November 2009 Archives

Another name on the Wharton CAO radar

 

While much speculation has centered around whether Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter would serve as Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's Chief Administrative Officer, another name on Wharton's radar has been George Little, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Wharton is expected to announce his CAO selection and some other key personnel decisions this week. Former City Councilman Jack Sammons was appointed CAO by then Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery and is still serving in that position.

The CAO, a crucial post responsible for running the city's day-to-day operations, may be the most important personnel decision Wharton makes.

Little was appointed state corrections commissioner by Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2005. A veteran corrections administrator, Little had served as Director of the Shelby County Division of Corrections before being tapped by Bredesen.

Little, whose academic history includes a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economic and Business Administration from Morehouse College in Atlanta, and graduate studies in Economics and Urban and Regional Development at the University of Texas, once served as an assistant to former Gov. Lamar Alexander in the Office of State Planning and steadily moved up within the corrections field.

Wharton's transition team has been busy evaluating city government, including important leadership positions at City Hall.

Transition team subcommittee headings include education and early childhood, workforce and economic development, diversity business development, government efficiency, neighborhood initiatives, public safety and finance .There also are subcommittees to study the city's legal and human resources divisions.

Wharton's meeting location for tonight is changed

 

There's been a change of location for Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's first community meeting since taking over the seventh floor at City Hall.

The 5:30 p.m. meeting will now take place at Breath of Life Christian Church, located at 3795 Frayser-Raleigh Rd.

Wharton, who has been working on a plan to control gun violence, is hosting the community meeting following several high-profile crimes in the area, including four youth slayings.

Wharton said that he is "taking City Hall over to Raleigh and Frayser" and that he wants to hear from the community. Citizens will be able to ask questions and if answers aren't available on the spot, Wharton promises a written response.

Wharton will also talk about his gun crime reduction plan, including creating a gun offender registry similar to the registry system used for sex offenders, creating a special court for gun crimes and stiffer penalties for people selling illegal guns, especially to youngsters.

Wharton said the gun court, like the already established Shelby County Drug Court, would bring a carrot and stick approach that offers juveniles a path to a productive life but still has the threat of jail time.

The Drug Court began in 1997 as an alternative 12-month intensive program for nonviolent adult drug offenders. Criminal charges are dismissed upon successful completion of the program.

"We need to come up with the same thing when it comes to violence," said Wharton.

Wharton likened gun violence to a public health threat, one that everybody in the community should be talking about and working to vanquish. If the community could mobilize to fight gun violence the way it fights deadly infectious diseases - with public service campaigns, education and a daily drum beat of warnings - Wharton believes the city can conquer the epidemic of gun violence.

"When there is a Hepatitis outbreak we bring everybody in and you see how powerful that is," said Wharton.

Republican commissioners could have blocked Ford, chose not to

 

The postvote reaction at the Shelby County Commission was interesting.

Republicans Mike Ritz and Wyatt Bunker both had an opportunity to block Joe Ford from becoming county mayor and send the process to a second round -- thus bringing forward outside candidates -- but they chose not to. Ritz said he had promised Ford he would support him through the first round, and that while he would have voted for Criminal Court Judge Otis Higgs or former City Councilman John Vergos, he ultimately preferred Ford over any candidates from outside the commission.

"I thought the best circumstance was to have a commissioner," Ritz said. "It's a huge unknown (to go outside). It's like a traveling salesman coming through, like when Sidney Shlenker came through here."

Ritz said he has full confidence in Ford to capably lead the county into a tough budget cycle.

"There are lots of problems but they've been there a long time," Ritz said.

Brooks said she switched her vote from Gibson to Ford because "I listened to my constituents," mentioning specifically the support from the "Baptist Ministerial Association" for Ford.

There was much talk before the vote was taken, between commissioners, about how the process had created a lot of "bad blood" and "hurt feelings." Kuhn said that "fence mending" would be required. Deidre Malone, a candidate in the 2010 mayoral election, talked about how a lot of "darts" had been thrown back and forth.

Ford, by the way, said on Monday that, "My last day of politics is August 31, 2010, and I won't ever seek office again."

Joe Ford appointed interim county mayor

 

The Shelby County Commission has appointed Joe Ford as the interim county mayor, to finish out the final year of A C Wharton's final term. Wharton resigned Oct. 26 to become Memphis mayor, and Ford will take office Dec. 10, the final day of office for acting mayor Joyce Avery, who as Commission Chairwoman had taken over for Wharton.

