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VOL. 132 | NO. 114 | Thursday, June 8, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: Easy Fishing on Big River, Competing City Priorities and Durham's Fine

By Bill Dries

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The Arkansas side of the Big River Crossing opened Wednesday for the first time since May 2 when a rising Mississippi River prompted its closing while the crossing proper on the north side of the Harahan Bridge remained open. There is still some of the muddy river left on the Arkansas flood plain and several dozen cranes stopping in Wednesday afternoon for some easy fishing in the shallow waters.

The Shelby County Schools board meets Thursday at 5 p.m. in special session for what is expected to be a definitive conversation -- probably the first of several -- about the renewed allegations of grade tampering. The school system did itself no favors with a quick and quiet walk away from the allegations late last year with lots of questions remaining. It now turns out SCS was to hire an audit firm to go over the grade transcripts then and has just now come to contract terms for the audit. That has happened just as former Trezevant High principal Ronnie Mackin, the person who made the allegations late last year, doubled down on the allegations last week with a six-page single-spaced resignation letter.

Also on Thursday’s agenda is discussion about the school board hiring its own attorney. That’s a move the Memphis City Council and just lately the Shelby County Commission have made after difficult discussions in both places about the balance of power between a legislative body and the executive office.

For stage setting purposes, here is our review again of Tuesday’s closed meeting school board members had with the school system’s attorneys on what has turned into a big issue.

When we last visited here, we promised a look at the larger issues remaining now that the city council has ended its budget season. Those issues all revolve around city government priorities.

Meanwhile, the new board of trustees of the University of Memphis also ended its first budget season on Tuesday and it ended with a 2.6 percent tuition increase and faculty pay raises. Here’s the recap.

Lots of development news:

The developers of the Tennessee Brewery as mixed-use, including apartments with ground floor retail, have been pretty quiet lately as they work on Phase I of the south end project. They surfaced Wednesday with the paperwork for a PILOT on phase two that is a four-story 130-unit, $12.3 million second apartment building.

Overton Square may have a debate on its hands with the residential areas around it as Golden India – which has been in the square prime for two decades – wants to move to a duplex that is on the other side of the alley on Cooper from the Ballet Memphis site now under construction and nearing completion. Golden India would tear down the house to build new with residential over the restaurant. The developers argue that it should be permitted because the border between residential and commercial on this stretch of Cooper between Madison and Poplar is already pretty porous with some office uses in residential.

Also a six-lot single family proposed for land on the east side of Overton Park in the one-time interstate corridor land next to the “Overton Gateway” multi-family MRG has proposed and altered. And the city wants to close the street that runs by the northern side of the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The story in Forbes that has renewed the scramble to talk about Eric Trump’s Foundation and what it did and didn’t do for St. Jude.

In Washington and beyond, all eyes will be on Capitol Hill Thursday as former FBI director James Comey testifies. Late Wednesday, Comey’s written testimony to the Congressional committee was already in circulation.

Reaction from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen:

“I was disturbed after reading former FBI Director James Comey’s written testimony about his interactions with President Donald Trump. Based on Comey’s account, it appears that the President attempted to intimidate the FBI Director and influence the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, which is part of the larger investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, including any connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians. The President’s engagement with then-FBI Director James Comey nine times in one-on-one conversations coupled with his reported efforts to personally engage with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to put an end to the Flynn investigation contribute to an attempt by President Trump to obstruct justice. Our democracy, our constitution and our standing as leader of the free world are at risk.”

About two years ago Pinnacle Financial and First Tennessee first locked horns in Chancery Court over the move of a First Tennessee vice president to Pinnacle followed by seven other First Tennessee employees as well as Pinnacle’s acquisition of Magna Bank. Chancellor Jim Kyle this week denied First Tennessee’s motion for partial summary judgment and both sides are saying there are ready to go to trial. No trial date has been set and yes, the two sides could still come to terms before the jury box is filled. It happens multiple times every day in courtrooms and legal conference rooms here.

For a few more weeks, Foote Homes – the city’s last remaining large public housing development – will be a still life of sorts before its demolition begins. And across Vance Avenue from the northern border of Foote there are some folks at Streets Ministries who are watching this with a lot of mixed feelings. Streets is among the groups working with the families who have been relocated by the demolition to make way for a mixed-use mixed-income development called South City. And Streets has history working with families in the area before South City was Heritage Trails and before that Triangle Noir.

South City is larger than Foote Homes and includes what used to be the neighboring Cleaborn Homes public housing development. Cleaborn is now Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing – the model for what Foote is to become.

This transition has already been difficult with city officials acknowledging that the Foote Homes residents have had trouble finding private housing that accepts the federal rent subsidies commonly known as Section 8 payments.

In his “View From The Hill” column, our Nashville correspondent Sam Stockard reviews the criminal justice reform measures in the Tennessee Legislature this year that were a major priority of Democrats in the Shelby County delegation with some passing and others still moving in the two-year session that is past its first year. The list is topped by a reduction in the expungement fee required to clear the records of nonviolent offenders who have stayed clean for five years.

In other post-session and post-legislative career news, former Franklin state Rep. Jeremy Durham has been fined $465,000 – the largest ever imposed by the state – for hundreds of campaign finance violations.

In the race for Governor, a good night Tuesday for Bill Lee, the Franklin businessman running in the Republican race for Governor that is on the ballot next year statewide. Lee raised $1.3 million at a Nashville fundraiser hosted by Christian music star Michael W. Smith. And the night after that he was in Collierville for a Republican barbecue. More on that in Friday’s edition of The Daily News.

In sports, Louisville and Memphis will meet again to play basketball in December at Madison Square Garden in the Gotham Classic. This will be the 90th meeting of the Cardinals and Tigers and Louisville has won most of those times – 53 to be painfully precise.

Ole Miss has responded to NCAA charges of a “lack of institutional control” of its football program. It’s not a denial of violations by the football program but a denial that any kind of reasonable controls could have caught the mess that had been building for five years across several sports before surfacing publicly and spectacularly during a nightmarish 2016 NFL draft involving Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil.

PROPERTY SALES 69 163 12,921
MORTGAGES 35 85 8,088
BUILDING PERMITS 109 531 30,465
BANKRUPTCIES 18 85 6,149