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Editorial Results (free)

1. Council Moves Toward Pension Changes -

Two weeks after approving changes in health insurance plans for city employees and retirees, the Memphis City Council meets Tuesday, July 1, to talk over a companion set of changes to the city’s pension plan for employees.

2. Wharton Outlines $596 Million Budget Plan -

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. warned Tuesday, April 15, that “half measures” in converting city employees to a defined contributions benefits plan would not restore the city’s financial health and resolve an unfunded pension liability of hundreds of millions of dollars.

3. Council Unhappy With Budget Plans So Far -

The administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. got a rough reception at the Tuesday, April 1, Memphis City Council session as it set the stage for Wharton’s budget proposal to come in two weeks.

4. City Council Talks Rules and Elections -

Memphis City Council members could vote in two weeks on a resolution expressing “no confidence” in Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden.

5. City Council Talks Rules and Elections -

Memphis City Council members could vote in two weeks on a resolution expressing “no confidence” in Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden.

6. Council Faces Pressure in Financial Crisis -

The Memphis City Council is caught between hints of a state takeover of city finances and the possibility of a lawsuit by most, if not all, of the city’s municipal labor unions in a fiscal crisis that is also evolving into a significant labor dispute.

7. Test Drive -

When car sharing meets the parking and driving practices of Memphians on the streets of Downtown, the encounter could go so many ways between bad and good.

So when Zipcar parked four cars in four on-street parking spaces Downtown last month, there were a lot of questions first about how car sharing works but also about whether the national trend would apply to a city with a unique driving culture.

8. Forrest Fire -

When the Memphis City Council got around to the discussion that counted this week on the future of Forrest Park and, as it turns out, two other Civil War-themed parks, council member Myron Lowery was adamant.

9. Complex Agenda -

In the first year of his first full four-year term of office as Memphis mayor, A C Wharton Jr. put his political weight behind shifting priorities at City Hall.

In that year, he attempted to broaden the police department’s anti-crime strategy beyond the Blue CRUSH brand of hot spot crime crackdowns. He moved further in his long-held quest to redefine violence – particularly gun violence – as a public health issue. And Wharton continued to meld private funding with an advancing of public funding from different pockets to move capital construction projects inside and outside of the Downtown core area in a stubborn post-recession environment.

10. City Council Mulls Future of Whitehaven Golf Course -

Memphis City Council members will take a second look at plans to close the Links of Whitehaven city golf course in November.

City Parks and Neighborhood director Janet Hooks told council members last month that Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration wants to instead close the Davy Crockett city golf course in Frayser despite council approval this past spring to close the nine-hole Whitehaven golf course.

11. Free App Connects Memphians, Government -

Ashley Mooney was stuck in traffic about a year ago when he heard Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. on the “Drake and Zeke” morning radio show on 98.1 The Max and decided to call in.

12. Millington Candidates File for August Election -

The field for Millington mayor in that city’s Aug. 2 nonpartisan general election is three candidates following last week’s filing deadline.

It includes former Mayor Terry Jones, who lost a re-election bid four years ago to Richard Hodges; Kenneth Uselton and Debra Sigee.

13. Cohen-Hart in Congressional Race at Filing Deadline -

The chairman of the countywide school board, Billy Orgel, was effectively elected to his District 7 school board seat without opposition at the Thursday, April 5, filing deadline for candidates on the Aug. 2 primary and general election ballot in Shelby County.

14. Public Servants -

The two winners of the 2012 Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards thanked their coworkers Wednesday, Feb. 22, as they were honored by the family of the late Probate Court clerk and the Rotary Club of Memphis East.

15. MCS-City Council Talk Money At 4 PM -

As Memphis City Council members and Memphis City Schools board members prepare to talk for the first time since the school board voted to possibly delay the Aug. 8 start of the school year, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has offered to put $10 million in city funding on the table.

16. Wharton to Present New Budget to Council -

Memphis City Council members will try again Tuesday, June 21, to approve a city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was expected to bring a new balanced budget proposal to the council as the week began.

17. Council Prepares for Long Budget Session -

Memphis City Council members have a long day ahead Tuesday, June 7, at City Hall with lots of numbers and important decisions.

