Hollow Victory 

Hollow Victory

Last week, the state Court of Appeals reversed a decision made a year earlier in Chancery Court that granted The Memphis Flyer rights to obtain photos of recently hired Sheriff's Department deputies. It was a victory of sorts for the Sheriff's Department, but it is our hope that the decision was the last such victory for a department well overdue for change.

From 1997 through this past year, the Flyer published a number of articles documenting corruption and incompetence in the Shelby County Sheriff's Department. Among the highlights: sexual-harassment lawsuits, police-brutality lawsuits, nepotism and cronyism in hiring practices, and the horribly managed county jail facility.

In 1999, a Flyer reporter discovered that 10 of 19 recently hired deputies had criminal records, including two who had pled guilty to felonies. Furthermore, most of these new hires were related to Sheriff's Department personnel. We asked the Sheriff's Department to provide us with the official pictures of the deputies. The department refused on the rather nebulous grounds that these new employees might be asked to work "undercover" at some point.

The Flyer argued successfully in Chancery Court that since photos of the 19 employees in question were already hanging in a public place in the department's training academy, they were already public record. That sensible verdict was overturned last week.

It is our fervent hope that such stories -- and such court battles -- will become a thing of the past for the taxpayers when Sheriff A.C. Gilless leaves office this year. The legacy Gilless and his cronies have created is a dismal one and a poor reflection on us all. We regret the Court of Appeals decision, and we fervently disagree with it, but we have chosen not to spend any more legal fees pursuing the matter.

As one wag in our office said, next time, we'll just get their mug shots.

Reading the Evidence

Memphis can't afford 28 high schools, and the available evidence strongly suggests that it doesn't need them either.

Last week, this newspaper reported that eight high schools graduated fewer than 100 students this spring, but the Memphis Board of Education goes right along spending millions of dollars to rebuild or replace many of them.

The school board and the school-funding task force need to look into this in more detail. It is the school board, not the administration, that recommended, for instance, $20 million for Manassas High School and its 60 graduates in the class of 2002. Where are the supporting population projections and demographic studies?

While the mainstream media concentrate on the issue of charter schools and the KIPP Academy, they ignore the bigger picture. The graduate count, unlike the dropout rate, is clear and unequivocal. By looking at three-year, five-year, and 10-year trends, a picture emerges as to which schools are turning out finished products and which are not. It is notable that the oldest high school, Central, is also one of the most successful, suggesting that students value achievement, leadership, and a reputation for performance above all.

Closing a school is politically difficult and unpopular, but so is shortchanging overcrowded schools that get the job done.

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