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VOL. 132 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 21, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: Freeze Warning, Corker on Obamacare Repeal and The Disney Example

By Bill Dries

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What do you call it when you expect a lot of trouble coming from a specific direction – with a detailed roadmap -- and a completely different controversy comes in from a different direction, hits and leaves a crater. Whatever you call it, that is what happened to Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze Thursday evening. Or did it?

Freeze has resigned effective immediately.

Here is our piece on Freeze at SEC Media Days just a week ago filibustering his way around the NCAA investigation that at that point included a civil lawsuit against the university by former coach Houston Nutt. By then, the undercurrent that surfaced Thursday was already in play.

What brought down Freeze is connected to Nutt, more precisely Nutt’s attorney, who reportedly told Ole Miss administrators about phone records from 2016 showing Freeze called a Detroit phone number linked to a Florida-based escort service on a school-issued cell phone. It was a one-minute phone call.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said Thursday evening that Freeze had confirmed “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with what we expect of our football coach at the university.”

Here are the basics from CBS Sports. And Hugh Kellenberger’s column in The Clarion-Ledger.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said Thursday he believes “the best path forward is for Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act after a reasonable transition period.”

“This takes us back to a level playing field where, by a date certain, all sides have incentives to work together to develop a health care replacement that can generate broad support and will stand the test of time. Regardless of how we move forward, it is my hope that our focus will be not only on coverage but also on lowering the actual cost of health care.”

A few qualifiers about our story on Ranked Choice Voting in the Thursday edition from Elections Administrator Linda Phillips:

There will be an internal mock election using the RCV method later this year to test out counting and other procedures.

There would still be a 2019 mock election as part of a public education effort on RCV.

The earliest election that new voting machines would be in place here would be the 2022 midterm elections with those machines bought in 2021.

And there is a way that RCV could be used in the October 2019 city elections with the current touchscreen technology.

That way is either manual data entry that would require a state certification of the software for that or just hand counting the ballots. Phillips says the hand counting would be “fast or faster than data entry … and more transparent.”

So with some policy decisions by the election commission and city leaders, this could be on the ballot in 2019. And there is even a possibility it could apply to all council races not just the seven single-member council districts.

Tests from a certified independent laboratory on water from 10 wells that supply water to a Memphis Light Gas and Water Division pumping station in southwest Memphis showed no detectible traces of arsenic and lead. The tests by ESC Lab Sciences followed the discovery of high levels of arsenic and lead in groundwater below the Allen Fossil Plant in southwest Memphis. That prompted concerns that perhaps the contamination, believed to be from coal ash ponds at the coal-burning Tennessee Valley Authority plant, could have found their way into the deeper groundwater that the city draws its drinking water from.

All of the background on this from Adrian Sainz at the Memphis AP office.

FedEx’s legal counsel is retiring at the end of September. Christine Richards has been with FedEx since 1984 and leader of the corporation’s legal department since 2005, which included the recent negotiations of the deal that made TNT Express part of FedEx. She is heard from occasionally on the quarterly earnings calls that are usually dominated by company founder Fred Smith. About five years ago, she also served on the transition planning committee that made recommendations on the 2013 merger of the county’s two public school systems.

Yes, there were t-shirts marking the completion of the Interstate 40-240 interchange. No, they were not and are not for sale as an item. They were to show appreciation to those who built the interchange for their work on the project which was completed six months ahead of schedule. The formal opening was Wednesday and even though this project wasn’t funded by the gas tax hike that was a part of the IMPROVE Act approved by the Legislature this year, Gov. Bill Haslam nevertheless talked about how that will figure prominently in a lot of road projects to come. That includes the $300 million Lamar Avenue freight corridor project. And we talked with Haslam about the start of the gas tax hike this month as gas prices locally fell to below $2 a gallon in much of the city.

On the same day that Haslam announced a state unemployment rate of 3.6 percent – the lowest in the state’s history of measuring unemployment, the national number of filings for unemployment falls to 233,000. By the way, the state’s previous low rate was 3.7 percent in March of 2000. The county unemployment rates are due in a week.

Graceland’s VP of marketing and media talks about Graceland’s impact on Whitehaven and says he hopes it ends up being like the impact Disney had on Time Square in the mid 1990s.

As promised, more on the lingering debate at the county building now that the county property tax rate is done.

Meanwhile, the county pulls a building permit for the old forensic center on Madison that has been vacant for about five years.

In the Friday Sports Section:

Don Wade’s Press Box column on what Mario Chalmers means to a balancing act for the new Grizz taking shape in summer league play.

It’s summer workouts for the Tigers basketball team with a lot of new faces. Not Jeremiah Martin, who has done a lot of soul searching and hard work in the off season. Martin had a different trajectory and rationale even before this moment of truth.

David Climer reviews the pressure gauge of the SEC football coaches including Hugh Freeze pre-Thursday.

And Dave Link on those pre-season polls that have Big Orange finishing third in the eastern division.

Not to leave Tigers’ football out of this. Quarterback Riley Ferguson is on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list. If you’ve been keeping up, there are a lot of these watch lists and they’ve become institutionalized with the names of revered players from the past. There is practically a watch list awards season.

The new management of the new restaurant at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens debuted on Bastille Day last month bringing about a decade’s worth of catering experience to “Park and Cherry.”

Going deeper on the forming Memphis 3.0 plan on Behind the Headlines with Ashley Cash and John Zeanah from the city and Eric Robertson of Community LIFT. The show airs Friday at 7 p.m. on WKNO TV.

The cover story by Andy Meek in the current edition of The Memphis News is a survey of the arts landscape locally

The PDF of the full issue is up now on this very website. The hard copies go in the racks Friday morning and the cover story goes up online Friday afternoon.

A good night Thursday at the annual Tennessee Press Association awards for The Daily News where we are honored to have taken first place honors for business reporting and education reporting; third for sports writing and makeup and appearance; fourth place for personal column and news reporting. That's six awards in all. More details when next we meet.

PROPERTY SALES 51 180 16,377
MORTGAGES 21 57 10,144
BUILDING PERMITS 103 665 39,209
BANKRUPTCIES 31 107 7,704