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VOL. 131 | NO. 91 | Friday, May 6, 2016


Bill Dries

Last Word: Mall Demo, Defining 'Fringe Element' and Herenton's New Path

By Bill Dries

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Once upon a time there were three “town centers” planned by the city of Memphis.

City facilities like libraries and police precincts would be the anchors and encourage private retail development in them.

They haven’t fared well. But the one to go where Raleigh Springs Mall now stands is by far the one closest to reality.

And Thursday evening in a Raleigh church, the council member whose district includes Raleigh announced demolition will start Saturday on part of the property.

The mall, which was the city’s third after Southland and Southbrook in Whitehaven, consists of 10 separate parcels of real estate. The city owns or has an agreement with the owners of all but two of the parcels.

The LLC that owns those two which includes the site of the mall proper, which remains open, is fighting the city’s attempt to take their property by eminent domain.

Nevertheless, council member Bill Morrison says he’s been assured by the city that the demolition on the parts of the mall site owned or controlled by the city can move ahead. And Morrison will be at the controls of one of the bulldozers Saturday morning in what will likely be the project his tenure on the council is defined by.

The vacant motel you have probably seen on Alston about the time you get off the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge coming into Memphis is to be demolished by September 1.

It’s another indication that Mayor Jim Strickland might want to see if the U.S. State Department needs any help from his administration sorting out the Gaza Strip or the coalition in Syria.

Strickland managed to get Lauren Crews, the developer of the old Marine Hospital in French Fort as well as the owner of the motel, in the same room with Sara Lewis, the former Memphis City Schools board member and leader of the homeowners’ group in French Fort.

He apparently did it by calling each separately to say he wanted to meet with them and may not have told one that the other was also going to be there.

Both were at the Wednesday announcement of the demolition and each spoke but didn’t mention the other. So there may not be peace in our time. But French Fort may be a little more French than fort at this point.

Saturday is an important day in Overton Park. For starters there is a lot going on at several locations in the park in a weekend in which the city is bursting with all kinds of activities.

The Overton Park Conservancy is putting in play some ideas from the recent traffic and parking study for the park that it commissioned. And how people react to the measures including one-way streets and shuttles could go a long way to more permanent solutions to the park’s problems.

Speaking of City Hall, Lisa Geater is one of the two recipients of the Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Award to be given next week by the Rotary Club of Memphis East. These days Geater is chief of staff to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. The Dunavant award next week is for her 27-year tenure in the council’s office, 20 of those years as council administrator. The position is the leader of the council office on the fifth floor of City Hall.

Think about this -- running the full-time office for 13 part-time elected officials. That is a baker’s dozen of very different personalities. At times it can be 13 ways of doing things, each of them at least a little bit different from the other 12.

If you haven’t heard of Geater or the rest of the council office staff that is entirely intentional. Being invisible is a requirement for holding the job.

But this is a level of political skill anyone who follows the art of compromise – as some call it – should know about. These are jobs that have a lot to do with how things get done. Note that I said how. I didn’t say whether they get done.

Behind the Headlines on WKNO TV Friday at 7 p.m. is Strickland, city Chief Financial Officer Brian Collins and city council Budget Committee chairman Edmund Ford Jr. and the topic is the city budget season. Make this show a line item in your television viewing budget.

So there I was, running around Wednesday like a rubber ball bouncing off a wall in a room full of sugared-up eight-year olds. The meeting in the county building is underway on committee day for the county commission. And I’m looking for Mayor Mark Luttrell’s budget remarks to the commission in particular. I open the glass door – yes, politicians with glass doors, but not glass houses – already looking for a place to sit. And I hear a voice that is familiar but also out of place.

Seated at a table addressing the commissioners is former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.

Herenton is pitching two residential schools for juvenile offenders who are in detention that his company, NewPath, wants to build in Frayser and Millington.

In the process, later we talked about his first effort with juvenile offenders several years ago and what went wrong with it.

Along the way our story includes Herenton’s views on the current realities of education – more accountability and accountability measures and a much quicker review of the data to determine that accountability for those who runs schools. That's on top of the competition among conventional schools, charter schools, private schools, ASD schools and Innovation Zone schools not to mention optional schools.

I think that was also a factor in the difficulties Herenton, a former Memphis City Schools superintendent, encountered when he opened his short-lived Thurgood Marshall Academy at Northside High School. It also didn’t help that it was the first and only school year of the schools merger in Shelby County.

At the same time, Juvenile Court has seen a lot of change including a consent decree with the Justice Department that makes it clear the Feds want to see fewer children in custody. That's even as the number in custody has been going down at Juvenile Court under both current Judge Dan Michael and his predecessor Curtis Person Jr.

Sam Stockard, our Nashville correspondent, has a profile of Democratic State Representative Raumesh Akbari, who is part of a group of younger legislators in the Shelby County delegation that came to Nashville as part of a Democratic minority in both chambers. The result is legislators who look at the capital very differently from the veteran Memphis Democrats in the delegation. The veterans took quite a while to adjust from the days when Democrats were the majority.

Don Wade on what makes triathletes tick as the Memphis In May Triathlon nears later this month in Millington.

More from Associated Press on Ole Miss to Miami offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil’s disastrous NFL draft.

Google brings its website program for small businesses to Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Memphis-based Wright Medical posts a first quarter loss. And Wright CEO Robert Palmisano says the company is “fundamentally changing the way we do business” in what he has termed “the year of the balance sheet.”

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