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VOL. 131 | NO. 6 | Friday, January 8, 2016


Bill Dries

Last Word: The Crest, OPEB Fever, Armstrong Leaves and An Elvis Warning

By Bill Dries

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The crest is here and it is not quite 40 feet on the Mississippi River gauge. The projections Thursday evening going into Friday’s crest of the river at Memphis changed a bit from the 40.3 foot level. The crest is 39.8 feet.
No reports of major damage anywhere in Shelby County, according to the Shelby County Office of Prepardness.
But the river’s high water is still a sight to behold.

The political tide was rising on dry land not too far from the riverfront.
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong is leaving at the end of January to become chief of security for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says his goal is to have a successor in place by February 1 from the national search already underway.
Armstrong was an interim director in the new administration in a job that usually gets a new face when there is a new mayor and sometimes more frequently.

More OPEB talk and fallout the day after the Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion.
When we last gathered, the AG's opinion was that Shelby County government isn’t necessarily liable for the liability from health insurance and other non-pension benefits of employees of the old Memphis City Schools system. At least it isn't unless it chooses to be.
Here’s a recap with some new elements and voices on the opinion and the first ripples it caused Wednesday on both sides of the Main Street Mall.
We had Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell in Thursday for our Behind The Headlines show on WKNO TV that airs Friday at 7 p.m. And this topic was where we began the show.
Luttrell thinks the state will end up at some point forcing a decision on whose obligation this is just as it forced the city to begin paying its OPEB liability in a ramp-up period of five fiscal years.
But since the school system isn’t required to do that now, it looks like you won’t see an immediate vote by anyone with a title in local government for now. It does give a better sense of urgency to discussions county government has been having with Shelby County Schools for the better part of a year about this.
And SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson has the outline of a solution that involves benefits changes for teachers that was unpopular last year when he first unveiled it and will likely remain unpopular to some degree.
The show covers more topics than OPEB so tune in even if you don't have OPEB fever.
Jane Donahoe and Kate Simone, I'm looking at you.

On another political horizon, Friday is the first day candidates on the Aug. 4 election ballot can begin pulling qualifying petitions in the state and federal primaries on that ballot as well as the non-partisan general election races for five of the nine seats on the Shelby County Schools board.
In the story you will note that the Shelby County Election Commission doesn’t list the school board races on its website.
We called to verify this and a staffer at the Election Commission told us there are no Shelby County Schools board races in 2016.
That is despite a state law that requires the terms of local school board members across the state to be staggered and a well-publicized and controversial redrawing of the school board district lines in 2014.
The school board’s office was quick to confirm that indeed there are five district races on the August 2016 ballot.
Wonder what will happen when school board candidates show up to pull petitions.

Since press time, you can add a judicial race to the August ballot.
The Circuit Court judge position vacated by the death last year of D’Army Bailey will be on the ballot.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam making that announcement as he considers three finalists from Shelby County to fill the vacancy until the August election is decided.
The finalists are attorneys Frank S. Cantrell, Valerie L. Smith and JoeDae L. Jenkins.

Meanwhile, Haslam appointed a new Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Thursday.

But all of that blended in with the wallpaper in Nashville Thursday. The big event was a reaction to Haslam’s proposal to fundamentally change the Tennessee Board of Regents to a body governing community colleges and the state’s colleges of applied technology. The University of Memphis, in the process, would get its own independent governing board.
Regents Chancellor John Morgan resigned earlier than expected and the Tennessean’s account includes in full his scathing resignation letter to Haslam.

The CEO of nexAir talks to Andy Meek about the Memphis company's announcement this week of its big southeast expansion and merger with 23 Praxair branches.

Back to the campaign trail and a bit of tradecraft. Campaign & Elections, a trade publication for those in the business of campaigns, has some interesting insights on the value of yard signs in the 21st century.

Now, about the SEC and whether it’s overrated. Don Wade has some thoughts on that now that the Arkansas fans are a safe distance away.

Ole Miss’s football coach is getting a raise.

Nationally, a survey on the number of uninsured Americans and a roll-out date for self-driving cars.

We close with a happy 81st birthday to Elvis Presley and a new duty for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland who will join County Mayor Mark Luttrell this morning in cutting Graceland’s annual birthday cake.
It's a Whitehaven tradition where I learned long ago that if an Elvis fan hands you a camera to take a picture of the cake and you accept, when you give the camera back you will be handed at least 10 more.
It might be different in the age of iPhones and digital photography.
But it is fun to remember when Vester Presley, Elvis’ uncle, was still manning the gates at Graceland in the years between Elvis’ death and the mansion opening for tours.
At least once during his night shift, he would load up the front seat of the golf cart with cameras from the fans outside the walls and dutifully snap photos of the gravesite for them. This after he would try in vain to convince a good portion of those at the gates that he wasn’t his brother, Vernon.
Be careful, Mayor. The jungle isn’t just a room in the mansion with shag carpet.

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