Ford will serve until after a new county mayor is selected by voters in the August county general election.

Two commissioners, Democrats Henri Brooks and James Harvey, changed their votes from commissioner J.W. Gibson II to Ford, with Harvey doing so in dramatic fashion.

"At this time I will end the cycle and cross the line and vote for Ford," Harvey said when the roll call vote got to him in the second round of voting.

That moved the drama to Republican commissioner Wyatt Bunker, who had supported Ford in voting last week but had voted for Avery in the first round. He went with Ford.

"We will hit the ground running," Ford said, and promised to form seven new task forces.

"I will lead this county and lead this county well."

Voting about to begin

 

The Shelby County Commission is about to begin the first round of voting. The nominees are all the commission's own -- Joe Ford, J.W. Gibson II and acting mayor Joyce Avery.

Criminal Court Clerk Otis Higgs is not part of this round, but it is unlikely that any of the three will get the votes required. The commissioners, including Chairman Sidney Chism, have made it clear they don't want to give Ford and Gibson more than one round.

Higgs wants the job

 

Criminal Court judge Otis Higgs gave an impressive speech before the Shelby County Commission, applying to be appointed to finish out the final year of former Shelby County mayor A C Wharton's final term.

Higgs, 72, went through the long list of ways he has served the county and said, "I have a broad spectrum of experience in county government. ... I am intimately familiar with the inner workings of county government and have had the opportunity to live and breathe and love this county."

More from Higgs: "I am asking for your support not so much as an applicant. I don't come with a constituency or with a groundswell of votes. I don't come with a platform. I certainly don't come today with a list of consituency ready to serve. I come merely as a public servant ready now to ride into the sunset.

"I would love to go out riding a horse of success having served as county mayor. That would be my final venture."

Still waiting

 

There has been a 10-minute delay at the Shelby County Commission as they await the arrival of a few more members to vote for Shelby County mayor. Commission Chairman Sidney Chism told The Commercial Appeal that he does not believe the meeting will last more than 30 minutes, and believes that either Joe Ford or Otis Higgs will be the next county mayor.

Chism said that after initial nominations of commissioners Joe Ford and J.W. Gibson, he will see if "Ford has the votes." If Ford nor Gibson has the seven votes, Chism said "we will go straight to Higgs."

Chism said it is his understanding that Higgs has the votes. Several people are here supporting Higgs, including former City Councilwoman and state legislator Carol Chumney and State Rep. G.A. Hardaway.

Hardaway tells The CA he believes that Higgs has the votes as well. Commissioner George Flinn is the only member who has not arrived and Mike Carpenter has asked for a delay until Flinn arrives.

Commissioner Mike Ritz has asked that Higgs be allowed to come forward and introduce himself from the podium.

Commission gathers to vote

 

The County Commission is gathering now for vote on county mayor. Among those who arrived early are former City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Carol Chumney, former City Councilman John Vergos of The Rendezvous, State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, and Criminal Court Clerk Otis Higgs.

Chumney said "she's not at liberty" to say why she's here, but she did just put in a word with County Commissioner Mike Carpenter, supporting Otis Higgs. She also was talking to Wyatt Bunker earnestly.

Higgs, as Daniel Connolly just reported, has indeed filed an application to become a candidate. A story we ran earlier this year discussed the role Higgs has played in Memphis mayoral politics.

Higgs fills out form to be interim mayor

 

Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs Jr. has turned in an application to become interim Shelby County Mayor.

So far, Higgs is the only new candidate to take the formal step of filling out an application for the appointment since the County Commission repeatedly deadlocked last week in votes between Joe Ford and J.W. Gibson II.

But there could be surprises at the special County Commission meeting that starts at 4 p.m.. Commissioners will try once again to fill the slot.

Other alternate candidates who've been mentioned for the interim mayor's role include Memphis Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons and former Memphis City Councilman John Vergos.

Commissioners are picking someone to fill the remaining term of A C Wharton, who left office to become mayor of Memphis. The person selected would serve until Sept. 1, 2010, when the person chosen by voters would take office.

Higgs has presided over many notable criminal cases, including the Forest Hill funeral home fraud case, which is ongoing.

The 72-year-old earned a law degree from University of Memphis law school.

His resume includes stints as a public defender, as a divorce referee, as a law school professor and even interim Shelby County Sheriff.

He's also pastor of Collins Chapel CME Church and hosts a radio show on WLOK.