The council will either finish its budget season Tuesday or could go into an overtime period that could stretch past the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

18. Lighting the Fuse -

Memphis voters have 22 words to weigh as they decide what is to become of Shelby County’s two public school systems.
“Shall the administration of the Memphis City School System, a special school district, be transferred to the Shelby County Board of Education?”
The words seem inadequate to cover what a “yes” or a “no” vote means after a state law and other factors changed the terms of a vote already scheduled for March 8.
Voters for schools consolidation may be against special schools district status but for letting some of the six suburban towns and cities try to go with their own municipal school system.
Voters may be against school consolidation and against special school district status if it includes taxing authority for the county school board, albeit with tax approval required by the Tennessee Legislature.
Some voters may see it as a way of ending reforms driven by MCS superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash. Others may see it as a way of ending Shelby County Schools board chairman David Pickler’s dominance of that school system.
School consolidation advocates are still urging citizens to vote “yes” and school consolidation opponents are still urging citizens to vote “no.”
“The lay of the land has changed, so will people consider the lay of the land or what? That statement stands. It’s on the ballot and everyone knows what it’s designed to do,” said Memphis City Council chairman Myron Lowery. “This occurred after the question was put on the ballot. If someone wants to make that stretch, they’re jumping over a lot of hurdles. This was not in place when this was put on the ballot.”
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., along with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, sought a transition period even as political positions began to harden. He doesn’t see what’s in the law as a transition period.
“The way it’s structured, there’s every incentive not to reach an agreement. It looks to me like it falls off the face of the earth,” Wharton said. “There was nothing in there that states where do you go if at the end of this (the planning process) there is nothing resolved.”
State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, disagrees.
“The state has a compelling interest in assuring that the administration of schools is properly discharged,” Norris wrote in an op-ed piece for The Memphis News last week. “To do otherwise defies common sense and common decency.”
Pickler said if voters approve the question, he will quickly move to assemble a team to work on the transition. It’s a transition that Pickler has always emphasized will be controlled by the county school system. That is one point on which the attorneys seem to agree.
“Clearly we understand that this issue is not about educational outcomes,” he said during a WKNO forum last week. “We still do not believe that creating a mega district … doesn’t do anything to improve education.”
MCS board member Tomeka Hart, at the same forum, countered “We do here as an economic issue,” a reference to the University of Memphis study showing special schools district status could cost MCS half of the county property tax base it relies on for funding. “It’s time to rewrite all of this,” Hart concluded.
Here is the timeline – to date – of the ongoing schools showdown:

19. Norris Schools Surrender Bill Clears Senate Committee -

There would be no countywide referendum on school consolidation under an amended proposal on schools consolidation offered Wednesday by state Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

20. Mayor at Heart of Consolidated Government -

A consolidated city and county government would have a strong metro mayor with centralized power.

The proposed metro charter that goes to voters on the Nov. 2 ballot chooses the strong mayor model from the existing city of Memphis charter over the mayoral model in the Shelby County charter.

21. Summit Will Help Business Owners Prepare for Disaster -

Small businesses are especially vulnerable when disaster strikes, whether it’s a flood, earthquake, tornado, fire or even terrorist activity.

An estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, which means small-business owners need to make emergency preparedness a priority.

22. Beale Street Settlement Preferable, Wharton Says -

For the third time in a year a Memphis mayor has said settling the legal dispute over Beale Street’s cash flow is a priority.

But there are still signs the dispute won’t be settled easily.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. told the Memphis Rotary Club last week that he wants the Shelby County Chancery Court lawsuit settled this year.

23. It’s Now or Never for Voter Registration -

Today is the last day to register to vote in the Oct. 15 special mayoral election.

Early voting begins Sept. 25 with much speculation about how the large field of 25 contenders will affect voter turnout and how the votes are divided.

24. Beale Street Report Overshadowed by Wilkins Flap - The handing over of the case files is still being worked out. So is a motion for a change of counsel. And the final invoice from attorney Ricky E. Wilkins for his work on the Chancery Court case involving the Beale Street Entertainment District is yet to come.

The decision by Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery to replace Wilkins comes at a crucial time in the long-running case.

