VOL. 131 | NO. 66 | Friday, April 1, 2016
Last Word: Greensward Truce, Connor Schilling Retires and MEMFix Goes East
By Bill Dries
You’ve heard of the mediation process surrounding the long-term use of the Overton Park Greensward by the Memphis Zoo for its overflow parking.
It appears there is now a less formal mediation process underway when it comes to the use of the greensward during the park’s spring peak season which is now underway.
So when the sun rises over the Greensward Saturday there is an understanding the zoo will use the third of the area it had been using prior to the Memphis City Council’s decision in early March to grant it control of more of the lawn.
Since the council decision, the zoo has been using much more of the Greensward than it had before for overflow parking.
That was a factor in the several hundred people who turned out last Saturday morning, the day before Easter Sunday, some of whom briefly blocked the gravel driveway that the zoo uses as the entry point for overflow Greensward parking.
The one-day agreement in which no one was arrested, limited the overflow parking to a smaller area of the Greensward.
For this Saturday, there are other factors in the latest "compromise for a day" we’ll call it – namely three events that day using the Greensward.
There is the Literacy Mid-South Reading Flash Mob which is in its fourth year, a rugby match and Walk MS, a fundraiser at the Rainbow Lake Pavilion.
Meanwhile, the Overton Park Conservancy plans to release soon the recommendations from a park-wide traffic and parking study it commissioned. The goal is to move toward a long-term solution to the problem of a much-used park in which peak season for one entity in the park is peak season for the other institutions in the park and the park itself.
And the Greensward is itself becoming more of a part of that peak season.
In addition to this Saturday’s events, there is the Latino Memphis Festival on May 7 and that same day the nearby Memphis Brooks Museum will mark its 100th anniversary.
By then the zoo’s Zambezi River Hippo Camp exhibit will be open and should be doing a booming business in its own right.
We’ll be in the park Saturday with updates as needed on what happens @tdnpols and from there more comprehensive summaries on this very website. Our guiding principle at the outset – other than wear a ball cap because of the sunburn I got three weeks ago -- is if something comes up we’ll start Tweeting. If it doesn’t, we won’t.
Either way, your Saturday will continue.
Memphis City Council chairman Kemp Conrad has a plan to form a committee with county commissioners that would explore possible terms for some voluntary de-annexations as well as examine the larger question of the city’s footprint.
Look for it at Tuesday’s Memphis City Council session.
Meanwhile, the WKNO-TV show Behind The Headlines is a bit late in forming this week because of the action on the de-annexation question this week in Nashville.
Our guests are Shelby County Commission chairman Terry Roland and county commissioner David Reaves, who will be the second part of our two-show discussion of de-annexation.
The show airs Friday at 7 p.m.
Here is our recap of the larger forces at work this week in the Legislature as the de-annexation bill died in the Senate. Those forces point toward a more sustained presence by Memphis City Hall on Capitol Hill that includes issues other than de-annexation.
In the continuing rush to the end of the legislative session in Nashville:
Gov. Bill Haslam announced a three year plan for Tennessee road projects that reflects the security of the five-year Surface Transportation Act Congress unexpectedly passed recently in Washington.
The three-year plan has a surprise of its own for the Memphis area with an Interstate 40 interchange at Hickory Withe Road which is at the Shelby-Fayette county line.
Usually when the city’s pension board meets, it isn’t news.
The meetings don’t include the kind of debate you get with an elected body or even most appointed bodies because the board has much less discretion that those groups.
Who gets a pension and how much isn’t something that is determined by votes on a panel of citizens. It is determined by regulations those pension board members have to follow or answer some pointed questions from regulators and/or by an opposing attorney in court.
Nevertheless, the city pension board’s decision to grant a retirement with disability to Memphis Police office Connor Schilling was a big story Thursday afternoon.
Schilling is the officer who shot and killed Darrius Stewart last July in the incident that triggered ongoing changes in how such matters are handled.
It was the first fatal police encounter turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which was a departure from the practice of police doing their own internal investigation.
The TBI presented the case to a grand jury which decided it would not charge Schilling with any wrongdoing despite a recommendation from District Attorney General Amy Weirich that he should be charged with voluntary manslaughter.
Weirich filed suit in Chancery Court to open to the public the TBI file of the investigation and the court order by Chancellor James Newsom was the first order of its kind since the state law closing any and all TBI files to the public was enacted.
It was the incident that prompted the call for police body cameras that pushed the city in that direction.
Schilling was a cop for just under four years and he will get paid just under $30,000 a year in retirement. Plus the city will continue to pay 70 percent of his health insurance premium.
The same board at the same meeting approved a pension for former mayor A C Wharton of just more than $25,072 a year.
The MEMFix series of streetscape demonstrations went East this week, the parking lot between Clark Tower and the iBank Tower.
And the area is a different kind of challenge than MEMFix has dealt with in other parts of the city in recent years.
The most immediate challenge is dozens of curb cuts into the parking areas by the businesses in the several block area that amount to a maze.
Businesses have come and gone over decades in the area around the landmarks. And the development has gone deeper – further north – in the area.
But the access to it is a patchwork still oriented to what used to be there. It’s also oriented to the trend of businesses feeling they had to each offer an abundance of parking that actively discouraged walking even short distances.
The roots of this discussion run deep. The challenges have existed for quite a while. But business leaders and elected officials began talking in a sustained manner about them in 2009 after a premiere of several new horror movies at the Malco Paradiso theater drew a large crowd to the large parking lot and the crowd, in turn, drew a police response.
Meanwhile in 2014, Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer began working in the larger area on some other streetscape improvements. The ideas included reducing the proliferation of wooden utility poles in a more consolidated approach and improving intersections along a stretch of Poplar Avenue that is daunting to drivers as well as pedestrians.
Metropolitan Bank on a shopping spree of sorts in a bank market that has seen a lot of changes recently.
And to get right to the point about the new Apple store in Saddle Creek –a 37 foot tall screen.
I hear couch potatoes sprouting legs.