In response to an application question about his financial affairs, Higgs wrote that he's been "approved for an installment agreement program with the IRS." He also mentioned that he faces general sessions court complaint filed by a bank and says his attorney is vigorously defending the case.

County voters cut out of mayoral selection process

 

One question raised by this vote to appoint a county mayor to finish the final year of A C Wharton's final term is whether the Shelby County Charter sufficiently deals with vacancies. The amended county charter says that if the county mayor's office becomes vacant, the Commission Chairman (in this case, Joyce Avery) becomes acting mayor, and the Commission is required to appoint an interim within 45 days of the acting mayor's oath of office. That interim is to serve "until a successor is elected and qualified at the next countywide election allowed by the state election laws."
 
So now we have a situation in which the county's 600,000-plus registered voters have no direct say in choosing a mayor who will serve for nine months -- presiding over an entire budget process, trying to save The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, serving as figurehead as a Metro charter commission considers consolidation. There is no special election provision, as there is with the City of Memphis (hat tip to Carol Chumney, who reminded us several times during the special election campaign that she presented the idea to the City Charter Commission to change the succession process in case Willie Herenton resigned). Read literally, it is possible for an appointed county mayor to serve for two full years without being answerable to voters (if, for instance, an elected county mayor resigned a month before a regularly scheduled county-wide election).

Commissioner Steve Mulroy said he and Commissioner George Flinn both pushed to include a special election provision, but it was ultimately decided that it would not be worth the cost of special elections.

"We were unsuccessful in getting nine votes," said Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor who is an expert on election law and voting rights. "I would be open to that though I have to acknowledge the counter argyment is that special elections are expensive and cumbersome and not worth the trouble for a few months. And you usually have an abysmal turnout so that a tiny, tiny percentage of the electorate is deciding it."

Joe Ford, one of the two leading candidates in today's 4 p.m. selection process (along with J.W. Gibson II), believes now it was a mistake not to take into account a situation where an interim mayor would serve for more than six months. He and Gibson both are claiming that various political alliances and ambitions among their colleagues are determining the vote as much as the central question of who is most qualified to serve as mayor.

"We probably made a mistake when we rewrote the charter," Ford said. "If we could revisit it, we probably would revisit it."

Yet, considering that the City of Memphis special election got only 25 percent turnout, if a countywide election were being held on, say, Dec. 1, can you imagine the election fatigue among voters?

Ford claims Mike Carpenter headed to City Hall

 

Speaking of the City of Memphis chief administrative officer job, County Commissioner and county mayoral candidate Joe Ford took a shot at Mike Carpenter, accusing him of staying on the body just long enough to obstruct Ford's bid. Inherent in that attack is Ford's belief that Carpenter, who is co-chairman of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's transition team, will become the city's CAO.

"There's one commissioner who as soon as he takes that vote, he's going across the street," Ford said Monday, adding that the commissioner he said is going to work at City Hall is Carpenter. "It was going to happen last Monday but the vote got all tied up and it just didn't happen."

Carpenter has been consistently denying there is any deal in place to become CAO, a post currently held by Jack Sammons. In the post below, it is certainly notable that Sammons says he is open to becoming a compromise candidate for candidate mayor should today's vote by the Commision (which meets at 4 p.m.) end in another stalemate between Ford and commissioner J.W. Gibson II.

"I have no formal offer for that, not from the mayor or the city," Carpenter said. "I don't really know what my future holds. As it stands today, I am still elected just like he is and can cast my vote and represent my district."

City CAO Sammons open to becoming candidate

 

Reached on Monday, City of Memphis chief administrative officer Jack Sammons was in Ponte Vedre, Fla., to visit with PGA Tour officials about Memphis's event, the St. Jude Classic. Sammons is chairman of Youth Programs, Inc., the board which is running the tournament again after Stanford Financial's collapse, and he was with tournament director Phil Cannon.

Sammons confirmed that he had been contacted by Shelby County Commissioners as well as people outside the commission about standing as a candidate for county mayor, but insisted he felt it was premature to talk in detail about the possibility so long as "two qualified" commissioners (Joe Ford and J.W. Gibson II) remained standing as candidates.

But Sammons, who was appointed CAO by former Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery and awaits new mayor A C Wharton's decision on his fulltime CAO, did not run away from the idea.
 
"My attitude is until the internal contests have either been completed or exhaused I'm not interested in talking about it," Sammons said. "The Shelby County Commissioners have a leg up. They've lived county government and they have a better point of reference."

