorney's office Monday.

The Blue Light Studio, at 247 S. Cooper, is now closed. The indictment charges the business with the production and sale of state identification documents to individuals who used them for fraudulent purposes. Owner Terry Garner had been notified by officials on several occasions between January 1997 through March 2003 that documents produced at his studio "persuaded third parties to accept them as valid state identification documents."

According to the indictment, Garner continued to produce the documents for use in Tennessee as well as in Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. ID cards were sold with holographic images and a "Seal of Authenticity" stating that the cards were genuine. These cards were sold for $60.

This spring, Christian Brothers High School assistant principal Brother Joel McGraw included a warning about the studio in the school's newsletter. "One thing that we are concerned with at [CBHS] is instances involving our students and drug and alcohol use," said McGraw. "We received information about kids going [to Blue Light] to get fake IDs and we wanted to alert parents."

U.S. attorney's office spokesman Leigh Anne Jordon declined to comment on whether any of the cards were sold to minors.

The indictment comes after police confiscated records and equipment from the business in March. The case was being investigated by the Secret Service.

The six indictment counts, which include identity theft and production of a false resident alien card, carry a maximum sentence of 15 years for each count. A seventh count for trademark infringement carries a 10-year sentence. Garner also faces a $250,000 fine on each count, while the studio faces fines of $500,000 for each.


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