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VOL. 131 | NO. 240 | Friday, December 2, 2016


Bill Dries

Last Word: Fire Recovery, Justice Department Work Begins and Rocky Top Angst

By Bill Dries

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The death toll in the East Tennessee wildfires goes to 10 Thursday as the recovery effort moves beyond a search for those missing. The count of buildings burned in Sevier County is estimated at more than 700 – 300 just in Gatlinburg. And 47 people are injured by the latest count. The count of those who died in the fires includes confirmation that Jon and Janet Summer of Memphis are among the dead recovered so far.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are in Gatlinburg as well as fire-affected areas of nearby McMinn and Polk counties Friday morning.

As the search and recovery continue, part of the effort is trying to pinpoint how the fires started the day before Thanksgiving. The Washington Post tracks the path of the fire.

The Justice Department review of the Memphis Police Department begins with a pair of public hearings – the second of the two in Hickory Hill not far from the fatal police encounter in 2015 that got the issue started locally. There is a big gulf between how those at the hearings view the police department and how the department views itself. It will be interesting to see where the Feds come down in their view. If their reports in other cities are any clue, this will be a pretty deep dive with lots of police stats and lots of first-hand observations. We will know in about a year.

Cong. Steve Cohen introduced a bill Thursday that would amend the U.S. Constitution to provide for direct election of the president and vice president by popular vote and abolish the Electoral College.

Cohen termed the Electoral College an “anachronistic process.”

“The Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s President, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy. In our country, ‘We the People’ are supposed to determine who represents us in elective office. When the Founders established the electoral college, it was in an era of limited nationwide communication. It was premised on a theory that citizens would have a better chance of knowing about electors from their home states than about presidential candidates from out-of-state. The development of mass media and the internet, however, has made information about presidential candidates easily accessible to U.S. citizens across the country and around the world. Today, citizens have a far better chance of knowing about out-of-state presidential candidates than knowing about presidential electors from their home states. Most people don’t even know who their electors are.”

Meanwhile, Politico polls Senators and finds bipartisan support and a quick confirmation should U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee be President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of State.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander per Reuters cautioning against the Republican president and the GOP majorities in Congress trying to change Medicare and Obamacare at the same time once the new year begins in Washington.

A flurry of corporate deals Thursday afternoon into the evening from publicly-traded corporations based here:

MAA has closed on its merger with Post Properties of Atlanta, a deal we first told you about last month. The real estate investment trust has also been added to the S&P 500 Index as of Friday’s trading day.

International Paper also closed Thursday on its $2.2 billion purchase of Weyerhaeuser’s pulp business.

And American Home Shield announced Thursday it is buying Landmark Home Warranty of Salt Lake City as AHS’s parent company, ServiceMaster, named a new COO for its Terminix division and a new leader for its Franchise Services division.

The new year will begin with lots of openings of projects we’ve watched this year in various phases of planning and construction. And that means some new signage to come Downtown that has to clear the bar at the Design Review Board of the Downtown Memphis Commission.

The new director of the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center comes to the job with lots of experience.

The dining reservation service OpenTable is out with its list of the 100 best restaurants in America and it includes two Memphis entries – Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Flight.

Esquire runs down the list.

Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo is our guest on “Behind The Headlines.” The show airs Friday on WKNO TV at 7 p.m. We talk about Germantown’s most recent elections, recent economic growth and its plan for that growth.

The Memphis News cover story by K. Denise Jennings is a look at local Airbnbs and the new city ordinance taxing them along with local hotels that was a compromise among several different groups that looks a bit different than Nashville’s version.

A PDF of the entire new issue is up now on this website. The hard copies hit the racks Friday morning and the online version of the cover story goes up Friday afternoon.

It’s been a busy week in sports between Mike Conley’s back injury and the return of Stubby Clapp as manager of the Memphis Redbirds.

Elsewhere in our Friday sports section:

David Climer in Nashville on the future of Butch Jones post-Vanderbilt upset, which includes a new UT athletic director next season. Climer calls the next football season at Rocky Top a “crossroads.”

In Knoxville, Dave Link focuses on what bowl UT goes to now that the Sugar Bowl is out of the question. The Vols are on their way to “a mediocre bowl,” according to Link.

College football’s hiring season for coaches has come and gone without a single black or minority prospect being hired for any of the vacancies. And a group of minority coaches says it is concerned.

Don Wade grades the SEC and A is for Alabama, while D is for Ole Miss.

Terry McCormick in Nashville talks about the exit of Perrish Cox from the struggling Titans.

The medical marijuana ballot question from November in Arkansas is done and now the state goes about setting the ground rules including labeling.

Black Friday numbers are in for auto sales across the country.

Dollar General not having a good lead-in to the holiday shopping season thanks to some changes in several states limiting how food-stamp benefits can be used.

Post election polling on Obamacare shows most of those polled want it to stay after Donald Trump takes the oath of office next month.

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