And here's where it's important to pay close attention: "But if they can't obtain the votes, then on that long list of alternative candidates, you could include my name."

Sammons is a Republican but has cultivated a reputation as a political maverick, often voting against his party and even, in the 1990s, running as an independent against Jim Rout for county mayor -- an act which came with punitive consequenes from his party. Sammons has won respect and credibility for his work as CAO, though it appears less likely with each day that passes that Wharton will retain him past the 90-day transition period.

Sammons has always been very accessible and candid with the press, so it is probably not fair to read too much into his comments, but certainly he sounded on Monday like someone open to the idea of landing a new job. He said he is proud of his reputation as someone who can work well with Democratic or Republican politicians and inner-city and suburban representatives.

"It's been my history of working with people on both sides of the aisle," Sammons said. "At this point I'm on this trip working on St. Jude (Classic) business, I'm not too actively involved in trying to secure this appointment."

He added that he would not seek to run in the 2010 countywide elections: "The sun has set on my days as an aspiring politician who would run in a countywide race. I have too much interest in staying married to pursue that."

Could Higgs become mayor at long last?

 

Our story previewing this afteroon's vote on the interim county mayor by the Shelby County Commission floats two new names as possible compromise candidates -- Criminal Court Judge Otis Higgs and former City Councilman Jack Sammons, the current chief administrative officer of the city. Former City Councilman John Vergos, an attorney who runs The Rendezvous barbecue business, emerged last week as a possibility if the commission cannot break the stalemate between commissioners J.W. Gibson II and Joe Ford.

Higgs, 72, says that nobody has officially requested that he become a nominee, but made it clear he likes the idea. A lot.

"If someone did ask me to serve as mayor of Shelby County, it would be a fitting way for me to end my career," said Higgs, who has served 11 years as Division 2 judge and earlier in his career had been a Division 4 judge for five years.    

Higgs was appointed interim sheriff in 1990 after county sheriff Jack Owens committed suicide and points out he has served county government in a number of other positions -- in the public defender's office, at The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, as a divorce referee, as criminal court clerk and as a member of a county charter commission.

"I have had so many positions with the county I can't remember them all," Higgs said.

Higgs said he had already planned to retire from the bench in September of 2010, and would not have a problem with leaving it early to manage the county for the remainder of former mayor A C Wharton's final term (Wharton, of course, resigned Oct. 26 after winning the City of Memphis's special election to succeed former mayor Willie Herenton).

"I'd be willing to accept that challenge," Higgs said. "To me it would be a matter of steering the county into smooth sailing for the next nine months."
 
Higgs ran for Memphis' mayoral post in 1975, 1979 and 1983, and in 1990 was the attorney who filed an ultimately successful lawsuit that challenged Memphis' runoff provisions in elections as racially discriminatory.

After 24 rounds, county mayor voting postponed

 

The Shelby County Commission, after 24 rounds of voting, moved to postpone voting for county mayor to next Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m.

The two strongest candidates, Democrats J.W. Gibson and Joe Ford, continued to receive five votes each, two shy of the seven needed to be installed as interim county mayor, completing the final 10 months of new Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's final term.

Read the full story at commercialappeal.com.

Commission still voting on mayor

 

After nine more rounds of voting and the nomination of Shelby County chief administrative officer Jim Huntzicker failed to change anything -- J.W. Gibson still two votes short at five votes, Joe Ford still two votes short at five votes -- the County Commission voted to take a recess before determining what to do next in the voting for Shelby County interim mayor.

The nomination of Huntzicker did create a new dynamic, and he mustered three votes (from Deidre Malone, Matt Kuhn and George Flinn) before falling out. He took his nomination seriously and advocated for himself by pointing to what he called the success of the A C Wharton administration in tackling huge budget challenges.

That sparked a passionate response from Ford, who lambasted Huntzicker's management and the Wharton administration generally. "If you pick somebody from the former administration to guide ths county over next nine months you are headed toward disaster," Ford said.

But it did not change things.

Recess after nine votes don't produce a winner

 

The Shelby County Commission has just voted to take a five-minute recess and push voting for an interim county mayor to the end of the agenda. There are only a few items left on the agenda. After nine rounds of voting, Commissioner J.W. Gibson has five votes and Commissioner Joe Ford has five votes -- seven votes are needed to win election.

