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VOL. 131 | NO. 46 | Friday, March 4, 2016


Bill Dries

Last Word: Hedgepeth Speaks, Josh Pastner's Future and Big Box Liquor

By Bill Dries

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

Where else is there to begin but the Greensward controversy.
And we start with an email from Memphis City Council member Reid Hedgepeth in what is rapidly becoming a Last Word tradition and institution – the email in full.

Hedgepeth sent this Thursday evening and there are excerpts in our latest roundup of where the controversy is.

But here is the complete message which came with the subject line: “The Truth.”

     “Greensward Conspiracy Theory

     Conspiracy theories are fun. It's why people engage in them. Take the latest   one involving me and the Council's resolution on the Greensward last Tuesday. The Memphis Flyer would have you believe that the Smith family and other Zoo supporters bought my vote for a few thousand dollars. The truth is I do know the Smith family. Richard Smith and I played next to each other on the offensive line at Christian Brothers High School. I was the tight end and he was a tackle. We've known each other for many years. His mother is on the Zoo's board. So, sure, I suppose I can see how they jumped to this conclusion. But ten other men and women on the Council voted with me that night, and another signed off on the resolution but could not be in attendance for the vote. Did the Zoo buy them all off?

     I'm sure Richard and the Smiths gave to other candidates, as did other members of the Zoo's board. And I know members of the OPC board gave to me and other candidates' campaigns as well. The point here is that making that kind of assertion while printing only a sliver of the overall truth is lazy, sensationalist journalism at its finest. On top of that, it is insulting to me and the other eleven members of the Council who supported that resolution. I didn't allow myself to be bought, bullied or lobbied by Christian conservatives when I voted in favor of the anti-discrimination ordinance, or by the unions when I voted to address our city's massive unfunded pension and retiree benefits obligation. So why in the world would I allow anyone to push me into doing something that I didn't believe was right on this issue of all things?

     The truth is that I and the other Council members were trying to rectify a mistake. This mistake was made by us when we entered into the management contract with the OPC in 2011, and through an oversight on our part did not realize that it conflicted with rights already granted to the Memphis Zoo by the City of Memphis in prior agreements. Most people I've talked to don't realize that the Zoo has had the city's permission to use the Greensward for overflow parking for 28 years. Just as many of the other parks, like Shelby Farms, Audubon and Tom Lee Park to name a few, allow parking on their grass when they have events that require more parking spaces than they have. This is not a new encroachment on the Zoo's part, however the creation of the OPC and the city's contract with them was the spark that ignited this entire debate in recent years. Both parties felt that they had been granted control of the disputed land due to our oversight, and when potentially costly and lengthy lawsuits were filed it was simply time to address it. Because those of us on the Council in 2011, myself included, caused this mess through our oversight.

     In our decision, we took into account the prior agreements with the Zoo which preceded the OPC contract, the city's intent in each of those agreements, and potential impact to the institutions and the citizens. I'm not sure most people realize this either, but the Zoo is the largest tourist attraction in Shelby County and the 6th largest in the state. It sees over a million visitors yearly and has around a $90 million economic impact on the City of Memphis. Furthermore, on Free Tuesdays, many of its visitors come from poorer areas like Frayser, Nutbush, Raleigh and Whitehaven. To simply renege on the prior agreements with the Zoo without an alternative solution in place would've meant denying access to many of these people. And while it angers the folks in midtown who view this as their local park, it belongs to all Memphians. So we made the decision we made to reaffirm the Zoo's control of and right to use the Greensward on a priority basis because we felt it was the right thing to do. It effectively changes nothing, as the Zoo had this right prior and the Council did not "give them" the land. The City of Memphis owns that land. Hopefully by clearing up this error we have put an end to these lawsuits (and I have it on good authority that the Zoo will be dropping theirs now). The mediation process is still going forward and the Zoo is participating in it, and they have said all along that they do not view parking on the grass as the optimal longterm solution and are open to reasonable, viable alternatives.

     That is the truth about the vote that occurred on Tuesday night, and the reason it was submitted on short notice was simply because I was still working on it until late Monday evening. But people can stick to their conspiracy theories and keep sending nasty emails and Facebook posts if they want. Trust me, I've dealt with worse in my time on the Council, and my dignity and integrity are still firmly intact.”

A few Memphis International Airport developments – new American flights to and from Phoenix and a frequent parking program for frequent flyers.

On the subject of travel – there could be a move this summer to do away with the moratorium on new motels that sends any motel application to the Memphis City Council for approval. It began as an early 1990s effort to curb the proliferation of hourly-rate motels in the city.

And Graceland topped out the Guest House at Graceland Thursday with Graceland CEO Jack Soden talking about how the coming overhaul of the Graceland plaza area will work.
The plaza is the place where visitors board the buses to go across the boulevard and up the hill to tour the mansion. We also talked with the architect who designed the resort hotel and Soden about how these changes on the Graceland campus might influence other development in Whitehaven outside Elvis world.

Did someone say Elvis? The Hollywood Reporter says the folks who are about to make the eight-episode series “Million Dollar Quartet” have cast the leads in the drama about Elvis and the other early stars of Sun Records.

Don Wade in his Press Box column weighs in on the future of Josh Pastner.

Also the Grizz in post “grit ‘n’ grind” recovery with some opinions on that from the coach of the Denver Nuggets.

What do you expect when the state says its report cards for school districts and in turn schools are issued? Whatever your expectations are, it’s a very complex set of numbers across several categories that goes into a ranking of Levels 1-5. There is a proposal in Nashville to turn all of that into a letter grade.

Also in Nashville, Tn. Gov. Bill Haslam fires another salvo at Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump.

But U.S. Senator Bob Corker warns against a stop Trump effort.

Madeline Faber looks at the view back here in Memphis in the liquor industry of the legislature’s ongoing debate about limits on licenses for liquor stores that targets national big box type retailers.

More moves at Tri-State Bank. Former First Tennessee CEO Christine Munson is Tri-State’s new CEO.

You’ll also notice just below that item Andy Meek is tracking quarterly reports from the Memphis biopharmaceutical company GTx that shows the company is narrowing its losses.

John Charles Wilson talks about 15 years at the helm of Agricenter International.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is backing the set of route and service changes MATA leaders want to make to the city bus system starting in May.

Here is a look at the new Nike product that started making its way Thursday through the company’s North America Distribution Center on New Frayser Boulevard.
Esquire details the Lunarepic Flyknit’s fashion and athletic function features.
To me, it’s part sock and part shoe – a shock -- kind of like those knit hats that have a bill on the front.

Joe Towns Sr. passed away last week, we learned Thursday. He was 78 years old.
A retired Buckman Labs employee, Towns was a grassroots political figure who ran for local office several times in the 1980s and brought his son and namesake into the political fray.
He is the father of state Representative Joe Towns Jr.

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