Special Chancellor Don Harris is about to unseal a report on the entertainment district that has already been partially leaked. The report from Philadelphia accounting firm Parente Randolph was being prepared for release late last week as Wilkins and Lowery began a testy e-mail exchange that ended with Lowery firing Wilkins earlier this week.

For the past year or so of former Mayor Willie Herenton’s tenure, the city, represented by Wilkins, was zealously pursuing an accounting of money from Beale Street since 2002.

Money pit

The money is supposed to flow from the nightclubs on Beale Street to management company Performa Entertainment to the Beale Street Development Corp. and finally to the city. The money hasn’t flowed to the city at all, even though the city owns the district. On that, all sides agree.

The BSDC is the nonprofit board that holds the lease from the city, and Performa has a contract to run, manage and develop Beale Street with the BSDC.

Performa CEO John Elkington contends the district wasn’t profitable for a long time after its dedication in late 1983. Elkington said he and Performa put their own money into it. Under his contract, Elkington said he can and should recoup the money when the district turns a profit.

Wilkins contended in court that Performa mingled the Beale Street money with Performa ventures in other cities. It’s an allegation Elkington has adamantly denied.

“That’s nowhere in the report,” Elkington said in his only positive reference to the Parente Randolph findings.

Advocacy wars

The report by Paul Pocalyko, a principal of the accounting and consulting firm, concluded Performa owed the city of Memphis more than $6 million in profits from the district.

Press reports of Pocalyko’s multimillion-dollar bottom line had the political effect of stalling plans by Lowery to settle the lawsuit and fire City Attorney Elbert Jefferson.

“My overall goal is to save the taxpayers money,” Lowery said this week, denying that he is trying to “squash” the accounting of profits from the district. “If this case can be settled, I want it settled. If it must go to court, then it will go to court. But the overall goal is to improve the efficiency of this city.”

Elkington has been Beale Street’s developer since the district between Second and Fourth streets reopened 25 years ago.

“They spent $500,000 on an audit that is not an audit,” he said.

Elkington recently hired attorney John C. Speer, a member of Bass, Berry & Sims PLC, to represent Performa.

Speer wouldn’t comment on the content of the Pocalyko report.

But he said, in general, the report mistakenly counted revenue, to the tune of millions of dollars, as due the city.

“That document is not an audit. It’s an opinion,” Speer said. “We are disappointed that it wasn’t an audit because we think an audit would have a credibility that would have supported the conclusion we have that there’s not any money owed to the city.”

Earlier this week, Speer was awaiting his own full copy of the report and both sides were still arguing about what would be redacted from it.

“The conclusions and opinions in there are not supported by fact,” Speer said. “They are opinions that are designed to support the position taken by the city’s attorney.”

That included approximately $2 million merchants made from selling wristbands over the seven-year period starting in 2002. The wristband sales allow patrons to get in several clubs for one cover charge.

“That money never goes to us. That’s $2.1 million,” Elkington told The Daily News. “So a third of what they are alleging went to the merchants.”

Another $900,000 was disallowed because it was a credit some tenants were given on their rent after they made property improvements. But Performa claims it has a 1991 letter with then-city chief administrative officer Greg Duckett approving the credit arrangement.

“What they’re trying to do is rewrite the lease,” Elkington said. “We’ve always said, ‘If we owe some money, we’ll pay it.’ … Right now, this is stuff that is conjecture.”

‘Black hole’

Lowery has said one of his first actions on taking office was to direct city Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons to find a way to settle the Beale Street lawsuit.

A settlement had been one of three priorities – along with a Mid-South Fairgrounds redevelopment contract and an agreement for Bass Pro Shops to develop The Pyramid – Herenton had set for his final weeks in office but never achieved.

Lowery had the same goal for his tenure, which lasts until the special election on Oct. 15 if he doesn’t win the right to fill out Herenton’s term.

Lowery’s immediate concern was millions of dollars the city was paying outside attorneys to pursue litigation. That concern was why Lowery tried to fire Jefferson within minutes of taking the oath of office on July 31. He held Jefferson responsible for what he termed a “black hole” of legal expenses approved on Jefferson’s watch as city attorney.

Lowery mentioned prominently the $35,000 a month to Wilkins and his law firm for work on the Beale Street case.

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