The breakdown has stayed mostly consistent, with a few commissioners occasionally switching to give acting mayor Joyce Avery a vote. Voting for Ford have been three Democrats (Steve Mulroy, Matt Kuhn and Sidney Chism) and two Republicans (Mike Ritz and Wyatt Bunker) and voting for Gibson have been three Democrats (Deidre Malone, Henri Brooks and James Harvey) and two Republicans (Mike Carpenter and George Flinn).

Gibson has continued to stress his experience as an entrepreneur and the creativity and work ethic he would bring to the eighth floor of the county building, with Ford countering by listing his years of experience as a legislator and being past chairman of both the City Council and County Commission.

One interesting moment came when commissioners were discussing whether to postpone, and Mulroy suggested that the composition of the commission might be changed in the next week or so. That seemed to be an allusion to persistent speculation that new Memphis mayor A C Wharton is eyeing Mike Carpenter as a possible CAO -- Carpenter is co-chairman of his transition team.

Commissioners deadlocked on county mayor appointment

 

After three rounds of voting, there is a deadlock, with Joyce Avery eliminated. Joe Ford has five votes (Democrats Steve Mulroy, Matt Kuhn and Sidney Chism and Republicans Mike Ritz and Wyatt Bunker) and J.W. Gibson has five votes (Democrats Deidre Malone, James Harvey and Henri Brooks and Republicans Mike Carpenter and George Flinn).

Commissioners are discussing whether to postpone the vote.

Commissioners vote to give Avery 45 days in office

 

County Commissioners Deidre Malone and Mike Ritz are proposing a motion to give acting mayor Joyce Avery the full 45 days allowed by the County Charter, which would keep her as mayor until early December.

Steve Mulroy has objected, pointing out that the acting mayor is charged with being a placeholder and ensure continuity between former mayor A C Wharton and the interim mayor who will be elected by the County Commission.

Mulroy asks for a vote and eight commissioners agree to give Avery a full 45 days. Mulroy, Mike Carpenter and Sidney Chism voted against it.

So whoever is selected, the won't get into office until the second week of December.

Live coverage of County Commission mayoral vote on the way

 

Item No. 21 on the Shelby County Commission today reads as follows: Resolution electing an Interim County Mayor for Shelby County. Sponsored by Commissioner Mike Ritz. It's not exactly direct democracy, but the county charter does call for the commission to select an interim replacement in the event the office of county mayor is vacated by the person put there in an election. When the vote begins, we will be live-blogging and live-Tweeting (@zackmcm).

Follow what others are saying on Twitter on The Commercial Appeal's commission vote page.

What we know is that acting mayor Joyce Avery has decided to make herself a candidate, joining three other commissioners, Republican George Flinn and Democrats J.W. Gibson and Joe Ford; and, former Collierville mayor Linda Kerley. Headed into the meeting, Ford had secured four commitments, with Democratic colleagues Matt Kuhn and Sidney Chism joining Republicans Mike Ritz and Wyatt Bunker.

Interestingly, Ritz and Bunker each say they support Ford because he is the only Democrat they can stomach supporting, and prefer to play a role in electing the next mayor rather than going with Republican candidates they believe do not have a chance of securing seven votes.

Gibson had two public commitments, from Republican Mike Carpenter (who sits next to him) and James Harvey. But Harvey did say last week that if it became apparent Gibson could not get to seven votes, he could be persuaded to switch to Ford to break the logjam.

On Sunday night, Flinn described the situation as "absolute chaos" and joined several commissioners in predicting that the vote would come to a stalemate and be postponed. There has been intense private lobbying. Commissioner Steve Mulroy's comment that "everybody and their brother -- actually, everybody and their sister" is open to interpretation, given Joe Ford's brother is former Congressman Harold Ford Sr., his nephew is Harold Ford Jr. and his sister is Ophelia Ford, who Mulroy provided with his professional expertise in election law.

As of 2:20 p.m., the Commission had gotten to item No. 18 on the agenda. The Commission spent about a half hour discussing whether to approve minutes from a previous special meeting in which it approved a controversial program from Buehler Homes. Commissioner Henri Brooks won her wish to postpone approval of the minutes until technical wording in the minutes was changed.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton stopped euthanasia at the Memphis Animal Shelter on Wednesday after shelter employees killed a dog without following shelter procedures, according to sources familiar with the shelter.

The improper euthanasia of the dog and Wharton's decree come eight days after authorities, responding to reports of abuse and mistreatment, raided and closed the shelter.

