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VOL. 131 | NO. 184 | Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Bill Dries

Last Word: After The Fire, Hard Changes at Fred's and Durham Doesn't Go Quietly

By Bill Dries

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The immediate questions have simple answers. It was a short in an air conditioner cord that caused the fire that killed 9 people – three adults and six children – before dawn Monday morning in South Memphis.

The only survivor, a boy, was still fighting to recover Tuesday into Wednesday.

It took firefighters four minutes to get to the house at Severson and James and it took them 19 minutes to bring the fire under control.

Beyond this basic account, this only becomes more frustrating and more painful.

What will become less plentiful as that happens are detailed and deeper answers about how this tragedy happened and how it could have been avoided.

Lots of the day-of coverage focused on the iron bar window and door guards on the house and numerous other houses nearby.

But it is still unclear, at least for now, if those who died survived long enough or were able to find their way to the windows and doors to try to make their way out.

The small house shows up in the Assessor’s records as having been built in 1972 and it is apparent from the outside that it had been divided up into sections over the years possibly with parts added onto it.

None of that probably has anything to do with a power cord that sparked in the middle of the night as 10 people were asleep inside.

But as we prepare for a set of nine funerals, we will all learn more about the lives of nine people most of us had no idea existed until they were gone.

The focus will be on who they were as people – the lost potential and the sense of loss itself.

Words will be inadequate if we don’t stop trying to find the right thing to say at a moment when words don’t mean a lot and instead look at how hard it is for so many adults and children to live a basic life in Memphis free of the fear that puts bars on windows and free of the poverty that puts so many lives in such a small space that may be safe by the codes we make but clearly wasn’t a safe place before dawn Monday morning.

Election night Tuesday in Southaven – a special election for a seat on the city’s board of aldermen.

And the winner with 271 votes is Ronnie Hale, the previous alderman in that seat who lost a 2013 re-election bid to Shirley Kite. Kite quit when Mississippi state law was changed to bar her from being alderman and retiring from her full time job as DeSoto County’s Justice Court Clerk.

Hale defeated Brandon Henley in Tuesday’s election.

A preview of this weekend’s U of M- Kansas football game and Alabama at Ole Miss.

A look at financial headwinds at Memphis-based Fred’s which turned over its management team as the company posted a net loss last month of $6.9 million for the quarter. The struggle is a common one of changing the company’s DNA.

If you have noticed more new retail chains around town, it’s not just the frenzy we see when the shopping pros among us obsess about how our lives will be complete if we can just get get the newest “it” retailer. There are more “new to the market” retailers here than there were five years ago. In two years, the renovation and expansion of Shops of Saddle Creek in Germantown has brought in 18 new tenants – a dozen of them new to the Memphis market.

The special session of the Tennessee Legislature is underway and the House is at 98 of its 99 members as Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham was expelled Tuesday on a 70-2 vote. And Durham did not go peacefully – arguing the allegations in an Attorney General’s report of sexual harassment of at least 22 women over a four-year period were not sexual harassment.

Of the 14 House members representing Shelby County, nine voted with the majority to expel Durham – Raumesh Akbari, Karen Camper, Jim Coley, G. A. Hardaway, Ron Lollar, Steve McManus, Larry Miller, Joe Towns and Larry Turner.

Antonio Parkinson voted present.

And John Deberry, Curry Todd, Mark White and Barbara Cooper did not vote.


New U.S. Census numbers for calendar year 2015 shows more of us got a raise in terms of the median household income. The first time, by that standard, that Americans have seen a rise in their incomes in eight years.

After firing 5,300 employees at offices across the country, being fined $100 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and refunding $2.6 million in fees from accounts their customers never knew they opened, Wells Fargo is going to pay the retiring head of its consumer banking division $125 million in stock options and salary.

Carrie Tolstedt ran the division that set the sales goals that prompted the Wells Fargo employee to open more than 2 million bank and credit card accounts that customers knew nothing about – accounts that those customers had money transferred to without their knowledge and that they paid fees on without their knowledge.

And Wells Fargo announced Tuesday it will do away with the sales goals that prompted the fraud – but not until the end of the year.

So, you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 but you can’t bear to turn it in for the massive recall just two weeks after the Note 7 was launched. You know about the dozens of cases of the batteries exploding or catching fire. Samsung is planning a software update that would limit battery recharges to 60 percent and theoretically stop the batteries from overheating.

Pandora gets into streaming music that lets users control the songs they want to hear. And more importantly with Pandora, the songs they don’t want to hear – ever. Pandora is notorious for playlists that often stray far from the artists and songs you indicate you like. The playlists have even included selections from the “Sounds Like” albums of the 60s and 70s that are cheap knockoffs of artists like the Beatles and such.

Meanwhile, Amazon is adding to its Prime loyalty program with free audio books and a digital audio service. The Audible Channels feature is like music streaming only without the music.

PROPERTY SALES 57 94 2,713
MORTGAGES 16 37 1,820
BUILDING PERMITS 303 621 6,322
BANKRUPTCIES 138 138 1,115