The shelter reopened under city control last week after Shelby County sheriff's deputies and national animal-abuse investigators finished gathering evidence.

No criminal charges have been filed and they won't be until after the investigation is completed, which could take several weeks.

Local animal-rights advocates plan to hold a candlelight vigil tonight in honor of the animals at the shelter. The vigil will begin at the animal shelter at 3456 Tchulahoma at 6 p.m.

During last week's raid, deputies seized 17 boxes of documents, four computers, six CDs or DVDs and empty dog-food bags, according to a search warrant. At least three dogs died of starvation while at the Shelter.

The warrant stated that there was probable cause to believe laws were being violated by city animal services administrator Ernest Alexander and shelter employees.

Alexander and the shelter employees remain on the job while Wharton awaits the results of an internal investigation later this week, Wharton said Tuesday.

Deputies are still sifting through the evidence and won't present an investigative report to the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office for several weeks.

MPD, stimulus money and federal policing grants

 

The story in today's paper about the Memphis Police Department possibly preparing to ask for more city funds after receiving "only" $6.3 million in federal stimulus money to hire 37 new officers brings up some larger issues when it comes to the federal government's involvement in local crime fighting. This summer, Vice-President Joe Biden announced that $1 billion had been awarded with the aim of hiring or rehiring nearly 4,699 police officers. The grants were based on criteria relating to fiscal need and community policing plans submitted by departments.

MPD asked for $50 million and 300 officers, a request that turned out to be extremely ambitious, given that the most money any department received was $19.8 million to Oakland, Calif., for 41 officers. Overall, 26 cities got more funds than Memphis, including 23 that got the maximum of 50 new or rehired officers. New York, Houston, Seattle and Pittsburgh received no funds. Also not receiving any funds were any suburban Memphis police departments -- not the Shelby County Sheriff, not Millington, not Germantown, not DeSoto County.

Overall, Tennessee got $21.5 million and 131 new officers, with the most going to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department ($8.7 million for 50 officers). Mississippi got only $5.1 million altogether for 41 new officers, with Arkansas getting $8.7 million for 60 officers.

Using a ranking system that combined fiscal need and a crime and community policing index, the Feds ranked Nashville tops in the state and Memphis No. 6, also behind Humboldt, LaFollette, Ripley and Columbia.

The federal program's Website has a trove of information, including a list of grant recipients by state and its index ranking applicants. It also includes a report on the COPS program (Community Oriented Policing Services), which began in the 1990s in the Clinton administration. According to the report, the peak year for COPS funding was 1998, when $1.6 billion in grants was awarded, and the low point for COPS came in 2006, when only $220 million was awarded. The report also stated that "the focus of COPS grants in recent years shifted from increasing community policing personnel to meeting law enforcement agencies' equipment needs and funding methamphetamine initiatives."

The report recommended more robust monitoring of how COPS funds are used. 

City Hall news-o-rama: Cops, Grizzlies, metal, tires, trails and hires

 

The hardest-working journalist at City Hall had to be The CA's Amos Maki, who filed not one, not two, not three, not four, not five . . . but six -- count 'em, SIX! -- articles from Tuesday's City Council sessions, including a B1 story (that's newspaper slang for the front of the Local News section) about an audit showing the Grizzlies appear to owe the city $587,687 for uncollected seat-use fees at FedExForum.

We also have a B1 story about the Memphis Police Department receiving $6.3 million in stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enough to add 37 new officers according to MPD but well short of the $50 million it had hoped for (or maybe fantasized about, given that no city in the country got enough money to hire more than 50 officers). Some on Council are questioning MPD, wondering why it $6.3 million doesn't cover the hiring, training and benefits of more officers.

Amos and Alex Doniach also shined a light on the salaries of new Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's first hires, which are running higher than in previous administrations (Wharton said he'll stay within the executive budget established by Council and defended the numbers by saying "you get what you pay for.").

In the category of public policy that may seem like small potatoes but really is important, Amos writes about Council moving along an ordinance amending a scrap-metal law to make it less onerous to business but still effective in deterring thefts of "commonly stolen items such as copper, catalytic converters, railroad spikes and aluminum foil and siding." Also in that category is news that Council voted to join Shelby County in going after the increasing problem of widespread tire dumping, which contributes to blight and can generate environmental hazards, such as mosquito breeding grounds.

In good news for nature lovers and bicycle enthusiasts, Amos reports that a City Council committee approved $1.4 million in funding to begin Phase II of the Wolf River Greenway, which he explains "will give bicyclists and pedestrians better access to Shelby Farms Park." Parks division director Cindy Buchanan expects a winter groundbreaking for a 1.5-mile path between Walnut Grove and Shady Grove Road, adjacent to Humphrey's Boulevard, with possible completion by next summer.

Nice work, Amos. Keep a lookout for the CA's hand masseuse, due down at City Hall any minute ...

Wharton's new appointed staff earning slightly more than Lowery's

 

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's latest appointments are earning slightly more than the previous administration's.

City Hall reporter Amos Maki has just received a list of new employee salaries from the city's human resources department, showing Wharton's chief of staff, Robert White, is earning $101.500. White is also doubling as a communications special assistant.

While former Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery didn't have a chief of staff, he did have a spokeswoman, Donna Davis, who earned $81,112.72.

It's hard to compare the slightly higher salaries on Wharton's payroll to Lowery's appointments because many of the job titles are different and could involve different duties.

But there are a few crossovers.

For example, Tonya Meeks is earning $64,500 as a communications specialist to Wharton, compared with Allison Fouche, who earned $56,650 in the same title working for Lowery.
Meanwhile, James Nelson replaces Sara Lewis as a special assistant to the mayor for youth and community, earning $87,000 compared to Lewis' $81,112.72.

Lois Riseling and Wilhemina Becton replace Regina Brandon and Lisa Nelson as the mayor's new administrative assistants, earning $49,000 compared to $47,041.80.

Taken together, the salaries for the seven new staffers will cost taxpayers $472,150.10, compared to the $430,298.44 to fund the seven staffers under Lowery's administration.
Following are lists of the six new appointments and one re-appointment, compared with the previous mayor's staff.

Wharton's new appointments (some titles may not be exact):
Robert White, chief of staff/communications special assistant: $101,500
James Nelson, special assistant to the mayor for youth and community: $87,000
Kerry Hayes, research and innovation special assistant: $64,500
Tonya Meeks, communications specialist to the mayor: $64,500
Allison Johnson Fouche, executive coordinator: $56,650.10
Lois Riseling, administrative assistant: $49,000
Wilhemina Becton, administrative assistant: $49,000

Lowery's staff (some titles may not be exact):
Sara Lewis, special assistant to the mayor for youth and community: $81,112.72
Donna Davis, special assistant for media relations: $81,112.72
Tonjala W. Flowers, office manager to the mayor: $70,297.50
Allison Johnson Fouche, communications specialist to the mayor: $56,650.10
Regina Brandon, administrative assistant: $47,041.80
Lisa R. Nelson, administrative assistant: $47,041.80
Susan M. David, administrative assistant: $47,041.80

New mayor, same century-old crime problems

 

It's often easily forgotten that the problems facing metropolitan mayors today have been with cities for longer than those mayors have been alive. Doing some research while preparing for last week's transfer of power to new Memphis Mayor A C Wharton provided some perspective on Memphis's problems, none moreso than violent crime.

We found an article in our archives that ran on Dec. 29, 1991, two days before Willie Herenton would take over the city from Dick Hackett, that talked about the various problems facing Memphis. Crime was high on that list, as former CA reporter and later metro editor Charles Bernsen would write:

"Based on occurences per 100,000 residents, Memphis ranked second in rapes, fifth in burglaries and arson, sixth in homicides and seventh in auto thefts among the nation's 20 largest cities.  Overall, serious crime was up 4.5 percent in 1990 after dropping for three straight years. The city set a homicide record last year with 207."

Two years later, in 1993, the city would break that homicide record, with 213. To put that into perspective, there were 148 homicides in 2008 in a city that has expanded to include Cordova and Hickory Hill. To add even more historical perspective, Mr. Google delivered an article from The New York Times with the following headlines: HOMICIDE RECORD FOR 1911 APPALLING and MEMPHIS'S FIGURES WORST. That article points out that Memphis had the country's worst homicide rate in the decade ending 1910, with a rate of 47.1 murders per 100,000 people.

By 1926, Memphis was only the fourth-worst city in the nation for murder rate, behind Jacksonville, Tampa and Birmingham. Memphis's 75 homicides that year (in a city of 177,000) was cited in an article in The Atlanta Constitution with an argument that sounds familiar nearly a century later:

"This is a reproach on the weakness of our criminal laws, the loopholes through which murderers can escape or indefinitely delay punishment, and upon the administration of criminal laws."

By 1928, Memphis was No. 1 again, with 60.5 murders per 100,000 people (a rate that high would be the equivalent of nearly 400 murders in a year today).

That 1991 CA article quoted an expert on the nature of crime in Memphis -- a certain public defender named A C Wharton. From the article:

''We've lost a whole generation to crime,'' Wharton said. ''Our only option now is to contain them and start working on the next generation.''

Wharton said he sees an arrogance and a lack of remorse among today's criminals that signals a ''degeneration of mores and societal conventions. These people are beyond the reach of society. We have nothing to offer them anymore and so we have no control over them.''

Crime here involves predominantly black-on-black offenses in the inner city, most of it drug-related, said Wharton. Its effects go beyond immediate victims.

''The dry cleaners, the corner grocery store. How many times will they be robbed before they leave and board the place up?'' he said. ''Crime is driving the businesses and families out, chasing away the means for stability and self-sufficiency. Folks aren't going to invest in an area where they can't get insurance, where they don't feel safe. It's destroying the sense of community.''

Wharton sees a bright spot - greater cooperation among agencies involved in dispensing justice. He conducts weekly meetings with representatives from the police and sheriff's departments, prosecutors, judges and parole officials. They made some changes - getting officers to issue more misdemeanor citations instead of making arrests - that helped reduce jail crowding.

''I think there's a growing realization that, especially for drug offenders, we need to do more than just lock 'em up and throw away the key,'' Wharton said. ''We need to find ways to prevent children from becoming criminals and reduce recidivism.''

CIP subcommittee added to transition team roster

 

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's transition team met for about two hours this afternoon.

And while transition team co-chair Mike Carpenter, a county commissioner, said there was no major news out of the meeting, a new subcommittee has been officially added to the roster.

A Capital Improvement Projects committee was added today with the narrow charge of looking at any projects related to stimulus-funded projects.

"Simply because there are deadlines and requirements that have to be met," Carpenter said. "This committee will give the mayor the full picture of where those projects are and whether they're progressing as they should."

Nisha Powers, president of Powers Hill Design, will chair the committee.

The nine subcommittees are made up of transition team members and will spend up to 90 days scrutinizing progress in various areas of city government, including human resources, education and economic development.

George Flinn, Anthony Tate in the running for interim county mayor

 

Two new candidates have tossed their name in the ring for interim Shelby County Mayor.

Collierville businessman Anthony Tate has expressed interest in serving out the remaining 11 months of A C Wharton's term. Commissioner George Flinn, a radiologist and local media mogul, has also announced his intention to run for the interim seat.

"I wanted to do this since 2002 but the overriding thing is that I've been a county commissioner for six years an I know local county government," Flinn said. "I've also started and grown a small business into a large business."

Flinn ran for county mayor before in 2002 but lost to Wharton after waging an expensive campaign.

Flinn said the pressing reason behind his desire to serve is a funding crisis at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

As a doctor, Flinn said he's the only candidate for county mayor with 35 years of medical experience, not only delivering healthcare but also in the business of medicine.

"I could use that to impact big challenges at The Med," Flinn said. "If The Med closes, all of the hospitals in the area are going to be affected....I would take all of my business and medical delivery knowledge to impact The Med and keep it open."

Flinn said if he were selected by the commission on Monday, he would not run for the seat on 2010.

Avery stays busy in first week on the job

 

In her first week in office, acting Shelby County Mayor Joyce Avery met with constituents and held briefing sessions with directors and key personnel at the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, Division of Corrections, Support Services and Road and Bridges.

That's according to a press release issued by her administration late last week, informing the media of Avery's commitment "to maintain the continuity of county government by immersing herself in the daily duties of the county's chief executive officer."

The release says during Avery's tenure as acting mayor, she'll get involved in the work brought forward by the previous administration, including the merger of the city and county fire departments. She plans to complete briefings and tours this week and will oversee her first division directors' staff meeting on Tuesday.

But this week could be Avery's last hurrah.

County Commissioners will interview candidates for interim mayor during committee meetings on Wednesday. Next Monday they're expected to select an interim mayor who will serve out the remainder of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's unfinished term. While Avery will likely be nominated for the more permanent interim spot, as a Republican it's unlikely the Democrat-heavy commission will ultimately select her.

The county mayoral election is in 2010.

  • About memphisnewsblog.com

As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at www.MemphisNewsBlog.com, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at zmcmillin@commercialappeal.com or 529-2564.

  • Zack McMillin on Twitter